vendredi 26 novembre 2010


I am so glad I am static right now. Sure, my fingers are tapping on a keyboard, but that's about it. Every other part of my body is relaxed, I do not need to be anywhere in the next 20 minutes, I did not go to work yesterday, I am not going to work today. My sister is here, I'm in Coatesville with family, and some of us fell aslep last night in front of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Happy Thanksgiving!

As Eric's car was cruising away from Bethlehem towards Coatesville on Wednesday evening, I realized I had not left the gentle steel town since I had come back in September.
It felt good, a relief, to be moving away. Coming back soon enough, and gladly, too. But it is necessary, sometimes, to leave.

To rest. To pause.

I've come to realize that I don't have a very high tolerance for stress when I'm not using the appropriate coping strategies. One of the strategies I used to reduce stress while I was stage-managing in October was to listen to a podcast while I was walking to the theatre. I knew that if I simply walked, I would churn information in my head, I would worry, I would make lists that would instantly evaporate, and reappear again, and evaporate again. The podcast allowed me to focus on something exterior. It told stories of people to whom I could relate, but whom I didn't know. I could feel, for the span of 20 minutes, like I was not on my way to work. I was hanging on to the illusion of free time.

Now, although I'm still working a lot, my stress levels are fine, generally speaking. But that's partly because I make a point of taking time for myself. I have been cooking as much as possible. Nothing fancy, but the ritual of preparing food has made me relax. I even almost enjoy washing the dishes!

I am thankful for so much, and particularly happy to have such optimal living conditions this year. When I come home from work, I come into a warm, handsome, appartment. My housemate is delightful. And having a safe place like this is so damn important. Shouldn't that be a priority in public policy?
We sometimes forget about quality of life, because we're so busy doing stuff. And while some of us can come home and breathe, others come home, still holding their breath.

mardi 16 novembre 2010

Teaching content

American education question:

Is teaching content to kids going out of style?

I don't know much about this, and I might be completely wrong, but I have the impression that students are being taught a lot of learning strategies and "ways of doing things", but don't always learn actual facts. Do they learn fewer facts because facts are so available everywhere now and what matters is how you find them?
I'm very tempted to go into a - say, Math, or English - classroom and see how and what kids are taught in school here, because I have no idea. Do high school students still read Shakespeare or is that over? Are computers always used to teach Math now? What does your average 7th grader know about volcanoes?
Having not been in the American school system as a student and working at the margins of the system now as a teaching artist, I have a very narrow and warped view of what kids do and learn all day. It's bugging me. If I were teaching in France, I would have a mental chronology of the overall curriculum as I know it, and how it's been evolving since I was a student. Changes in curriculum are discussed by the ministry of Education, and are often the centerpoint of debate among the teacher's union and the government.

This year, especially in one of the Touchstone programs, we're trying to integrate some material that introduces students to culture, by ways of a visual mood board and using classical music for some activities. I have no idea if any of what the material we introduce is redundant, but I have a feeling it's not.
I have a feeling the students are craving for knowledge, and we're not giving it to them.

Below is the basics of how the education system works in the US. Good to remember. Since I am so used to the French, centralized, State heavy education framework, I need to remind myself regularly that it's not how it works here, at all.

The International Student's guide to the USA :

The American Education System

International students who come to the United States may wonder about their American classmates' prior education. Due to its local variations, the American education system appears confusing. In addition, the structure and procedures at American universities differ somewhat from other systems, such as the British model. This is a brief overview of the American school and university systems.

To begin, because the country has a federal system of government that has historically valued local governance, no country-level education system or curriculum exists in the United States. The federal government does not operate public schools. Each of the fifty states has its own Department of Education that sets guidelines for the schools of that state. Public schools also receive funding from the individual state, and also from local property taxes. Public colleges and universities receive funding from the state in which they are located. Each state's legislative body decides how many tax dollars will be given to public colleges and universities. Students in grades 1-12 do not pay tuition. College and university students do pay tuition, but many earn scholarships or receive loans.

Much of the control of American public schools lies in the hands of each local school district. Each school district is governed by a school board; a small committee of people elected by the local community or appointed by the local government. The school board sets general policies for the school district and insures that state guidelines are met.

Generally, school districts are divided into elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. Elementary schools are composed of students in kindergarten and grades 1-5. Most children attend kindergarten when they are five-years-old. Children begin 1st grade at age six. Middle school is composed of students in grades 6-8 and high school contains grades 9-12.
High school students are required to take a wide variety of courses in English, mathematics, science, and social science. They may also be required to take foreign language or physical education, and they may elect to take music, art, or theatre courses. Many high schools also offer vocational training courses. A course can be one semester or two semesters in length. The academic year generally begins in mid August and ends in early June.

