Children

The Sound of Learning

Cabbage plant, Richard Griffin / Shutterstock.com
Cabbage plant, Richard Griffin / Shutterstock.com

Imani walked down the hall with a paper cup in her hands.

She stopped and held up the cup to me. Inside of its paper walls were soil, water, and seeds — all those humble and elemental things that build a third-grader's scientific knowledge.

Imani was growing cabbage.

She was my student last year. She loved science and writing. I remember the look of wonder in her eyes when we studied weather. We learned about tornadoes. In my classroom, I had two 2-liter bottles connected by a tornado tube, a plastic piece that allows you to make a tornado by swirling the water around and around in one of the bottles. Imani held the bottles in her hands and marveled as her water formed into a giant, powerful funnel cloud. 

"Wow," she whispered.

I love the sound of learning.

Kids Hit Hard By Economic Crisis

USA Today reports on a new study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, called Kids Count:

The well-being of American children looks to be a mixed bag, with gains in academic achievement and health offset by growing economic distress, a new study finds.

The percentage of children living in poverty in the U.S. is on the rise, according to the new Kids Count report, which also finds more children living in single-parent homes and with parents struggling to afford housing.
 
The data, which track change in 16 indicators of well-being from 2005 to 2010, also show more children had parents lacking steady employment. The decline in children's economic situations is ominous because living in extended periods of deep poverty threatens children's development, says Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which released the Kids Count report.
 
Read more about the study here
 
 

 

 

The Age of Innocence: Wes Anderson's 'Moonrise Kingdom'

 Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman) in "Moonrise Kingdom."
Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman) try to find their way in "Moonrise Kingdom," the new film from director Wes Anderson

I liked this film so much I've already seen it twice. Moonrise Kingdom is so good, in fact, I almost couldn't bring myself to write about it for fear of not doing it justice.

And yet, since I first took my 11-year-old nephew, Ethan, to see it last month, I've been talking about Moonrise Kingdom nonstop, encouraging everyone I know to go see it. It has captured my imagination completely, an absolute tour de force — wholly original and an "instant classic," as I heard one film critic utter tell a companion on his way out of the theater.

Perhaps Ethan, a mythology buff who's never met a fantasy film he didn't like, put it most eloquently when he said (surprising no one more than himself), "That was the best film I've ever seen."

Moonrise Kingdom is director Wes Anderson's seventh feature-length film to date. In an iconoclastic cinematic oeuvre unrivaled among filmmakers of his generation, Anderson's latest stands above the rest of his stellar films — Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tennenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Darjeeling Limited — as an eloquent, funny, enduringly poignant homage to childhood and, moreover, to innocence.

In a word, the film is perfect. I wouldn't change a thing.

Even in the Midst of Violence and Tragedy, Love Wins

Love, we read over and over in the Bible, casts out fear.

The angels to Mary: Do not be afraid. To the shepherds: Do not be afraid. Do a search on that phrase and you’ll find it numerous times from 2 Kings through Revelation. When he appears to humans, our God of love is always prefacing his messages with, “Do not be afraid.”

As a mother, I want to raise brave kids who hear that message and know it to their toes. Everything is going to be all right. Love wins, as they say.

I want them to be people who know that there is a bigger picture, a spiritual promise of hope and redemptive, even when life circumstances feel frightening.

I don’t want them to lose sight of it or fail to see God’s gifts of love around them because they are afraid of what, ultimately, cannot harm them.

It’s not always easy, however, for me to be brave.

Wild Goose 2012 Reflection

The author and her daughter at Wild Goose 2012. Photo by Jana Riess via Facebook
The author and her daughter at Wild Goose 2012. Photo by Jana Riess via Facebook.

The 2012 Wild Goose Festival East wrapped up just under a week ago and I am still trying to process my experience there. As I tweeted as I drove away from the fest, I left feeling exhausted, hopeful, and blessed – that strange combination that reflected the emotional impact of my time there. And it was a truly blessed time.

I was honored with the opportunity to speak on The Hunger Games and the Gospel as well as do a Q&A on everyday justice issues at the Likewise tent. I also was able to join Brett Webb-Mitchell on a panel discussion about living with disabilities in religious communities.

But beyond those conversations I was able to help initiate, I also found a generous and safe space to connect with friends, wrestle with difficult questions, and dream of a better world. Such spaces are so rare in my life these days, that finding such at Wild Goose was a precious gift.

There are, of course, the expected complaints about the festival. It was brutally hot (and that is coming from a Texan). I never ceased to be sticky, sweaty, and stinky and there were bugs everywhere. Camping in a field where every action (and parenting attempt) is on constant display is stressful and uncomfortable. And, as with many religious gatherings, there could have been greater diversity.

For the first hour I was there as I nearly passed out trying to set up a tent in the sweltering heat, I was in a panic mode wondering why I was stupid enough to subject myself to the discomfort and imperfection of it all again this year. Yet as I entered into the experience of being a part of this crazy wonderful gathering, those issues (although ever-present) faded in significance as I found myself fitting into a place where I felt I belonged.

