New Dreams

Travel writing is a new goal of mine.  My boyfriend mentioned it as a life goal of his once, so I figured… hey, I better get on board with this idea!  Then I took a travel writing class to England and now I’m completely sold.   For a girl my age, I am well-traveled, but the thought of travelling for a living never ocurred to me as a possibility.   I just love home too much.  When I stand before an English meadow, or inside a cave deep in Mexico and think “Gee, I miss the wheat field east of the house,” it becomes pretty obvious where my loyalty lies.  I’m a simple American farmgirl.  Me, a world traveller??  But here was the clincher for me:  I love people.  I am a writer always on the lookout for characters.  People make me laugh; they make me question; they make come alive!  And as (one of) my favorite quote(s) says:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~Unknown

What is more exciting than sitting in a foreign pub, deep  in conversation with a complete stranger?  (Well, maybe sky diving?) 

I am a regional writer.  I write about the place I live; its where my passion lies.  Travel writing was a huge stretch for me.  It meant I had to go somewhere unfamiliar and write about that place and do so as if I was a native.  What great practice for a writer.  What a way to educate myself.  Examining new things makes one grow as an individual as well.

Life as  a travel writer would be an adventure.  My life has always been a crazy ride; I welcome the memories.  Life moves and I wish to move with it!  Very few things in life are constant; that was a lesson I learned early in my childhood.  Perhaps this is what I was being prepared for? 

Obviously, I am talking into the future here.  Right now, I am loving home and need to finish school.  And one doesn’t just “become” a travel writer.  I am realistic; I have done my research.  If I am serious about this, it will mean a lot of work and a lot of luck.  But this probably won’t be the last you hear of my new goal.

So now I have recorded it: Emily Grace’s career goal has experienced an addition.  For the first time in ten years, she has altered her goal of being a novelist.  On her way up the ladder to published fiction, she may (if opportunity provides) take a detour on the travel writing rung.

Blessings,
Em

p.s. Remember: Character matters!

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Campus Ministry

There’s this belief rampant among churches that State Colleges and Universities are the devil’s lair.  We hear statistics that tell us that only one in four Christians graduate still holding on to Christ and we panic!  Now that I am busy wrapping up my third semester of college, I would like to address this issue. (You have to admit, of all the ways to put off studying for finals, this is a good one!) 

First of all, don’t put your faith in statistics.  They’re all skewed. 

Second–and more importantly– trust God.  Our fear of losing faith in college has led us down some paths that I’m afraid are even more damaging than the original problem.

There are three ways I have seen the Christian community attempt to combat what they view as satan’s hold on college students:  Campus Ministries, Christian Universities, and condemning (and not attending) higher education.

Campus Ministries: This is usually in the form of church-suppported groups that lead Bible studies or worship services on a regular basis somewhere on the college campus.  While they have good intentions (and many have good results), I am personally very leery of such organizations.  Their intent is to spread the gospel of Christ, but what usually happens is they are responsible for keeping all the Christian kids in a “click” or club.  They also tend to feed on a victim mindset, giving many young Christians the idea that they are unjustly being persecuted in college.  This does not encourage students, nor will it strengthen their faith.  It’s merely a biased plug that ministry leaders use their platforms to present.  Campus Ministries are also used as witnessing tools, giving Christian kids something to invite their unsaved classmates to.  To me, that is missing the point of witnessing.  No one wants to sit in your small Bible study, nor do they want to attend a worship service with you.  If they don’t believe God exists or if they are struggling in their faith, what makes you think that would do anything other than annoy or frighten them?  Witnessing isn’t about trying to pull people into your world; it’s about you going into theirs.  Jesus helped people right where they were at.  He didn’t invite them to the synagogue!

Christian Universities: This is nothing more than Christian segregation.  Jesus taught that we were to go out into the world, baptizing in the name of the Holy Spirit.  Surrounding yourself with people who believe everything you do is not fulfilling that goal.  It is doing the opposite.  There may be the idea that college is a training grounds before thrusting oneself out in the world, but I do not find that to be biblical.  The apostle Paul shared his testimony with people as soon as the blindness fell from his eyes.   Keeping yourself in a Christian community hinders spiritual growth.  If everyone there believes as you do, where is the challenge?  If I trusted that everything coming from my professors’ mouths was accurate, how would I learn to think for myself?  Also, I fear these institutions help the problem of State Universities being anti-faith.  If most strong Christians are off at the Christian college, who is left to teach and attend the secular ones?  There is no reason for State Universities to feel the pressure of being open to Christianity when they can safely assume that most strong Christians aren’t attending their classes.  Thirdly, I know of Christian colleges that are not-so-Christian.  The only difference between them and State Universities is the name on the door and the tuition fees.  That is the most harmful thing of all.  When your Christian colleges stop acting like Christians, heavy damage is done to the witness of Christ.  I don’t approve of Christian segregation, but if you’re gonna put the name on the door, you have a heavy responsibility to live up to it!