In the United States, education is compulsory for all students until ages sixteen to eighteen depending on the individual state. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 89% of people ages 18 to 24 were high school graduates in 2006. Most high school students graduate at the age of seventeen or eighteen-years-old. A student graduates after he or she has successfully passed all of the required courses. Grades are given to students for each course at the end of each semester. The grading scale is A (excellent), B (above average), C (average), D (below average), and F (failing). A student who fails a required course must repeat the course.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 58% of high school graduates enrolled in colleges or universities in 2006. Students have the option of attending a two-year community college (also known as a junior college) before applying to a four-year university. Admission to community college is easier, tuition is lower, and class sizes are often smaller than in a university. Community college students can earn an Associate's degree and transfer up to two years of course credits to a university.

dimanche 14 novembre 2010

Dreams do come true

Guys, Guys, Guys! One of my dreams came true... I participated in a dance show... and got to see some inspiring choreography from the wings.

mercredi 3 novembre 2010

Post-election thoughts

I didn't vote yesterday, because I wasn't registered. I read about the results today, and I feel utterly terrible.

For future reference, everybody (who's American): YOU NEED TO REGISTER 30 DAYS BEFORE VOTING DAY TO BE ELIGIBLE TO VOTE.
Now I know.

(I keep telling myself that I have not missed many French electoral deadlines, but somehow, that doesn't make me feel better).

Pennsylvania went Republican.
Nationally, the (fragile) health care bill is threatened, as well as public funding for education, arts, environmental research, research in general, gay rights... and loud Republican mouths are bragging about how great they are.

I'm swamped with work, and have been burying my head in sand. I'm probably not the only one. I didn't think of registering, and when I did, it was too late. But to add insult to injury, I'm guilty of a greater crime :
Under the pretext of being young, I have been cautious of voicing my political opinions. I'm weary of hearing comments such as "you're such an idealist" or "you're not understanding the whole picture" or "once you start (really) working, you'll change your mind". I also always feel under-informed, and don't want to be sucked in a discussion when I don't grasp all the issues at hand. But I forget that a lot of people (euphemism) really don't know much about what they're talking about, and maybe my tendency towards thoughtful doubt might, in itself, help the conversation move forward.

But more truthfully, I'm mainly afraid of not being liked by people. I'm that kind of liberal. The one who really sincerely believes in the core concepts of democracy, who wants to see society move forward, who believes in education, in knowledge, and in the power of the human mind and spirit to make the world a fine place to live. But I'm the kind of liberal who doesn't talk with passion about what I believe to be fundamental.
I'm not going to say I'm passive. That would be forgetting that I work in a non-profit arts establishment, that I help teach an after-school program in inner-city schools, and work with teens in emotional-support classrooms. I do my best to contribute, however best I can, to the community. And I don't intend, as I grow older, to get a comfortable job, make a lot of money and move to the country that will tax me the least.
But, in a world where communication is key, where little smart-ass sentences make the fucking headlines (excuse my language), I have to step up. I have to say, as honestly as I can, what it is that I believe to be important.
So here we go:

- I believe in education. I am appalled when I see that children - small kids - have lost hope in their own future because society - through the school system- does not give them a chance to succeed. I believe that schools need more funding while simultaneously need to think about compelling teaching strategies that are effective in today's world.

- I believe that poverty doesn't only involve a lack of money, but also a lack of opportunity. I'm as afraid of the concentration of wealth as I am of the concentration of opportunity, since it contributes to further inequality.

- I am respectful of religion. Having been brought up religiously, having many role models who built their lives according to their faith, I am aware of the importance of religious thought in individual people's beliefs and opinions. I do not, however, believe that religion - any religion - should guide public policy for the simple reason that our societies are composed of many different people who do not share the same religious backgrounds. I also think it's ok not to be religious. The best compromise we have yet come up with is the separation of Church and State. It's there for a reason.

- I believe in a person's right to live happily and to make the choices that work for him/her as long as it does not harm someone else. I do not think that being gay is harmful in any way. So why is society so harsh on this issue?

- I believe in a woman's sole ownership of her body, and therefore in her ability to make choices regarding it. I am pro-choice.

- I think people should be elected to office according to their qualifications, their clairvoyance and their understanding of current issues.

There's probably more to say, but these statements are the ones I needed to express publicly in order to stop feeling like a fraud, a closeted liberal, a coward.

Amidst the bleakness... thankfully love, art, compassion and understanding exist and force us to look up and see the beauty of life itself.