Ripples through time

 

This week at The Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a river and a person (or people). 

A river? That brought to mind two ideas:

ripples, and

that you never step into the same river twice (from the Heraclitus quote).

You are probably familiar with the terms “the ripple effect” and “the butterfly effect”. Both terms refer to the effects, which can be far-reaching and unintended, of small changes or events which may seem insignificant or even go unnoticed at the time.

In his book The Ripple Effect Tony Ryan shares many stories about small actions having a positive effect on the lives of others. He has a firm belief that each of us makes a difference with our everyday actions be it through a smile, a kind word or a helping hand. He says,

“you must believe in your personal power to create ripples that spread out and change the world. In fact, if it is not you who is going to do it, then who else do you think is likely to make the effort? Remember that every change on this planet begins with a human being somewhere, somehow. It may as well be you.”

None of us can ever know the full impact of words and actions.  The potential for teachers to create ripples is powerful and this knowledge, for them, can induce as much anxiety as it does joy. While I am always the first to acknowledge my shortcomings, I hope that positive effects far outweigh the negative.

Readilearn bookmark

Sometimes expressing an opinion that differs from the status quo can be considered ‘making ripples’ or even ‘making waves’. On his blog Theory and Practice, Matt Renwick is making waves this week talking about assessment and standardised testing. (I have expressed my thoughts on the subject here and here, for example.) I wish Matt’s waves a long journey with school-changing effects.

Matt summarises five articles about testing, including one by Noam Chomsky from which he quotes,

“All of the mechanisms – testing, assessing, evaluating, measuring – that force people to develop those characteristics… These ideas and concepts have consequences…”

The consequences, the ripples, are not always the ones we want: stressed and anxious students afraid of trying and of failure are just part of it. The effects reach further: inappropriateness of tasks, reduced equity, mis-placed funding, teacher dissatisfaction . . .

Matt’s voice is not alone. He expresses what most teachers know. Unfortunately teachers are not the ones writing policies and setting procedures about what happens in schools. Often they are not even consulted. The companies who have most to gain by sales of their testing programs can be very influential.

Matt concludes his article saying,

“I think this information needs to be shared over and over again.  . . . To not advocate is to concede our authority as the experts in our profession. We are in the right on this one. There is nothing to be afraid of.”

I agree with Matt. We must advocate for the children, the students, their education and their teachers. So many administrators are talking about data, proclaiming that data is what is important. Now there is even “data mining”, big data mining, as explained in this article by the Australian Council for Educational Research. Check out this great new tool for use in mining data! Don’t they realise the children, their curiosity, wonder and creativity, are the treasure!

And as for the quote that you can never step into the same river twice because you will have changed and the river will have changed. Well I think it’s possible that that situation doesn’t apply to schools. What happens in many schools probably doesn’t look all that different from what has happened for at least the last two hundred years: children sitting in rows chanting meaningless lists. Harsh? Maybe. Reality? Pretty much.

And now to finish in a more positive way with my flash which combines both ideas: the life-changing consequences of a seemingly insignificant event at precisely the appropriate moment, and the difference in the person and the river on two separate occasions. And the person? None else but Marnie.

Richmond Bridge 1825

Ripples in the river

Marnie paused on the bridge and gazed into river.

“My life began here,” she thought.

. . .

More than twenty years before she’d stood there, begging for release from torments she could no longer endure; when a gentle voice beside her said, “Beautiful, isn’t it?” and stood there with her in silence a while before asking, “Care to walk a little?”

. . .

Marnie flicked the agent’s card into the water and watched momentarily as it carried away the last remnants of that other existence.

“I wonder if Miss still lives there,” she smiled. “Must say hello.”

 

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

How to teach compassion – and why

During the past few weeks I have been exploring the idea of compassion, along with many others in the blogosphere, in response to the #1000Speak for Compassion project.

In a TED Talk I shared in a previous post Joan Halifax questioned why, if compassion was so important, didn’t we teach it to children.

