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Boys Day 2015

I would think it would be a little bit hard to be a boy growing up in an era where the advancements of women are continually lauded but any success by men is just par-for-the-course and probably unfairly earned.  Imagine seeing “Girls Rule” t-shirts all around while the slightest bit of enthusiasm over your own gender is met with disapproval and downright disdain.  That’s why I am such a huge fan of the Japanese holiday, “Boys Day,” which is still celebrated every May 5th here in Hawaii, although it is slowly morphing into the more politically correct, “Children’s Day.”  After finishing up a rather dismal series on “Industrial Waste,” it felt good to give my boys a chance to celebrate being boys.  While our Boys Day celebrations have taken different shapes every year (click here and here for examples) the following 5 elements are absolutely essential:  comrades, competition, Japanese cuisine, candy and carp.  The carp comes first.

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This fish is revered for it’s energy and power which enable it to battle it’s way upstream and thus symbolizes spirit, strength, courage and determination to overcome all obstacles.  These aren’t exactly the traits most cultivated in our boys today.  Traditionally each family hangs out one giant black carp-shaped wind sock for the Dad and then a smaller, brightly colored one for each boy in the house.  Since the big ones cost about $75 here, we just hang out our five small small ones, which sadly aren’t nearly as brightly colored as they used to be. After paddling practice at 5:05 (since 5 is the special number for Boys Day, I thought the party should be at 5:55 but they weren’t about to wait an extra fifty minutes), the boys met a couple of their buddies by the pool where they did some Japanese calligraphy.  Sei’s mom is a very talented artist and is always ready to share her finer skills with a bunch of rowdy boys.

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Then we played a couple games which included a rather violent Japanese version of “Paper, Rock, Scissors,” and diving for nickles in the pool.

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After an amazing feast of roll-your-own sushi it was time for another competition, this one involving racing to pick up tiny beans with chopsticks.  Our Japanese friends were kind enough to use their left hands but I was still so proud of my winning score that it is now posted on our fridge.  I guess the boys aren’t the only ones with a competitive spirit in this house :).

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By the way, there is also a Girls Day celebrated on March 3 and whether you have boys or girls I think these are great holidays to honor the unique God-given design and characteristics of each.  Happy Koinobori, everyone and remember to let your boys be boys!

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Industrial Waste… part 5

I do apologize for not being able to wrap this up sooner. It’s a big topic and I’m trying to do it justice, but at the same time there are oodles of other things going on here that I’d like to write about and scant amount of time to do so. Here are 7 points I would like to throw out there. No pictures. No frills. Just my two-cents worth and a hope that you will add yours.

1. Boys are made for work. I’m not pigeon-holing males into a meat-head role here, but Genesis 2 is very clear that God created Adam first and “put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” This was his primary created role and he was perfectly equipped to fulfill it. This role was also the subject of his subsequent curse, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground.”

2. For thousands of years that is exactly what boys grew up doing. They worked. And when they weren’t working, they played. Except for a few exceptions who were devoted to scholarly work at a young age, most would already be apprenticing for a career by 14.

3. With the advent of the printing press, Reformers like Martin Luther envisioned an entire population that could read the Bible for themselves (a noble and worthy goal) and primary schools were born.

4. The Industrial Revolution took this concept to an entirely new level with the effort to create a uniformly educated workforce universally equipped for factory operations.

5. Until the last century the purpose of schooling was to either provide a rudimentary
understanding of reading, writing and arithmetic or to prepare a student for a career particularly conducive to academic rigors.

6. Fast forward 100 years and social engineers now have boys as young as 3 years old spending the vast majority of their time in a classroom setting for the next 15 years of their life. Add to that the immense pressure to continue into higher education and another 2-6 years in an industry they possibly neither like nor excel at. Nor is this prolonged existence in academia any guarantee of a profitable career. There are some careers that necessitate a long and arduous classroom education. And I reiterate my awareness of those boys who thrive in a classroom setting. But the sad by-product of the education industry is the vast population of boys who not only fail to thrive in the classroom setting, but are also deprived of years and years of potential development actually doing what they were created to do.

