Liberals & the Court

An interesting essay in the Atlantic discusses the end of liberal love for the Court, but first it explains why that love appeared in the mid-twentieth century:

Fundamentally, though, many liberals loved the Supreme Court for the same reason they loved the law: a vision of universal harmony and justice brought about by reason and persuasion, not the brute forces of political power. Victory in the political arena is always incomplete and uncertain, not to mention grubby. Politics appeals to our baser instincts of greed and fear and competition—which, of course, is why it is so powerful. By contrast, law—whether through “neutral principles” or “reasoned elaboration” or elaborate moral theories, to name a few of the core organizing ideas of 20th-century legal theory—holds out the promise of something objective, something True. To win in the court of the Constitution is to have one’s view enshrined as just, not only for today but with the promise of all time.

My Tribute to Ray Vickrey

Ray and Me
On Thursday evening I heard my cell phone ringing and when I picked it up and saw that Harry Wooten was calling, I just knew what he was going to tell me. It's not that Harry doesn't call regularly, but it was an odd time of day for such a call.  So I made sure to sit down and he soon told me that Ray had died that afternoon.  And I cried and spent the evening sending condolence messages and texting with other people who loved Ray.  And participating in that double grief we all experience in 2020--the loss of the person and the loss of what would be the fitting response to their death.  For in normal times, I'd already be in Dallas and there would be a mass gathering of progressive and moderate Baptists to honor a legend.  

I first met Ray Vickrey twenty years ago.  He was twenty years into his tenure as Senior Minister at Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas and I was freshly out of grad school, a new Associate Pastor in my first position at Rolling Hills Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The two churches were part of a larger group of Baptist churches in our region who had for many years been gathering together to do youth camp together because these churches were more moderate and progressive than many other Baptists around them.  The Southwest Baptist Youth Camping Association formed a tightly knit group of clergy who gathered through the year to plan and then for the week in the summer to host camp, and I was a new member of this fellowship.  But Ray was the senior figure of the group, treated almost with reverence.

Ray didn't attend all the planning meetings but when he showed up for the minister's meeting at camp, everything changed.  Other pastors, themselves highly opinionated people sometimes serving larger churches, quieted down and showed their respect to Ray.  But Ray didn't demand this treatment, in fact I'd come to learn how amused by it he was.  Ray himself was unassuming, never thrusting forward his own ideas, often remaining reserved, and only speaking on occasion, but when he did, everyone listened.  As a 27 year old I had no idea what to make of what I was seeing.  I sometimes found it funny while also finding it compelling, what was going on here?

In my memoir I introduce Ray this way, 

He had been a champion runner in college and retained the trimness and vigor of a much younger man. His bearing was both authoritative and charming; he smiled broadly. He was over six feet tall with bright white hair that was always perfectly combed. Distinguished is an overused word, but the word fit Ray.

Ray was a respected Baptist statesman. He had endured the Eighties-era fights in the Southern Baptist Convention and was a leader in the moderate and progressive camp. Other ministers treated him with deference and sometimes awe.

You can read about his athletic exploits here.  I remember him talking about how he should have gotten to the Olympics, but I fail to remember what prevented that.

So, over a couple of years I casually got to know Ray, but got to know Harry Wooten even better.  Harry was Ray's colleague, the Minister of Music at Royal Lane, and Harry and I hit it off rather quickly.  It helped my relationship with both men in that I was friends with Tim Youmans who has served with the two of them at Royal Lane when Tim was Youth Minister there.  I had befriended Tim when we both lived in Shawnee, Oklahoma.  Tim vouching for me, paved the way for my relationships with Harry and Ray.

Then, in 2002, when Royal Lane was looking for a new youth minister, I was surprised and honored when Harry called and said he and Ray wanted to hire me.  But I wasn't looking for a job and hadn't been in my current one very long.  I told him no.  And told him no again a second time later.  And then that autumn he called again.  They were struggling with finding the right candidate and he and Ray were convinced it was because I was that person.  Just come to Dallas for a weekend, let us show you around, then make up  your mind.  I finally agreed to that.  Before I left for the weekend I had decided I didn't want to move again so soon.  And I was particularly ready that if they put on some hard sale, I'd be able to easily say no.

