tamarjacobson

Looking back and thinking forward

Critical thinking is critical

Last year, over the course of two semesters, I had the privilege of supervising student teachers. I call it a privilege because I was able to observe our seniors developing into active classroom teachers. Some of them started out as careful and vulnerable, but all seemed to reach the finishing line with confidence and competencies to make them caring and dedicated educators. I was also able to observe them learning to abide by rules and routines of the cooperating teachers and schools, who were generous in sharing their classrooms with our student teachers. 

There were at least three situations that gave me pause to think about how we are teaching children to unquestioningly follow orders, however meaningless those orders seem to be. Indeed, we are repressing imagination and creativity all skills necessary for developing critical thinking skills – not to mention innovation. We are teaching children from a young age that obedience is more important than intellectual rigor. I will go one step further in saying, we are teaching our children to be ignorant rather than develop curiosity and imagination.

One of the situations I mention above, I wrote about in a previous blog post. A second was at the same time alarming and intriguing to me. One morning, when I entered a kindergarten classroom to observe one of my students, the cooperating teacher approached me hugging a large jar filled with pretzels. She greeted me warmly, and then wistfully told me that there would not be much for me to see that day because they had to do some spelling exercises with the children that were so meaningless and boring for them that they hated doing them. In fact, the only way she could get them to cooperate was to feed them pretzels as rewards. I asked her if there was no other way to teach this exercise to the children. She shook her head saying they were required to do this as part of the curriculum. This was in one of the schools that our college considers as one of the best placements for our student teachers. 

The third situation happened around Thanksgiving when children in a different kindergarten program were celebrating the holiday by pretending they were "Indians (that is to say, Native Americans)," and "Pilgrims" in a scripted teacher-directed morning meeting. Again – when I questioned this overly simplistic and stereotypical history lesson, I was given the same line: they were required to do this as part of the curriculum. 

Regarding each separate situation, I have much to say pedagogically, philosophically, and sociologically. However, I will leave that for a different essay or blog post. The main point about all three of these events was that at no time were the children given an opportunity to question, nor were they provoked into thinking about anything other than what was scripted as required.

In my classes of undergraduate and post baccalaureate students every semester I ask them where they think curriculum comes from. Without exception, they stare blankly at me. Some murmur something about standards or the common core. It takes a full hour and a half to help them understand that curriculum is pedagogical, political, idealogical, psychological, sociological, anthropological, and emotional, and that it comes from human beings with beliefs, values, and ideas about what children should learn to fit into and succeed in our society. I try to spend most of my classes encouraging students to ask questions – even if I don't have answers, or the questions cause me discomfort. I try and give them assignments that develop their creativity and imagination. In fact, I was happy to read what one of my former students, now a teacher, wrote about this recently

This morning I sat watching Morning Joe on TV when Mike Barnacle asked the Libertarian candidate if he was President, what he would do about Aleppo. The candidate responded: "What is Aleppo?" There was amazement and flustering all around the television and social media communities. I sat silently, staring at the screen in dismay and sadness, and at the same time I was not surprised. Just as this election season has frightened and saddened me for months now … I am no longer surprised by the endless stream of crazy, ignorant statements that come pouring out of candidate's mouths.

For, I just keep on thinking about supervising student teachers and at least three situations that I touched on above. I just keep on thinking: And so – if children are taught to eat pretzels to get them through rote, meaningless tasks, or excluded and ostracized when they are curious, passionate, and think outside the box, or if they are taught about history in a simplistic, stereotypical manner – it is no wonder to me that today many, many people are inclined to vote for a man, who this morning on national television, owned to not knowing what an "Aleppo" is. Why should he know? Where would he have been encouraged to develop curiosity, creativity, imagination or critical thinking skills?

And … I just keep on thinking: America, be very afraid … and act fast to reform our school system – I mean really reform it. We have not one more moment to lose.

Indeed, I fear it might already be too late.