7. Boys want to be good at something. It’s part of the drive God instilled in them. If they find out early on that that something is school then by all means cheer them on in that regard. But if the classroom is just not their thing, then give them a chance earlier on than 18 to find out what is! By 18 that drive to succeed may be already wasted due to the years of frustrating failure being forced to do what they are just not made for! That is industrial waste of epic proportions.

The video below has been widely circulated for a while now but I thought it illustrated a few of my points well.

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Industrial Waste… part 4

Last Saturday, Nate spent his Birthday working in a booth selling the coloring books he helped make for the Church fundraiser (for more on that click here).  Today is Sam’s Birthday and he, on the other hand, has opted not to lift a finger for anyone.  While the contrast is clear, it is also inconsistent.  Nate is by no means a captain of industry and Sam is hardly a sluggard.  I think they are each just the right combination of plough horse and puppy.  In fact, if we ere on any one side of the work/play equation in our family we tend to be heavy on the play.  Actually, I should probably say since moving to Hawaii we’re leaning REALLY heavily on the play side.  Hopefully some good hard work in the mountains of California this summer will remedy that.  The point is, there needs to be balance, especially with kids.

Playing Piñata in honor of Nate and Sam's Birthdays.

Playing Piñata in honor of Nate and Sam’s Birthdays.

The child-labor laws enacted in the early 1900’s did a lot toward bringing some of that balance into children’s lives, many of whom were spending a full days labor in factories and fields for substandard wages.  Unfortunately the compulsory education laws that soon followed, however well-intentioned, eventually served to throw off whatever balance was achieved.  Today, the average child will spend about 7 hours a day in the classroom with about 20-30 minutes of recess and 15 minutes for lunch.  Add to that the typical 1-3 hours they will then spend doing homework and squeeze in an hour of practice if they happen to play a sport, and that 9-5 job with an hour long lunch break Mom or Dad complain about is a cake walk.  American children are spending more time in the classroom and other school related activities than almost every other country on earth.  With the remaining spare moments devoted to screens of various shapes and sizes, actual play time has become a thing of the past.  For all our humanitarian efforts, how much have we really improved the lives of our children in the last 100 years?  With obesity rates, behavioral issues, and childhood stress at epidemic levels it seems this new life style is wreaking havoc on the body, minds and souls of our kids.  Especially our boys.

I want to pause here to emphasize two things.  Number one:  I am speaking in generalities.  While my own education was exclusively in the public realm, my husband’s was public K-12, private for University, and he has taught in Christian schools, primarily at the high school level, for almost 12 years. That said, the choice we have made for our own family is to homeschool.  I do not think this is the appropriate choice for ALL families.  The most important thing to me is that families have the freedom and the courage to choose what’s best for their own children.  The advent and subsequent evolution of compulsory education has done much to limit and obscure those choices.  So when I speak of compulsory education I am not merely targeting public schools.  I am targeting the GENERAL  practice of forcing children to spend the bulk of their entire childhoods in a classroom and doing school related activities, whether that be in the public sector, the private sector or even in a homeschool setting.  Good grief, just how many thousands and thousands of hours should it take to make a kid literate?  But I digress.  Number two:  from now on I am going to be speaking very specifically about the effect compulsory education has had on boys.  Now of course, in specifying boys I will once again be speaking in generalities :).  There are multitudes of boys who thrive and show great success in the modern classroom setting (I’m related to some of them), but a vast majority do not and those are the ones I am addressing in general.  Why just boys?  Click here for an explanation.

Now that everyone’s feathers are sufficiently ruffled, I have to leave you all dangling one more time because I have some serious Birthday business to attend to.  But before I go I wanted to inform all you kind folks that requested copies of the coloring books the boys made that we have some available for $4 each plus postage.  Just email me your request or leave a comment and we’ll work out the details.

