Cotton Tree

A few years ago I purchased a lovely wooden rocking chair with a leather seat. I bought it for ten or fifteen dollars at a yard sale. My daughter JennyAnyDots reupholstered it for me. When I asked her to do that. I just thought she would sew a new cover for the cracked leather cushion embedded in the seat and be done. But she’s a more thorough worker than that. She pulled out the seat and took it apart, discovering a label which informed us the chair was around a hundred years old, and was stuffed with something called Kopok in the Philippines.

This is also called a cotton tree, and we pass one on our way to church. Apologies for the picture quality, it’s hard to adjust my light settings properly in the tropical sun where I can hardly see my screen anyway, and I’m usually taking this shot from a moving cab.  The pods are huge, at least as long as my hand. I first thought they were something like papayas, which was very silly. I’ve seen seen a papaya tree, and they look nothing like this.  Anyway. The tree is also huge, towering over the neighborhood.  I have seen a granny who lives in the shanty beneath this partcularly tree stuffing pillows with the cotton fluff.

Taken from the cab, and next to me were two people on motorcycles. I just caught the top of their helmets.

 

If you look closely you can see the pods where the cotton fluff has erupted.


26 page PDF tree on trees cultivated in Southeast Asia:

Kopok Tree

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Discipline

Spanking, time-out, or other discipline/parenting approaches to child-raising?

I will say I have found reward charts of very limited value for younger children.  They really need immediate consequences (good and bad) in order to make connections.  Also, some children, even after they are old enough to understand the connection, still have trouble with delayed consequences (good or bad).  An ice-cream cone six days from now, or even six hours, doesn’t seem nearly as real to some children as the misbehavior they want to engage in right now.

I’ve seen many parents who may claim they have a certain method they use, time-out, charts, natural consequences, whatever and it doesn’t work- too often they aren’t really implementing that- the child cannot really learn the behavior expected of him because too many parents make their reactions dependent on _their_ moods rather than the child’s behavior.   Or they are too rigid in application, lacking any common sense or sense of proportion (or sense of humour).

I have also seen that while all normal children learn through pleasant and unpleasant consequences, what is unpleasant for one child may be a delight to another.  One of mine had such an imagination that she considered time out to be a total joy- in seconds she was all alone in her own little world and would be startled when I told her her three minute time-out was up. She’d often say that she was having fun and wanted to stay where she was!  It’s all well and good to say that a child in time out should not have access to toys or books, but when you have a child who makes toys and living characters out of her fingers and toes, you need something other than time-out! (and it wasn’t spanking). But what mattered at least as much as the method, we learned, was consistency.

 I have reached the point where I just don’t think the discipline method matters nearly as much as the  manner in which it’s implemented and the relationship. 

There are many ways to help your child learn consequences, time-outs, reward charts, ‘restrictions (of toys, of activities), extra chores, even spanking- some of them more effective than others, some work better for one child than another. (I personally find that younger children don’t really connect abstract concepts like losing a toy or a privilege with misbehavior, but YMMV). But even the most effective method is only as good as the manner in which it is applied. Explain that certain behavior is unacceptable- children do understand a lot more than we often give them credit for, but they aren’t very good mind readers.  You do need to make sure that they are not astonished by consequences or discipline because they had no idea something was not okay.  

 Choose a behavior.  I ‘ll go with throwing toys.  It doesn’t matter if you are fine with throwing toys in the house, choose a different behavior and apply the general ideas. 

The first thing to do is explain that we don’t throw toys.  Whenever you see him throw a toy, rather than taking that toy away from him, help him practice handing the toy politely to somebody if he’s asked for a toy and wants to throw it, or  do a hand over hand demonstration of the acceptable things to do with toys. 

 Verbally correct the inappropriate behavior (gently, but firmly- ‘we don’t throw our toys. It can hurt somebody.’).  Then have him model the proper behavior,  hold his hand, and  hand it over nicely, with lots of praise. If it is a ball he throws, tell him balls are for throwing _outside_, rolling is for inside, and then sit down and roll the ball.

This is not exactly misbehavior, so far, it’s just exuberance, or forgetfulness. But it still needs to be dealt with every time, immediately.  If you have told him he may not throw his toys in the house, then you must follow through on that every time, even if you think it is funny (once my son threw a doll at his sister, but let go too soon and it dropped on his own head,  and then looked astonished). If you reprimand or correct or remind him one time but merely laugh at him another for what seems to him to be the same behavior, you’re sending him a very mixed, and confusing, message. Now, sometimes, he doesn’t want to practice doing it nicely. That is where the discipline method you choose for your family comes into play, and as long as you are using it to lovingly teach rather than to relieve your feelings through anger, and it isn’t abusive, I really don’t think it matters much what it is, as long as you are consistent.  

