Saturday, March 12, 2016

On Turning 27

Unfortunately, sometimes I feel as though there are these invisible, but still so real pressures that tell us we have to have a number of things accomplished by a certain age. There are countless articles on the subject and as a rule-follower determined to get things right, I can fall victim thinking, “But I need to have these 30 things accomplished by the time I am 30.” Rather than be consumed by these thoughts though, I am determined to write my sometimes vague, but always personal goals down right here. That way, year by year, I can live by my very own guidebook. If you are reading this, I would encourage you to do the same! The morale simply being: you do you!

Last year, I wrote on my 26th birthday and I knew there was so much change coming and I was thrilled about it! It was the best kind of change – change that makes you stronger and a better, more loving person. Robert had recently proposed and we had already determined we would be married within a year. I wrote, “I don’t only want to endure the change and face it bravely, but embrace it wholeheartedly excited to see what the change might bring because I trust God is love and in control.”

Now, a year later, I can honestly say (que some some good old romanticism!) Robert makes me so much braver than I have ever been. I tend to shrug at societal norms and not stress about anything that won’t matter in one year. When you have someone to go home to who loves you, the smaller stuff becomes! Robert lives by a different credo than most, and I am inspired by his clear perspective and sense of direction. He also has so much respect for everyone and everything, which it such a valuable lesson for me. As I become more and more of an adult, embracing all the responsibility that comes along with it, remembering to be respectful is so important.

Together, we are also working to not take our ourselves too seriously, to have so much fun together, and plan adventures  that will keep us growing and learning. Being married turns out to be even more fun than dating and we are eager to show gratefulness for every moment – big or small. In my 27th year, I hope I step out of my comfort zone and remember to cherish all the little things.

This year, I have also been learning so much from my family.  My sister and her husband drove from Texas to Canada and back this past summer, camping and staying with friends along the way. After their adventurous summer, they packed up their lives and moved to Virginia to try something new they had never done before. Their sense of adventure inspires me. Much the same, my brother boarded a ship last winter and spent an entire semester at sea, experiencing the world. He made many new friends and returned with an even stronger sense of compassion and respect for our world and the people in it. My parents too, they took some big leaps professionally and are living in their dream city because they know it is where they are supposed to be. Their steadfast faith and sense of gratitude and positivity inspires everyone who knows them.

With another birthday, I look back and feel really lucky and blessed to have so many wise teachers in my life. As I look forward, I am eager to cherish life for all it is. I am going to choose every day to be grateful for the people I have met and will meet and to always show respect. Robert and I are going to have so much fun and show our love, through both small and grand gestures. We are going to take trips and learn from each other and our world.

I am sure I am going to mess up some days and choose poorly. I will pick pessimism of the worst sort! But, I hope my 27-year-old self will quickly say, “Okay, let’s not sulk about this and just make a change. Remember, you are still learning.” So, here’s to another year! Though topping getting married to my best friend might be hard to beat, I am so excited to see what comes next! 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

On Turning 26

I don’t know exactly how it started, but I have gotten into this habit of writing on my birthday and posting it here as a way, perhaps, to keep myself accountable to all I promise. Sometimes being a dreamer and goal maker seems advantageous and helps me get to where I hope I will go. Other times, I dream about what a year might bring and decide the best strategy is absolutely no strategy at all.  

Last year, I dreamed about being brave when facing transition, seeking community, finding quiet moments, and learning more about myself. To read my words, “I just know this year holds so much newness and important steps for me,” makes me smile at the pure foreshadowing of it! Did I know I would be engaged to the man of my dreams just one year later? Reading my post makes me think as though I certainly had a sense that something very much life-altering was going to occur. I am so happy it is Robert and that my life is changing to include him always.

I talked about my parents moving away from Germany and the transition my family was facing. I wrote that we must be brave and one year later, the same rings true. It is surprising actually to see me talk about transition as though it is a phase we must persevere through. Did I not yet realize that our lives are (I hope!) constantly in motion? It is now that I realize, we are always learning, growing, dreaming of how to make our lives better, and how to make other’s lives better too. What a major lesson to begin to grasp.

This year, I don’t only want to endure the change and face it bravely, but embrace it wholeheartedly excited to see what the change might bring because I trust God is love and in control.

I thought I might be sad to leave 25 behind and turn the page on a new year. As one dear friend reminded me, I am closer to 30 now than 20. Even my brother wrote from Burma to remind me that in the eyes of a guy still in college, I am getting old. I am excited though to become stronger, more of an adult, embracing all the responsibility that comes along with it. I have always been introspective, even as child I think I wondered about my purpose and what I was meant to do. I love how with every year, I transition into a greater awareness of myself.

