Home sweet home

(photo: rough-cut back rails for chairs waiting to be sanded and finished)

Just got back from a business trip to Chicago. Business trips aren’t like vacation travel – I’m on someone else’s schedule and agenda, and often don’t have the budget to stay an extra day to sight see. Plus, I was really worried I’d get snowed in – my outbound flight was delayed nearly 2 hours. It’s good to be home!

I helped give a one day workshop on educational test design for researchers. Not the large-scale standardized stuff kids are subjected too – this was about the careful craftsmanship of focused assessments on particular topics. I also attended a few sessions (including another one I gave a paper at) where the general theme was “we all know No Child Left Behind-mandated tests as they currently exist aren’t measuring much that we care about… but what would it take to do better?” I’ve often believed (and stated) that we don’t assess what’s important, we assess what’s cheap and easy. Some of the empirical research is bearing that out – we don’t even assess our own state standards particularly well. Or rather, the state doesn’t assess these things well – teachers (more or less) are constantly assessing the on-going learning of students in order to guide instruction, and isn’t that what counts most? (OK, off my soap box for now…)

Funny, I never saw the parallel before – when I do get involved in assessment (or research) design it’s a lot like my woodworking. I like to be careful, artisitic, and take pride in the product… hmmm… something to sit with…

One good thing about getting away for a few days is gaining some perspective on things. I was reading The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron (an American Buddhist teacher) while on this trip. It’s hard to describe the experience on a blog, but essentially it was about cultivating equanimity and taming our demons and the “stories” we often overlay over our direct experiences. In one sense, it was like being constantly reminded of some essential Truths I knew deep down inside, but have habitually forgotten. In fact, I think it’s a little like going to Sunday church services – it’s not like the preacher says anything we haven’t heard a million times before, but it’s helpful to be reminded, and for that brief period of engagement to have our attention focused on these essential ideas.

And babies, babies everywhere! So many of my friends/colleagues are parents now! For roughly the past 10 years I’d envisioned a future without children (long story – started as a joint decision with a partner, and never really changed after that relationship ended). Now, in my (very) early 40’s, I wonder… I still come back to my baseline feeling: an absence of desire. Not an active aversion to having children, just an absence of strong desire. And I feel like you have to really want to be a parent / have a family; it’s not something that should just “happen” along the way. But it’s interesting being part of essentially the first generation of people who’ve grown up completely in control of their own fertility (between widespread availability of contraception and the right to terminate pregnancies). There isn’t a long cultural history that supports having children as an active choice rather than a matter of course. We’re charting our own course in relatively new waters.

Yikes! Just looked at the clock, but it’s still set to Chicago time. Phew! Nonetheless, time to get to bed.

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2 thoughts on “Home sweet home

  1. Larry, I think you would be a really good dad. I feel we all have some internal worry that we won't live up to the job. Yet you have so much to teach a young child. You would take the job very seriously. Lucky for you, men can decide to have children at any age as long as their partner is still able to conceive. Something to give deep thought to.

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  2. Also, this state testing is the pits. I told the kids that I had a friend that designs these test and that they have a fifty percent chance of getting the right answer. In other words, there are always two throw out questions, it's what remains that they must be cautious with. Just thought you would like to know. Hopefully this will help them. Hugs to you!

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