Condemnation:  I do not think going to college is a necessity.  If you  don’t need a degree for the job you desire, then don’t go.  Now, I LOVE college and I support Higher Education, but I’m realistic.  It’s not for everyone and no one should feel they must go.  However, if the only reason you are refusing this great opportunity is because someone has told you it is ungodly to attend…then I have a problem with your absence in our schools.   It’s not that you are denying yourself an education.  You can buy your own books and study everything you please without attending college.  But you are denying your faith the chance to grow.  If you don’t think that your faith can stand up under the pressure of college then what does that say about it?  Personally, you’re giving me the impression that you have a small, frail relationship with God.  I don’t want to see Christians living in fear.  It’s okay to allow yourself to be challenged and I sincerely hope that college does that for you!    

I’ve become really negative in this post, so let me end with what I do believe in, instead of just hitting everyone over the head with my disagreements.  I believe in living your life for Christ.  To me, a college ministry shouldn’t be an organization; instead it is what each individual Christian attending college lives out.  Let me tell you a personal story.  This semester I took a class called  “Archaeology and the Bible.”  Now, I attend a secular University.  The Bible isn’t discussed here in a good way.  I knew going into the class that it would be difficult.  Was it?  Yes.  But I have grown more in my faith than I ever dreamed.  And God was faithful to me.  Hebrews says that when things become too much for us to bear, God will provide a way out for us.  God  didn’t get me out of it, but He led me through it with the help of two teachers.

The first was a music teacher.  It just so happens that this man is a Christian who loves (and has studied) biblical archaeology.  (coincidental, huh?)  My lessons with him were scheduled once a week and just happened to land immediately after my archaeology class.  I got to go right from the stress and confusion of this class to having a fun, relaxing time playing music.  He always asked me how my archaeology class was going and he was very open when I’d ask him questions. 

The other influential person was an English teacher.  One day our class discussed literature and writing.  We talked about how hard it is to trust every word that someone writes as absolute truth.  How is one to know if they’ve embellished at all?  This was similar to what my archaeology class was wondering about the Bible, so I took the liberty of sending this teacher an e-mail after that class, asking him to explain the issue deeper for me.  I also explained my concerns regarding the Bible.  He could have ignored the Bible part, not wanting to touch a controversial subject, but he didn’t.  It turns out that he is a Christian.  Not only was he open about the fact that he personally did trust the Bible, but his witness throughout the semester was a huge relief for me.  He was a good professor who cared about the individuals in his class, not just their grades. 

Those two men have college ministries.  They may not realize it, but they do.  They aren’t at college with a hidden agenda, out to convert everyone.  They are simply using the talents God gave them to make a living and feed their families.  Yet in the process of doing so, they continue to impact people for the sake of Christ.  That is not something only professors should do.  It is something students should do, as well.  Not get together in little clubs.  Get involved where their talents deem is a good spot for them and SHINE.

Education Reformation:Grades

If you are stopping by my blog in search of my Education Reformation series, you are going to want to start with my first post.  This series has three parts, this being the third.  Here are the links to the first two entries.

Part 1: Education Reformation:Rewards

Part 2: Education Reformation:My Beef

As I foreshadowed in Part 2, this third entry discusses school funds.  I do believe, however, that I am guilty of lying by insinuation.  If my last post led you to believe that I would reveal how I would magically wave my wand and make greenbacks appear in Uncle Sam’s generous hand…I apologize.  That is not what this entry is about.  In my defense, however, I did admit that post #2 was written on a complete caffeine binge…  But the truth is, I am not a financial guru.  I do not have a mind for numbers, therefore I have no authority to tell our government how to improve the sorry state our finances are in. 