But that's not what they did.  What they did was give me a foretaste of what was to come.  The three of us just hung out, eating and drinking and talking.  Sure, they showed me around the church and told me their visions for it, but there was no hard sale at all.  They did set up an interview with the committee, though they seriously downplayed that ahead of time.  We spent the afternoon drinking beers and then they brought me (a little tipsy I might add) to the interview and suddenly I was in a room with fifteen people!

Driving back home to Fayetteville, I knew they were right, that I was being called to Royal Lane.  And, so, a few months later after tearful goodbyes in Arkansas, I moved to Dallas, a town I'd always thought represented everything that was wrong with America.  And there everything in my life would change.

The first half of my memoir records in detail the affects of living in Dallas and how during that time I came out of the closet as a gay man, so no reason to go into all of that here.  

Serving at Royal Lane will always been one of the high points of my career.  There was a special alchemy between Ray, Harry, and I.  We were not simply effective colleagues, we were dear friends.  So much of our work was done while sitting at a table together enjoying fellowship, often with some visiting friend of Ray's.  Our favorite place was the Bavarian Grill, a great German beer hall surprisingly located in a Plano strip mall. When we were doing it up right, we’d arrive after the lunch rush for our own late lunch of trout, red cabbage, spinach, and pretzel rolls washed down by Warsteiner Dunkel. After lunch we’d smoke a cigar and then eventually order Black Forest cake and coffee for dessert. We’d usually leave about the time the dinner crowd was beginning to arrive. Sometimes we’d actually plan an entire season of worship during one of these outings. Other times it was just fellowship.

Ray grew up in a working class area of Houston.  He attended Baylor University, where he excelled as an athlete and student.  He was there when Waco's downtown was destroyed by a powerful tornado.  He rushed downtown from the university and helped rescue people, pulling them from the rubble.  His early ministerial career was ended by a divorce, at a time when Southern Baptist still opposed divorce.  He became the director of the alumni association at Baylor and in that role cemented relationships throughout the state (more on that in a moment).  Then, in the late seventies, he was called back to the church, pastoring a large singles ministry at FBC Richardson.  Then, in 1981, Royal Lane called him as pastor, where he served until 2008.

In the 1980's Southern Baptists would undergo a huge battle as the fundamentalists took over the denomination.  Ray was a voice of reason and moderation in those battles, but standing on the right side of questions of biblical interpretation and the role of women in the church.  And so he was one of the leaders as new splinter groups of moderates and progressives formed in the 1990's.  

When you attended a denominational meeting with Ray, you needed to be prepared for something.  When your group decided it was time to leave the convention hall to head to lunch or dinner, you had to decide that a least a half hour before you planned to eat, because it would take you at least that long to get out of the convention center.  The reason is that everyone wanted to talk to Ray.  I personally would find this irritating, which is why I'll never be that person.  But Ray handled it with grace.  Pastors were constantly coming up to him to talk.  More than once I'd hear some small town Texas pastor say, "Ray, I've been looking for you.  I really need to talk to you about something."  And then pull him aside.  Ray had spent decades at the university and in church work cultivating relationships, and he was a deeply and wide respected and admired man.

I was glad to know him more personally.  As funny and wise and more rebellious than the public role suggested.  

One of Ray's great gifts was his ability to form deep friendships.  His close friend the Rev. Kyle Childress published an article in The Christian Century in 2004 about Ray and their close group of friends.  They call themselves "The Neighborhood."  Six pastors who for years gathered twice a year for a week at a time to be friends and supporters of each other.  Try as I might, I've never been able to replicate this in my own relationships.

But even beyond this gang, it wasn't unusual for some friend of his to drive or fly to Dallas to spend time with Ray when they needed wisdom and advice, and Ray would bring that person along for drinks at the Bavarian Grill.

When the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was beginning to discuss and argue over what to do about gay people, Ray hosted conversations for people to talk.  He encouraged a more inclusive church, but never stepped out radically.  Royal Lane and slowly and quietly acquired gay members who were promoted into positions of leadership.  Years later, when the Baptist General Convention of Texas somehow finally figured this out, then they expelled the congregation.  