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Industrial Waste…part 3

This week my boys completed their biggest project ever.  They did it together and they did it for the Church.  In honor of Mokuaikaua’s 195th Anniversary Celebration I wrote down the true story of the coming of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Hawaii which the boys then illustrated, copied and assembled into coloring book form.  They then spent all day Saturday at the street fair selling the books to raise money for the church.  It was a real 9-5 job and the culmination of hours of labor and more than one late night standing assembly-line-style putting these things together.  Needless to say, a lot of school books lay neglected for a couple weeks as they poured over Hawaiian history texts studying pictures and then creating their own renditions.  They even came up with some cool shadowing effects using clear overhead sheets.  Each boy contributed their own artistic talents to the project and then worked tirelessly to see it from conception to production and then on to sales.  Our goal was to share the amazing story of God’s redeeming work in the islands with 195 children and we nearly met that goal in just two days!

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Obviously Tom and I were super proud of their artistry, hard work, team effort, and willingness to contribute to a greater cause.  But mostly I was struck by how my children have so much more to offer the world than I gave them credit for.  It seems like all my work from morning till night is all about turning these boys into men of God.  Teaching them basic manners and social skills, how to take care of themselves and the space around them, educating them in all the subjects a liberal education requires, cultivating their talents, encouraging them in their gifts, protecting them from harm… all so they can make it into adulthood and start doing whatever work God has prepared for them to do.

But what if He has work for them to do right now?

When I started this series on Industrial Waste (hopefully the title will begin to make more sense as my thoughts unfold) my intent was to explore how the modern education industry is depriving our boys of the satisfaction, self-confidence, independence, and practical skills that productive work can provide.  But after researching this story and learning how God used a couple Hawaiian boys in their early teens to bring the Gospel and the written word to these shores, how both spread throughout the islands like wildfire culminating in a 95% conversion rate and 75% literacy rate where 30 years prior there had been no alphabet and one of the ugliest forms of paganism imaginable, and then after seeing first hand how my own boys could be used in building up Christ’s Kingdom, I was struck by an even greater form of waste.  Not only does compulsory schooling deprive the workforce of a huge percentage of potential workers, it deprives the Kingdom of some of it’s most valuable laborers as well.

I am not at all saying that all Christian children should be pulled out of school and sent out on the mission field (after all schools themselves are a field ripe for the harvest).  But I am saying that forcing every child to give up more than 12 years of their life to a system that isn’t fully designed for their personal benefit doesn’t show much improvement over the circumstances the child labor laws were designed to prevent.  And further, if compulsory education is stifling a child’s God given talents then we as parents and teachers are doing nothing short of quenching the Spirit’s work in their life and the lives they could be impacting for His glory.

As I am preparing our lessons for this new week I realize that the boys are now a bit behind in their math, grammar, and geography texts and we are going to have some major catching up to do in the weeks to come.  But there is a dear Hawaiian lady on the little island of Molokai with a stack of coloring books that she is eager to distribute to children in her community.  Another Hawaiian “Aunty” has a stack set aside to put in the shoe boxes she fills every Christmas for Samaritans Purse.  Who knows how far around the world this true story of God’s love for an isolated people in the middle of the Pacific might go?

It’s time for me to reevaluate our education goals.  Are my efforts to turn these boys into productive citizens and godly leaders of the future hampering the work God has gifted them to accomplish for His kingdom RIGHT NOW?  I’m not talking about forcing my kids into religious servitude.  That’s not any better than child factory labor or compulsory schooling.  But is my drive to make sure they measure up to some bureaucratic standards squelching their opportunities to develop the talents God gave them for His glory?  I was truly humbled to see what they could accomplish when given the freedom and opportunity to step up and serve in this way.  And I’m more than excited to see the ways God will be using their gifts, not just far off down the road, but right around the next corner.