Man-resigning

That question provided me with a challenge. Indeed I wondered if the question was really fair. The question implied that children were not being taught compassion. And while that assumption may be true for many, it is just as true that many children are being taught to be compassionate – in their homes, in their schools, and in other groups to which they belong. By recognizing the many who do, I in no way wish to indicate that enough is being done. Indeed, much more needs to be done, but let’s not make a sweeping statement that attempts to colour everyone with the same inadequacy in teaching compassion.

I decided to investigate just what ideas were available for teaching children compassion. I had to look no further than one of my blogging friends for evidence that children are being taught compassion through their daily activities. In a number of posts on her own blog Lemon Shark, and in a number of comments on mine, Sarah Brentyn has described practices that she uses to teach her children to be compassionate by involving them in compassionate acts.

Some practices that Sarah recommends for developing compassion include things from as simple as using common courtesies and good manners to volunteering and making personal donations to homeless shelters.

I defy you to read her post 1000 Voices for Compassion without being moved by her generosity and compassion. It tells a beautiful story of compassion in action, a lesson for not only her children, but for all of us.

In her following post entitled Defining Compassion vs. Compassion in Action Sarah described asking her children what the word “compassion” meant. They weren’t sure how to answer her. But when she asked them to describe something compassionate they had no difficulty coming up with examples – from their own lives. Why? Because from the moment they were born Sarah’s children have been living in a compassionate world. They have been treated compassionately and they have not only had compassionate actions modelled for them, they have been involved in those compassionate actions. I congratulate you Sarah, for inspiring us to be compassionate, and for being a role model for us to emulate.

Sarah Brentyn = walk the walk

Looking beyond Sarah’s examples for further suggestions, I came across a number of other articles. Each seemed to reiterate what Sarah had already shared.

In an article for the Huffington Post Signe Whitson, author and child and adolescent therapist, says that “experts agree that fostering compassion in young people is among the best ways to prevent verbal, physical, and emotional aggression” and shares 8 Ways to Teach Compassion to Kids:

  1. Walk the walk

“Show young people that anytime is the right time to engage in acts of service and compassion for others.”

  1. Put the Child on the Receiving End of Compassion

“tending to a child when he is feeling down or under the weather is the best way to teach him how to show compassion to others.”

  1. Talk the Talk

“talk explicitly about acts of compassion . . . communicate its importance as a prized family value”

  1. Volunteer Your Time

“When children become actively involved I acts of showing compassion to others, they learn about his value in a very deep and enduring way”

  1. Care for a Pet

“Children who care for pets learn important values such as responsibility, unconditional love, empathy, and compassion for all living things”

baby bird

  1. Read All About It

“Children’s books are great for providing a window into the experiences of others.”

Whoever you are

  1. Compassion It TM

Wear a Compassion It band as a daily and “personal reminder to act compassionately towards someone else”

  1. Make a Wish

The “Make-a-Wish Foundation provides hope, strength, and joy to children with life-threatening medical conditions . . . can have a truly impactful experience of being able to provide tangible help and joy to a peer”

Other than the references to the specific organizations, Compassion it and Make a Wish Foundation, the suggestions are things that have been discussed before in various posts about compassion, including Sarah’s.

Like Sarah, Whitson believes that it is the accumulation of little everyday actions that make a difference. She states that, as a bullying prevention trainer, she considers “big” solutions — such as policies, procedures, and trainings are trumped each and every day by the seemingly little, yet extraordinarily powerful, acts of compassion and kindness that adults show to the young people in their lives.”

In her article about How to Instill Compassion in Children Marilyn Price-Mitchell agreed about the importance of teaching compassion, saying that  “children who participate in programs that teach kindness, respect, empathy, and compassion and who have families that reinforce those strengths at home develop the muscles they need to become civically-engaged adolescents and adults.”

Price-Mitchell suggested that parents could help teach their children compassion by providing opportunities to practice compassion, by helping children understand and cope with anger, and by teaching  children to self-regulate.

Jane Meredith Adams, in her article Raising a Compassionate Child says that “children have an inborn capacity for compassion … they naturally identify with stuffed animals, other kids, pets, and underdogs. The tricky part is that their empathy must compete with other developmental forces, including limited impulse control – which makes them pull the cat’s tail – and their belief that their needs absolutely must come first – which makes it hard for them to let their cousin push the col fire truck.”

