Category Archives: Column: Circe’s Circle

Circe’s Circle casts a pagan perspective over topics such as education, parenting, LGBT issues and anything else that might come to mind. Written by D. Ryan

Fun Fall Activities for Parents of Tweens

When school starts in the fall, it seems like all our time and energy is spent on studying and activities. My girls are active in many activities and sports. In a single week, we’re diving, riding horses, practicing martial arts, taking music lessons, and participating in school clubs.

spicer-millIn the few nights we have without a scheduled activity (most Saturdays–but not all,) we seem to be focused on keeping up the house, doing shopping, or sitting in a zombie coma in front of the news. The news, as always, is full of violence, drama, and junk reporting.

So this fall, we’re planning to make time for some family activities like:

  1. Visit a cider mill. The mills in our area have trails and lots of stuff to do.
  2. Go hiking in our local state park. The dog can even come with us.
  3. Make a medieval town from Legos. We have thousands of pieces for fun and creativity.medieval-lego
  4. Grounding rituals to help us feel part of nature and celebrate the Goddess Earth.
  5. Finally film that movie Wife and Twin #2 have been writing–Night of the Wild Rogue Chicken. That should be a blast.

When life gets busy, it’s important to take time to ground yourself–connect with family and the Earth–otherwise you risk losing yourself in the back-to-school melee.

Labor Day and “I Hate Unions”

Labor Day and Dislike of Unions

Union meme 2It’s funny that the nation takes a day off the first Monday in September (unless you have a minimum wage job, in which case you’re probably selling grills or hot dogs) to celebrate the creation of unions. So many people are anti-union, especially when it comes to teachers unions.

I can’t tell you how many articles and comments I’ve read that denigrate teachers unions. They talk about teachers as if we’re demanding raises at the expense of everything else. They paint us as nameless, faceless greedy Grinches who will sell your kid’s soul to the devil for ten cents more a year. This comes after the month long lovefest of articles celebrating the generosity of underpaid teachers who dip into their own meager resources to provide pencils and glue sticks for needy kids. Isn’t that ironic?Union thug meme

Anyway, back to the union thing. In national polls, people have a low opinion of teachers and schools, yet when asked about THEIR community schools, people generally rate them quite high. People hate on the teacher unions, but they love their kids’ teachers. Why? Simple—we make an easy scapegoat. Teachers do care about the kids we teach, and most of us dislike politics. We want to teach kids, not fight legislators to increase school funding to keep up with inflation.

I’ve NEVER had a cost of living increase. I haven’t had an actual raise in over a decade. In fact, I’ve taken about a 19% pay cut. I now work two jobs. Last year, my second job brought in as much income as teaching. This year, it’ll bring more. Does that mean that teaching is now the second job?

Additionally legislators have made us pay more for health care. You’re thinking we should, right? What if I told you that in bargaining, we put would-be raises into paying for rising health care costs so that the district wasn’t paying out any more money? What if I told you that we were already indirectly paying for those increased costs?

Union memeWe pay a price for that method, one that actually eases the burden on the pension system. When we retire, the cost of benefits isn’t figured into our pension payout. Now that the legislature has forced us to pay out of pocket for health care increases, we’ll take those raises. Of course there’s been no increase in the per pupil allowance, so there will be no raise for us.

But what about those greedy teachers in unions? What do unions actually do? In my district, they made the district send home 650 kids in a school that had no power and water. The district was going to keep them there even though they couldn’t flush a toilet or get a drink of water. The union put pressure on them, and they sent the kids home, where they had access to bathrooms and water.

And just like your child’s teacher advocates for your child, so does the union. We may do it on a school or district level, but the union does it on a state and national level. Schools don’t make money, and so it’s ludicrous to apply a business model to them. They educate. They connect communities. They advocate for neglected and abused kids. They help community services find families that need help feeding and clothing their kids, getting sober, or finding jobs.

People often argue that unions prevent change from happening in schools, but that’s false as well. Teachers bring new methods to the classroom, but we’re often not supported or shot down by administrators. Unions advocate for updated curriculum and teaching methods.