I’m not going to define abusive, because it would take too long. It is not as easy as saying spanking is and time out isn’t.   People who don’t have a solid sense of proportion, who are too rigid or too loosey goosey won’t be helped by such definitions.  They will take them the wrong way, no matter what.  Before you figure out your discipline method, you kind of need not to be a ninny.

I know a family that uses time-outs in a quite abusive way.  I know of a social services agency that advocates ‘shunning,’ whereby the parent tells the child he is not being cooperative, so must not have contact with the parent. The parent is supposed to ignore the child, refusing eye contact, touch, and nearly all communication (except to tell the child his behavior is unacceptable and so he cannot have contact)- turning his back on the child and walking away if the child tries to hug him, for either a set amount of time or until the child apologizes and corrects his behavior.  This form of discipline seems harsh and emotionally damaging to me, but it’s social worker approved, whereas other, less rejecting methods are not.

 So you have to choose your own, assuming you are not a ninny,  based on your love for and what you want to communicate to your child. Once you have chosen, be consistent. Consistency means that you correct the behavior because you have said you would, not because of how you feel.This is _so_ important.  We really confuse our children and encourage them to be little terrors when we teach them we don’t mean what we say. If we have said that it is unacceptable in our family to spit, then we must follow through on that, whether we are tired, or hungry, or in a hurry, or in a very good mood and particularly amused by a novel and unique way of spitting that our child has discovered. You don’t have to be mean or ugly about it- you can say something like, “Oh, that really is different and I see you are having fun, but spitting is yucky, and it is against the rules in our family, so please stop.”  or simply (with a smile), “yes, that is funny, but it is also rude.  Stop, please.” The child must always understand that his actions have consequences because that is the way life is- not that his actions have consequences because of the mood you are in, not because he has made you mad, or even accidentally hurt you.   I have been known to say, “I’m laughing, but you’re still in trouble, you know that, right?”  Not that I was always successful.  

If you’ve chosen not to permit throwing toys in the house, then the consequences for throwing toys should be the same whether the child accidentally hits hits you in the nose and cuts your face with a toy or whether nobody gets hurt at all-(Assuming no injury is intended, and the child is not so old as to make the infraction itself an act of rebellion rather than mere childishness. ( If he were older or angrier and intended injury, that would be a different story). Using the toy throwing example, too often parents will ignore a child throwing his toys, or express frustration over it without actually _doing_ anything about it, until some time the child gets ‘lucky’ and a parent ends up in the line of fire or the child accidentally breaks a china ornament- and then the parent explodes, or suddenly decides to act when he has never acted before, and the child really isn’t to blame. There should always be a consequence for an unacceptable action- regardless of whether the action has upset you or broken something you value or injured a sibling. If you have offered a consequence in anger and then you realize it was wrong,  you owe it to your child to apologize, explain why you realize you said something dumb, and you’ve changed your mind.  If you thought it through and have good reasons, you have the obligation or to enforce what you said.  And that consequence always needs to be proportionate- don’t threaten stupid things.  Don’t go to nuclear for every rule.  

One of our consequences for a while for a certain infraction was to stand and sing a silly song.  Later, for a different infraction and different children, it was to hold their hands over their heads for a minute or two. It might be push-ups.   Have a sense of proportion.  The consequence for deliberate lying to get somebody else in trouble and forgetting to take out the trash really shouldn’t be equal.

This means it helps to think first, before making rules, and it helps to have very few such rules=)

If you have not been being consistent, if you have been relying on how you feel to determine whether or not there is a consequence for behavior rather than letting the behavior determine consequences, it is not too late to start. It will take a while for your child to trust that you mean what you say, so it may seem at first that this isn’t working either, but stick with it (about six weeks), scrupulously taking care that you demonstrate that the child determines consequences by his behavior- not that consequences are determined by your mood. 

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Trade-offs

The different cultural values for efficiency are sometimes frustrating or bewildering for Americans and I believe cause hurt feelings on the side of the Filipino people.  I cannot speak much to that side of things, except to say we have a new young friend who is something of a telemarketer for a U.S. Company and he’s young, flexible, adaptable, friendly, curious, engaging, and speaks excellent English, and he says he’s been doing his job for 8 years and he KNOWS it’s just the American way, but he still gets his feelings hurt and struggles not to take it personally when he gets an abrupt No, and a hang up on one of his cold calls.