Adams says that teaching compassion is “part of day-to-day life: how you answer your child’s questions, how you solve conflict at the park, how you nudge his or her growing capacity to understand and think about other people.” Adams suggests to Promote sweetness” every day by showing children how to be gentle to others, by speaking to them softly, by rejecting rudeness, and by saying sorry when you have made a mistake. I think Sarah would agree with all of those.

Similar ideas are proposed by  Kim McConnell, and Leticia of techsavvymama who sums it all up nicely with these suggestions:

  • Model the kinds of behaviour we expect
  • Exercise patience
  • Listen to our kids
  • Teach resiliency by providing strategies, and
  • Use quality educational content to reinforce the concept (e.g. books, DVDs and downloadable material)

I’m sure that many of these suggestions are familiar to you through your own personal experiences, either when growing up or as an adult. I think what my exploration of this topic shows me is that, while it may be useful to teach about compassion in schools, children really only learn to be compassionate if they are treated compassionately and have compassion modeled for them, if it is an integral part of their everyday lives.

What do you think?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

 

 

I feel good!

A lot of good feelings and thoughts have been passing around the blogosphere in recent weeks including the #1000Speak for Compassion project and, closer to (my blogosphere) home, the Carrot Ranch with  Charli’s Mills’ flash fiction challenge and the responses by the Congress of Rough Writers.

Hearing these good things is good for my soul which could otherwise become burdened down by the cruelty that is experienced on a personal, local and global level.

Areas of Queensland and the Northern Territory were, over the weekend, devastated by severe weather, other states by fires, parts of the northern hemisphere by cold and snow. Nature itself is so destructive, why do humans think we have to add to it?

Many homes in Central Queensland were destroyed by damaging winds when the cyclone hit. In the early morning news the following day there were already reports of looting. It seems incomprehensible to me that people would do that to each other. Stealing from homes of those left vulnerable and sheltering in a community evacuation centre!

In the same bulletin there was a report about people receiving payments from the government while training to fight overseas for terrorist groups. The list goes on. The news media are not the best places for seeking uplifting stories or developing a habit of meliorism.

applications-internet

I turn back to my blogger friends for their stories of compassion and inspiration, and thoughts of how we can raise children to be kind, caring and compassionate.

My two most recent posts, Who cares anyway? and #1000Speak for Compassion, addressed the issue of compassion and received a number of comments which added more interest and value to the topic. Most of those who responded have also shared their thoughts about compassion on their own blogs, each post as individual as they. Here are a few links to get your reading started:

Charli Mills writes about Literary Compassion

Anne Goodwin about Compassion: Something we all need

Geoff Le Pard: Me, me, me; You, you, you #1000Speak

Sarah Brentyn: 1000 Voices for Compassion

Irene Waters: 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion – mine is but 1

Sherri Matthews: How to save a life

Christy Birmingham: To Writers Who Struggle with Self-compassion #1000Speak

Lori Schafer: #1000Speak about Compassion: Through the Eyes of a Rat

I am very happy to belong to a community that values kindness and compassion. As at least one  blogger commented though, it may be difficult for someone who has not experienced compassion to express compassion for others. Compassion may be a natural feeling, but it also may need to be learned. It reminds me of those famous words, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” and also of a story shared by Lata on Hot Cup of Kaapi as part of the #1000Speak for Compassion project. (Note to self: Remember this!)

In my last post I shared two ways of showing compassion suggested by Daniel Goleman in his video Why aren’t we more compassionate?:

Pay attention

Consume ethically

At about the same time as I was reading these posts about compassion, I also read a post on one of my favourite educational sites Edutopia about Creating More Compassionate Classrooms.

The author of this article, Joshua Block teaches at The Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, which you may recall I mentioned in a post about Chris Lehmann and Visioning a better school, a better way of educating. I was certainly impressed by Chris Lehmann, so I expected to be impressed by this article and its suggestions, and I wasn’t disappointed.