I’ve seen people rage against the school calendar. Boys do better when they can learn in the afternoon, and elementary kids learn better in the morning. Teachers have no say over those things. Daily start times are determined by the bus schedule. The yearly calendar is in the hands of politicians. In Michigan, they passed laws that say school can’t start until after Labor Day, they set the length of the school year/day, and they determine holiday, winter, and spring breaks. That pretty much dictates when the year ends as well. Teachers have NOTHING to do with any of that, and we’re shot down when we bring up those kinds of ideas.

legislator_13Unions aren’t perfect, but they’re the only thing protecting your child from being treated as a trade commodity. After all, I don’t see parents out there advocating for their school-aged kids.

Eradicate School Supply Lists Forever!

Those articles about excessive school supply lists

school-supply-list-2015-675x385It’s that time of year again, when the articles about school supply lists come out. They’re always in awe of how many things teachers ask for, and most of them acknowledge the lack of school funding. It’s the one time of year when parents acknowledge the amount of money underpaid teachers shell out for your precious darlings because your legislators are shortchanging the next generation.

The thing, though, that upsets me most about are the fact that these articles always come from some benevolent mother who is explaining that you MUST donate otherwise some poor kid will suffer OR the teacher will be stuck with the bill. The problem isn’t that teachers buy stuff for the classroom or that some students can’t afford the cost of supplies. It’s that people have become complaisant about this issue. Donating to your local school is like sticking your finger in the dam—you might help for now, but the flood is still imminent.

legislator_14How can you fix this problem? Rather than just give to a classroom, MAKE YOUR LEGISLATORS SUFFER. Seriously—get off your butt and call your legislators. Call them early and often. Send them videos of kids with no crayons and barren classrooms, much like Canadian teachers did when they decided to demonstrate how little the government actually provides. Make time every week to call and email. Keep a form letter to copy and paste, changing only a line or two to remind your legislator (who is getting campaign money and boilerplate legislation from foundations that do not have your best interests at heart) that this issue is important to you. Attend their town hall meetings and bring it up. Don’t let them shoot you down with platitudes. This is their job, and they work for YOU.

If enough of you do it often enough, you’ll see results. Squeaky wheels do get the grease. Use the power of your voice and the power of your vote. If they won’t adequately fund schools, send them packing. If Kansas can do it, anybody can. You’ll have to click your mouse instead of your heels, but you can do it.

Actions speak louder than words, and you need to make sure your actions—and words—reach the RIGHT ears.

legislator_13

The Importance of Vacation

Since it’s summer, this is a great time to talk about vacations. Vacations are important because a change of pace keeps us fresh and focused. They wipe the slate clean and let us approach daily stressors with new eyes and renewed determination. Many forego a vacation because they think it’s too expensive or out of reach. However it’s not actually expensive if you utilize local resources for shorter getaways.

highland_state_recreationWhether we can go on a vacation or not, we take steps to stay close to nature, which is where we find divinity. My younger twin and I practice yoga together most days. When the weather is nice, we’ll take our mats outside. Sometimes we use them, and sometimes we just enjoy the feel of the grass on our bare feet. Though we started this to help her with dive, it is a deeply spiritual practice that helps connect us to the earth. Meditating outside can be a small, daily vacation.

Camping and hiking are two other ways to take small vacations. We highland state rec2live near state recreational land. It offers many trails, and we can take the dog with us. We can spend an hour or a few days there. State and National parks are great ways to connect with nature, especially the ones that are cheap or free. That means they’re not tourist traps, and you will be able to get away from civilization to relax and recharge.

This summer, carve out regular time to connect with the earth. You’ll treasure the internal peace that comes with this act.

Rescue Pets

Every day I see videos and images of shelter animals that need  homes. They’re frequently asking for donations while showcasing their sad, pathetic faces. I’m wary of large organizations that ask for money because I never trust that much overhead. Most of those large organizations spend less than 10% on their mission and over 90% on marketing and the business aspects. I don’t want to give to those places.