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Industrial Waste…part 2

Boys are my world. One boy shares the sofa with me as I write this, his freckled nose buried in a well-loved copy of Huckleberry Finn and his shockingly dirty feet periodically jabbing me in the leg. Through the sliding door I see the two blond heads of my oldest and youngest sharing a pillow, the one finally asleep for his morning nap the other smiling triumphantly for having gotten him there. The house is unusually quiet with the two other younger ones off on an overnight trip to Volcano National Park with Dad and a visiting cousin.
They may be gone but their hasty departure left evidence all the way to the door of the everlasting presence of boys in my life. Beach towels and boogie boards still drying from yesterday’s use line one side of the lanai. Hockey gear from last night’s practice is strewn all over the other side. Cereal bowls and spoons dot the table from breakfast. Peanut butter and jam linger yet on the counter while the sandwiches they went into are traveling, bagged and labeled according to the tastes of the adventurers who will be inhaling them later today. These, incessant reminders of our ever-increasing food bills. An assortment of discarded flashlights, dead batteries, and dull pocket knives lie jumbled where they were sorted out in favor of more operational adventuring gear. All this just in my line of sight. The bedroom and bathroom down the hall remain mercifully out of view. I shudder even to think…
There really are only 2 reasons I don’t have pictures posted so you too could revel in this scene, and they are as follows: 1. Tom took the phone/camera with him so I don’t have anything to take pictures with, and 2. My dear, uber-sauber, German mother would be so mortified it would probably send her to an early grave. And I haven’t even mentioned the layers of sticky handprints on the glass, the Crayola art on the slip-covers or the containers of lizards and bugs next to the pile of shoes on the front porch (I think I’ve lost her for sure now). Hopefully description will do justice where pictures lack because a real picture is what I want to give. A picture of my manger full of boys in all it’s noisy, sticky, grimy glory.
I love these boys. I love all the other boys that come around to play with them everyday. I love my husband who remembers enough about his own boyhood to be a great Dad to them. So naturally I’m a little partial to boys. Naturally I’m pretty passionate in matters pertaining to their current and future welfare. And because education and work play huge roles in a boy’s current and future welfare, I’m more than a little interested in both. Especially in how they relate to each other.
So you see, somehow I’ve managed to get back to the purpose of this post and it’s place in this series. I just had to give you my qualifications as a means of introduction first, namely the mere fact that I am living, breathing, teaching, studying, scolding, feeding, mending, clothing, chasing, cheering-on, worrying-over, praying-for and cleaning-up-after boys 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I think that might make me somewhat of an expert.
Oh, and this just in. While I might not have the phone/camera to take pictures of home with, Tom just emailed a few shots he took with it on their adventure. So at least I have something to appease the Omas and Opas with. And now I had better go clean house.

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Industrial Waste… part 1

My boys were granted a rare privilege today.  They got to do yard work.  Because we live in a gated community where all the landscape upkeep is hired out, they never get to enjoy the thrill of raking or weeding or mowing.  They’ve even asked on occasion if they could help the workers but were told “No” on account of “liability.”  So this morning they were amazed to see two young adolescents pulling out the fern bed around their favorite banyan tree.  They were even more amazed to see how slowly and begrudgingly these two seemed to be performing their task.  “Mom!”  Joel exclaimed, “We could finish that job in 5 minutes!”  “Oh really?” quizzed I, “Why don’t you go tell Albert (our property manager) that?”   So I followed them out the door where Albert happened to be passing on his way to check the progress of the two young men (now hard at work on their cell phones).  “My boys want to know if they can pull some ferns, too.”  To which I casually added, “And they seem to think they can do it a lot faster.”  Albert explained that the other two boys (still busy on their cell phones) where being punished for some unmentionable crime against the homeowners association and would need to finish that patch of ferns themselves but if my boys really wanted they could work on the other patch across the way.