In the article Block talks about the Academy establishing an Ethics of Care as described by Nel Noddings. I am both embarrassed and disappointed to admit that I hadn’t previously heard of Noddings but I will be looking more in depth at her work in the future. So much of her work is pertinent to these discussions we have been having about compassion, including her understanding of the terms sympathy and empathy, for example. The article about Nel Noddings, the ethics of care and education states that

“We learn first what it means to be cared-for. ‘Then, gradually, we learn both to care for and, by extension, to care about others’ (Noddings 2002: 22). This caring-about, Noddings argues, is almost certainly the foundation for our sense of justice.”

It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Block questions how he can create a more compassionate classroom without adding to the demands already placed upon him as a teacher. He wonders what a compassionate classroom would look like and suggests

“A compassionate classroom environment is not an environment that lacks academic rigor. In this environment, students are understood to be complex people. Here, young people feel that they belong. Here, they meet challenge and encouragement while we ask them to be the best versions of themselves. Compassionate classrooms are places where student voices and student ideas are prioritized.”

I do like the sound of that classroom environment.

Block goes on to suggest six practices that help to develop that environment:

  1. Remembering to Check-in
  2. Informal Conferencing
  3. Increasing Personal Connections with Content
  4. Asking Better Questions
  5. Expressing Belief in Student Abilities
  6. Being Flexible and Accepting Failure When It Happens

I think each of these practices could fit under the banner of being attentive, of really tuning in to the needs of the students. They are all great practices that should form the basis of establishing any classroom environment.

Joshua Block has his own blog: Mr J Block: Reimaging Education and his article can also be accessed there, along with many other interesting posts and information.

Now back to the title of this post and my flash fiction response to the challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week to: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about feeling good.

I trust that somewhere in Marnie’s life she had a teacher (or more) as compassionate as Mr J Block.

I feel good!

She stood at the door for one final glance. Not much had changed, but it felt, oh, so different. They were gone. Gone!

Almost twenty years had passed since she’d stood in this spot; since she’d fled their cruel ways. Twenty years of dodging shadows, double-locking doors, and fearing the phone’s ring.

But no more. They were gone. Gone! And for more than five years! Five years to track her down! All that remained was the house. She’d sell of course.

With the door closed behind her she almost skipped down the stairs, her heart singing, “I feel good!”

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

#1000Speak for Compassion

#1000Speak for Compassion

Today is the day that over 1000 bloggers have answered the call to unite in dedicating a post to and voicing an awareness of the need for compassion. The call is to “flood the blogosphere with good”. I am adding my voice to the number.

In my most recent post Who cares anyway? I linked to a TED talk by Joan Halifax.

In her talk Halifax explains that compassion is good for us, it enlivens us and makes us resilient, it also develops our immunity. She asks “if compassion is so good for us, I have a question. Why don’t we train our children in compassion?

I think Halifax’s question is an excellent one. It has great appeal and interest to me as an educator. In this and one or two future posts I will explore and provide suggestions for developing compassion.

Early last year I introduced you to psychologist Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, in a post entitled The importance of emotional intelligence,

In this post I will share some Goleman’s thoughts about compassion from his TED talk “Why aren’t we more compassionate?

In the talk Daniel talks about a study into the reasons why, when we have many opportunities to help, we don’t always do so. He suggests that one reason is that we are not focused in the right direction. He says, “if we attend to the other person, we automatically empathize, we automatically feel with them.” He suggests that if we are focused on ourselves; our own needs and problems like time constraints; then we won’t be focused on the needs of the other, and are therefore less likely to help, less likely to be compassionate.

This issue of attention has been raised previously on my blog, including in the guest post written by Anne Goodwin Examining Praise which discussed the work of psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz.  Paying full attention to the other seems to be the best form of praise as it means really tuning in to the other. It is only by that tuning in, by attending to the other than any real understanding, and therefore compassion can be felt.

In his talk about compassion, Goleman says that the differences between focusing on self and focusing on the other can be subtle, but he urges us to be mindful of them. He talks about atrocities being done because the perpetrator was able to “turn off” the part of himself that would feel empathy. If that part had not been turned off, the actions would have been impossible.

