Monday, March 30, 2009

Full Circle

As we close out this month-long celebration of Reading, I thought I would share an incident that just took place on a recent visit to my daughter's home.

But, first let me give you a quick history of reading in my family. As far back as I can go...a few generations...the women in our family have been literate. My great grandmother read to my grandmother, who read to my mother, who read to me. I, in turn, read to my daughters and they have followed suit reading to their daughters. It is a pasttime that we all delight in.

So, it came as no surprise when my daughters became mothers to see bookshelves filled with children's books in their homes.

This past weekend I visited with the girls. On three separate occasions, each of my three granddaughters climbed into my lap with a book to read. In the middle of reading to my oldest granddaughter, I realized that this gift had come full circle. In my mind's eye, I could see the generations holding children on their laps reading. It was much like looking into a mirror that is mirrored; it goes on for infinity.

One of the greatest gifts you can give a child, is to read to them. Many schools have volunteer programs in which adults sign up to be readers. I encourage anyone who has the time to volunteer to join in this wonderful program.

I'll end this celebration with a few favorite quotes: "
A good book has no ending." ~R.D. Cumming

"I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves." ~Anna Quindlen, "Enough Bookshelves," New York Times, 7 August 1991

"Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers." ~Charles W. Eliot

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Words as Balm - Words as Pain

My mother, bless her, gave me many solid ideals upon which to base my life. One of her favorite bits of advise was, "If you don't have something good to day, don't say anything."

You see, words, regardless of what the nursery rhyme states, do hurt. They can literally maim another person's spirit, integrity, and mind. Alternately, words can be the balm that heals the spirit, builds the integrity and comforts the mind.

While we may have all the intentions in the world of saying something good, I have learned that sometimes, what we say can either be mistaken or said in a careless way that unintentionally hurts others.

I know this first hand, because, as my mother told me, I had chronic foot and mouth disease (F&M) other words, I was constantly putting my foot in my mouth by saying things that I shouldn't.

As an extremely inquisitive child, I wanted to know why people had crutches, why our skin was different colors, why some people didn't have clean clothes, etc. With the innocence of a child, I would ask my questions in stage whispers that must have made my mother wish she was invisible. However, she would patiently explain the answer in as hushed tones as possible, all the while giving me her "Do Not Say Another Word!" look.

I thought for the longest time, that I was the only one with F& M disease, however, as we have seen in the news quite often of late, every human, regardless of education, status, or nationality, has the tendency. No matter how much we try, we have all suffered a bout or two of this malady. Consequently, it seems to be problematic especially when our guards are down, when we relax and when we try to have fun. As I said, we all have the tendency.

Over the past fifteen years, I have found two "tools," if you will, to keep the dreaded F&M disease from rearing its ugly head in my life: mindfulness and critical thinking.

Living my life contemplatively, helps me to be more aware of what I say and do. Being mindful of where I am in time and space as well as those around me keeps me from being "thoughtless" in my speech.

Critical thinking helps me to see around the corners of life. It gives me answers to questions like, "What happens if...?" "Who will this touch?" "Will this statement or action come back to haunt me?"

Several years ago, I heard Dr. Maya Angelou speak. She was lecturing on life, on teaching and on the subtle oppression of others through our words and actions. One of the suggestions she made was that when we heard someone say something disparaging do something.

Dr. Angelou suggested that you can, if you are comfortable with doing so, ask the person not to use whatever word or phrase offended you. (This can be done with a loving heart; it does not have to be confrontational.) Or, you can act - look at your watch, say in a loud voice, "Oh my, I was supposed to be in Kalamazoo twenty minutes ago!" and leave. Do not simply follow the crowd and do nothing. In addition, don't get caught up in the "blame game."

Hand with stretched index finger

Remember that when pointing fingers at people who slip and make public comments that they immediately wish they had not made, we should realize that as we point, there are three other fingers pointing directly at us!

During these last days of our Celebration of Reading, let us look at the words we use, in our writing, in our speech. Are we blessing the world or condemning it? Are we speaking words of hope, or contributing to despair? Are we creating moments of peace or do our words bring us into conflict with others?

Foot & Mouth disease is much like a cold. It can spread if you don't take action to stop it. The choice belongs to us all.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Language of Giving

China Allocates More Financial Support For Farmers (Photo Credit)

Many years ago, I was taught the meaning of the beautiful Hebrew word, mitzvah. As I was taught, it means good deed. Further, when you give of yourself there is a double mitzvah - the giver initiates the good deed by giving, the receiver gives a good deed back by taking the gift with grace and gratitude.

