Saturday, January 24, 2015

Down Memory Lane - 3

When I was 16, I went over to Germany as a foreign student with the Youth for Understanding program.  It was a wonderful year, which I may write more about over time, but one of the reasons it was so valuable was that it gave me greater perspective on the influence of culture.  In Iowa, I was part of a conservative, relatively religious family.  I went to church on Sundays, sang in the church choir, attended Sunday school, and even joined the church youth group.  My parents and grandparents voted Republican and were supporters of conservative government.  I remember going to a parade to honor Barry Goldwater.

But this was an era of change: Vietnamese War, civil rights, women's rights.  And as a teen growing up in that changing time, I was bound to change, too.  One of the interesting changes became apparent to me through song.  In the US, just before I left for Germany, The Ballad of the Green Beret was popular.

Ballad of the Green Beret by Barry Sadler

Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret

Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America's best
One hundred men we'll test today
But only three win the Green Beret

Trained to live, off nature's land
Trained in combat, hand to hand
Men who fight by night and day
Courage deep, from the Green Beret

Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America's best
One hundred men we'll test today
But only three win the Green Beret

Back at home a young wife waits
Her Green Beret has met his fate
He has died for those oppressed
Leaving her this last request

Put silver wings on my son's chest
Make him one of America's best
He'll be a man they'll test one day
Have him win the Green Beret

When I got over to Germany, I found that this tune was also popular. It was a while before I was able to realize, though that, far from being a pro-War song, in German, this song was very much ANTI-War.  The war at the time was the war in Viet Nam.  These are the German words.

Irgendwo in Fremden Land

1. Irgendwo in fremden Land
Ziehen wir durch Stein und Sand.
Fern von zu Haus und vogelfrei
Hundert Mann, und ich bin dabei.

2. Ein hundert Mann und ein Befehl
Und ein Weg, den keiner will.
Tag ein Tag aus wer weiß wohin
Verbranntes Land und was ist der Sinn?

3. Ganz allein in dunkler Nacht
Hab ich oft daran gedacht,
Daß weit von hier der Vollmond scheint
Und weit von mir ein Mädchen weint.

4. Und die Welt ist doch so schön,
Könnt ich Dich noch einmal sehn.
Nun trennt uns schon ein langes Jahr,
Weil ein Befehl unser Schicksal war.

5. Wahllos schlägt das Schicksal zu
Heute ich und morgen Du.
Ich hör von fern die Krähen schreien
Im Morgenrot. Warum muß das sein.

This roughly translates to:

Somewhere in Foreign Land

1. Somewhere in a foreign land
We pull ourselves through stone and sand.
Far from home and free for the vultures to pick us over
One hundred men, and I am with them.

2. One hundred men and one command
And a way that no one wants
Day in day out, who know where to
Burned up land and for what reason?

3. Completely alone in the dark of night
I've often thought
That far from here the full moon shines
And far from here a young girl cries.

4.  And yet the world is still so beautiful
If I could just see you once again
Now we are separated for a whole year
Because one command made our fate

5. Randomly fate strikes us 
Today on me; tomorrow on you.
I hear far away the crows shriek
In the red of dawn. Why must this be?

Once I understood the differences between these two interpretations of the song (same melody, different words), it made a profound difference in my thinking.  Intelligent, well-informed people could have diametrically different views on important subjects.  Another culture could completely reject some views that I held without questioning.  

It was a life altering realization for me and one of the reasons I think that travel is so important.  

Personal Connections to Learning; Ten Obvious Truths about Educating Kids that Keep Getting Ignored

Re:  Ten Obvious Truths about Educating Kids that Keep Getting Ignored

The above article touches on a lot of what I have to say, but I want to consolidate my own thoughts about what we know, but ignore.

Engaging interest; telling our personal stories.

There is a huge time crunch in schools these days.  As a teacher, you are supposed to get through the given reading lesson, for several different reading groups.  You are supposed to teach mini-lessons on writing to a given writing prompt and there all all those other literacy things that you are supposed to teach, too.  You have a (largely scripted) math lesson that needs to be taught.  You have to fit in those social studies and science lessons somewhere.  And then there are silent reading and read-aloud times that you know are so beneficial.  There isn't really time to get the students really interested in the subject matters and most of all there is no time to pursue things that the students really ARE interested in.

Say you are supposed to be teaching a lesson about longitude and latitude.  How many lessons actually start with kids holding a plain ball (an orange, a pummelo?, a rubber playground ball) decorated with random dots?  How do you get kids to actually wonder why we need longitude and latitude?  How could you get kids to describe exactly which dot was indicated?  Put random continents on the ball.  What directs would you give to get from one dot to another?

Who has time for this?

Instead, you have the kids read the two pages on longitude and latitude and then do a worksheet trying to find Chicago (which half of them think is a state or a country) or find the object that is at 40 degrees North and 105 degrees West.  Which they also don't care about - unless they live there, and then it is mildly interesting, but quickly forgotten.

When I am subbing, I generally carry a picture book to read to the kids, if there is an awkward time when something is cancelled, a lesson is too short, kids need to settle down from recess, or whatever. One of the books that has been very effective for me is Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French.  Part of the reason this book is so effective is that I take the time to talk about going to Australia, going to a couple of zoos and seeing wombats in real life.  I physically show them about how big wombats are and tell them that the ones I saw were rather stinky, but still adorable.  Then I tell them about the author of the book, who actually had a wombat living under her house.  All of these stories are personal things that interest me.  And since they interest me, I am able to get the students interested in them.  And even though the kids don't really know me, personal stories connect them to the book.  If there is time, we can also talk about their personal encounters with interesting animals.

The key word in the previous sentence is "time".  Too often, there just isn't time.  How many times have kids been assigned the ubiquitous "Do a report on your favorite animal" project?  How much time does the teacher take to help the students decide what it is about the animal that they find interesting?  Usually, what I see is a list of things the kids are supposed to find out about "their" animal (habitat, range, life cycle, etc.).  And a stack/shelf/cart of books.  And Kid X can't do their project on Animal A, because that animal was already taken by Kid Y, so they will have to do Animal B.

Perhaps most teachers do take the time to develop the interest in these projects before they set the kids loose on them.  As a sub, I am only there for a short time - usually just one day - so I probably, yeah UNDOUBTEDLY, miss most of what the teacher has done.  But I also know that kids generally seem detached from these sorts of assignments.  They aren't really following up their interests.  Gory shark attacks aren't generally allowed to be discussed in their slide show, but it is really what interests them about sharks.  There isn't time for that.

We need more time and more personal connections.