He goes on to talk about “the possibilities of a compassionate consumerism”, pointing out that everything we buy has hidden consequences. He says that often “we’re oblivious to the ecological and public health and social and economic justice consequences of the things we buy and use.”

 

 

 

 

 

These hidden consequences are something that I am learning to be mindful of, but although I use my Shop ethical supermarket and Sustainable Seafood guides, I know that I still have a long way to go to be truly ethical and, as a consequence, compassionate in all my purchases.

He talks about “Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things” a book about sustainable living that “draws the reader’s attention to the domino effect of consumption and explores the possibility that “less stuff can mean more happiness. Hearing about that brought me to The Secret Life of Things website which is full of great information to help each of us make more informed choices.

Goleman raises a lot of interesting issues regarding compassion. I urge you to watch his entire video. There is sure to be at least one idea worthy of your further consideration. Goleman concludes the video saying that all it takes to get people to act compassionately is “that simple act of noticing, and so I’m optimistic.”

Goleman says that compassion is implicit to TED talks. There are many others about compassion. You can find a list of them here.

For me, Daniel’s talk highlights the fact that there are many ways of expressing compassion. Some are of those ways affect people who are near to us, and the effects are clearly visible. Others have a more lasting impact upon people we may never see, but for whom the effects can be just as, if not more, life changing.

Two important actions we can begin implementing immediately, and which we can model for children to implement, in order to become more compassionate are:

Pay attention

  • be more attentive to others
  • take notice of those around us
  • give our full attention to those we engage with by focusing on what they are saying rather than what we can say next

Consume ethically

become aware of hidden consequences:

  • to others who are engaged in the production processes
  • to the environment
  • to the long-time economy

 

In future posts I will explore further suggestions for developing compassion.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post. Please visit  #1000Speak for Compassion to read many more thoughts and suggestions about Compassion.

Use the ripple effect to spread compassion around.

 

 

Who cares anyway?

sad

There are a lot of things to care about in this world, and not least of these is each other.

What do you care about?

Your family?

The environment?

World peace?

Justice?

Equity?

Disadvantaged children?

The dolphins?

Climate change?

The Great Barrier Reef?

Plastic in the oceans

A three-legged dog?

25 Oct 2014

Sustainable seafood

Ethical shopping

This week I am joining in with the #1000Speak for Compassion project which calls on “Bloggers from all over the world (to come) together to talk about compassion, in one epic event on February 20, 2015.”

Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch is also promoting the project through her flash fiction prompt which challenges writers to: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that demonstrates compassion. In her post Charli refers to two words which have been raised and discussed by our blogging community recently.

These two words are:

Weltschmerz which was discussed on Anne Goodwin’s blog in a post entitled 20th-century lives: The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck

and

Meliorism which was discussed in my post entitled How much of a meliorist are you?

Thanks Charli for explaining that Weltschmerz refers to “world pain” or the grief we feel at how the world keeps falling short of our expectations and meliorism to a belief that the world can be improved by the actions of humans.

Some of the items listed above are definitely cause for both weltschmerz and meliorism, but most send us a call to action. What action we take depends very much upon our beliefs and our circumstances. In an article in The Guardian earlier this year, Oliver Burkeman states that “World pain is bad – but numbness to world pain would be worse.

However compassion is more than weltschmertz (seeing the pain) and more than meliorism (believing that something can be done about it).

In this TED talk, Joan Halifax explains that

“compassion is comprised of that capacity to see clearly into the nature of suffering. It is the ability to really stand strong and to recognize that I’m not separate from this suffering … (and that) we actually aspire to transform suffering. And if we’re so blessed, we engage in activities that transform suffering. But … we cannot be attached to the outcome.”

In the talk Halifax explains that compassion is good for us, it enlivens us and makes us resilient, it also develops our immunity.

She asks

“if compassion is so good for us, I have a question. Why don’t we train our children in compassion?

In my next post, to coincide with #1000Speak for Compassion on Friday 20th I will be looking at some ways that have been suggested to answer that question. If you wish to add your voice to the call follow this link for suggestions of how you can be involved.

For now I will leave you with my response to Charli’s challenge. I have not tried to address compassion on a global scale but have thought smaller.