One of the most important things I can say about Ray Vickrey is that he didn't fire me.  I think I completely surprised him one day, when during staff meeting, completely out of the blue, I just said, "Ray, I'm gay."  He seemed at a rare loss for words at first.  It took him a couple of days to formulate a response.  This was the early Aughts in a Baptist church in Texas, when it would have been so easy and so typical for me to be done with ministry at that point.  But that didn't happen.  Now, if you've read my book, you know that the next few months were a struggle for me and for my colleagues.  This sure wasn't what Ray expected in the final years of his ministry, and I did things that didn't make it easy for him.  But we remained despite those difficult months, we remained friends.  He was present at my wedding to Michael in 2009 and was so very excited when I called to tell him about my call to Omaha.  It is safe to say that Ray is one reason I'm still in ministry 17 years after coming out.

Ray and I were so different in temperament.  He thought I was too open, that I shared too much, that I expressed my opinions too often.  He was more reserved, quiet in meetings, kept his personal thoughts for close friends.  I've always recognized that his temperament was the source of his power and the respect and admiration with which he was treated.  I've always been somewhat envious of it, while also know that I'm not that person, as much as I might want to be.  And so he remains a mentor and a model, but in some ways the ideal I can never achieve.

What a blessing for a young minister to work with Ray and to learn from him.  He was quite fair and balanced but brooked no nonsense.  If someone caused trouble in the church, Ray had no problem making sure that person knew they should leave and not let the door hit them on the way out.  That was an important lesson to learn.  So many other lessons run through my brain--how to cultivate relationships with congregants, to make short hospital visits, the proper concern a pastor should have for stewardship and finances, how to develop a staff that works effectively as a team, how to have fun while working, etc. 

Most importantly maybe was this set of lessons.  He often said that ministry was not a difficult job, and he was annoyed at those who viewed it that way.  He had grown up around oil refinery workers and knew that was a difficult job.  A minister should set clear boundaries and take lots of time for themselves and their family, which was more important than the job.  In fact, it was the pastor's job to model not overworking because too many congregants overworked in their professional lives, to the detriment of themselves and their families.  And no minister should not everything about their church.  If you knew were the scissors were kept in the fourth grade Sunday school classroom, you were headed for burnout.  I believe I have absorbed all of these lessons and also done my best to pass them along to my Associate minister.

Alzheimer's took Ray in the end.  It was a long, slow decline.  With hindsight, I was clearly there as it was beginning, though none of us knew it at the time.  It was a shame to see such a keen intellect who had cultivated relationships with so many people lose much of that in the final years.  On my most recent visits to Dallas I was encouraged not to visit, as he wouldn't know me, and I decided I didn't want that experience of my friend.

On Thursday after I got the call from Harry, I kept picturing my last visit with Ray, fittingly at the Bavarian Grill.  And I remember his charming smile and his big laugh and the light that radiated from him.

Chronicle in Stone

Chronicle in StoneChronicle in Stone by Ismail Kadare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in an Albania city during the Second World War that repeatedly changes hands between Italians, Greeks, Communists, and the Germans. Told from the perspective of a young boy and based on Kadare's own childhood experiences. This is a wonderful tale full of rich characters and a vivid setting. The second of his novels I've read, both a delight.

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The Book of J

The Book of JThe Book of J by Harold Bloom
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have read sections of this book over a few years as they were relevant to preparing a sermon or Bible study, and after recently using it a good deal while preaching a Genesis sermon series, I elected to read all the parts I hadn't yet.

The book is full of profound, curious, and provocative insights as Bloom develops his idea that the author of the oldest parts of the Torah must have been a woman of the royal court writing during the reign of Rehoboam. What distracts from reading the book in whole is how repetitive it is.

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"Who Made the Earth?"

The most splendid conversation with Sebastian just now.

He walked into my office and asked, "Who Made the Earth?"

"Let me finish this e-mail and then we'll talk."  Finish e-mail.  "Okay, what's your question again?"

"Who made the Earth?"

"God did."


