Weekend Coffee Share: Of Birthdays and Writing Skills

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you I’m officially a year older than I was last weekend. It’s one of those odd, nondescript birthdays that don’t mean much except that I’ve survived another year, but it’s been a good one. We had a few family members over for snacks and cake yesterday. It’s the first time in several years I’ve celebrated my birthday with anyone outside the immediate family, and it was nice. Having a decent-sized house with porches instead of a tiny, impossible-to-clean apartment really helps.

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My grandson, who is seven, got me a push-broom for my birthday. He thought of it himself. Sweeping the porches is mostly his job. Since we only moved to this house recently, the novelty of having porches to sweep hasn’t worn off.  It’s still more play than work for him.

We found an old pushbroom in the toolshed when we moved in and I taught him to use it because sweeping a carport, a front porch, and a back patio with a regular floor broom is a  bit of a chore. We broke the old push broom last month, and when my wife and stepdaughter stated talking about gifts for me, he told them I would be “tickled” to get a new push broom. And he was right. I am tickled by it, because it’s a thoughtful gift.

The highlight of the day, though, was the gift my grandson gave me last night after everyone had left. He made me close my eyes and hold out my hand, and presented me with a tiny blue jay feather. I collect cool natural objects, and I have a little shelf where I keep them. I have an old deer antler, a 30-year old rattle from a rattlesnake one of my grandfathers killed a long time ago, and some other things there.

We picked up a barn owl feather and added it to the collection last week, and Blue Jay feathers are somewhat hard to come by in these parts. I was pleased that he picked it up and even more pleased that he saved it and made it into a birthday present for me. After we were done with that and had hugs all around, I helped him start his first short story.

The short story writing is something we’ve been talking about for a week or so. Last weekend, the grandson had to write several pages of sentences to correct a behavioral thing that was getting out of hand. I supervised that and made him report to me at the end of every page, because I wanted to see how quickly he could write a page of sentences for future reference. He did the sentences neatly, and in good time.

coffeeWhen he was done with the sentences he said, “writing is kinda fun,” and we had a conversation about things he could write other than sentences. That conversation turned to stories. What he wants is to write stories on a keyboard and publish them on the internet, but I’ve explained that he needs to start with stories on paper, and that it takes a while to get a story to the point that it’s ready to publish.

So, last night we sat down with a notebook and I helped him start his first story. I taught him about brainstorming, asked questions to help him keep his ideas in order, and helped him with spelling. The conversation started with him asking whether the story should be fiction or nonfiction. I told him to write whichever he wanted, and he decided to write fiction because, he said, “I don’t know any true stories to write about.”

An hour and a half after we started, we ended up with a single hand-written page, plus one line on the next page just to keep the thing rolling when he sits down to work on it again. It’s already better than the first story I ever tried to write, because it has a real plot. Here’s an excerpt.

Once upon a time, there lived a cow. The cow was magical. It was evil. It wanted to rule the world. It had a secret lair and lots of  weapons. It made a war with the king.

The cow said lots of cuss words at the king . . .

He totally came up with that on his own. All I did was ask open-ended questions like “Okay, stories need characters. So, what sort of character do you want to start with? It can be a person, and animal, a talking car . . .” But you can definitely tell from this opening that he spends a lot of time with me.

He asked permission to put that last line in there, and given that I’m trying to teach him to think for himself and take risks with his writing, I thought it was important to let him include it. There’s also a queen who makes her first appearance in the next paragraph, armies with super-cool names, and a dungeon. All in the space of four paragraphs. I’m hoping he comes back to this and is able to sustain this narrative for another page or two.weekendcoffeeshare_2015

I’ve promised to publish the full story for him if he finishes it. We’re negotiating a price for it. I’ve offered him $5. He isn’t sure he wants to sell his VERY FIRST STORY EVER for that small a sum. I can’t say I blame him, but I’m not sure he understands that all I’m going to do is type it and post it, and he gets to keep the physical copy.

And that was my weekend. We’ve got the usual comics coming at mid-week, but I’m not sure what we’re doing tomorrow. It will likely be something brief and strange.

Happy Sunday. Don’t forget to add your coffee post to the linkup at Part Time Monster and share it with #WeekendCoffeeShare on Twitter.

