Who Needs to Read Anymore?

High pile of hardcover booksAt the community college where I teach—actually in the state capitol two hours away—a massive overhaul of the English curriculum is underway. As I understand it right now, a diagnostic test will determine student placement, and three levels of developmental reading and writing are being added for those with low scores. Those students will be taking nine credit hours, almost two hours a day five days a week, of developmental reading and writing.

Faculty members are groaning—two retired the week the changes were announced—but what I haven’t heard is anyone saying there isn’t a problem with student proficiency. I remember the essay, “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower” in The Atlantic some years ago, in which a professor claimed many of his students were close to being functionally illiterate. [Read more...]

Soft Hearts and Thin Skin

3763198498_98d40f2c48_oRecently I found myself engaged in another maddening conversation with my four-year old daughter. We were discussing the aquarium we were going to visit the next day. She wrinkled her nose and pronounced that she wouldn’t go.

“Why?” I asked, more than a little impatient.

“What if there are sharks? What if there are eels?”

I assured her that we would keep her safe.

“No,” she said, firmly. “I am not going to the aquarium.”

“Yes,” I said, “you are,” thinking of the tickets we’d already purchased and out-of-town friends we’d meet there.

She cried and flung herself onto the couch. “But the sharks! But the eels!”

I had no pity. My heart was a steel trap of already-made plans.

My daughter has a history of fixating on small worries in her life—every night there was a book or a toy I needed to take away, and so many questions about death and existentialism that I’m unprepared for. As she wades deeper into an awareness of life, I just try to get us through as best as I can.

And I really wanted to go to this damn aquarium.

[Read more...]

“A Pair of Silk Stockings” and Other Frivolous Pleasures of Mothers

2779657744_be3f82cd93_zAfter a harrowing weekend of yelling at my children, I decided I needed to take drastic measures. I’d been getting sleep, eating well, exercising, and, yes, praying, but I still found myself on the razor’s edge of tension, slamming utensil drawers and screaming, “Stop!” if my son so much as edged one tine of his fork into his sister’s personal breakfast space.

I proclaimed to my husband and my other spouse, Facebook, that if I could get through the rest of the week without yelling, I’d treat myself to a trip to Macy’s.

[Read more...]

Mama and The Help

7261678144_86dcaa47b6_zIn memory of my mother

 “How come we don’t have a maid?” I asked my mother. It was the summer of 1973 and I was five.

Across the street at the neighbor’s, Lula wore men’s white cotton socks with sandals and came outside to greet the mailman every afternoon. She was slow moving and wide, with skin the color of wood varnish.

“Come and let me love on you,” she’d say, but Mama always stiffened a bit, as though she were not quite comfortable. [Read more...]

Where Is the Light in Our Darkness?

12308890573_c2c6bf5eb0_zFor most kids I knew, Christmas was a time of anticipation. Even if you hadn’t yet figured out what was happening, you knew it was something. The music changed. Stores overflowed. Things began to sparkle.

Even once you knew what was happening, there remained a sense of delightful oddness. I think it was the lights, which cast everything in bright color or strange shadow. Or perhaps the eyes and hearts of people, likewise lit or darkened.

Christmas brings out the best and worst in mankind. In we small children, it brought forth a good and childlike thing, which is the belief that the world is covered over with magic, and all you need, in order to see it, is a different kind of light.

The world soon obscures that childlike vision. Many of us learned to see Christmas as a time of plunder. For some, it became a season of annoyance, even bitterness. For nearly all it became a gaudy carousel operated by madmen, and we all grabbing hold and clinging, because how can you let go? How can you disappoint those who await presents? How can you not hang the decorations you’ve accumulated in the attic? [Read more...]


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