Feeling the feelings

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Quote of the day:

What do you believe would happen if you allowed yourself to feel your feelings instead of avoid them or swallow them with food? Geneen Roth

Back to the subject of feeling the feelings … Have I mentioned before that when emotions become too intense for me, I bolt?

Never mind eat! 

I run away – as fast as my legs will carry me. I don my walking shoes, jump on bicycles, in cars, trains, planes – anything that will carry me away from the intensity – the discomfort. Even feelings of joy can become too intense for me. They overwhelm me. In my early childhood I learned that my feelings were not important or valid – including those of joy, pride, happiness, or pleasure. So it has taken me a long time to understand that I can allow myself to experience different emotions – they are valid no matter what they are, and that feeling them are not the same as expressing them. Indeed, once I allow myself to hold still and experience the emotion, it becomes so much easier to know how to express them in ways that are productive. 

In terms of one's eating habits, I believe the reasons we reach out to food for comfort have direct connections with how we were loved beginning at infancy. So much comfort came through feeding. At times when I feel at a loss about helping my own son emotionally even now that he is an adult, I think that a bowl of hot chicken soup might work better than anything else I can say or do. Feeling loved is inextricably linked to being deprived or comforted by food.

No wonder diets feel punitive!

I like Geneen Roth's idea of writing a "curiosity dialogue." I know it has helped me to be curious about my feelings, or how I "tick" emotionally. For example, it has helped me make connections with behaviors and expressions that might have been unhelpful, or even self destructive for me in the past.

Indeed, I think this blog has served me well as a type of "curiosity dialogue." 

In honor of Mother's Day – this post from last year is as true for me now as ever … http://tamarika.typepad.com/mined_nuggets/2015/05/please-dont-hurt-me-i-want-you-to-love-me.html

Self-regulation

How do I write about children's need for attention without remembering my own childhood experiences with that? For where and why do teachers perceive children's need for attention as something negative – something in the way of their learning or understanding human relationships? Surely it comes from the way we have been treated as young children. The repetitive subtle and not so subtle condemnations of the ways we sought attention, where we were thought of as too whiny or too needy. These days self-regulation has become an overused catch phrase that is thrown in to any conversation about children who seek our attention. Self regulation requires small children to go it alone emotionally, and learn not to reach out or lean on adults, who care for and educate them. I think of the sensitive and vulnerable kindergartener this morning during his third morning meeting, where he was required to sit still and follow the teacher directed assignments of the day. Clearly he wanted to share his point of view, became excited and passionate about the topic being discussed, and wanted to be noticed – all at the same time. After three times being told to sit still and quietly, he was sent away to sit alone at a table while the rest of his classmates participated in the story and discussion. He even tried raising his hand out there in punished isolation. To no avail. He was being taught self regulation, and any feelings of loneliness or anxiety about being excluded – well, he would have to deal with them alone. It was no wonder that later, once he had completed the assigned task of cutting and pasting, he would not make any extra effort to color in the pictures he had glued on the teacher pre-cut-out orange and green paper representing some sort of large carrot. His anger was palpable, although I could tell he was swallowing it down into his emotional memory somewhere far away in his brain. I thought about how one day all those repressed and swallowed angry feelings would probably have to bubble up and out somewhere – somehow. And would he be alone with those feelings, or would someone be around at the time to support him through understanding them in time before the veritable storm he would rage? Or would he just become chronically ill allowing those feelings to eat him from within? 

There has to be a balance of needing attention and learning to delay gratification and become an adult. I understand that. But this has to be taught through connection and relationship, not by exclusion and punishment. No one is born with that balance intact. Child development is just that – developing, evolving us into the adults we will one day become. As the adults we have become, we can share what we learned along the way with children in our care with love, in friendship, and with guidance and support – or we can admonish and scold with cold punishment and harsh rationalism. It is our choice. We don't have to repeat the pain we experienced over and over again. We can change it, and try something we did not experience but nevertheless, really would have liked to – really have always longed for. Our choice becomes a gift not only to the children in our care – but for future generations.

