Monthly Archive: September 2008

Five Things to Do Every Day

Today I had a breakthrough. I ended up doing many of the things that I want to incorporate into every day.

1. Catch up with friends.

Weeks ago, I’d logged out of Google Talk instant messaging, so I could focus on my writing without chat windows popping up every few minutes. Unfortunately, this also coincided with my moving back to Sonoma and unknowingly waving goodbye to my social life, so I was left without even an e-friend to call my own. (This is where the world’s tiniest violin begins to play just for me.)

Today I signed back into chat and caught up with several people. Ahh, Google, organizing the world’s information AND making me feel loved? You anticipate my every need.

In the past few days, I’ve also spent time with a few real humans. Until now, I’d been relieved to have a break from my social calendar, but not watching Friday’s debate with friends put an end to my life as a hermit. I decided that it was time to hang out with people who have never seen Hannah Montana or High School Musical, and I called ‘em up.

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Reschooling Tool #4: Swings

I’d forgotten how liberating it is to go on the swings. My fourth grade classmates invited me to join them at recess, and I was more than happy to. I sat down on a swing and wrapped my fingers tightly around the chains suspending it. Pumping my legs to push me higher was tougher than it used to be, since the swing was designed for kids with legs half the length of mine. I had to tuck them under me so that my feet wouldn’t hit the ground every time I swung over it.

As I swung higher, I felt the breeze on my face, my heart pounding, and the exhilaration of building momentum as I rose into the air. As a kid, I remember wondering if I could swing over the top of the swingset if I tried hard enough, and sometimes it looked as if I was getting close. (I watched a Mythbusters episode that concluded: “Under normal pushing power, whether solo or being pushed by others, there cannot be enough force generated to achieve a full, chain straight 360.”) Being much heavier than I used to be, I didn’t get nearly as much air this time around.

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Around the World in 30 Desks

If I had to name one classroom activity that used to make my adrenaline levels skyrocket, it would be Around the World.

Here’s how it works. One student begins the game by standing next to the desk of a classmate who will be the first challenger. The two competitors face the teacher, who has a stack of flash cards with simple math equations on them. The teacher quickly pulls out a card and holds it up in front of the competing pair. The student who does the mental math and shouts out the correct answer first moves to the next desk, taking on a new challenger. The objective is to travel “around the world,” beating every classmate with quick-draw math skillz.

I’m not gonna lie — back in my day, I was kind of a big deal at this game, drawing grumbles from the other kids when it was their turn to challenge me. I don’t think I exactly looked forward to competing, since the threat of losing in front of everyone made me anxious. I remember my heart racing with each new round, feeling pressure to perform and relief when the game finally ended.

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People-Pleasing, Perfectionism, and Ten Reasons to Reschool

I’ve been drafting an official project proposal for Reschool Yourself bit by bit for months now, and intensively for the last week. As hard as I’ve worked, I’ve been unable to craft my countless notes into a cohesive, inspiring proposal. The very reason it’s taken me so long to craft a full project proposal is evidence for why I’m reschooling myself in the first place.

I have invested hours and hours detailing measurable goals and outcomes, doing research to support my arguments, and shaping the proposal into the format that most funders require. The result? Writer’s block in the attempt to communicate my ideas perfectly. Several drafts of lifeless rhetoric devoid of the passion that fuels this project. Exasperation with my inability to speak from the heart when I know I’ll be evaluated. School has trained me so well that I can’t stop behaving like an overachieving student even when it doesn’t serve me. And in adulthood, it doesn’t serve me very often at all.

In fact, the two qualities that were keys to my success in school have limited my success as an adult: people-pleasing and perfectionism.

People-Pleasing

Early in childhood, I learned to sense what people – especially authority figures – wanted from me, and that I would be rewarded for giving it to them. Now, as an adult, the rewards for people-pleasing aren’t so great. I often say yes to commitments just because I’d feel guilty saying no. I regularly sacrifice my own well-being for the sake of others, a story shared by many fellow nonprofiteers and educators. I unconsciously seek a “Wow” factor in the things that I do to replicate the affirmation that I got in school.

I know that I could be more effective, and generally happier, if I could just determine what I wanted to do, and then do it. It sounds simple, but after spending around 20,000 hours* in school doing what was expected of me, I’m out of touch with what I actually want to do.

* A very rough estimate of time I’ve spent in school from kindergarten through college, based on an 180-day average school year during K-12 and a quarter system in college.

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Fourth Graders: Pre-Preteens

I first worked with fourth graders through the I Have a Dream after-school program in East Palo Alto. I taught Creative Writing/California History to a small group of low-income African American kids, and they were quite a handful. Later that year, I substituted in a fourth grade class of wealthy white kids at a private school in Menlo Park. I found that the kids were just as off the wall as they were in East Palo Alto, and in the same ways. It seems that across socioeconomic lines, fourth graders are a unique breed. They’re right on the border of puberty, no longer children but not yet preteens. As those infamous hormones are beginning to circulate, “tweens” enjoy testing their limits.

This is what I’ve noticed about my fourth grade classmates so far:

1. They stink.

After recess, there’s a slight, foul odor that hovers around the room, drawn from a collection of sweaty feet and armpits. I was in fourth grade myself when my mom gently suggested that I start wearing deodorant. At the time, I felt offended and probably left the room in a huff. In retrospect, however, I’m glad that I got the news from my mom at home than from a classmate in front of my peers. I found one of my first Teen Spirit sticks (pictured above) buried in one of the bathroom cabinets. It’s a weird artifact, but it makes me nostalgic all the same.

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Movin’ On Up to Fourth Grade

Just a quick update, with more to come later tonight….

After a week’s hiatus, I started back at elementary school yesterday. It was strange coming back into a child’s world after spending last week completely among grown-ups. It was even stranger to think that many adults live a completely child-free life, rarely having occasion to interact with kids unless they have little ones at home. I find that the kids keep me on my toes, since I’m never sure what they’ll say next, and that I have to raise my energy level to meet theirs. The third graders welcomed me with hugs, personal updates, and — of course — requests for more scary stories. I told them that I was fresh out of stories, and I was glad to find that they still wanted to hang out with me when I wasn’t performing for them.

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