Tuesday, June 21, 2005

my daughter, the fangirl

Well, I'm proud to say that Evangeline is well on her way to becoming a full-blooded fangirl. That she enjoys being told tales from "Lord of the Rings" is no surprise. What is taking me by surprise is how far she's taking these things.

She made the connection between Mulan and her namesake last fall, which racheted up her interest in the Disney movie quite a bit. Last week, we were finishing our homeschool study on the American Revolution by reading a true story about a soldier named Robert Shurtliff. About halfway through the story, we discovered that Robert's real name was Deborah Samson. Evangeline's interest in the story leaped, and when I asked her why she thought Deborah Samson had disguised herself as a man and gone off to fight in the Revolution, she had an answer right away: "Because she knew that no man could hinder the British."

For our anniversary and for Father's Day, I received three different Spider-Man trade paperbacks written by J. Michael Straczynski of "Babylon 5" fame. Natasha has been reading these almost as fast as I have, and the past two days, she has been reading them to Evangeline including tonight, as a bedtime story. After we said our prayers, Evangeline confided in me that she's into Spider-Man even more than "The Incredibles" and would like to have a Spider-Man dress to wear.

What's a dad to do? Much of Straczynski's writing is either too mature or too advanced for her, so I'm going through my collection of trade paperbacks and figuring out which ones are safe for her to read. ("Sandman" is right out, as are "Kraven's Last Hunt" and "Maus.") Tomorrow I'm going to introduce her to Superman, via John Byrne's "Man of Steel" from the mid-1980s; and see if I can find some Spider-Man cartoons we can watch together over the weekend.

When I was a teen in high school, or even a college student, I never would have dreamed that I would marry someone who could enjoy intelligent, well-written comic books as much as I do. And now I have a daughter who enjoys them too.

amazon strikes out

I recently canceled an order for $49.42 worth of books. That's not a significant portion of Amazon's receipts, I realize, but I want to say why I did this.

Quite frankly, I've noticed a significant decline in the service that Amazon.com provides its customers. In three separate orders this year, I've been beset with problems as Amazon keeps shifting the shipping date further and further back, with no explanation, even though all the items are listed as "ships within 24 hours." On the Super-Saver Shipping feature, which is supposed to ship items within a week, I'm noticing shipping estimates of three or four weeks, and when I log in after a week has passed, I'm finding that the shipping date has been pushed back further.

That's more than just a little disappointing. E-commerce in general and Amazon.com in particular have succeeded by and large because of the convenience they present. When I first ordered from Amazon.com ten years ago, it was convenient knowing I could order a book and have it in a few days' time, for birthdays, Christmas or for my own pleasure. That assurance is gone now, and I'm learning to do my shopping elsewhere, either at Overstock.com, which is also cheaper than Amazon when it has the items in stock, or at the bookstores in my area, which while it might not have every book in the world in stock, still has a decent selection and has them for me to pick up right then and there. Best of all, when they don't, I know I can order it and have the book in my hand within a week.

With Amazon, I just can't count on that anymore. With three strikes in a row now, Amazon is out of the running where I'm concerned.

Monday, June 13, 2005

family values

A couple weeks ago, I decided the time had come to leave CHRefugee, a Christian humor forum where I have hung my hat as a moderator and regular contributor for the last three or maybe even four years.

My reasons for doing so are largely personal, so I won't get into them here, but I can't help but notice an interesting chain of events that began about two months ago. At the time, another forum moderator was having some marital difficulties and his wife asked him to leave the forum as a sign of his commitment to doing whatever it would take to save their marriage.

Here's how things progressed:

  1. My friend's wife tells him he needs to leave the forum.
  2. Moved by his farewell post, I start reassessing my involvement in the forum, and then leave.
  3. Prompted by the departure of two other forum regulars, two other forum members, including a third moderator, each start re-evaluating the amount of time they put into the forum that could be spent on real-life relationships. One leaves the forum, and the other vastly scales back his Internet time.
  4. Frustrated by the sudden departure of three forum liberals and the forum's ensuing tilt to the Right, two more forum members begin mulling their own possible departures. Not clear if that's happened yet, but judging by her blog entry and stuff she's written to me, Indigo is really frustrated.

It's looking at though my friend's wife single-handedly has managed to destroy a forum that survived being displaced by About.com, some pretty heated political debates, a number of forum-rocking personal crises, and a wide range of beliefs within the Christian spectrum.

