Nothing New

Everyone wants to be original, creative, the first to do something. It is the mark of our culture. We are independent and unique. We value fresh, new, innovative art, music, and technology. Originality is held as a virtue. Does being original make one better than the rest?

I am also a product of my culture. I want to be seen as creative and unique, especially in my writing. I like when I can come up with a fresh idea or can think of a clever frame for a story. I feel like the written word is one of the few areas I am truly creative. In other areas, I am usually just following a model. I can cook well because I can follow a recipe well, I can sew or makes crafts well because I find good patterns. I can play beautiful music because I practiced technique and play exactly what is written by a composer.

In a book about the history of classical education, I read, “They tried not to say something new; they tried to say something worthy, and say it perfectly.” This quote reminded me that newness is not the end-all. It is completely acceptable to imitate what is good. Even the Italian renaissance, which I tend to think of as a time of fresh creativity, was actually an imitative era. It was a rebirth of the classical style of art, literature, architecture, etc. Renaissance thinkers and artists studied the written works of the Greek and Roman authors and admired their architecture and art. Success was measured by how a work held to the classical standard. The renaissance led the way into the modern era by looking back to a previous era.

Many people can be “original” without saying or showing anything worthwhile or beautiful. I want what I say (or make or do) to be first worthwhile and true. Secondly, I want to say it well, beautifully, and with clarity. If what I say is also something new, well and good, if it is even possible to say something truly original. In the end, what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Quote from Climbing Parnassus by Tracy Lee Simmons.

Photo is my own.


Poetry is Good for the Soul

A marbled black and white composition book that I got at the beginning of third grade is one of my most treasured possessions. It is full of hand-copied poems in the neatest handwriting I could muster. Poetry became special to me in first grade. I attended a small classical school and one of the key events of the year was a poetry competition. Every student (from kindergartners to seniors in high school) would memorize a poem to recite to their class. Finalists would be selected from each classroom for a poetry evening. I still remember the poems I learned in 1st and 2nd grade and how hard I worked on presenting them and how fun it was to wear a costume and have props.

In 3rd grade, when my mom began to homeschool me and my sister, we each received a notebook for poetry. We would practice penmanship while copying, talk about vocabulary, meaning, sometimes historical context, and then memorize the poem. We memorized about one a month. I kept it up through high school, memorizing everything from childhood poems by A.A. Milne, fairy tales by J.R.R. Tolkien, and brief poems by Emily Dickinson, to sonnets by Shakespeare and classics by Longfellow, Poe, and both the Brownings. I would sit down and read A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson from cover to cover. Though I have not done much memorizing since graduation, I keep my composition book out and handy. In college and after, I have added poems to it when I read or hear a new one that strikes a chord with me. Recent additions include Afternoon on a Hill by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Human Family by Maya Angelou.

This year, I had the privilege of helping my 1st grade students get ready for the same  poetry competition I was in so many years ago. This year’s selection of poems was written before 1840. My students memorized Mother Goose, Eliza Lee Follen, and even John Bunyan. They tackled some challenging words and abstract concepts and, for some, faced their fears by presenting in front of a large crowd of parents and grandparents.

Why should students have to interact with and even memorize poetry? How does it benefit them? Memorization is often discounted today because it is possible to memorize without understanding. It is true that understanding is the goal. However, it is also true that sometimes understanding follows memorization more easily than it follows explanation. This particular form of memory (poetry) has incredible benefits. Poetry uses an economy of words, often expresses emotions vividly, and trains children to listen to the sounds in spoken words (an important skill for reading). Memorizing poetry for presentation further impacts children. It teaches presentation skills, the use of clear diction, and creative expression. Reading and memorizing poems also helps students build up a stock of good examples of literature (from their own memory and those they have heard performed by their classmates) that they can enjoy and apply later on.

I have enjoyed some reading on classical education this month and found this quote by T.S. Eliot. “No one can become really educated without having pursued some study in which he took no interest-for it is part of education to learn to interest ourselves in subjects for which we have no aptitude.” Even if poetry is difficult or seems boring to some children, it still has a valuable part in education.



Photo is my own.

New Expectations

In the last month that I have been home in the U.S., I have had a fairly smooth transition. Fortunately, I was able to start working almost immediately. I was hired to teach first grade at a private school in my home town. I had a week of training and then spent the last several weeks going through the files and materials left in the classroom to see what I have to work with and what I might need to purchase. Having a lot of work to do has helped me stay busy and not dwell too much on missing Guadalajara.

Even though I have just met my coworkers and have not met my students, I can already tell this is going to be a very different experience. Going into my new classroom was definitely a shock to me. It is a nice size, with wonderful built-in cabinets, bookshelves, lockers, etc. I am already enjoying the space and looking forward to being able to walk around student desks without bumping into them all of the time. I am also very blessed by all the resources that were purchased by previous teachers with school money and I have a yearly allowance for materials for my classroom.

The contrast is so great it almost seems excessive. Lincoln kept a tight control on copies and resources. Many pre-made materials for classroom decoration, posters, etc. were not available at all unless someone brought them from the United States. On the one hand, it is exciting to have access to so much and I hope that I will be able to take advantage of these new resources. The environmentalist side of me is also a little sad because I can already see from what was left in my classroom that these resources are much easier to waste when there are barely limits.

There are some other major differences. The year I arrived at Lincoln, there was still no curriculum in place and it was every teacher for herself to decide how she was going to meet the standards. We had freedom to do almost anything, but I didn’t know what to do so I really struggled. The second year, it was nice to have the freedom, because I wrote the curriculum and found a method that really worked for me. At my new school, everything is regulated pretty tightly and I do not have the same freedom. I am glad they have clearly outlaid their expectations and provided training, but am a little nervous about meeting the high standard.

At Lincoln, people were always talking about leaving things ready for “the next teacher” because they assume a high turnover. At my new school, many of the teachers have been there for years (two of the four teachers on my hall have been here over ten) and they talk about “after you’ve been here a few years”. That is a big change in mindset as well.

So here we go. I will update about the first week of school pretty soon and put up some pictures of my classroom too!