In her talk Halifax said that “compassion is actually an inherent human quality. It is there within every human being. But the conditions for compassion to be activated, to be aroused, are particular conditions.

I wondered how feelings of compassion might be activated in the life of a young woman from an impoverished and abusive background.

Understanding

In the ‘smart’ outfit carefully selected by the charity shop attendant, Marnie was surprised how well the confident exterior masked the whirlpool of fear, anxiety and insecurity.

Without looking up, the receptionist handed Marnie a number and waved her to the waiting area.

“9”. Her heart sank. “That many?”

Avoiding contact and ‘contamination’, she squeezed into the only available space: between a boy slouching awkwardly and a girl picking her fingernails.

The girl started crying. Marnie stiffened, but glanced sideways. The girl cried into her sleeve.

Marnie breathed, proffered her unopened purse packet of ‘just-in-case’ tissues, and smiled, “Here.”

Thank you

 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

Why do you read?

CoD_fsfe_Books_icon

I read every day.

I read:

  • Blog posts
  • Emails
  • Tweets
  • Articles
  • News reports
  • Notifications
  • Comments on blogs
  • Road signs
  • Menus
  • Labels on products
  • Receipts
  • Bills
  • Bank statements
  • Letters
  • Instructions

The list could go on …

At the moment my reading of full-length books is limited, though recently I read a novel (Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle by Geoff Le Pard) and a memoir (On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years after it Happened by Lori Schafer), both of which I read as ebooks. I also read a non-fiction paper book (Retiring with Attitude by Caroline Lodge and Eileen Carnell) and am part-way through a number of other non-fiction titles.

Most of the full-length book reading I currently do is in audiobook format. My in-car time on the way to work is usually from about 45-60 minutes and I use this time to listen to audiobooks. During the past year I have listened to quite a variety including both fiction and non-fiction. I particularly enjoy it when the author reads the book, as with my current “read” Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story by Michael Rosen.

Blog posts are probably my number one source of reading material at the moment. I read a variety of blogs; some about writing for writers, some about teaching for teachers, some with a variety of information about a range of subjects, lots about books! Picture books, young adult novels, fiction and non-fiction. I am always on the lookout for something new to read or to give as a gift for someone else to read.

I always enjoy Anne Goodwin’s reviews on her blog Annecdotal. Not all of the books that Anne reviews appeal to me, and few of them will I read. Last year I did read one of her suggestions (The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz) and we had quite a discussion about his chapter on praise. I also read Stephen Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature, that was recommended to me by Geoff Le Pard, and Stephen King’s On Writing that was recommended by Lisa Reiter.

Sometimes when I read reviews or think of all the wonderful books I could be reading, I chastise myself for the little “reading” I do. But then I remind myself that the reading I choose/need to do at the moment is different. One day soon I’ll be back to more fiction rather than informational texts.

I was reminded of this when I re-read an article written by Charlotte Zolotow and published in The Horn Book: Writing for the Very Young: An Emotional Déjà Vu.

In the article Zolotow says,

“I have so much left to read and reread and so little time left in which to do it that I want to select what fills my emotional needs — needs which are often different from, or unknown to, even my closest friends.”

Zolotow goes on to explain that

“It was not this way when I was an adolescent or in my middle years, when I had a wide, all encompassing, devouring, greedy desire to read everything. But if I think back, I do remember as a child wanting certain books over and over again and others not at all. Very young children, like older people, want to read or hear read books that help them sort out their own most acute needs, their own inquiries about life.”

I thought how true it is. Throughout life our reading habits and choices change. I have always been a reader. As a child and teenager I read fiction, and lots of it. Even as a young adult I continued to read fiction and poetry, but my reading of non-fiction, mainly but not exclusively to do with education, began to exceed those choices. At that time there were only paper books, and I loved them, thinking that nothing could come between me and my books.