The part of our finances I am going to talk about is the incorrect way they are distributed.  This can be explained best with a true story.  I have been wanting to write my thoughts on education for a long time, but it was this story that finally convinced me to write this series for you.  Last week I found out some heartbreaking news.  I have a very dear friend who will be in 8th grade this year.  She recently transferred schools due to a family move.  My friend has some learning disabilities, so the special education department at her new school (which was a smaller, more rural school compared to her previous one) tested her in various areas.  Her parents were heartbroken to learn that she was significantly behind in her education.  They were also surprised, having had no idea there was this big of a problem.  There was a scuffle of research and contacting the former big city school to try find answers to what had happened and why my friend was so many years behind.  The truth eventually came out.  My friend’s former teachers knew she wasn’t understanding the lessons they taught.  But if they had held her back, it would have appeared that they were not doing their job since, according to test scores, she wasn’t learning.  If the special education department put out a progress report with students showing little to no improvement, they would be denied government funds.  Therefore, my friend’s teachers kept passing her so it appeared that she was learning and keeping up with her class.  Am I the only one who hears stories like this and then begins to see red?

This is where I diverge from money.  I don’t know how to make funds appear that aren’t there, but I do know a better way to distribute them.  Kind of.  Maybe I should say, I know how not to distribute them.  You should not be letting test scores dictate money.  You should not be having test scores dictate anything.  That is what I want to discuss for my third point: test scores.

I don’t believe in what is called “teaching to the test.”  That is when teacher’s have their test written out and the information they teach you is based on what you need to know to pass the test.  As a student, I loved this method because it guaranteed that if you paid attention, you’d get good grades.  But it doesn’t guarantee that you learn.  After countless years of taking math (even getting a private tutor for it), I still struggle balancing my checkbook each month, never quite getting the numbers to jive.  After taking a High School class on Environmental Science and passing with  flying colors, I realized just yesterday that I can’t remember the purpose of our local watershed board. After memorizing every single amendment to our Constitution for my college government class, the only amendments which I can give the correct number to with 100% certainty would be the first and second amendment–and I knew those before I took that class.  Those are all examples of times I memorized and learned “to the test.”

Compare that with my English studies.  The only time I have ever memorized anything for an English class was when I memorized terms or word definitions.  Most of those I have forgotten.  Other than that, I never really studied for English tests.  I LOVE English and it is something I have spent several years inundating myself in. I read a wide variety of literature, I attend writing workshops, I discuss writing and English studies with people, and most importantly, as a writer I put what I learn in English class to practice. So, how does that work when it comes to tests?  Well, sometimes it means I get a wrong answer, because I just don’t recognize the questions.  But many times its an exciting way to find out what my brain has absorbed over time.  Example: If my High School English class had a question asking the name for the Ancient Egyptian goddess of night, I may not remember.  After all, there are a lot of names in mythology.  But my brain could also go through the knowledge process.  I could recall one of my favorite books that was set in ancient Egypt.  Then I’d bring up certain scenes in the book that had included mythological creatures.  By remembering the dialogue in the book it would trigger my brain, telling me that the goddess of night was named Nuit.  And there you have it.  In a perfect education system, you wouldn’t have the inundated lifestyle that I have in English, but that is still the process your brain should be going through, because your teachers should have exposed you to the stories and fascination of each study in a very real, practical and applicable way.

Memorization isn’t knowledge.  There are scores of Straight-A idiots in our classrooms.  And they are getting rewarded for being such.  Who do we give scholarships to?  Who gets the assortments of privileges various schools hand out as rewards?  Who becomes teacher’s pets and is shown favoritism?  Who is given job recommendations by staff?  Is it not the straight-A kids?

Here is my belief: grades are not important; improvement is.  Teachers, consider this: when you put together your tests, does the score of the student at the top of the class really matter to you?  I mean if a girl who’s always gotten an “A” on her tests, gets another “A” in your class…you didn’t accomplish much, did you?  But if a struggling student who is failing returns a test to you with a “D” or maybe even a low “C”…REJOICE!  That is cause for celebration.  Somehow you were able to get into that students’ head one or two pieces of vital information.  Had that kid given you an “A” paper, chances are he or she either cheated or memorized to get the answers.  But with a slight improvement such as that, you know that something must have clicked.  That kid is smarter than he or she was two weeks ago.  And that is what teaching is all about.   

A look into the future?

To wrap up my series, let me give you my idea of a “perfect” education system.  These are all the “minor” changes I didn’t feel the need to spend a whole post blogging about.