So I go over and crouch down beside him.  "At the beginning of time there was an explosion [wide-eyed excitement] called the Big Bang.  And that created space and time which then began to expand forming the universe and inside [I'm using hand gestures here] there was stuff forming and that stuff came together and built bigger stuff and eventually there were stars and planets."

"Including the Earth?"


"So that's how!"  More wide-eyed excitement.

Then I asked, "Where did that question come from?  From your brain?"

"I've had that question a long time.  Since you got me I've had that question."

OOOO!  Cartesian innate ideas?

A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon SquadA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Maybe I would have felt differently if I had read it a decade ago, but I just didn't care much for this book and am surprised at its reputation. None of these characters are attractive and strangely they almost all lack any depth. I can imagine short stories or novels of some weight and substance with these characters and plots, but that's absent in this book. For example, in chapter 11 art professor Ted spends time admiring a sculpture of Orpheus and Eurydice. But Egan narrates no depth or substance in this moment, despite it being rife for that.

The only chapter I found interesting was the final one which imagines an America in the 2020's too focused on unreality. That one has a prophetic bent to it and has turned out not to be too outrageous.

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Divine Self-Investment: An Open and Relational Constructive Christology

Divine Self-Investment: An Open and Relational Constructive ChristologyDivine Self-Investment: An Open and Relational Constructive Christology by Tripp Fuller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tripp has written a fine book. He's pulled together so many different theological threads and made sense of them.

The first chapter conscisely and straightforwardly summarizes some of the key themes of Process thought. The second chapter is the best summary of the current state of historical Jesus research I've read. Subsequent chapters review major developments in Christology and places differing voices in conversation with one another developing from them the major themes that a contemporary theology should have. And the conclusion draws it all together to present a fresh and inspiring picture of the Christ.

I know I'll find it helpful for teaching and preaching for years. Thank you Tripp.

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Remote Kindergarten: More Thoughts on Week Two

Field Club sign
Sebastian and I have gotten into a decent routine this week, and I've been able to get more work done while attending Kindergarten than I expected, but generally only stuff like answering e-mails, but nothing that requires too much creativity or focus.

Breaks are fun--light saber battles and tossing balls around.  

During bedtime this week we finished our first big boy book--The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I had tried the book once before when he was younger, but it was too early.  He was really into listening to it this time as we've read it over a few weeks.  And it was a joy to watch his excitement responding to various plot points and particularly as we neared the end.  Which of course has a great old fashioned "The End."  Now he can't wait  to move on to Prince Caspian.  

Funny thing--I suggested maybe reading The Horse and His Boy next, but Sebastian said, " I think we should read them in the order that the author intended."  No argument here.

During non school times, he's been enjoying exploring his iPad some.  He's taken lots of pictures, really enjoys the drawing app, and yesterday, with new headphone provided by the district, was record himself talking.  "I don't want you to listen, Dadda.  It's really scary."

Last week he traded his toddler scooter for a razor that was in the church Thrift Shop.  He's taken to zooming back and forth to church with me on it and then riding around the church hallways.

I've been wondering this week what I most remember from Kindergarten:

  • The kids crying on the first day.
  • The kid who could snap his fingers, and I couldn't no matter how hard I tried.
  • Getting kissed by Kristy Holstein.
  • Having to sit in the corner a lot for talking too much.
  • Riding the bus.
  • Recess
  • PE class
  • Art class
  • the Science Fair

What do you remember from Kindergarten?

Remote Kindergarten: Week Two

So, last Friday, after I had already posted my thoughts for the day, we received an e-mail from Omaha Public Schools stating that parents had been listened to and that hours of online instruction for K-2 would be dramatically decreased.  Other changes included more breaks, a longer lunchtime, and that specials would be optional.  Some of these things our particular teacher had already been doing, but we had heard horror stories from other friends, including one couple whose son was online for seven hours the first day of Kindergarten!

For our class the new schedule went into effect on Tuesday.  The bulk of instruction is in the morning.  One downside has been that now we get one twenty minute break in the middle rather than a couple of smaller breaks, which I actually think is better.  The extra length to lunch isn't relevant for us, as his required time is over before lunch, but I am glad to not have to be rushing to get back on at 12:20, especially because we often moved from the house to my church office during the break.  Now we can have a more leisurely and relaxed lunch.