This year, I look back and treasure seeing my family a little more often since we live in the same country. I am thankful for how Robert and I have built our relationship over the year and how excited I am knowing I will be writing about our life together on every birthday from this one on.  I have loved learning more about love and how important it is to express it in small ways and with grand gestures. This year, I do not only want love those around me as much as I can, but also make sure they know it.

I have grown professionally as well and feel so blessed to have the opportunity to work for an organization with a mission that wakes me up every morning and motivates me forward because I know the work is bringing hope to others. I have learned more about equity and been stirred by conversations on how to provide children with an equal opportunity for success. This is a subject I will continue studying (probably for much longer than this coming year) because it is not only relevant to my work, but must be relevant to my life.

Loving others with all I am and advocating for equity, in the sense of equal opportunity for all children in school and life, seem like incredibly daunting goals for a new year. Perhaps it is best to say that I want to approach all things with clear eyes and a full heart. To stay informed and aware of the needs around me. To do my best  and love the best I can and at the end of the day, not grow bitter because there is much more to be done, but find peace in knowing we are ALL doing our very best.

26, I am just going to do my best at being good at you. I am going to have peace about all the unknowns and discover all you have in store for me and my loved ones one step at a time. I am going to learn so much and take it all to heart. Here’s to you! You are going to be the best one yet! 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

On Turning 25

A new year and a brand new start. Somehow this birthday feels so dense and important -- not in a daunting, overwhelming way, but in the sense that I just know this year holds so much newness and important steps for me. I hope I let this year teach me some good lessons. I know lessons often are not easily learned, but I feel prepared to take on this year with bravery and a fresh outlook.

Though I may still be searching for me – aren't we all? – I feel like 24 taught me valuable lessons about what I am good at and maybe what I am not so good at. I have learned what I am most passionate about and how I can best contribute to help seeing this achieved. 25 is about narrowing in and refining myself.

I want to spend intentional time this year choosing to see all the joy there is in life rather than dwelling on perfection. Though I know I am further along than I was this time one year ago, I want to spend more purposeful time getting to know myself better.

I am learning that life -- it is about dreaming big. That it is good to just begin sometimes. Just get started – don’t wait for perfection. There really could not be a better time to start truly learning this lesson than now.

My life has changed in ways I could never have dreamed this year. I met the greatest guy and made the best friends. And at the end of this week, I will be packing up my desk and saying goodbye to a workplace I have called home for over a year. I am starting a new job in a new place with new people. I will be writing grants 90% of the time and working to cultivate a skill I didn't know I even had a knack for until last year.

And as I begin a brand new job, my parents will be moving from Germany to America. Transition can be messy and it certainly will not be perfect for them or for me, but there is such comfort in company and we are all being so brave!

This year, I said goodbye to Germany and the memories of the sweetest childhood I could have ever asked for. This process helped me mature, but also remind myself to not forget my childhood and to always remember to jump in puddles after the rain or make forts in the living room. 

This year, my baby sister married the man of her dreams and I gained another incredible brother.

This year, my best friend had a sweet, beautiful, little girl and became a new mama. 

So many moments of transition and joyful change. 

As I seek to learn new lessons this year, there are old lesson I hope to keep close to mind and heart. I know I am not inspired by the time I spend in front of the computer, but by the time away from it. I need to spend more time with the laptop closed, my cell phone tucked away at the bottom of my purse and with a book open or in the fresh outdoors.

I also know, and should be continually reminded, that I am so much happier in community and with my friends. Last year Dallas was still new and a little frightening. I was still trying to figure out where I fit in and who among this expanse of people I might call friend. Now that I have been here over a year, I am so thankful for the friendships formed here. What would I ever do without them? 1,000 times thank you! (I love you, Mony!)

I do not know where this year will take me, but I am ready to experience it wide-eyed and excited to see what is in store. I know it is going to be an incredible year – something just tells me so! And for my many friends also with February birthdays – happy birthday to you too! Let’s embrace this year with hope and a prayer of thankfulness for His many blessings. Let's continue to seek out community and encourage one another in faith. Let’s be brave about transition and change and not dwell on perfection, but be willing to just start and see what happens next. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

An education that inspires

On Friday morning, I presented the Reading Partners program  model  to five SAP employees at one of our schools in South Dallas. The elementary school students at Roger Q. Mills are in need of mentors and tutors who will support and encourage them – believe in their ability to succeed not only in school, but also in life. I spoke of the Reading Center and how it is purposely designed to be a warm, welcoming environment where students can come and not fear making mistakes, but rather have the freedom to learn and grow with all the mistakes that this process essentially requires.