  • Because students are all individuals, they all learn at individual levels and individual paces.  So they shouldn’t be clumped together in grades.  Learning (not memorizing) should be on an individual basis.  I am a big fan of the old-fashioned one-room school house: students of all ages clumped together, learning patience while the teacher helped others, learning how to socialize and befriend kids of different ages, helping others when possible and being allowed to graduate early if they move ahead in their studies or later if they took their time. 
  • School funding and student progress mandates should be the job of the local government, not subject to the whims of big government.   Lazy politicians in Washington D.C. who make money with their poor work ethic, skipping meetings and debates to go fishing and showing up only in time to vote, have no business telling our kids (who they have never met) what programs do and do not deserve funds. 
  • Teachers have the ultimate authority over their own class schedules.  If an elementry teacher from North Dakota has a Monday class on the first nice, blizzard-free day in they have seen in weeks, she has the right to take her class to the park to play, burn off some energy and just have a good time.  Life-lessons learned on days like that are just as important as 2+2. 
  • High School schedules should not be periods of continual back-to-back classes, but relaxed with plenty of time in between.  Healthy snacks should be provided for them.  Why does snack time end after elementary school?  Healthy snacks are important to a healthy diet.
  • In High School, English, Geography and Social Studies should be taught together as a combined effort of the teachers.  (i.e. When you are reading The Scarlett Letter in English, you should be studying early American settlement  and the Salem witch trials in Social Studies and you should be studying the layout of what was America at that time in Geography.  What colonies were being settled?  How far apart were they?  What was the land like then? etc.)
  • Algebra should be taken only when an upper classman in High School and you don’t need more than Algebra I (all other Algebra can be covered in college if it is needed for your major.)   Other years in High School should be spent on practical math: balancing a checkbook, counting back change, adding/subtracting time, etc.  Most schools cover this when kids are young, maybe middle school, but the skills are forgotten by the time the kids enter the job field.
  • 4 day school weeks.  Kids need to be kids.  They need to learn by living.  Don’t keep their childhood boxed inside four school walls all week.
  • Extracurricular activities should have limits.  A limit in age as well as the number of activities you can be in.  I watched too many people show up at High School 2 hours before the day started to run and do their practice for athletics because after school, during normal practice hours, they had practice for whatever form of the Arts that they were in.  That normally lasted till after supper, when the student would go home, do homework, study for tests, go to sleep and then get up in the wee hours of the morning and do it all over again, 5 days a week.  And that’s if they didn’t have part time jobs they were trying to swing, as well.  That’s very detrimental to a person’s health.  Adults don’t swing that kind of schedule, why are we expecting kids to?
  • We need to encourage professors and advisors at teachers’ colleges to be bold and critical.  If they see a student trying to achieve a teacher’s license who they don’t believe is very qualified to work with children, they need to encourage that student to pursue areas where the student’s knowledge could be better used.  They can’t force anything and ultimately it would be the students’ decision, but we all need those outside eyes giving us feedback.  This could also help reduce the number of teachers who are raping their students because those potential “teachers” wouldn’t be in the business. 

Whew!  This ends my education series.  I apologize for the length!  🙂  Writing these posts has been a huge stretcher for me, but wow does it feel good to have it accomplished!  My goal is to someday put these essays (and more) together in a nonfiction book about Education Reformation that I would collaborate on with teachers, politicians and other people “in the know” who could share their stories.  So maybe you’ll see them again someday!

Our kids are worth educating and our education is worth reforming!

Blessings,
Emily Grace

Education Reformation:My Beef

I recently started a short series on Education Reformation in America.  This entry is part two.  Part one can be found here.   

During part one of this series, I discussed my irritation with the rewards system practiced by many teachers.  I gave an example of an elementary teacher I knew, who generously dolled out candy for every good thing a child did.  I am going to discuss her again, because there is information that I refrained from mentioning last time:  She weighed at least 300 pounds.  She was an extremely heavy lady who waddled when she walked and could hardly fit through many of the doorways.  This is not me picking on her or trying to objectify her.  I am honestly concerned that she was passing on her bad eating habits to her students.  She could have rewarded her students with cheap toys from the dollar store or made it into a creative game by rewarding points that would go to a bigger prize at the end of the year.  I, personally, still wouldn’t have liked it, as it would still be bribing kids to be good, but it would have been healthier.  But, as I said last time, this teacher is not alone.  Why is it that here in America we always seem to equate children with candy?  Now, I am not so much of a health freak that I would forbid kids having treats.  But we’re dealing with school.  As an educator, this teacher should have known better.  You can’t give a child a candy bar and then expect him to sit still and concentrate on his math.  You just pumped his body with sugar.  He can’t physically concentrate!!   And if you’re willing to give kids all that extra sugar, what are you doing to help them burn it off? 

