Monday, April 17, 2017

Wide Open Spaces

Good morning.

The children & I are enjoying day four of our Easter Break. I'll begin with some pictures of the Easter merriment & those of you who're only here for pictures of the kids can cut & run.

From Thursday's school egg hunts (photos of Reagan courtesy of my mom who attended the off-campus hunt):

Friday & Saturday passed fairly uneventfully. Henry woke me each morning begging my permission to eat more of the candy he brought home from Thursday's hunt. 

I cut the begging short Saturday morning, took a shower, & left the house for about five hours, during which time I graded essays & drank an unhealthy amount of coffee. 

Okay. I'm going to do that thing I sometimes do where I post pictures from past holidays. Just sit tight; the new pics are coming.

Easter 2012
(yeah, her first Easter was in 2011 
but she was three months old, I was a mess, 
& so my photos from that year remain disorganized) 

Easter 2013

Easter 2014
(you recall Henry was born in June so he was no longer tiny when his first Easter rolled around)

Easter 2015

Easter 2016

Annnnnd Easter 2017

The year's final hunt:

And the dapper non-hunter:

Last Thursday I stepped away from my classroom for half an hour or so to attend Henry's school egg hunt with him. The egg hunters were all shown the parameters within which they might discover hidden eggs; they were warned not to drift beyond the designated egg-hunting area for not only would they not find eggs in these outlying areas, they might also stumble upon ants or other such scary creatures.

Tomorrow Easter Break officially ends & the kids & I will return to school. My days with the seniors are now in the single digits (nine to be exact). My AP students & I will spend our final nine days together crying & eating cookies discussing their answers to the practice AP Exam they took. We've addressed some of the issues that cropped up regarding the multiple choice questions & now we will tackle the essays. They did what they'll be asked to do in May: analyze a poem, a prose passage, &, for their grand finale, answer an "open question."

When presented with a poem or a prose passage & given specific instructions as to what to address in their essay, they typically write well-organized, analytical essays. The open question is this whole other thing, however, because they are given so much freedom. This is the prompt they were given on the practice exam (I didn't write it; it was the 2012 open question):

“And, after all, our surroundings influence our lives and characters as much as fate, destiny or any supernatural agency.” 
-Pauline Hopkins, Contending Forces

Choose a novel or play in which cultural, physical, or geographical surroundings shape psychological or moral traits in a character. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze how surroundings affect this character and illuminate the meaning of the work as a whole. 

What follows the prompt is a list of suggested works the student may use to answer the question, but students aren't limited to that list & may choose any work they deem to be of equal literary merit to those on the suggested list. It is like telling Henry & his three-year-old friends there are eggs hidden everywhere. It sounds nice, but soon the absence of guidelines, of signposts, becomes daunting & you miss the security of an authoritative voice directing you. I love my AP students so much but the majority of them floundered a good bit on the open question. They had to make several intentional choices prior to composing their essay, & under the pressure of time & with so few guidelines within which to write, many of them fell off the analytical wagon. Thud.

In 1998 the Dixie Chicks released an album titled Wide Open Spaces. I know every word of several of the songs on that album because I listened to them repeatedly on countless drives to & from Searcy, Arkansas during my freshman year of college. I particularly loved (& still am quite fond of) the title track, "Wide Open Spaces." It was the perfect theme song for an English major beginning college hours away from home when you're the sort of person who searches for themes inside as well as outside the classroom. 

A snippet of the lyrics:

Who doesn't know what I'm talking about
Who's never left home, who's never struck out
To find a dream and a life of their own
A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone 

You're about to be sent on the greatest egg hunt of your life, seniors. There will be no boundaries, only wide open spaces. I know you're bucking at the gate to get started, but eventually you'll realize what perhaps my AP students have as they struggle to make decisions about & construct an answer to the open questions with which they've been presented: with greater freedom comes greater responsibility to make purposeful, informed choices. Absent the safety net with which most of you have operated these first eighteen years of your life, poor choices usually come with harsher consequences.

Beginning with tiny patches of grass in which you were told you could hunt eggs, your choices have been limited, but that ends soon. You will be, & already have been, presented with choices concerning where to attend school, what to select as a major, what courses to take in your freshman year, where to live, with whom to live, etc. It can be overwhelming, but the reality is that it only multiplies exponentially from this point forward.

I extend to you an invitation to be thoughtful, considerate people in a world populated by unserious, easily outraged people who rarely think, but rather react rashly absent important facts. Be a proactive person who makes purposeful decisions, the consequences of which you're willing to accept. Own what you do & what you say - & that includes what you post online, which, by the way, is usually as impossible to retract as words spewed in anger.

As we were told in chapel last week, "You will become your choices." Make informed, prayerful choices, & when you don't, make the choice to admit you made a mistake & rectify the situation as best as you can. Be, as Aristotle advised, a person of high intention, sincere effort, & intelligent execution.

Again, the opening stanza of "Wide Open Spaces" - -

Who doesn't know what I'm talking about
Who's never left home, who's never struck out
To find a dream and a life of their own
A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone 

I'll leave you with this today (I shall return in a week's time, the Lord willing, to lecture you one more time & weep incoherently):

If you're to successfully navigate the spaces that will soon open before you, if you're to build a life worth living, a life of your own on a foundation of stone, remember Paul's words in I Corinthians 3:11: For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus. You can attempt to build upon something or someone else, but sooner or later what you erect will crumble. I promise.

Off I go to drink more coffee. I'm humming "Wide Open Spaces" & smiling because Fitzgerald is right. We are indeed borne back ceaselessly into the past.


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