Spiritual dawning

This morning was business as usual: coffee, computer, Internet Scrabble with friends and family, watering house plants and feeding the cats. And then I picked up a Jewish prayer book, and read the first early morning prayer of the day, and I remembered spirituality. Yoga days, lighting candles and incense, and quiet meditation before the day began. I realized that lately I had given all that up. In fact it feels like for almost a year. I wonder why I had pushed it all aside. Perhaps it is because I have been focusing on my feelings, and that has been all consuming, at times even excruciatingly painful. Indeed, for the past year or so I constantly allow myself to feel what it must have felt like for me when I was a child. When flashbacks and memories rise up nowadays I sit with them solidly facing them all squarely and vividly. This has been a challenging year for me emotionally, but as I reflect on all the facets of each day, I realize that life feels fuller and more authentic than ever before as I enhance and deepen relationships as well as clear the way for my new transition: retirement. 

Allowing myself to experience emotions has been time consuming, for when a feeling presents itself it takes moments to hold still with discomfort, anxiety or pain, and explore where it is coming from – the past or present – and to sift through and make connections. I have been taking care of children – others – since I was very young, for the first child I ever started to care for was my mother. And even as I became proficient in listening to and observing her, and able to put myself aside in order to be there for her emotionally, I realize now how much I must have always longed for someone to care for me. 

Spirituality has always been a way for me to privately take care of me, especially my inner life. It was a place I could turn to when loneliness or hunger for love became overwhelming for me to bear. And so, this morning I light candles and a stick of Nag Champa, and breathe deeply. And I reread the the early morning prayer again:

Morning I will seek you,

   my fortress rock, each day.

My song of dawn and dusk

   before you I shall lay.

I stand before your greatness,

   with trembling I’m fraught,

because your eyes can enter

   my heart’s most secret way.

What can be done, by heart

   or tongue, what can one do or say?

And how much strength lies deep

   within my body as I pray?

And yet you find it good

   – mere human song – and so,

I thank you for as long as shall

   Your lifebreath in me play

April, a year ago at Mining Nuggets: One month later; Releasing the shackles

Having the audacity to hope

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I had a lousy childhood. I was a scapegoat for my mother’s anxieties, fears and rage. She birthed me at a most inconvenient time for her during a very brief second marriage with a man she hated, all the while having an affair with my future stepfather through the four or five dismally volatile years she lived with my father. Once she married my stepfather she spent the rest of their married life in and out of rage at, or fear of abandonment by him.

She needed me in the mix like a hole in the head!

And she let me know it, warning me not to make too much noise or eat too much food lest stepfather would notice. When they had my younger brother I was eight years old, and whatever was left of my miserable birthright vanished immediately and forever. I remember my childhood as a dark and fearful time; all the while doing everything I could to go unnoticed. Now and then when I attempted to make a stand for myself even as a young child, I sought attention through outbursts, migraines, or sickness. Alas, it was in vain. For mother’s attention came at me in the form of terrifying wrath shaming me into believing I was a destructive and hateful being.

In my first marriage my husband disliked me. I know for many different reasons. But most importantly he blamed me for making him marry me, and forced me to have an abortion early in my second pregnancy threatening to leave me if I refused. I agreed to everything because I believed I deserved what he doled out. My mother had taught me that I was worthless, and that I should feel grateful to anyone who would want me at all. I believed her theory about me, that a “black star” hovered over my head.

That abortion broke my heart for the rest of my life.

Knowing what I know now about early childhood development, care and education, I am aware that young children believe they are at fault, and that they deserve abuse from their parents. Therefore, I understand that it was impossible for me not to believe that at my core I was a worthless and unwanted being.