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The Purpose of Education for #FeministFriday

The Feminist Friday discussion post is up! I have a little work to do this morning, but will chime in later today.

Comparative Geeks

Hello, and welcome to another Feminist Friday post! After 6 weeks of conversations, which you can find information about here, we realized that we had both barely scratched the surface of Feminism – and that we needed a good starting place, an area to spend more time on. What has been decided on first for focus is Education.

I had volunteered to host a post for Feminist Friday this month, and with the topic of Education, I volunteered to get us started. We’re considering talking about Education through age ranges, from early childhood – before schools even – through childhood, adolescence, and into secondary education – and on into adult education. But before hitting any of that, I felt that the place to start is with the purpose of Education.

While this might especially mean the purpose of formal education systems, I think that the question also applies to…

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Six weeks of Feminist Friday Discussions: A Reflection

Nine weeks ago I had the idea of using Feminist Friday posts to generate discussions about gender inequality and women’s issues. I was surprised by the interest it generated. We kept these discussions going for six consecutive weeks on three different blogs.

You can find the links to the discussions from the first five weeks here. The sixth week was at Drifting Through My Open Mind.

I like all the threads so far. I find every one of them useful, and I’ve learned things from them, but the first one (on the usefulness of Feminism as a political label) is my favorite. Here’s why.

  • The discussions were just an idea until I published that post, and I did it because other bloggers encouraged me to do it.
  • I expected 15 comments, and the thread ended up with 99.
  • There were lots of people with different perspectives on that thread. Not everyone agreed, but the discussion was productive and civil.
  • The folks who commented didn’t just talk to me about the post. They talked to one another about the questions I raised.
  • It was my first original Feminist Friday post, and it gave me the encouragement I needed to keep writing them.

Here’s why I think the first post worked so well:

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Feminist Friday Discussion Round 4: Education

If we manage to have a discussion about gender inequality here this weekend, we’ll have talked about it for a solid month.

We started with a discussion of Feminism as a label, and moved from there to prioritization of issues. Last week, we talked about rape. Every step of the way, we’ve made people uncomfortable. That just can’t be helped. Inequality is an uncomfortable topic; but if we don’t talk about it, it will never get better.

This week, we’re talking about education, because a lot of people have mentioned a need for improved education from various angles over the past three weeks. The problem with  education as a topic is that it can become a catch-all term if we’re not careful. It’s a big, it’s complex, and it means different things to different people.

So what I’m giving you today is an attempt to break education down into a few useful categories, and an invitation to add your own categories, to say something about how specific aspects of education could address specific problems, or to point out flaws in my categorization scheme.

I think education starts at home, the moment a child is born. The first four or five years of learning are very important. By the time a child reaches the public school system, in my opinion, their personality is more than half-formed. Having said that, I think it’s best to talk about early childhood learning and family influences separately from formal education. They just don’t work the same way.

So we separate formal education from the rest. Next, I think we need to break it down into a minimum of three categories:

  • Primary education,
  • Secondary education, and
  • Higher education.

That’s because differences in age matter. We can talk about third graders, seniors in high school, and college sophomores all at the same time; but really, I don’t think we’re going to make much progress doing that.

I think, in order to really get at gender inequality – we have to look at differences in the way girls and boys are treated at home, in elementary & middle school, in high school, and in college. And that’s minimum. (See? Like I said, this topic is large and complex).

Now, here are some things we could talk about, and talk about in different ways for each of those four categories:

1. Gender differences in access to education.

2. Gender differences in subject areas that are considered socially acceptable for girls to pursue.

3. Improving sex education at every level of our educational system (and of course it goes without saying that all sex education should be age-appropriate), because while poor sex education is bad for everyone, it’s worst for women.

4. A role for adult education. This one is especially important, in my opinion, and here’s why. Children learn by imitating the adults who spend time with them and care for them, right down to facial tics and body language. So, if we want little boys to respect little girls, we have to teach domestic partners to respect one another. And if we want little girls to grow up into women who view themselves as assertive, autonomous individuals who are free to pursue their own destinies, we have to teach their mothers to view themselves that way.

 So, my questions for you this week are, where do we start? And what have I left out?

Which part of education would you like to talk about first?

As always,my perspective is U.S.-centric, because I have never lived anywere else. If you live outside the U.S.A., feel free to share your thoughts on gender inequality and education in your own country with us.