Specials have been moved to 3 p.m. and are now optional.  Of course it's not idea to label music and art as optional.  And 3 isn't the greatest time.  He doesn't have much focus at 3 even if it comes after a long break.  This week he hasn't tuned in much to the specials as I had scheduled most of my stuff in the afternoons and wasn't going to reschedule (the thing on Friday had already been rescheduled twice as OPS kept changing the school schedule).  

On Monday we tuned into "music" class but fifteen minutes in, when we still hadn't done any music, he wanted to log off, so we did.  For a kid who loves to sing, takes piano and dance, he was very much looking forward to and was quite disappointed by that experience.

I must give credit to the PE teacher for having done the best to adapt her subject to the online format.  And that seems ironic, as you can imagine she was the one teacher least likely to be using much tech in her normal classes.  He had a lot of fun with yesterday's class, but logged off after about forty minutes.  I'm not sure why they are sticking to a one hour format for these classes with the online delivery method.  Thirty minutes would be sufficient.

This week we've done more math and he's really excited about it.  He keeps wanting to work ahead though and the teacher has cautioned against that.  This made me reflect on my time, as a high school senior, serving on my school system's committee to research and implement outcome based education, which allowed students to move at their own pace with more individualized work.  Whatever became of that model?  

One thing that has been added to the schedule is one hour of one-on-one instruction a week, divided into two thirty minute slots.  I think this is a marvelous addition and look forward to that happening next week.

I've spent all week sitting beside him at the work table, and I think that's helped.  We do lots of the activities together, and I ask supplemental questions.  Sadly, I've got some of the songs stuck in my head already; one night, I awoke in the middle of the night, with one playing on repeat in my brain!

I continue to struggle with the teachers insisting that students sit quietly and listen with nothing in their hands.  I can get Sebastian to sit and listen and participate, but he needs to be drawing, painting, building something if there's not an activity going on at the time.  But he's been called out a few times, to my chagrin.  A friend who does online corporate training messaged me about how in that world they understand even adults need things to do to occupy their hands while engaging in online learning and how much more that is true for five year olds.  This friend sent me a lot of articles and research to read on the subject.  After doing all that reading, I finally messaged the teacher about it today.

I must say I struggle with the aspects of education that try to create conformity of behavior.  I struggled with that myself as an elementary student.  It's been nice to read a few of my friends saying the same about their educational experiences (including one in her nineties).  I don't want him to associate learning with someone's definition of proper behavior.  I understand the need for classroom management, but also know how vital play, movement, and creativity are to his brain at that age.  

One more comment.  Every day the class goes over its five rules.  The fifth rule is "Keep your dear teacher happy." I get what she means by that but I also find it really creepy. Almost Orwellian.  In particular the "dear" which associates too closely in my mind to "Dear Leader."

Sebastian did turn in his first homework (see above)!

The Dark Years?

The Dark Years?The Dark Years? by Jacob L Goodson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first met Jacob Goodson more than twenty years ago when he was a brand new freshman just starting his pursuit of philosophy. He was eager to learn everything. Now he's an established professor with a few published books.

In this volume Goodson discusses some predictions that the philosopher Richard Rorty made in the 1990's about America in the 21st century. Rorty predicted that from 2014-2045 America would through dark years--gun violence and racial unrest would proliferate, a populist strongman would be elected in 2016, we'd experience a Second Great Depression, etc. According to Rorty this resulted from the failures of the academy to address the concerns of the poor, generating resentment that led to the rise of populism.

Of course, as these predictions have come true, attention has returned to Rorty's thoughts. Goodson's book discusses how we should understand and evaluate Rorty's predictions.

The second aspect of Rorty's 21st century predictions is that we would come out of the dark years with a new and renewed politics based on love. Through the dark years Americans, through reading novels and scripture, would develop sympathy that generate shame about the inequities of our system resulting in social solidarity. More of Goodson's book focuses on these predictions, finally centering on what kind of hope we might have that this outcome will materialize.

A worthy contribution to public philosophy and our attempt to better understand the moment we are living through.