How wrong I was and how times change. Now I read online, ebooks and audiobooks. There is a much greater variety of material available for readers and, I think, the demands are greater. In days gone by if you weren’t reading books you weren’t reading. Now the distinction is not so clear. Because I am not reading full-length paper books as frequently as before, I think of myself as a non-reader. But that is unfair and untrue. I spend most of my day reading, and when I am not reading, I am writing. But these days reading is a huge part of my writing. I am constantly researching and reading online to give extra credence or support to what I am writing.

What about you? How do you view yourself as a reader? Does one need to read books to be considered a reader?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

All in the family

The nature/nurture debate wages constantly. Are we who we were born to be, or are we shaped by our environment to be who we are?

To my untrained mind (I have no qualifications in psychology) it appears that who we become results from a mixture of each in combination with a dose of self-determination. Sometimes it can be difficult to separate the nature from the nurture. Are we that way because of genetics or because of the family environment in which we grew up?

tweedles

It is true that no two individuals, even siblings, experience identical environments. Even in the closest of families the differences can be as pronounced as the similarities; in interests, capabilities, personalities and attitudes as well as physical characteristics. Both similarities and differences can be used to argue equally well for nature or nurture.

A paper published by NATSEM (National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling) in 2013 described a close link between education standards, employment and poverty, leading to social exclusion and disadvantage in Australia. It explained that lower education levels resulted in higher levels of unemployment, and therefore poverty, and that children living in poverty were at risk of not completing high school and of having poor nutrition. And so the cycle would continue.

That is not to say that children living in poverty are doomed to continue doing so throughout their lives (we all know successful people who through their self-determination have pulled themselves up and out of the situation) but it may be much more difficult for them to achieve the levels of success that seem to come so easily to others in kinder circumstances.

According to the Institute for Social Science Research at the University of QueenslandResearch shows that when schools, families and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more.” Commencing this year, the “Parental Engagement in Schools” project aims to discover what type of involvement best supports student learning and outcomes. Encouraging parents to be involved is another issue.

While my general observations as a teacher, and those of many colleagues, support the notion of a connection between economic status and educational advantage, a paper recently released by the University of Bristol states that “Poorer parents are just as involved in their children’s activities as better-off parents”, and that “The findings support the view that associations made between low levels of education, poverty and poor parenting are ideologically driven rather than based on empirical evidence.

Perhaps over-generalisations in this area are just as problematic as those that expect all family members to be alike. I think that, regardless of background, it is important for teachers to support all students to make positive choices for their future. This can be done through demonstration and modelling rather than criticism and blame.

8-12-2013 7-38-33 PM

I also recommend a certain set of strategies that all parents, regardless of their economic status, can employ to give their children a great start is life, including:

  • Love them
  • Talk with them
  • Read to them
  • Encourage their questions and curiosity
  • Help them seek answers and solve problems
  • Encourage their independence
  • Foster confidence, a willingness to have a go and to try multiple times and ways
  • Be accepting of differences and don’t prejudge their future based on the experiences and futures of others.

 

The old saying goes that “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family”. Although I have read suggestions that we may be genetically close/distantly related to those we choose as friends, I can’t testify to the authenticity of the “science” that makes those claims. However, I think many families have at least one member they would probably prefer to disclaim relationship with! Not my family of course!

Which brings me to the flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week. She wrote about an Aunt Bronco Billy and challenged other writers to: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a nutty aunt.

I hope I’m not that “nutty aunt” that everyone in the family shies away from, but I am aware of some who are. (Again, not in my family!)

Here is my response to Charli’s challenge. I hope you enjoy it.

 

“Aw, Muuuum!”

“Don’t ‘Aw Mum’ me. She’s your dad’s only sister . . .”

“But Mum …” I could already smell her stale cigarette breath and feel the stickiness of her too-red lipstick that wouldn’t rub off.

“It won’t hurt you. She’s not staying long.”

“Why can’t Jason?”

“Because Jason’s going to work,” she said.

“Yeah, Squirt,” grinned Jason, throwing his backpack over his shoulder.

“Smoochie Coochie,” he mocked, squeezing my cheeks into a pucker while making loud lip-smacking sounds. His laughter followed him down the street.

Suddenly she was there with her sharp green pistachio grin.

“Smoochie Coochie!”

Smoochie Coochie

 

Thank you

 

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.