Looking back as a sixty-six-year-old woman with silvery hair, and as an accomplished early childhood professional, author and teacher, I realize that somehow through all the abuse I managed to hold onto an audacity to hope that I could deserve better. As a survivor, I developed resilience through searching for support through the kindness of strangers. Growing up, I discovered ways to belong by joining organizations and groups whose ideology included compassion for the human condition, and a belief that we are all in this together. Each time I tried to love or help others feel included I retained pieces of the feelings for me.

Sitting around hating and whining never became my shtick. Lately as I continue to heal, I seek out those who are non judgmental, or able to accept me as I am. Of course I still struggle with self-acceptance or self-compassion.

And I realize that at some level I probably always will.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: It's all about compassion

After the storm

What with one thing and another, I have been thinking about storms. Perhaps it was the frenzy in the supermarket last Friday as everyone stocked up with food, milk, water – anything – in preparation for the impending power outages as snow would start to fall early evening of the same day. It was predicted to last for tens of hours, and who knew what might happen.

Maybe it was watching at the window as sheets of snow fell endlessly under dark grey skies. It brought out the best in us: Cooking up a large pot of nutritious and delicious soup; or neighbors teaming up to dig each other out of piles of snow in driveways and on sidewalks. Forced to stay indoors I met new challenges: Like how to just do nothing; or finding myself like a robotic, zombie sitting on the couch in front of the television screen staring at hours of weather reports. 

Last night I dreamt of high seas and rolling waves. Especially the kind of tsunami like wave that rises up high suddenly and crashes over walls swallowing up crowds. I woke up and lay quietly in bed wondering about storms. The calm or frenzy before, and picking up the pieces to return to old routines after. Are we always just the same after a storm? Or have we learned anything? Did the trauma or exhilaration change us? Or do we pick ourselves up and move on as if nothing happened? 

I am always amazed at how I survive over and over again. I have lived through snow, rain and thunder storms; divorce and death storms; health scare storms; breaking up with darling friends; or losing people I never thought I would lose. Storms within and without. Each time picking up the pieces has a different feel. Sometimes I limp for awhile or stretch out bruised hands from bashing at piles of ice blocking access to our driveway. There have been times when my heart felt broken, and I feared I would never smile again.

After the storm there are torn and broken azalea plants or trees with shattered limbs, and yet when the sun shines feebly through the weakening clouds, I seem to rise up over and over again, returning to old, familiar routines … feeding the cats, watering plants, answering telephones and texts … and face the new day with some small, renewed sense of patience, understanding, or, even wisdom.

Although all that becomes clear much later … 

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Living the rewrite: Part II

Anniversary

This morning I remembered that I have been writing this blog for a decade, and as I reread some of the posts written these past ten years, I realize the theme has been constant: Deciphering behaviors, interactions and feelings, and understanding the emotional script I developed about myself since I was a child.

In a blog post about "rewriting my script" a year ago, I did not realize how challenging it would be in practice. Awareness is one of the first steps toward any kind of change. But, with awareness comes an awakening of emotions I had held in check for a long time – repressing feelings that as a child were dangerous to express, or even to experience. 

As I look back over this past year I see that the more I have been allowing myself to feel some of those hidden emotions, the more my indoctrinated brain has done all kinds of antics as it tried to warn me of imminent danger. What a conflict! Experiencing the feelings are almost always accompanied by fear, or uncontrollable weeping at unexpected moments. For example, a couple of days ago we were having breakfast in our favorite restaurant. I noticed a small child sitting between her parents. She was alert and curious, her eyes searching the room as all the while she babbled to them as if reporting what she was seeing. I could not take my eyes off her. Her father was quick to respond and engaged her in gentle conversations. At one point he took her on his lap and they gazed into each others eyes lovingly. Suddenly I felt an overwhelming sense of loss and longing as I realized I had not experienced those kinds of interactions when I was a child, and felt the lack of being loved like that deep within. Tears streamed down my cheeks uncontrollably surprising me as if coming out of nowhere. Emotional pain was unbearable for those few moments. Shortly after that brief cathartic experience I felt angry that I was robbed of my childhood. I experienced a whirlwind of emotion, which passed as quickly as it came, leaving me feeling both released and empowered. There was no need to express any of it openly to anyone, nor did I want to act on it. Just allowing myself to feel the feelings was a revelation. 

