Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Teacher Got Taught

Salem courthouse: AKA my house on any given day. I am the crazy lady standing on the bench, about to pounce. My children are the three cowering behind the bench and my husband is the man with his hands held out - in calming or surrender, hard to tell. Yea...

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that if you are teaching a lesson, you are also going to learn it...often personally. And usually that's ok with me, I feel like it benefits me to have examples and personal reference to teach from and my hard headedness often makes this my most effective way of learning. I think an extent of transparency (appropriately of course) makes teaching more effective. The two or three years I taught character education in Junior High are remembered well for this in my mind.

However, this time it's bittersweet. I am thankful for the reminder of a lesson I am trying to learn, but not thrilled with the source. Ok, so somewhat thrilled, because the media the source comes through is a book, but the topic of the book is not pleasing. My current life change deals with breaking my habit of living in survivor mode...I wrote about it in December (see here) and how life had to change. 

It's easy to get stuck in a rut. When life is busy - full time jobs, schooling, small children, and the odds and ends of life - you find what works and you go with it. Making it to the next day as close to in tact as possible is all that comes to matter. The Puritans were good at this - living in the rut. (Now don't anyone go getting offended. Ain't nobody got time for that! I'm not going to slam the Puritans based on any belief in God, but I have a beef with their legalism and some misinterpretation of the Bible.)

Anyway, I've taught The Scarlet Letter twice and The Crucible last year. If you've got a decent grasp on the Bible, it's easy to see where these people went wrong when it came to being Christian-like (yes, I'm generalizing and no, I haven't forgotten the plank in my eye...just judging the fruit, or lack thereof). So I am no fan of the Puritans, especially all that Salem witchcraft stuff! Read it if you haven't, it will make you sick to know this really happened. (And even more so when you understand the parallelism to 1950s McCarthyism.) 

Have I thoroughly established my disgust with the Puritans? Yea, so, they are the ones who I learned my lesson from, so to speak. Yea, sucks. 

Here and there in the first act, Arthur Miller (author of The Crucible) breaks in with narrative details about the lives of the Puritans and some specific characters. A couple weeks ago my classes began reading The Crucible and I read one of these excerpts in the introduction of Act I. It talked about how the Puritans' strict laws, work ethic, and religion is what allowed them to survive the harshness of the new land. Without these structures in place, they would have died off, as many of the earlier riches-seeking settlers before them had.

Interesting...the Puritans were in survivor mode. They knew what needed to happen to keep living and they never looked back. I know the feeling! However, once established, the weight of their laws and religion became heavier than the possible dangers against survival. In other words, they had reached a point where they could chillax, but they didn't. They kept right on trucking with their heavy handed rules (without the  love, grace, and mercy Jesus teaches) until the system began to break under the weight of a perfection they could never attain. Hence, the Salem witch trials as the ultimate breaking point.

Sadly, in the past my house has taken on what I imagine was the look and feel of the courthouse in Salem. I am realizing that the strict rules that are easily imposed upon young children (because it doesn't matter much to them at that point) will no longer work with my new teen and preteen. There is a balance to find - between order and my responsibilities as a parent and the growing individual freedom my children should naturally take on. I'm determined to be intentional about life, to change the rules or look at them a little more leniently when called for, and to show love at all times. Will I fail at times? Of course, as the Puritans teach us, it is not possible to be perfect, but that's what God's unconditional love, grace, and mercy are for.

Any books unexpectedly teaching you a lesson lately?


  1. Yes, Larry Brown, A Writer's Life, by Jean Cash. I blogged about how he was a "natural," a writer that taught himself by reading the books of authors he wanted to write like. And boy, did he... But I'm also learning how different the publishing world was then (80's, 90's) compared to today.

    Funny about discipline Jennine. Because aren't we finding out that a lot of kids nowadays are struggling? My grandson for daughter teaches at The Goddard Schools - which is sort of like a Montessori approach. But is he ever struggling and he's only in kindergarten! I say you do have to be flexible...(certainly more so than the Puritans - egad) But, it's difficult to know when to bend or not...I don't envy you and this particular situation at this point in time. Hang in there.

  2. Hanging...yea the Puritans were good at that too ;) lol Doing my best!

    1. And I did read your post on Larry Brown. I take lessons better when they come through books.

  3. I know you’re not asking for advice but, well, all kids are different, all families are different and what was right for us may not work for you. I was an inconsistent parent at best, which for me was the other f-word, flexibility, but it worked. The one thing I never did was give my daughters a curfew. They loved that, and they never, NEVER, came home late and you know why...their friends had curfews, once they all went home my kids did too.
    In my experience the kids with the strictest parents were the most messed up. If you control everything, how do they learn to control themselves?

    Hey Donna, about your little guy...both of my daughters are teachers, my brother-in-law, sister-in-law, both of their sons, my husband’s cousin, all teachers. They have all said that freaking out about the early stuff, when the kids are little is really wasted energy. Unless the child is learning disabled, they will eventually fall into step. Some parents, and teachers, get so blinded by the need for performance they forget that some kids just take a little longer to catch on; eventually they catch-up.
    My oldest went to kindergarten at 4 years old. She didn’t know her numbers or letters and barely knew colors. But the kid spoke at 10 months and sentenced at a year. It took forever for her to read. She stayed back in second grade because SHE wanted to stay back and catch up. She teaches the little guys now full-time and part-time she works with graduate students for a local university. Sometimes we have to relax and trust in time.

    Sorry I was so long-winded. I’m just so proud of how my kids turned out. Of course it was because I was such a great parent...and humble. Yeah right ;)

    1. Definitely gotta let up on some things and for me the other part is not flipping out and being more affectionate.

      And I agree with you about the little ones! The standards for schools are slowly creeping down to younger and younger grades. Soon kids won't be allowed to be kids.