Calypso 13 wksWalking the Wiccan path means taking steps to make the world a better place. While I don’t give to the ASPCA, I do rescue animals. Every animal I’ve adopted has been unwanted. Right now, I have a dog I got from someone housing hoards of abandoned puppies. Callie is a mutt, mostly hound dog, and the ways in which she’s enriched my family can’t be adequately expressed. She’s helped to teach my daughters responsibility and improved their self-esteem. She’s the emotional support anybody needs whenever they need it.

20160221_202940_resizedI have two cats. One met my wife by following her down the street, mewing because she was a kitten who’d lost her mom. Skippy is kind of a jerk, but he’s calming down as he ages. The other cat came to us as an adult (age unknown) because she appeared at an adoption fair at a local store. We went in for grass seed and came out with Alice. Alice is a sweet, klutzy cat who drools when she purrs—and she purrs a lot. In the few short months since she’s come to live here, she’s made a positive impact on everybody. Skippy is noticeably happier 20160506_212525and friendlier (by friendly, I mean that he no longer bites every time when petted.) Callie is happy to have another animal who will play with her (Skippy doesn’t play. Ever.) And we’re happy to have a cat who is so affectionate and playful.

Rescuing a pet isn’t an altruistic endeavor. In Wicca, we believe that what you put out there comes back to you. Adopting an unwanted animal is one of the ways in which we can fill our lives—and the lives of the creatures around us—with positivity.

The LGBT Massacre in Orlando and Political Rhetoric

I’ve noticed lately that the media are throwing around the word “rhetoric” a lot. They’re using it like it means “an opinion or position taken by someone when discussing an issue.” Many treat it like it’s truth or a version of the truth based on fact. Merriam-Webster defines rhetoric as “language that is intended to influence people and that may not be honest or reasonable.” Rhetoric is opinions that do not have to be based on fact at all.

One thing about politicians: the vast majority are not honest or reasonable. Many pander to the lowest common denominator. They do not seek to raise us up and make us better people. There’s no adherence to a “harm none” philosophy, much less a desire to improve the lives of those who most need help. They’re leaders who lack the courage to lead. They perpetuate hatred, racism, and xenophobia. The debate about LGBT issues moved out of the spotlight after the anti-gay laws enacted in Mississippi and North Carolina fell victim to national ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder.) The shootings at The Pulse in Orlando brought it back into the spotlight—somewhat.

Orlando 1The massacre in Orlando brought many out to express sympathy, including those who block legislation that would protect the LGBT persons or introduce/sponsor legislation that directly or indirectly targets LGBT persons. Though the news has carried headlines about pastors and others who basically said that gays had is coming, much of the news focused on people—activists and mourners—who had messages of unity and love. Perhaps they aren’t Pagan, but those are at the heart of our philosophy. Particularly, I was struck by those dressed as angels who blocked protesters from the cult The Westboro Baptist Church from disrupting the funerals of the Pulse victims. Blessed Be.

Orlando 3The truth of the matter is that hate crimes, related to terrorism or not, will continue to happen because of the insidious nature of anti-gay prejudice that is ingrained in people from a young age. It starts with cultures or religions—in the US—that preach against it, cements when we tolerate anti-gay speech (even something as seemingly innocuous as letting kids say, “that’s gay” when speaking of something undesirable), and it proliferates in the hearts of those who internalize that hate.

That hate has to be directed somewhere. Is it ironic that some of the most strident anti-LGBT advocates are themselves found to have secret gay relationships or affairs? How about the fact that Mateen, the Orlando mass-murderer, repeatedly tried to pick up men? If these people had been taught to love and accept themselves, they wouldn’t be running around preaching hate, legislating anti-LGBT bills, or killing gays because they’re terrified of being who they really are.