As for the different cultural value for efficiency, that whole time is money idea (which makes no sense to most people who are not westerners)- let me illustrate:

 

Lots of restaurants here deliver.  McDonald’s even has an app.  You can download the app, check off what you want, give your address, and then fill in the large box of information to help the delivery guy find your address, because mostly, the address isn’t somewhere a stranger can find because there are not many street signs, houses might have numbers, but they won’t be in any sort of sequential order in most cases, and nobody can find anybody’s house without information like “Go to the Glorious Haven spa.  Turn left.   Drive a kilometer or so and then turn right at the first barrier with the Nogales for Office political sign you see.  Then turn left by the armoured car with no tires. Turn right at the next street.  That is our street.   The gate is brown.  The house next to us has yellow flowers on the fence.  There’s a sari-sari store across the street.  Never mind. Text us when you leave and we will wait for you at the corner.”

Then you wait for the phone calls.
“Ma’am-Sir,  I am sorry but as of now the quarter pounders with cheese are no more.  Would you like a chicken sandwich instead, sir.”  You tell them what you want instead of the QPw/cheese sandwiches.  Then you wait for the phone call.

“Ma’am/Sir, I am sorry but this branch does not have the apple soda ice cream floats.  Is Coke okay?” You tell them what you will have to drink instead, and hang up and then wait for the phone call.

“Ma’am-Sir, the soy chicken and rice is not available any more today. Would you like spaghetti and rice instead?”  You order two other McChickens because the Cherub cannot eat the spaghetti, and you’ll just take off the buns for her to eat the chicken patties.   Then hang up and wait for the phone call.
“Ma’am-Sir, I am sorry, but Vanilla iced coffee is not available.  We can send plain iced coffee, okay?”

You tell them to forget the coffee, you don’t want it.  Then you hang up and wait for the call.  This will come from a completely different employee because your refusal of coffee was too direct and hurt and embarrassed the previous employee so she’s in the bathroom crying and five other empoyees are soothing her and telling her it’s not her fault (which is true, it isn’t).

“Ma’am-Sir, the order is ready. IT will be 430 pesos, Can you tell me what bills you will pay with so we can send the right change?”

You might get a text or a call when the deliver guy is near, or you might just get an “Ayooooo” called outside your gate.

At last, you receive your order. It might only be 45 minutes later, and it wasn’t what you wanted. It will probably still be hot and it will be packed very well so that not a single drop of anything spills (they tape the lids to the cokes down, including across the hole.   But if you were craving quarter pounders, it’s a hard life, iddn’t it?

We discovered a wonderful new little restaurant very close to our house.  The food is great, the prices are amazing, the place is cute, and they told us they’d deliver for us and gave us the number.  They cook orders fresh when you place them, so it can take a long time to get your food.  Today I was visiting a friend I’ve been helping while she deals with some major life issues and getting ready to move and trying to gather paperwork for visas and so on- I treated us all to lunch and her Filipina friend and house helper made the call to place the order for us.  One of the things she ordered was a caramel coffee for my friend.  I heard her place the order, and I heard her repeat that there were two drinks, and one was a caramel coffee (the other was a Toffee Coffee Frappe, which rhymes with Sophi Kofi Crappy).  We gave the address.

Lots of places here don’t have visible, clear, street addresses.  Our street has a sign up now, but for the first year we were here, it didn’t, and it isn’t a street perpendicular to the main road.  You have kind of had to have some idea where it is in order to find it. But my friends’ house has an easy address.  She lives on one of the most well known roads in this barangay, down the street from a couple restaurants that have been written up by prestigious foody writers, and her house has a clear address on it.  My Filipina friend explained it and gave them directions.  They texted me fifteen minutes later to ask for some landmarks.  I gave two or three. They texted again to ask if were next to a particular restaurant.  I said no, we were on that street but several blocks down, and I gave the house number again.  When they brought the order, they parked one house up and across the street and texted me that they were in the area outside waiting.  There’s a real cultural discomfort with disturbing people by ringing a doorbell here, or so it seems to me.
There was no caramel coffee.  The Filipina lady with us came out and explained that there were two drinks,and one was a caramel coffee with ice.  The delivery person (who is also one of the owners) said she’d go back and get one and deliver it.