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Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, and Spy

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, SpyBonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I learned so much about Bonhoeffer, about whom I thought I knew a decent amount. But what was best about this book was that it was encouraging, in the strictest sense of the word, in that it gave me courage. Right now, in the midst of our current crises, it was very good to read about how other people of faith grappled with their crisis and faced it with courage and a zest for life.

"He saw it as an act of faith in God to step out in freedom and not to cringe from future possibilities."

And this direct quote from Bonhoeffer, "To renounce a full life and its real joys in order to avoid pain is neither Christian nor human."

And also this quote from him, "It is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith."

A reminder that we are inheritors of a proud, courageous legacy.

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Remote Kindergarten: My Day "in" Class

Thank God it's Friday.

The OPS iPads come with a built in hotspot.  Ours didn't work this morning.  We ended up using our own WiFi and were late getting out and had some connection issues throughout the day.

As the week has gone on, I've tried to create greater physical distance from Sebastian's school space and where I was and what I was doing.  I didn't want to hover either to distract him or dominate him.  I wanted him to have his own experience, and, gosh, I can't imagine teachers teaching with all those adults hovering around the edges.  As an educator myself, I'd find that incredibly weird.

But I have been participating in songs and some activities.  One of yesterday's songs was an earworm the rest of the day and night.  :(  There has particularly been nostalgia involved in saying the Pledge of Allegiance together in the mornings.  And I really like the mindfulness meditation they do each day (today's involved tree pose), though, frankly, I'm doing it every day and he isn't.

Today, after hanging around for a bit (in the easy chair drinking coffee and reading the paper), I was doing a few chores (like hand washing and hang up masks to dry) before my plan to settle down and read in my bedroom.  Yet, each time I checked on Sebastian, he was away from the computer.  The last time, he was hanging upside down from a living room chair.  He had already this morning said he didn't want to do school, that it was too boring, so quick rethinking was needed.

I decided that maybe I should try sitting right there beside him?  I got my laptop out and some of my books and plopped down on my great-grandparent's table right next to him.  He was really excited about it.  

And, it worked. He stayed much more engaged the rest of the day.  Of course, this was my day off from church, so I don't have that kind of freedom every day.  We'll see what might work next week.

But, it did mean, I was attending and observing everything closely.

Early in the morning, one of the girls in his class just asked the teacher, "We did letters yesterday. Why are we doing them again today?" And I thought, "Oh honey, you're going to have a long thirteen years of school."

So, one of my concerns for weeks has been that I think the entire structure (including such things as quarters and semesters) needs to be thrown out and the whole enterprise reimagined with this different delivery method.  That includes the normal structure for a school day and how many things are taught.  Which is probably way too big a demand, but, it's where we find ourselves.  My Associate Minister says about her church children's programming, "What works in person can't just be videoed or livestream."  Agreed.

One thing the teachers are relying on is using videos.  But it doesn't always work or work well to share a screen to a huge class of kids and play a video.  For example, during an alphabet song this morning, when the sound was on letter M the image was still on J.  At least for us.  That just sows confusion.  And later in the day the art teacher played a video about primary and secondary colors, which was completely unnecessary.  Plus, the first time through, she forgot to share her screen and then played it a second time.  We had already heard the audio and did get to see the images (again, with a delay).  Why not just talk about primary and secondary colors and hold them up?  Why use a crutch?

But this delay also works during the live instruction.  Often the teacher's video would freeze while her audio didn't.  One time this afternoon she was asking for kids to point out the difference between two pictures, and our screen didn't have any pictures on it, just the frozen face of the teacher.  

Overall, it was a good day.  There were more activities, more actual things to do rather than listen to, and he was more engaged.  Though, he's not going to sit there and stare at a screen without having something in his hands to occupy him, and I really wish they would surrender that expectation.  He even got called out a couple of times, and if that continues, this fierce advocate of his child will say something.

When it came time to color the sheet for the letter B, I had already spent time laying the groundwork for following the instructions.  In the moment I decided got get out the sheet and another piece of paper and asked him to follow the instructions for the sheet but color the other paper with all the colors like he wants.  That worked.  Also having me right there to help with it as well.  And as he finished a task and was waiting for the class to move on, I'd fill the space by us doing something else.

