Archive for the 'thoughts' Category

Pennsylvania the Beautiful

It’s almost miraculous how far and often I’ve traveled when you consider how strongly I dislike being on moving vehicles of all forms. Today I spent most of the day on a bus from Massachusetts to PA, followed by a train (the lesser of transportation evils) to Harrisburg. When I reached my apartment at 6 pm, I was very ready to call it a night.

Alas, the day was not over. I still had to go to a township supervisors’ meeting in my role as freelance newspaper reporter. As I drove home afterwards, though, I had a surprising burst of enthusiasm and happiness. Why? Because of the glimpses of Peter’s Mountain standing strong across from route 11/15. Because of the cool air coming off the Susquehanna River and into my car window. And most of all, because of the dozens of lightning bugs glimmering in the woods along my ride.

Renaissance Women and Men

As someone with a long list of passions and ambitions, I always find it inspiring to hear about people who have worked in a range of fields in their life. Same for people who switch from one career to a very different one later in life. Here’s an example I just read about in Highlights (a children’s magazine):

J. Patrick Lewis is the current U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate. He’s the author of many poetry collections as well as other children’s books. Writing is not his original career, though. First he was an economics professor! Who normally associates economics and poetry? Not me…

In recent years I’ve seen a lot of people my age struggle with what to do with their lives post-college. People like Lewis offer good reminders that we don’t need to “figure it all out” immediately.

D.C. Spring

I spent the weekend in D.C. for a friend’s wedding, which was graced with unusually lovely St. Patrick’s Day weather. Spring is my favorite season in D.C., probably because blooming trees (not just the infamous cherry blossoms) speckle the streets of many residential neighborhoods.

Springtime reminds me of Andrew. In college he was much better than I at allowing time away from schoolwork to relax outside, meet with friends, and generally appreciate this pleasant season.

Northeast DC blossoms

Spring begins. Northeast D.C., March 2012

Spring also seems like a more natural start of the year than January. Like farmers sowing seeds, we make plans for times ahead—whether that’s summer trips, fall schedules, or (as is usually my scenario) where to live and where to work. Head Start classes will end in a few months, and it’s time to move on from substitute teaching. I’ve begun to look for jobs that will extend beyond the summer and take me in directions I can’t yet predict.

As a teenager the passage of time revealed by the greening grass in spring stoked an unnamed fear at the pit of my stomach. In optimistic years, I  look forward to new people and experiences entering my world as presents to be unwrapped. Other years, like this one, I observe the yearly continuity of human activity, despite changing details of what worries or excites us, and wonder about the larger meaning of our day-to-day routines.

Ways of Visiting

A few months ago someone asked me what my hobbies are. I said writing. Since he already knew I write as a job, he asked what else I liked to do, naming a few possible interests–like his own collection of exotic pets. My answer was still writing.

It occurred to me afterwards that I could have said traveling is one of my hobbies, but even though I’ve been dozens of far-off places, it’s not really true. I don’t “love to travel” in the sense of visiting as many places as possible and seeing all the sights.

If I go somewhere, I usually do it because I have a friend there or a job. I am more interested in people and cultures than in places or destinations. I’d rather visit the school a friend teaches at or interview the neighbors than go to tourist attractions (though I inevitably do some of the latter while traveling).

I’m also a strange mixture of home-body and globetrotter; when I studied in Cairo many of my friends trekked to as many nearby countries as possible, but I never left Egypt. I am willing to go just about anywhere, but once I’m there I want to settle in and have regular life habits.

Basically, I’m an anthropologist, not a traveler. Of course the distinctions aren’t neat and simple: oth are visitors, and whereas “travelers” often don’t see what’s really going on in a place, anthropologists can be criticized for seeing through the colonial gaze.

This month I’m in Phoenix staying with my beloved friend Mary and doing some photography and writing. Since it’s only a short stay, the way I take in the city will be limited, but so far my head is a mosaic of comparisons and contrasts to other places I’ve been. The comparison that surprises me most is to Harrisburg, where I currently live. I’ll be writing more about that in the coming weeks.

Arizona sun at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. January 2012

Do Charlie Brown Christmas Trees Really Exist?

My family’s always had an artificial tree at Christmas time, so I’ve never experienced the search for the perfect pine. Driving around Central PA these days I pass lots of roadside Christmas tree stands. From the driver’s seat, the trees look uniform in size, shape, and color–much like the produce in supermarkets. It seems that puny trees of the sort that Charlie Brown adorned probably don’t make it off the farm and to the sales lot, which disappoints me.