A few minutes later, she texted.  They don’t have caramel coffee on the menu at all. They never carry it.  They offered a substitute, which is fine.  If you are American, you are wondering why nobody told us they don’t have caramel coffee when we ordered, and why we weren’t told it wasn’t on the menu when it didn’t show up in our order.  I think if you are Filipino you don’t wonder about it, you just accept it and  carry on.

If you are American, you are kind of aggravated over the repeated calls and texts about things on the menu that aren’t available (how does McDonalds run out of Quarter Pounders with Cheese?!?!?!  It does not even compute) and not looking at house numbers.  You grouse and grumble a bit to yourself.  You think about how things should be done differently and people could say things more clearly, and it would all be better and more efficient like home, where….

McDonald’s doesn’t have apple soda ice cream floats at all, in any branch (and they are delicious). Nor do any branches of the yummy soy chicken that your local branch is sometimes out of. IN fact, mostly, there is nothing much on the menu the Cherub can eat.    Also, while you are having your private grouch session over inefficient delivery systems you are ignoring the reality that this is a novelty for you because in the U.S.  no McDonalds anywhere you have ever heard of will deliver at all, ever.  

The little local eatery with brilliant food combinations, great prices, sweet staff, and cute ambiance does not give you the owner’s own cell phone number,  handwritten on a card, so you can call and place a personal order which she will personally deliver for free. Not to mention, their chili bombs and morro coffee are calculated to induce a state of euphoria.

I’m okay with this trade-off after all.

Posted in Davao Diary | 5 Responses

Connections

Education is the Science of relations, says Miss Mason.  The world is full of these relations, connections, intersections, cross-pollination, and Great Recognitions.   Both remarkable discoveries which benefit mankind and personal epiphanies which primarily refresh the mind and spirit of a single individual have been the result of happy accidents of such relations.  A scientist ponders the Bible verse about paths to the sea and discovers ocean currents. A boy reads Homer and grows up to become the archaeologist who discovers Troy and proves it wasn’t all a myth.  A poet reads Chapman’s Homer and his mind is so blown by the experience he writes a magnificent poem about it, comparing it the European explorers first looking on the Pacific ocean, silent on a peak in Darien, and a children’s author a hundred years later includes it in a fictional story read by a child 80 years later who is then inspired to travel, or to write, or to sail.  Another child reading the same story feels the same thrill of excitement on first looking at a diatom in a microscope and grows up to be a microbiologist.

“There is absolutely no avenue to knowledge but knowledge itself, and the schools must begin, not by qualifying the mind to deal with knowledge, but by affording all the best books.…” (Charlotte Mason)

The way to knowledge is actually knowledge, one thing builds upon another, concepts and vocabulary picked up in one area weave together with ideas and words collected in another setting, building a background of knowledge that makes further knowledge possible.

We all bring certain background knowledge and experience to the learning table, and some background knowledge is so basic and universal to an understanding of western civilization that those who have it are blessed with a genuine head-start.  (Hirsch has a to say about this)

We can interfere and hinder children from establishing their own relationships with knowledge, from making connections, from building that broad background of knowledge, in various ways.  One of them is to artificially separate the knowledge of God from ‘secular’ knowledge.

Mason spoke and wrote of her own Great Recognition, which informed her own ideas of a wide and generous education for *all*,  inspired by viewing a fresco of the seven liberal arts. 

“These frescoes… show the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the mind of men. Within His light are the Apostles and the prophets, and below, centrally enthroned, sits St. Thomas Aquinas. Above him float the figures of the seven virtues. In a row at the foot of the picture, beautiful in dignity and alertness, sit the fourteen ‘knowledges’ or sciences, accompanied by their greatest exponents.
Miss Mason follows Ruskin’s interpretation of the frescoes (footnote here – Mornings in Florence.) describing them as ‘a harmonious and ennobling scheme of education and philosophy.’ Then turning to the figures of the sciences her thought goes out to the many relationships and activities of human life in the past and in her own times. Above all she thinks of ‘the intellectual life, the development of which in children is the aim of our subjects and methods of instruction.’ Education, she sees, is at present divided into ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ and so is common thought which makes education secular, entirely limited to the uses of this visible world.”

Putting an artificial wall up between the holy and the secular in education creates an unnecessary road-block that hinders our children (and ourselves) in developing our own connections and relations.

