Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How The Peanuts Movie Failed Our Children

Rejection after rejection after rejection.

As my high school classmates were receiving big, thick college acceptance letters, I was opening only paper thin, small enveloped rejections.  But it wasn't until opening a rejection from my "safety" school, the lowest ranking of any school I'd considered, that I started to worry.  See, though I'd applied to 8 or 10 universities, there was only one I was willing to attend.  I'm not sure what set my sights on the highly acclaimed Boston College, but I knew that was where I needed to be.  So much so that if I weren't accepted, I told my mother I wanted to take a year off and reapply.

While she never said so, at least to me, I know that declaration made my mother a nervous wreck.  "Numbers don't lie" people say.  So when my SAT scores came back in a three digit number, she had plenty of cause for alarm.  I held out hope.

When my college counselor spoke with the admissions department at Boston College, shortly after my acceptance, she was told I would not have been accepted if it weren't for my essays.  "By the skin of your teeth" people say.  And surely that's how I got accepted into Boston College, where I landed on the Dean's List 7 of 8 semesters and graduated with a double major.

Thankfully both BC and I knew I was worth way more than my SAT score.  Sadly, Charlie Brown may not know the same.

Overall, The Peanuts Movie was cute.  Visually it was well done, and though the main plot revolves mostly around Charlie Brown's silly crush on a new neighbor, the story successfully involves each of the characters in a nature true to the history of the franchise.  Charlie Brown is the same "lovable loser" as we've always seen him.

Until, that is, he learns he is the first student in the history of his school to receive a perfect score on a standardized test.  Once surrounded in the hallways by googly-eyed schoolmates staring at his "100%" on the bulletin board, suddenly Charlie Brown is worth something.  Not only to himself, but to everyone around him.  Suddenly he is the most popular, most sought after boy in school, showing more confidence than ever before.  Even Lucy wants to be near him.

It isn't until during a school assembly set to celebrate Charlie's achievements that he learns (*spoiler alert*) that the perfect score is not in fact his.  His cheeks blush, his voice cracks and his self-worth plummets right before the eyes of the entire school, the crush- and the young film audience.

No one tells Charlie Brown that his intelligence, imagination and value as a human being have nothing to do with the standardized test score.  No one tells him that his creativity and caring nature cannot be reflected in a number.  And certainly no one tells him that sending a message to impressionable children that their ability to succeed (or be loved) can be numerated by a bubble test is as dangerous as it is irresponsible.

I'd always assumed that by the time I entered my forties standardized tests would be a thing of the past, just as I assumed we'd be driving spaceships as cars like The Jetsons.  We've made some progress toward both, but aren't there quite yet.  My own daughters, now 5 and 7, don't have long before sharpening a number two pencil, squeezing their too long names into too few bubbles and answering multiple choice questions strategically written to confuse them and gage their ability at the same time.  And while I'd like to say their scores at that time will be somewhat irrelevant, I know they won't be.

Hopefully, no matter the result, I can convince them otherwise.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Do I Hope My Kids Dance? Sure. But I Hope They Do This A Lot More

I still remember the Polaroid of the first book my brother ever borrowed from our small town public library.  It was a closeup, not of him holding the book, but of the book alone on our royal blue shag carpet.  The photo was a celebration.  It was a celebration not just of my big brother, my mother's first child, finally old enough to read.  It was a celebration of the book itself.  Of the freedom the words on paper brought with them.  Or at least, that's how I remember it.

Three years his junior, I wasn't quite ready for my own library card.  Surprisingly, I don't remember the photo of my first borrowed book (although I am sure my mother took one, as she was incredibly fair in that way).  I do, however, remember aspiring to read on my own.

Before I knew it I was at a prestigious preparatory school studying Shakespeare, Orwell, Homer's Odyssey and likely a lot of CliffsNotes.  (By the way, thanks Cliff.  You are the man.)  Required reading in college was much of the same, with some Plato and Aristotle tossed in for good measure.  Now days away from my (eek) 40th birthday, most of those books bring only one word to mind.


Several years ago I set out to make my first New Year's Resolution in forever.  I skipped right over exercising regularly, eating healthily and cutting Diet Coke out of my daily routine as that'd merely be setting myself up for failure.  Then I remembered my brother's book.  I remembered the mystery, the power, the privilege sitting within his reach.  More importantly, I remembered the longing to make those things own.

In that moment I made a resolution to read more for pleasure.  I didn't set a specific goal.  Let's face it... Reading one book for pleasure that year would have been more than I'd read in years past.  So with even one novel in hand, success was literally at my fingertips.  I am unsure how many books I read that year, but it was a lot.

As a busy mother of two with an unpredictable work schedule and tendency to fill whatever openings do exist in my schedule with anything to help satiate an unhealthy desire to be SuperWoman, little time is left to read.  But the result is more grand than ever I expected.

E-Reader phobic, I've accrued quite the pile of novels on my nightstand.  In our hurry-up-and-wait society, I find carrying a book in my purse or on the passenger seat of my car as the perfect remedy.  How often do I read in those circumstances?  Almost never.  But the intent is there.  The dream.

Still, the most beautiful return on that resolution I have yet to mention.

My youngest daughter is a creature of habit, more set in her ways than you can imagine.  (Yes, Mom. I know.  Some apples don't fall far from the tree.)  But bedtime can be an exceptionally difficult time for her, as everything has to go just right.  Now a kindergartner, only two months into her school year, I am proud to say she is a full-fledged reader.  Like any younger sibling, she wants to follow in her sister's bigger footsteps.  So for the last several weeks, bedtime has consisted of her reading me a story before I'd do for her as I've done since she was an infant.  Then last week, something changed.

I was frazzled at her bedtime, even more so than usual.  I told her to start reading alone and that I'd be there shortly.  Several times I peeked around the corner to her bottom bunk and heard her voice, a sound I'd bottle up and save forever if I could, reading page after page.  With her happy, I took advantage of a few extra moments to do dishes, prepare lunches or something else insignificant.  When finally I went to read to her, I was too late.

Her flashlight, off.  Her ZippySack kitty blanket, pulled up.  Her book, closed beside her.  For the first time in 5 years and 7 months, my baby had read herself to sleep.  And what did I do?

I cried like a baby.

My mother once gave me a book filled with the lyrics of Lee Ann Womack's song, "I Hope You Dance".  For any mother, they all ring to true.

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder...
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens...
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean...
I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance...

I hope these and so many other things for my two truly amazing daughters.  And sure, even if they inherit their father's sense of rhythm, I hope they dance.  But way more importantly, I hope they read.