As I become aware of my emotional life script, and allow myself to feel repressed childhood emotions, there is no turning back. It's real, and yes, I am actually gradually moving out of the darkness and into the light. What a sensation.

Of course, my psychological journey is nowhere near over, but the foundation on which to continue my uncoveries feels solid. And so at this juncture all I want to say is: happy 10th blogaversary to me.

Writer’s block

Recently I logged into my blog, and read through the past few posts of this year – written sporadically – once a month or so. I noticed a theme through them – one of release, gratitude, and forgiveness. As the semester winds down for the holidays, and I have a few moments to sit quietly with myself, I realize that I have successfully made it through one of those periods in my professional life that tested my confidence and will, and discover that I have arrived at the other end with my integrity intact – true to what I believe to be most important about education of young children. I must admit to feeling fortunate and grateful for a number of dear friends and colleagues, whose support has buoyed me up through these last few months, swaddling me in a community of love, respect, and acknowledgement. 

I also realize that I have not been able to write much of anything substantial – either on this blog, or in other professional or personal spheres. Creativity has eluded me as I went about my practical work of teaching and training. Am not sure why. It is not like it has been at other times in the past – a feeling that I will never write again. It is more like a time-out as I regroup emotionally. There have been a lot of changes for me this past year and a half or so, and I have experienced a genuine shift in how I perceive myself. 

So, probably if you have made it here to read this post, you might want to "watch this space," for I sense an urge, a tickle or a twinge of more writings to come …

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: December Days

The new world

Quote of the day:

Now it’s a different kind of giving up: the attempt to atone for being born as me. But I am ready. I can feel it in my bones. I no longer believe that I am broken. Geneen Roth

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I fell in love with the New World 28 years ago at the beginning of autumn. Of course, at the time, I was not consciously aware that I suffered from a wounded soul. I made my way across oceans and continents in the hopes of opening doors and discovering new opportunities. I was as green as I could be. Indeed, America felt wide open to all manner of possibilities. As much as I studied, worked and journeyed on my way, I was yet to start healing for I was dragging my unwanted and neglected self around with me heavy with ancient notions and ideas about who I was. The past accompanied me everywhere I went with whatever I did, my childhood ever present rising up to greet me in all my endeavors and interactions. It was excruciating at times. I mostly felt culturally illiterate whether it was shopping in a mall or learning how to survive in academia. The simple act of opening doors or turning on faucets would leave me helpless and confused. Everything was so completely different from anything I had done or known before. Education blew open my mind presenting me with options I never knew I had. It was confusing and exhilarating, terrifying and glorious.

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This past week I have been thinking about that time 28 years ago. For it is the anniversary of my first trip to America, the year before my son and I immigrated permanently. I spent a month in Western New York and New York City trying it on for size. When I returned to Israel, my young teenage son asked me how it was. "Like a perpetual sit-com," I responded. "Like the movies, without the background music." Kmart seemed like paradise for one as poor as I was at the time. I bought a red corduroy coat as soon as I entered the front door. It hung on the rack at $15 or so, and I exclaimed, "What a deal!" Looking back I understand it was not an easy ride working and studying long hard hours to realize a dream. Some along the way supported and cheered me on, and there were a few, who tried to hold me back. But I pressed on regardless somehow sensing all the while that redemption was at hand.

Lately, I have been looking ahead as I contemplate future retirement. Sitting quietly in my study this morning surrounded by books, potted plants, blooming violets, cats contentedly sleeping, a steaming cup of coffee, pictures, hand made rugs, and the recurring, chilly breeze of the autumn I fell in love with so many years ago, I experience unfamiliar sensations. It might be fulfillment, or pride, perhaps, in what I managed to achieve thus far. I feel almost healed – not so unwanted and no longer neglected. 

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Integration