Another health factor that concerns me is school lunch programs.  Its junk that should not be put into kids’ bodies.  In my old high school, the peanut butter was runny. You could literally pick up the spoon and drizzle it onto your bread.  What did the cooks do to make it this way?  They poured oil into it.  I kid you not.  The stuff was drenched in vegetable oil to make it go farther.  That is beyond disgusting.  I know funds can be tight, but oily peanut butter?  There is an initiative taking place in our country to make school’s healthier (thankfully).  Most schools now have salad bars and healthy alternatives.  But schools are still cutting corners.  My old high school had a salad bar…but it was filled with white lettuce.  For those of you who aren’t caught up on your health info: vegetables need to be colorful.  The darker green your lettuce, the more nutrition in it.  The same goes for other vegetables: bright orange for carrots, deep red for beets, etc.  So if you’re eating white lettuce…why?  If you are going to eat something that isn’t actually helping your body, you might as well find something that actually tastes good!  It would make as much sense to eat a candy bar for lunch than white lettuce.  (Okay, not quite.  But the principle is the same.)

There are two reasons I’m rambling on like a health-freak right now, but they really go hand-in-hand.  The first: food affects both your brain and body.  The healthier you eat, the better you will perform in class.  The second: childhood obesity in America has risen to epidemic proportions.  But you are talking about various kids from different backgrounds and family situations whose only common factor is that they attend public schools.  Now, some kids will have weight problems biologically and some by their own destructive choices.  Either way, all of these kids are being fed eating choices by our government.  Thanks, Uncle Sam!

The human body needs good food and exercise in order to thrive properly.  Giving your body the opposite–bad food and little activity–creates obesity.  When you are overweight, your body and mind slows down, you can become somewhat lethargic and you tire easily.  Your performance in school will suffer.  Now, does this mean that people who are overweight are not smart, intelligent individuals?  Not necessarily.   One of the smartest kids in my high school class was  slightly overweight.  But if he was that intelligent when he was unhealthy…what amazing mind powers could he have released on a decent diet?  What remarkable things could he have contributed to the world had he been able to flourish?  There have to be more Einsteins out there somewhere, waiting to be given the ability to use their minds.  We need to find people smart enough to discover a cure for cancer!  (Although, FYI, your chances of getting cancer can be significantly reduced by a healthy lifestyle.  I’ve actually heard of people completely reversing their cancer by eating an all-natural diet.  Whether or not that’s believable is yours to decide.)

I have set myself up during this post to be accused of objectifying people and stereotyping, getting labeled a “health freak” and much more.  The truth is, I am not trying to do any of that.  I am all about personal freedoms.  Your body is yours.  Put what you like inside it.  That goes for the kids in our schools as well.  I am completely okay with teens running up to Pizza Hut or McDonalds or KFC after school and completely pigging out.  The heart attack will be there’s to deal with.  Personally, I prefer healthier alternatives, but I am far from being a health “nut.”  Last night I pigged out on pizza and chocolate and I have had so much coffee in the past  24 hours (including a cup now, as I type this) that my body is running on strictly caffeine.  I may be a healthy weight, but I’m not “fit.”  My body could stand a good toning.  The last time I was properly “in shape” was probably when I was 7 years old.  So please believe me when I say that this isn’t me pushing my ideals on others.  This is about the kids.

Our school’s only objective is to educate kids.  Anything that hampers education needs to be removed from the school system (like when school food courts invite fast-food joints to sell their products.   Ya, get rid of that.)  Anything that boosts education needs to be encouraged and, if possible, added to our school systems (One period in High School specifically for working out and required among all grades.)  

So, I’ve talked quite abit about this problem, but not given any specific solutions.  There’s a reason for that.  We know that fresh beans, instead of processed canned beans, are better for our kids.  We know that grilling our meat instead of frying it is better, as well.  And we love our kids.  If we didn’t feel trapped into giving them this crap, we wouldn’t.  But healthy food is expensive.  Very expensive.  And our country just doesn’t have any money right now.  Funds are tight…and that is tomorrow’s post.