Just one day later, I spoke to a 11th grade English and theology teacher, and though not teaching in a low-income elementary school, in our short conversation, I gathered he felt conflicted by the same sentiment I did my utmost to express to the SAP volunteers – our dire need for an education that inspires.

One thought led to another and so here I am  sharing a small section from  a paper  I wrote last year. I have since had the privilege of hearing Arne Duncan speak in-person and my study of his rhetoric has thereafter been of even more personal appeal to me.

A note of caution, this may be long and tiresome for some, but if you are even slightly interested in education policy or political rhetoric, you may find something (maybe just a sentence or two) somewhat fascinating. : )

To start, knowledge is an abstract term, difficult both to measure and define. Unlike the agricultural age, the information age does not provide measures by which quantity or worth can be rightly determined. Whereas information implies the knowing of facts, knowledge seems to imply much more and yet, a cogent definition is found wanting (Jonshcer, 1999, p. 37). This epistemology dilemma has long been debated and today has relevance to economic life. It is acknowledged “the root of the word ‘knowledge’ is the verb ‘to know’, which refers to a state of knowing, a continuous ongoing state” (Jonschcer, 1999, p. 44). This considered, knowledge is advanced over an extended period of time. For the human being, knowledge is accumulated throughout the duration of one’s life. For humankind, knowledge is conserved for generations to come and thus is accumulated on a grand scale, allowing for the continual expansion of globally shared knowledge (Jonschcer, 1999, pp. 44-45). Scientific knowledge, business information, indeed, all forms of knowledge are expanding at an immense degree. The information age, as the modern day has been called, is propelled by knowledge and innovative advances in information technology (Jonschcer, 1999, p. 62). Current society has been dramatically altered by this age of information. Evidence of this can be observed in almost all spheres of society, most particularly economic life.

In contrast to the debated economic benefit afforded by this great diffusion of knowledge, several potential problems must also be addressed. As identified by Frances Cairncross, three problems encompass the primary policy issues as observed today. The first problem concerns the sharing or rather, the non-sharing of knowledge (2001, p. 13). This can best be observed in the evolution of the legal principles that govern today’s intellectual property rights (Cairncross, 2011, p. 231). Secondly, the globalization of knowledge creates concerns regarding the regulation of personal information. Matters of privacy and questions regarding the government’s role in its preservation are greatly contested. Thirdly, as previously mentioned, society has been greatly altered, resulting in an altered workplace and home. Societal roles are flexible in nature and knowledge has become both a product and means of economic gain (Cairncross, 2001, p. 13). The United States is posed with the challenge of keeping in step with the information technology revolution, or else fall terribly behind.

Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum (2011) reflect on the state of the United States in That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back and boldly state the following: “America plays a huge and, more often than not, constructive role in the world today. But that role depends on the country's social, political, and economic health. And America today is not healthy—economically or politically” (2011, p. xi). As the title suggests, the authors contend that the United States is failing to overcome the challenges of the current day. Should this pattern persist, the United States will no longer be recognized as a leader of nations. The revolution in information technology, as previously discussed, is identified as one of the four main challenges posed to the United States. The authors address this challenge and call for the revitalization of creative, critical thinking. In today’s altered world, there is a dire need for an education that inspires. According to Friedman and Mandelbaum (2011), the education system in the United States is in flux, continually changing in response to advances in technology. They contend that “the world increasingly will be divided between high-imagination-enabling counties, which encourage and enable the imagination and extras of their people, and low-imagination-enabling countries . . .” (2011, p. 138). American educators are thus posed with the challenge of inspiring imagination and teaching students to become workers in a world defined by the knowledge economy. In order to maintain its international competitiveness, the United States must be counted among the “high-imagination-enabling counties.” Such a feat, however, is not easily recognized.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international study coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and designed to determine the efficacy of education systems throughout the world. The study was first conducted in 2000 and since then has been administered every three years. It produces reliable data gathered by testing the knowledge and skills of 15-year-old students from participating countries and economies. The 2009 survey provides the most recent results concerning the comparative success of students in reading, mathematics and science (OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, 2011). For the United States, the results indicate a difficult truth. The United is essentially being “out-educated” by a number of countries and economies.