At some point, we need to recognize the harm of rhetoric that perpetuates hate—hatred of self and of others—because that’s the real root of all this evil.Orlando 2

The End of the School Year

If you have school-aged children, this time of year is one you know well. Your kids are excited to not have school for the next three months, and you’ve had to figure out child care arrangements. You may have planned a fun local trip or a larger vacation. You’re hoping your kids have fun, clean up after themselves, and make memories.

Summer vacation presents challenges and opportunities, but we often let opportunities slide away from us. I’m talking about learning opportunities. Few parents I know require their children to keep up basic skill practice over the summer. Math, reading, and writing are skills. Like any skills, when they lie dormant, they atrophy. Summer loss is a real problem that is completely preventable.

From the time my kids were small, we required that they read, write, and practice math over the summer. When they were little, math workbooks were easy enough to find at the store, as were free worksheets online. One of my kids struggled with adding and subtracting fractions. We found practice sheets online, helped her learn the concept, and she practiced them. Now she’s in advanced math. My other daughter took an even greater interest in math, and she’s three years ahead in math. (No, we did NOT push her. If anything, we held her back. When they wanted to put her in Algebra in 5th grade, we compromised on 6th grade advanced.) I attribute this to our dedication to making sure they practiced their skills over the summer.

Reading is another skill that’s easy to keep current. Require your kids to read for a minimum of twenty minutes every day. Make it a routine. Many kids report that reading before bed allows them to fall asleep faster. (The light from screens actually makes your brain take about 30 minutes longer to fall asleep.) This will improve their comprehension, stamina, and speed—all critical factors that hold kids back when reading difficulty increased at around the 4th grade. Make this fun for them—visit a library together to select books, have a time when the whole family reads together, and talk to each other about what you’re reading. Keep track of pages read and celebrate milestones.

Visit www.lexile.com to find a list of age-appropriate reading suggestions. You may not know your child’s Lexile range (unless you ask the school—some standardized test like the NWEA/MAP report a Lexile as part of their score, though the school may not report it to the parents), but you can ballpark it based on books they are reading in school. The best way to ballpark a reading level is to have your child read the first page or two of a book they may like. If they encounter more than five words they don’t know and can’t figure out using context clues, then it’s too hard. Conversely, if they breeze through it quickly, then it’s too easy. You want kids to choose a combination of “challenge” and “fun” books to grow their skills without frying their brains.

Writing is perhaps the most difficult skill to keep current. Most parents have no idea what to expect, and that makes them reticent to require their kids to write. Don’t make this into a big deal. Yeah, I assigned my kids a research project last summer, but it was to figure out which National Parks they wanted to visit on vacation. They looked up specific places they wanted to visit, created a presentation in Google Slides, and we ended up visiting most of their choices. This grew organically out of a family discussion. You don’t have to be that elaborate (unless your kids are driving that train—then let them run with it.)

You can have them write their thoughts, opinions, or ideas in a journal. You can email them a question and have them respond with at least a paragraph. Grow the dialogue from there. If they have an opinion about something, have them find evidence and reasons to support it. Make them cite their sources. If they send you short responses, ask questions to help them draw out their thoughts. The more you do this, the easier it’ll get. Can’t think of topics? Let your fingers do the walking. I searched “writing topics for middle school/elementary students/high school” and came up with hundreds of hits. Here are two of them: http://www.dailyteachingtools.com/journal-writing-prompts.html and http://journalbuddies.com/journal_prompts__journal_topics/fun-writing-prompts-for-middle-school/

Once you have a starting point, have them set a goal for what they want to improve. Perhaps they want to have better description, use dialogue or similes, explain their reasoning better—whatever it is, keep it simple and be supportive. You’ll likely find 50 things wrong with their writing, but only work on improving 1-2 at a time. Anything more is too much, too fast. If you’re struggling to look for goals, check out this website: http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/

Select “Writing” and choose the grade level you want. The standards are pretty straightforward, but note that examples and resources aren’t provided.

This sounds like a lot, but if you set an expectation for your child to read every day, and practice writing and math twice each week, when the new school year begins, your child will hit the ground running.