They dove right in.  Even Gideon managed to get a few leaves and stems into the trash can for which accomplishment we clapped and cheered like he’d just won the Nobel Peace Prize for Industry.  It ended up taking them about 8 minutes to finish the job but if Gideon had been a little more focused and if Titus hadn’t left early to make butterscotch pancakes they probably could have had it done in 5.  Meanwhile, the dawdling delinquents across the way had a long mornings’s work still ahead of them.

I had long suspected that given the choice, most boys would prefer the opportunity to work rather than sit inside a classroom all day.  My suspicions were quite confirmed by an informal survey I conducted on that very matter just last year.  The question arrises however:  What made pulling up ferns a punishment for one pair of boys and a privilege for some others?  

I have my own theory, but I’m curious what the rest of you think.  And before any of you flatter me with speculations of how naturally industrious my sons are, let me assure you that it just ain’t so.  In general they tend to do the minimum amount required to get the job done  There are exceptions at times but I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that there’s not an over achiever in the bunch so let’s just put THAT theory to rest.

Can’t wait to hear your comments and Lord willing, I’ll do much better at responding in a timely manner.  I owe it to you, I know.

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Leap Frog and Lizard Tycoons

The whale season this year has been extraordinary.  I am not exaggerating a bit when I tell you that for the last couple of months anytime we fixed our gaze on the water for at least ten minutes we would see some kind of whale activity.  3 mama humpbacks chose to give birth right off shore from us and have stayed within eyesight since then.  Mostly you see them spouting, always one big spout and one little one close beside.  Sometimes you just see their glistening black backs surfacing as they glide through the water.  But other times they wave their mammoth side fins in a giant Aloha or whack their tails against the water over and over and over again with such force and in such proximity that you can actually hear the echoing “Crack!” each time the tail comes down.  The most amazing sight of all is when their whole bodies torpedo upward out of the water and then come crashing down like a tower.  I can’t help but gasp in awe every time they breach.

About as good a shot of a whale as I could get from shore with my phone.

About as good a shot of a whale as I could get from shore with my phone.

My boys however seem to have lost interest.  I suppose it was exciting enough for them at first but now they are quite bored of the humpback antics.  This ambivalence might be attributed to the fact that while they can see a whale at a distance and if they’re lucky, hear it from far away, that’s about the only interaction they’ll ever have with one of these magnificent creatures.  And frankly. that’s not really the kind of relationship they’re looking for.  Boys like to be a bit more hands on when it comes to nature.  For evidence of this just scroll back to my previous post entitled “Lizards and Snakes…and the boys who love them.”  Who cares about a big old whale way out there in the ocean when there might be a renegade Coqui frog needing to be caught just right outside their door?  And it’s not that they prefer land creatures to sea creatures.  They just seem to prefer the kind of sea creature you can pull out of it’s hiding place in the tide pools and temporarily house in a bucket for “observation.”

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I really feel that environmentalists often do a great disservice to their own cause when they make nature so inaccessible to everyone but themselves.  Children will never grow to have an affinity for or sense of responsibility for something that has always been held out at a distance from them.  If nature is off limits then why should they care about it?  They’ll put their attention and affections toward whatever’s within easy reach.  Like lizards.  Which brings me to an update on last week’s epic lizard haul.  Exactly what happened to the poor reptilian captives?  You’ll be happy to know that most were released back into the wild but a few fell prey to a rather exploitative operation.

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That’s right folks.  For just 25 cents, you too, could have a close encounter with a Gecko or for just pennies more, upgrade to an Anole and have it all memorialized on camera for posterity or next years Christmas cards.

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The little tycoons brought in 7 bucks after just an hour’s work.  Not counting the half a day spent catching the poor, unsuspecting critters. And I mean the lizards.  Not the tourists.

So while Tom and I spend the sunset hour sitting on the beach or the golf course watching the whales frolic, the boys seem perfectly content ignoring the spectacular scenery and focusing on the more important tasks at hand.  Like playing Leap Frog.  And catching critters.  And plotting their next day’s adventures.