We also did some math (which he really liked ), some activities with play-dough (which were a lot of fun), and a fun game where she sent them searching in their house for objects of various colors.

Art project

Sadly, the great disappointment of the day was art class.  That was the post-lunch specialty, and we were all excited for it.  Of course there were initially some tech issues.  Then, because this was the first time with this teacher, she wanted to go around and have everyone introduce themselves.  I get it.  But we've been doing that all week, it takes up too much time, involved too much technology troubleshooting, and bores the socks off of my kid.  So I quickly grabbed our own paper and paints and we started painting while respectfully listening and watching.  But thirty minutes into his first Kindergarten art class, they hadn't done any art.  They'd spent most of that time on the intro, then the completely unnecessary video (twice), and now he was basically done with that segment, though it still had twenty more minutes to go.  That time was spent trying to teach them how to open one of their apps for drawing.  So the session was mostly about how to use your iPad and almost nothing about creativity (teaching kids how to open and use other apps while the tablet is necessary for the live instruction is puzzling and weird in its own right).  He did enjoy the app once they were finally actually using it.   But the whole thing seemed damned absurd and mostly a waste of time to me.

One of the final segments was the guidance counselor and she seemed fun, but as with many of these things, the time slot is too long for the attention span for remote learning.  Not sure when that is going to be figured out, because we parents knew that in the spring.  Halfway through what was otherwise a good and engaging lesson, he was standing up, looking out the window at a flock of birds in our front yard, so we walked away from the table and went to watch the birds and grabbed our Birds of Nebraska book to identify and learn about them.

Remote Kindergarten: Day Fifty-Seven . . .

Fresh flowers for school
. . . It's only day three?

So, I don't know that I'll blog every day this entire experience, but it is a strange, weird, unique time in human experience, so if I've got stories to tell and any time or energy to tell them, I'll keep sharing.  Today I've been relatively unproductive on what I really needed to accomplish (sermon writing), so why not.

What was good today?  Morning routine with a nice walk worked.  I decided to cut some fresh flowers for his work area.  He can handle more of the technology, so I moved farther away (all the way upstairs after a leisurely read of the paper and drinking of coffee).  There were more activities to engage him.  The teacher had learned a few things to help the tech (in the morning).  And this time when they sang they all unmuted, which was more engaging and fun.

But the morning session had fewer breaks.  At one hour he was begging me for a break,but right then they were actually doing something, so I sent him back.  

Later he said the dreaded, "I'm bored."  Some activity he had finished quickly and didn't want to sit while others were finishing it.  He kept coming upstairs the rest of the morning.

It's SO odd getting to see this side of your kid when usually you leave it to the professionals.  

The most interesting experience of the morning came during an activity when they were working on the letter A.  They had a sheet to color.  All the spaces with a capital A were to be colored red and those with a lowercase a were supposed to be green.  Sebastian brought a vivid rainbow colored page to me.  Me: "Your teacher knows you can color a picture, she wants to see if you can follow directions." S: "I can't JUST color with red and green. I HAVE to use all the colors."

There are sheets for every other letter in the folder.

So, what do you do here?  I'm sure an experienced Kindergarten teacher knows how to thread this needle been achieving pedagogical goals of teaching letters and following directions without snuffing out individuality, creativity, artistic expression.  

When we logged onto the afternoon session, there was some technical issue--everyone's mics were working and the little boxes where there where everyone's face should have been, but no one could see anyone else, including the teacher.  After a few minutes of them trying to troubleshoot this problem, I just logged him off.  

He ended up watching Super Why this afternoon, so that seems educational enough?

I poured a glass of wine and took a nap.  When is summer break?

And thank you to the clergy colleague who said, "Covid parenting sounds so hard.  I think if you got up, got dressed, and brushed your teeth, that's an accomplishment."

Remote Kindergarten: Day Two

Hey, that was better already.

Plus, Sebastian's really enjoying it.

First tweak to the day we did on our end--we got around early and fast enough this morning to go for a short morning walk before virtual class.  It was a lovely 66 degrees outside.  Will try to make that a routine as much as we can, though will also try not to sweat it when getting ready, eating breakfast, etc. uses up all the time.