As an English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor, I have been blessed with many mitzvahs from my students. Helping them to learn English so that they can succeed in our world is my mitzvah to them. Their willingness to learn, enthusiasm for life and sincere gratitude for the opportunity to learn is their mitzvah to me.

Due to this, the teacher in me is always on the look out for new and innovative ways to help my students learn. Recently, a reader here sent me a wonderful site to peruse. FreeRice is a double mitzvah!

On the "About" page on the site you will read this: "FreeRice is a non-profit website run by the United Nations World Food Program. Our partner is the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

FreeRice has two goals:

1. Provide education to everyone for free.
2. Help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free.

This is made possible by the generosity of the sponsors who advertise on this site.

Whether you are CEO of a large corporation or a street child in a poor country, improving your education can improve your life. It is a great investment in yourself.

Perhaps even greater is the investment your donated rice makes in hungry human beings, enabling them to function and be productive. Somewhere in the world, a person is eating rice that you helped provide. Thank you."

I intend on using this site to with my ESL students. I encourage my readers to use it also, for yourselves, for your students, for the world.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Literacy = Power

Literacy is one of the most powerful tools we humans can access. Yet, for many of our brothers and sisters around the world, those in power deny them literacy.

Paulo Freire,
the esteemed educator from Brazil, taught that when we teach people to speak/read/write, we give them the tools to "read" their world. Most political scientists will attest to the fact that when a power is planning to overtake a population, one of the first things they do is destroy the native language by making it criminal to speak it. When people are not allowed to speak their own language, they cannot "read" (understand) their world. They become fear-filled, thus easy to manipulate.

It gives me great pleasure as a teacher of reading and writing to empower my students to be able to utilize the tools they need to understand the world around them. When people are able to communicate with others with confidence, their lives have richness, a depth that is not present when they are unable to relate their needs, wants, and feelings.

The button to the right of this window will take readers to The Literacy Site. This site is part of the Greater Good Network stores. If you click on that button, the sponsors of the site will buy books for children around the world. You do not have to spend a dime!

If you want to know how the books get to the children, visit Room to Read. This organization," with local communities throughout the developing world to establish schools, libraries, and other educational infrastructure." Books from Greater Good Network go to this effort.

Another project helped by Greater Good is First Book. This organization, "
... provides new books to children in need addressing one of the most important factors affecting literacy – access to books."

It doesn't get better than that!

Please join me during this month in which we celebrate the joys of reading by supporting the Literacy Site and clicking the button. Help all people gain the skills to live productive lives in today's world. Share a gift that can change a life. It's just a click away...go can do it!

Thank You!

Monday, March 2, 2009

March is Reading Month

Nanilin's oldest pixie, reading!

I was close to five when I first read. The book was one of those small, almost square Tell-a-tale books published by Whitman that everyone owned in the 50's. Big Little Kitty interested me far more than Dick and Jane.

I loved the tale of a run-away kitten who sees the world. I wanted to be Karen Kay, the pretty blond haired, blue eyed child, owner of Muffin. It was an idyllic story for a child living in an inner city tenement.

Of course, Karen Kay's yarn led me to read other books. Soon, I had my own library! Amazingly, we might not have had electricity or coal for heat, but we had books...lots of them!

Unlike many children, I never out grew my love for picture books. I still have my original copy of Big Little Kitty, which is held together with tape; the binding long since succumbing to my constant reading. I also have The Night Before Christmas, another Whitman book. To these favorites, copies of many other classic, as well as lesser known books line my bookshelf.

As an educator, I have used my picture books to assist in teaching. Whether it has been poetry for elementary students, English for second language learners, or spirituality for adults, the picture books collected over the last fifty years enriched my teaching.

Subsequently, favorite gift to my granddaughters is, of course, books. In fact, it is my favorite gift for all my relatives and friends. With the gift of a book, you give travel, healing, self-help, entertainment and/or inspiration.

In addition, writing and reading go hand in hand. To be a good writer, one must read. If one reads often, one learns language in all its nuances. It's a win/win proposition.

This month, I will bring attention to the books I love, to authors who are amazing, and to resources for parents and teachers. I look forward to hearing from the readers of this blog, as always. Please feel free to share your favorite reads. Who knows, you just might inspire someone to turn off the TV and open a book!