Am I wrong about this observation? What’s your experience with Christmas tree shopping?

Christmas Lights

Different Meanings of Occupation

I’ve always had an interest in language and the adaptability of words, but I never felt the physical and emotional charges we attach to words until I lived in a conflict zone. Take the word “collaboration,” for instance. In the West Bank, collaborating refers to Palestinian working with the Israeli Army informing them of their neighbors’ activities or other actions with equally dangerous repercussions in the community. Being accused of being a collaborator carries heavy social consequences for any Palestinian and their relations.

Hence, when I left Palestine to teach digital storytelling in India, “collaborate” was not a word that rolled off my tongue often. When I started hearing it used in the classroom regarding groupwork or when discussing partnerships between educational organizations, I had to mentally process the difference. I still do. It’s not something I usually verbalize, but I’m not sure it will ever go away.

And then there’s the word “occupation.” Despite opposing the U.S. occupation of Iraq, I had little awareness of this word being anything other than a synonym for “job” before learning about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Even now I wonder if people in the U.S. get what I’m talking about when I refer to the occupation. It doesn’t have the same weight as the word “war”—that is unless you’ve experienced it, in which case the word will probably make you want to curl up in a corner if you think about its meaning while sitting in a hip café writing a blog post.

So I’ve been having a lot of mental processing as the word “occupation” has become a popular lingo referring to protests in Wall Street and elsewhere, in which participants literally take over a space that they do not legally control. It’s the same basic action as a military occupation, though of course the actors, type of force employed, purpose, etc. differ.

The striking language difference here is that by and large the people I talk to about these occupations are promoting and praising them. I’m accustomed to occupation as something to resist, not a form of resistance itself. So it’s in the valuation of the word in phrases like “Occupy Everywhere” that my embodied understanding of the term is destabilized. Today I saw a photo that speaks to this linguistic trip wire.

Solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners, 10/11/11. By Oren Ziv

What You Learn in School

It’s not hard to find criticism of standardized testing in public education. Another important criticism that I’ve heard less often is about the homogenizing effects of standardized curricula. I first heard it from a friend teaching middle school English in Oahu. Venting about the rigid, stale curriculum imposed by educational planners from the mainland, my friend pointed out that the required readings were culturally inaccessible to her students and also not appropriate to their abilities/learning needs. But then, the curriculum was not designed for her students, she noted.

I next contemplated the idea of culturally relevant curriculum in public education while living in Palestine. I learned that during the time that Jordan controlled the West Bank (i.e. after 1948 and before the 1967 Israeli occupation), Palestinian students there followed the Jordanian curriculum while Palestinian students in Gaza were educated under the Egyptian curriculum since Egypt controlled the strip at that time. I wondered how much or how little Palestinians saw themselves and their history represented in those curricula. (It’s an easy question to call to mind in a place where the occupying Israeli powers actively destroy or deny Palestinian culture and history.) Around that time I also read a brief article criticizing Israeli influence in the more recently created Palestinian curriculum, but was frustrated by that article’s lack of references to specific facts or sources for that information.

Most recently, a “Speak Your Piece” article over at the Daily Yonder news site got me thinking about this topic. Ohio University sophomore Zach Wilson argues against a one-size-fits-all education policy on rural areas of the U.S. Specifically, he cites the narrowness and shortsightedness of focusing solely on college readiness and the negative impacts of school consolidation on rural communities.

“Communities are the keystones of society. This is where people interact, where they are rooted by a sense of shared place. In this sense, communities are rarely found outside of rural areas. But the emphasis on humans as economic and competitive creatures has long seen rural places not as essential to society in their wholeness, but useful in their pieces — places good only for the extraction of food, timber, ore, and human labor.”

Clearly this viewpoint affects how we as a society seek to educate our members. And right now it seems we’re educating young people to be “productive participants” in an economy that’s failing and doesn’t have a place for them (or us, as I, too am a young person). It’s a big thing to wrap your head around. Scaling down the focus slightly, I am trying to learn more about rural education in the U.S. as I’m contemplating ideas to teach digital storytelling to youth somewhere in rural Pennsylvania. I’m particularly interested in the concept of place-based education which Zach advocates in his DY post, so if anyone reading this has suggestions for how/where to learn more about that, please leave them in the comments.

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