As a side note, I can't help but be amused by one aspect of this: The Right usually claims to be the guardians and embodiment of family values, but it's all the liberals who are leaving the forum to spend more time with their families.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

judith christ

I don't know if anyone's heard of a new Bible "translation" that replaces all the masculine references to God with feminine ones, and even renames Jesus as Judith, but apparently it's got some evangelicals in a major snit.

I can't fault them entirely, since there's no textual basis for such changes, let alone the statement that this is a corrected Bible, as its cover claims, but I do think people are making a much bigger deal out of this than it warrants. (Not that the church has a history of making mountains out of molehills, such as with its hatred of Christian rock, its insistence on regarding only the King James Version as a legitimate Bible, the major flip-out over the deathly boring "Last Temptation of Christ," or ... well, you get the idea.)

Still, a flip-out is what I saw when I visited CHRefugee recently, to see if it really was getting as ridiculous there as a friend of mine said it was. (It was.) People were gleefully pointing out that Judith is the feminine form of Judas, as though that proved something, and talking about the "translation" as though it were a heresy straight from hell. The only fair criticism that I saw was that the Bible, when it uses a pronoun to refer to God, invariably settles on the masculine set, and there is no evidence that Jesus was actually a woman.

To be honest, though, I'm not sure it would have made a difference if Jesus had come as a woman, except in the reception the gospel would have received. For whatever reason, God chose to work through a patriarchal society to reveal himself, but he uses some pretty blatant feminine imagery to describe himself at times. There's the prophetic utterance "Can a mother forget the child that nurses at her breast?" or Jesus' own statement, "Long have I longed to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings." The Holy Spirit, one of the three persons of the Godhead, routinely is described with feminine imagery, describing God as a comforter, a nurturer, and so on. The Holy Spirit's name in Hebrew, Ruakh Khadesh, is even feminine. My personal favorite is one of the names the Tanakh uses to refer to God: "many-breasted One." (I think that's El Shaddai.)

So why Jesus and not Judith? I would hazard a guess it's because of the culture he was in, and no other reason.

When I directed the church's Passion play one year, I wanted to cast a woman in the role of Christ because she was the best actress we had. Anne loved the idea, but didn't see how we could pull it off with a one-time performance, since by the time people got used to a female Jesus, the play would be over, with no other performances coming up.

Honestly, as the father of two girls, I wish the Bible had more fully developed female role models than just Esther and Ruth. That no doubt is because of the culture the Bible was written in, but it's a shame that we don't know more about women like Priscilla, Lydia or Dorcas, Deborah or even Jael, for that matter.) All I can say about Priscilla is that Paul thought highly of her, she was a woman apostle and a contender for author of Hebrews, and a few other little tidbits like that. That's a loss for all of us.

(As a side note, it bothers me tremendously when people hold up Eve as an example of the Bible's perceived sexism. Why is she blamed for the Fall? The book of Romans is pretty clear that the Fall of Man was Adam's fault , not Eve's. If anything Eve is given the spotlight as the source of redemption, since it's through the "seed of the woman" that Christ arrives.)

If this is going to drive people batty so much, I'm tempted to scour the Bible for other men who were really women in disguise. The best example would have to be Jacob, the father of the Israelites. Remember how he was smooth-skinned, Rebekah loved him more than Esau, he was good in the kitchen and had a voice that was noticeably different from his brother's? As a woman, Jacob even needed someone else to help him get his wives pregnant. It would be much easier today, with fertility technology, but at the time he had help from two of the household servants, whom the Bible calls "maidservants" in an attempt to perpetuate the fiction that Jacob was a man.

Monday, June 06, 2005

sweet victory

Today I did what many dream of, but few ever accomplish: I beat the bureaucracy.

The cutoff date for kindergarten registration in our school district is Oct. 15. Children born after that are out of luck, and must wait another year to attend kindergarten. The same date holds true for children who are entering first grade. Since Evangeline's birthday is two weeks later, I have been assured by dozens of petty bureaucrats that she would be in kindergarten next year, despite having completed kindergarten in a homeschool setting.

Today I proved them wrong. I have lost track of how many people I've called, but they range from the guidance counselor at the Lord Stirling School, where she would have attended school, to an official in the state Department of Education. I read the riot act to administrators at the charter school, and I read it again to the administrators in the public school district, but I finally got my message through: She has completed kindergarten. There is no reason for her to repeat it.

They listened -- thank God, or bene swa l'etenal, as they say in Haiti -- they actually listened. I have a letter from the superintendent of schools in our district accepting her kindergarten experience as valid, which means that she qualifies for first grde.