These harrowing findings were directly addressed by Duncan at the National Center on Education and the Economy National Symposium. Reflecting upon the results of the 2009 PISA survey, Duncan remarks, “These top performing nations not only were doing a better job of accelerating achievement and attainment nationwide than America, they also were doing a better job of closing achievement gaps among minority and disadvantaged students.” Later in the address he states, “Clearly, our education system is not as far down the track as those of top performers, nor are we anywhere near where we need to be to win the race for the future. But we are not off-track, or chugging down an abandoned spur line” (U.S. Department of Education, 2011a). Laden with metaphors, Duncan’s linguistic choices seem to frame education reform as a competitive challenge. The situation is defined as a “race for the future” where countries compete on a “track”, racing one another for first place.

In this matter, Duncan’s remarks are deeply reminiscent of the landmark report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. According to Holly G. McIntush, the report “treated education reform as an urgent problem couched in economic terms” (McIntush, 2000, p. 426). In a similar manner to Duncan’s address, the academic underachievement of American students is framed as a boding threat, inciting a sense of competitive nationalism. Reform in the education system is considered a dire necessity, without which national security and the economy are in jeopardy (McIntush, 2000, p. 427). As such, universal education is subservient to the economic interests of the United States in this matter. The focus on building the United States’ competitive advantage in today’s knowledge economy is evident in Duncan’s address. He states, “Throughout the globe, education is now recognized as the new game-changer that drives economic growth and social change” (U.S. Department of Education, 2011a). This sentiment is carried throughout the text.

Indeed, schools are instructed to prepare students to be competitive in today’s knowledge economy at the risk, according to Robert B. Stevenson (2007), of utterly ignoring the creative arts and principles of citizenship. Stevenson continues to states that rather than inspire young people to be responsible environmental citizens, teachers are solely concerned with ensuring students rank well on standardized tests (2007, pp. 270-271). Elizabeth Bullen, Simon Robb, and Jane Kenway (2004) make a similar argument and offer an alternative conceptualization of the knowledge economy, one that includes the prioritization of the humanities and creative arts. The authors lament that the knowledge economy policy views knowledge simply in terms of education’s economic advantage. Knowledge as a social good, it is posited, is no longer a policy concern. The value of the humanities and creative arts in education is not a measurable commodity and thus fails to be recognized amidst the rhetoric of the technology revolution and knowledge economy (Bullen et al., 2004, p. 9). Furthermore, Sheldon Ungar (2003) contends that in reaction to the processes of the knowledge economy, society has, in fact, become “knowledge-adverse.” The overload of information and emphasis on specialized knowledge has increased ignorance rather than knowledge. James D. Marshall (2008) posits that in reaction to the knowledge economy, knowledge takes precedent over ethics and a moral approach to education reform. As such, the self has been lost among the rhetoric of competitive nationalism. Marshall contends that the knowledge economy “has become a catchword in political and educational debate over the last decade or so, especially in the area of educational policy where the role of education in preparing young people to take their part in the Knowledge Economy is often seen as paramount over traditional schooling activities” (Marshall, 2008, p. 149-150). Such criticisms of the knowledge economy are not addressed by Duncan in his address. Rather, Duncan speaks positively of the future of education in the United States and the strengthening of the nation’s competitive advantage in the knowledge economy.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A neglected ask goes answered

“Child Care Assistance provides services to Dallas County parents enabling families working toward self-sufficiency to access child care. Parents who are employed, in job training, or in an educational program may be eligible to receive funding.” -- ChildCareGroup

There I sat, staring at lit computer screen and researching my audience for an after-hours presentation. I was asked by a representative of ChildCareGroup to facilitate a short presentation about Reading Partners and early literacy intervention techniques for parents. With only a background in public relations and journalism to guide me, I felt a little shaky about the task at hand. My pitch for volunteers has been honed to near perfection. I could recite the mission of Reading Partners and the drop of a hat and immediately identify avenues for engagement for any given audience. This presentation, however, was exceedingly different than ones past. With my head in my hands, I contemplated whether this was an appropriate setting to ask for a time commitment of 1 hour a week to work with children not ones own.

As I arrived at the ChildCareGroup center, I greeted the parents as they approached -- babies on hips and little ones toddling behind. Mothers and fathers wanting the most for their children and seeking help from the limited resources provided to them. I decided not to mention our desperate need for volunteers and how they could give to the mission of Reading Partners. I was allotted 15 minutes and so I devoted my limited time to sharing best practices and encouraging them to read to their children every night at bedtime. I thanked them for their time and indicated I was finished sharing, but before I could, someone raised their hand to ask a final question. “How can I help and become a volunteer with Reading Partners?” a mother asked while bouncing her little one on her lap. With an eagerness I have yet to encounter, my small audience reminded me that I had not yet shared how they could give to the mission of Reading Partners. I was struck by the moment and touched by their willingness to give all they could to a cause dear to us all.