Another way is to give them dry as dust factoids, long lists of words and dates to memorize, and other substitutes for real knowledge in place of the education, ideas, and the rich, textured experiences that reading living books, spending time in nature, observing real bugs, living art, and listening to great music offer.   Culturally, our approach to schooling has done to education, to the life of the mind, what Michael Pollan says we have done to food- we have separated it out into unrelated, unconnected strands, teased it to bits, and turned it into fancily labeled (active enzymes!  New! Improved! ) package of cardboard within and cardboard without.  (more on that connection here)

You can spend a lot of time creating a curriculum that will try to make those connections for the student, composing vocabulary lists, creating worksheets, or you can spend a lot of money on packaged materials that purport to do this for you.  Or… you can recognize the world at large is inherently full of connections, relationships, complementary ideas and concepts that occur naturally.

Recently I’ve been doing some extra tutoring for a child who speaks English as her third language.  She speaks well enough to hold a conversation, but there are some delays that hinder her getting on in the classroom.  Some of them may be things that come with diagnoses, but some of them may just be some lack of background exposure that her classmates have. I am not her primary teacher nor am I the one who assesses her struggles and offers specialized services and an IEP.  Mainly, I’m acting as a kind of surrogate Grandmother.  We get together a couple of times a week and read together, she narrates, we discuss what we are reading.

The tools at my disposal are limited to the books i have on hand and those in the school library.  I have put together some living books in the fiction and biography department. It’s a bit harder to find science books I consider living, so we make do.  I have chosen the books largely on quality of the literature and reading level suitable for her, and I been astonished every week at just how many connections we come across.

For example, one week as she came into the classroom where we meet, I was crocheting.  She had a few questions about what I was doing, and was unfamiliar with any word other than thread and needle which might apply to my tools.  We briefly talked about words like crochet hook, knitting needle, yarn, thread, string, shoelace, sew, and button.  I picked up one of our books and started to read our chapter- there was a reference to a mom sewing on a button, a pair of boots that needed lacing, and sewing a quilt.  When she finished narrating the reading, I pointed out the use of those words.  I picked up our next book, a different story set in a different time and place, and again we came across two or three usages of some of the words that were new to her- a kite string, a lacing skates, knitting a scarf.   In one reading that day she stopped and asked me what ‘bare’ meant, and in the next two readings the word showed up again in slightly different contexts, broadening her understanding.  In another

I read to her from a science book on plants for a few minutes twice a week.  We’ll read three or four fairly easy books on that topic, and then we’ll pick a new topic and read two or three books on that.  She sketches something from the reading and explains her sketch to me, again using some of her new words.  She asks questions about something that confuses her.  So far, we’ve stumbled across references to the plants ‘drinking’ half a dozen times, and every time she is confused because trees do not have mouths so how do they drink?  Every time it comes up again, she gets a slightly different explanation. Every time she grasps just a little bit more. Every week, I am delighted and surprised when something in our fictional stories includes a reference or allusion to something related to the science reading.

Knowing the names for things around her- tree, trunk, branch, leave, root makes them part of the vast array of things she can think about in meaningful ways, things she can discuss with some understanding, things she can transfer to other areas.   While trying to demonstrate to her some concept of how the tree ‘drinks’ by moving water through the roots and up through the trunk, I showed her how the water spreads through a paper towel, and to make it more visible, I added some dots with a magic marker. Enchanted by the result, she turned it into an art project and made flowers by carefully placing marker dots on the  papertowel and then dropping water on them.  And so, she moved effortlessly to and from between science, art, literature, and language- this child who struggles with all of those topics in a formal setting, and who never passes tests.

Education is the science of relations. Another way of describing those relations, those connections is unity.  The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge is supposed to have defined beauty as unity in variety.
“Science,” says Bronowski in the book Science and Human Values, “is nothing else than the search to discover unity in the wild variety of nature,—or, more exactly, in the variety of our experience. Poetry, painting, the arts are the same search, in Coleridge’s phrase, for unity in variety.”

Together, she and I read reading together and discovering that unity in variety.

If you liked this, you might enjoy: http://thecommonroomblog.com/2015/03/liberal-arts-education-not-for-prize-pigs.html

These connections came up when we were homeschooling, too.

Posted in Charlotte Mason | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Ocean of Truth

“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

Isaac Newton


I do not know about the rest of the world, but for myself, I think I am satisfied to be the small child on the shore, earnestly gathering and polishing the small, usually broken, shells God strews in my path.

My place is here in the shallows, learning to look, to wonder, to think, ponder, love.

I am not much more than a seashell on the fingertip of God.

But then,  a seashell is an astonishment and a wonder.

Praise to the One who creates the seashells, the ocean of truth, ourselves, and wonder itself.

What a flat world it would be without wonder.

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