She'll be the youngest child in her grade next year, I expect, but she'll be in the grade that she's ready for, and she probably will have had a better kindergarten experience than her classmates. She can read chapter books now, speak a little Spanish, and has read fairy tales from all over the world, as well as everything else we've done with her.

Thank God the fight is over. Thank God I won.

Now I just wish they didn't all hate me.

The charter school itself runs from kindergarten through eighth grade and relies on heavy parental involvement. It operates multigrade classrooms -- Evangeline's is kindergarten through second grade -- and it has a big emphasis on the arts. Students in the upper grades this year just did a movie in conjunction with a grant from Lucasfilm.

Essentially, the school combines the advantages of homeschooling, such as learning at your own pace, individualized curriculum and flexibility, with the economies of scale of public schooling, like having a larger support staff, greater resources and other children to interact with socially. I'm sure that it also creates problems unique to a charter school setting, but I don't know yet what those are.

A friend of mine whose son went to the charter school for a couple years tells me that the guiding philosophy of the school is humanistic, which really comes as no surprise to me. To be honest, as long as they teach the kids to think for themselves -- or if they don't encourage it but at least allow it -- I'll be happier with it than I would with a Christian school, which usually teaches a fair amount of arrogance and unquestioning accept-what-you're-told thinking.

I told Evangeline that she would be going there next year, but I don't think it's entirely sunk in. Still, when we visited the school a couple weeks ago for an arts show it had in the halls and we started to get a feel for just how great a deal this was going to be, she did ask if she could start going to school there the next day, which unfortunately was a Saturday, so the answer was no for two reasons.

In many ways, I'd like it if Evangeline could continue to homeschool, as she definitely has benefited from it this year. She's reading at a third-grade level, we think, writes well, and has pretty much mastered simple addition. She's about to tackle subtraction soon too.

We've studied botany, hurricanes, electrify and magnetism, and various on-the-spot things about inertia, Newton's laws of motion and other oddball science that comes to mind, plus the field trips we've taken to places of interest scientifically and historically.

She's learned a lot about the American Revolution, and has had a decent exposure to the Spanish language, and has received more advanced gymnastics and art training than she would have received in a public school kindergarten. Music is probably about the same.

All this was done without the benefit of an actual curriculum. If we had had the money to actually buy a copy of a used curriculum, I can only imagine what she would have learned.

Unfortunately, Evangeline hates being homeschooled. Absolutely hates it. She doesn't hate being with me, and she doesn't hate being with her sister. What she hates is not being with other kids her age. Evangeline attended preschool for two years at Somerset Presbyterian Preschool, and she loved that.

She thrived in the preschool setting, with the other children, and she thrives in the gymnastics and arts classes where she other children to interact with. She has complained on a regular basis that she would rather be with other children her age, sometimes quite vehemently.

And so we enrolled her in the charter school, and so I fought for her to be in a more appropriate grade, even though that grade marking largely will come into play only if we move at some point and have to transfer her records to another school someplace else.

It may be that partway through first grade, Evangeline will realize that she had it made in homeschool, and we'll have to discuss withdrawing her from the school for homeschooling in the second grade. I don't know. We'll have to see.

That she is going to the charter school for first grade, of course, does not mean that I am through teaching her. I am not. We're going to continue many of our activities, go on field trips and whatever else we can, particularly during holidays and the summer season. I wouldn't be surprised if we continue with some academic lessons after school ends. (I plan to continue stuff over the next three months while regular school is out, as it is, albeit with a fair amount of flexibility to allow for day-to-day summer activity.)

But that's all in the future. Today, we beat the system, and that's enough.


Copyright © 2005 by David Learn. Used with permission.

deep throat

I was excited yet oddly disappointed to learn the identity of Deep Throat this past week.

The enduring mystery of who provided Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein the information that established them and the Washington Post forever in the journalism hall of fame has been the best, most enduring part of the whole Watergate scandal for the past 30 years. The mystique of having a mysterious insider into an administration or a story adds spice to news coverage, and the power of the press, as demonstrated in Nixon's eventual resignation, is what inspired community journalists like me to look for signs of nefarious evil-doing in the choice of roads to pave and the allocation of money to buy laptop computers for the elementary school.

And now that we have a name to put on the mystery, Deep Throat is no longer as compelling and absorbing a figure as he used to be. Rather than a dark, shadowy figure in the parking garage, Deep Throat was nothing more than the second-in-command of the FBI. He has a name, a face, possibly inglorious motives, and the whole nine yards.

"Deep Throat" has diminished. Bob Woodward has diminished. Journalism itself has diminished.

It's possible -- just possible, mind you -- that the decision to pave Valley Road may have been legitimate after all.