Gardeners of Youth

We who nurture the life of children could be compared to gardeners, conscientiously serving the God-given stages of the growing plant. We seek to support its development as a seedling, a young plant, and a fruit-bearing or mature plant.

However, Christian educators of young children often begin to water, weed, and prune without first observing children to grasp the stages of their relationship with God. God has planned human and spiritual growth just as well as God has prepared plant growth.

Catholic scholar Sofia Cavalletti and her collaborators Gianna Gobbi and others around the world and in many denominations have carefully observed the stages of newborn to 12 year-old children’s relationship with God, and they have developed an approach to religious formation, called the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, that serves those stages well. The encounter with God over the years includes coming to know God who is love, God who is personal, and God who is just and merciful, as these and other aspects of God match the developmental strengths of the growing child.

Here is that development and its implications in very broad strokes:

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Breaking the Bubble Wrap

“TAMARA” GREW UP in an affluent, middle-to-upper-class neighborhood. Her friends, including the ones she knew from church, were her cousins, neighbors, and other kids who were a lot like her. Her parents worked hard at building a “safe zone” to protect her from harm—but, as Tamara looks back on her childhood, she can see the lasting fear that it instilled in her.

After she got her driver’s license, she always double-checked that her car doors were locked as soon as she was in the vehicle, and she avoided her city’s small downtown area. To this day, she detests large cities and is constantly worried that someone will rob her. Tamara suffers from “mean world” syndrome: a hyper-vigilant state in which strangers are to be ignored and avoided, new experiences are to be feared, and other people’s problems are just that. It’s a survival mode based on scarcity, hoarding, looking out for number one. Too often, it involves shrinking back from active involvement in the biblical call to social justice.

Sadly, many parents put children in a kind of quarantine—not seeking justice, but fearing contamination. The view that children are pure and the world is corrupt has led well-intentioned adults to (over)protect children from poverty, disease, violence, and other “pollutants.” (Of course, this isn’t to say that all children grow up sheltered; many experience situations of poverty, violence, and oppression that sheltered families can’t even imagine.) Ironically, as children are quarantined from the harmful realities of the world, they’re often exposed to virtual violence through television, music, and video games. This is a recipe for creating kids who, like Tamara, are afraid of the unknown that exists beyond their bubble-wrapped microcosms.

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'Croon Her to Sleep with Freedom Songs'

How do you get your kid to care about social justice? Well, you can bring her to marches and protests on important issues before she’s old enough to walk; croon her to sleep with freedom songs; or fill her Christmas stocking with fair-trade goodies.

My parents did all that when I was little. Some of my earliest memories involve talking to homeless people in my neighborhood, attending demonstrations with my church, door-to-door lobbying with my mom, even dressing up as Winnie the Pooh on a couple occasions to raise awareness about corporate child labor practices. But these events were just the side effects of having activist Christian parents; they say little about our family life and my own formation as a young person.

Perhaps one of the keys to social justice parenting is to ignore the question above. You can’t get your kid to care about social justice issues. Much like you can’t force your child to be a Christian, to dress a certain way, or to listen to certain music, you can’t set out with a goal to shape your child’s passions and interests. Parents who do this either get lucky or, more likely, meet strong resistance from their young ones. My father tells me that the question parents should continuously ask themselves is this: How can I reflect a vision for a more just and compassionate society within my family?

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One Deadly Infection, Two Healthy Babies, and Three Broken Legs (or, how Government Healthcare Totally Saved My Behind)

Illustration via memegenerator.net.
Illustration via memegenerator.net.

Brace yourselves. I’m about to step on a soapbox.*

Much as I’d like to go all armchair-Constitutional-scholar and argue that access to affordable health care SHOULD be in the same category as education, fire-fighting, and law enforcement, I’m not going to.

I’m just going to tell you what has happened in MY family.

February, 2005, California

Pregnant with first child. Am on crappy private insurance that costs like $500 a month in premiums but covers almost nothing. Calculate that cost of having child will be approximately half our yearly income.

Freak out.

A New Low: Targeting American Children

Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com
Family at D.C. immigration march. Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com

Within the next couple of weeks the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB1070, which mandates racial profiling by police officers and deputizes them to act as an extension of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement). 

Since the passage of SB1070, states across the country have introduced copycat measures into their state legislatures. Chief among them was Alabama’s HB658—the most draconian measure of them all. The crafters of HB658 intentionally pushed immigrants to the point where life was so miserable in their state that they chose to “self-deport.”

This week our nation is witnessing a new level of low. Even as we await the Supreme Court’s ruling on states’ rights to pass their own immigration laws, some Senate Republicans are arguing for two sets of federal legislation even worse than the state bills. These new federal bills aim to take money and food from children—American children.

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