Already today required less parental involvement as he's already better with the tech and it seemed that many classmates were too.  But he was still running in to ask and tell me things all the time.  He had more difficulty just sitting there particularly when they were only listening and not actually doing anything.  They don't want the kids distracted with things, but I think Sebastian sits quietly, listens, and even engages when he keeps his hands busy. 

He's really itching to do things, and it's still early with them going over some basics.  I think he's used to all the activity of his preschool where he's already learned a lot of things.  When they were actively doing something he was engaged.

Also, early in the day I, while I was working in the kitchen, I overheard him ask the teacher if they could have more songs today.   She said she had already planned that.  He had mentioned it to me last night, and I had told him that he should simply ask.  So proud that he did.

Another humorous moment.  Yesterday they did jumping jacks.  He's been in dance class, so he said, "That's echappe."  Today when they did them again he asked, "Why are they using the wrong word?"

Some good news--neither the kid who constantly raised his hand yesterday nor the kid who constantly was unmuted during conversation with an adult did that today!  We heard from a lot more kids, which was fun.

The one extended activity of the morning was the teacher having them draw a picture of themselves following some directions about colors to use and how to draw various body parts.  Sebastian didn't seem to have much patience for that.  He did draw a picture of himself, but on his own terms and not following directions.  It's odd as a parent to be so aware of what's going on in the classroom and then to puzzle over the approach.  He's always been used to art time being an expression of creativity and not following rules. He made his don't want to face when I tried to encourage him to do it the teacher's way.

They had a MUCH longer lunch and recess break, which was great.  It was also enough time for us to move down to my office, which has been our current plan--at home in the morning when they were doing their primary instructional work and at my office in the afternoon when they have special classes and close out the day with story time and songs.

Today he occupied his break times with a lot of ball playing, swinging, and riding his scooter.  A good balance of activity and screen time.

The special class today was PE and that actually worked quite well remotely.  Kudos to the PE teacher!

Remote Kindergarten: Day One

Pour me a beer.

Overall, it went well, and Sebastian was excited and seemed to have enjoyed himself.  I like his teacher, and she did a marvelous job of understanding the limits of what the kids could do today and how to structure breaks.

How weird to have parents and other adults hovering around the margins, aware of everything going on.  I really feel for the teachers.

The day began with having to instruct kids on how to use the technology.  Something that wasn't mastered today.  For some reason, particularly in the afternoon session taught by the computer teacher, she wasn't able (or just wasn't) to mute individual students.  I lost track of how often I heard, "A--- your mic is on" as we all listened to him and an adult converse with one another.

The most exciting part of the morning for Sebastian was going over all the books and supplies in the bag sent home from school.  He was so fixated on the math book that he didn't necessarily get what came after that.

We also learned which kid raises his hand with something to say to everything (fortunately, it wasn't my kid).  

One struggle was how to introduce so many kids.  It is going to be difficult to do remote class with a full-sized classroom.  They should really think of how to break them up into smaller groups.  Because going around and having each kid share something took an exorbitant amount of time, especially when almost every single time that also involved reminding them how to use the technology (which was clearly also part of the point).  But it was easy for my kid to zone out listening to all of this from kids he's never met.  I thought of how bored he could get with Preschool Zoom share time, and that was with kids he'd known for years.

Lunch seemed too short and rushed.  It was supposed to be lunch and recess.  We headed outside to play, then saw a beautiful butterfly and spent minutes watching it, then we came in to prepare lunch together, and almost didn't have time to eat it.

The afternoon session with the computer teacher was not as successful.  For one, it began with almost fifteen minutes of her having an IT issue that she was troubleshooting live with all these five-year-olds sitting there.  Nor did it help that she used a powerpoint (not very effective in this setting).  And then she followed it up with having each kid share something.  Which they had already done that morning.  Sebastian completely checked out at that point.  So, this special class really needs to be much shorter in length in this format.  One of the struggles with all of this how much almost everything needs to be reconceived from the ground up instead of trying to simply taking what one normally does and moving it online (this is really, really hard).

The afternoon share time, in particular, was troubled by the kid who kept unmuting his microphone but also multiple distractions.  When it was a kid's turn to share and they unmuted their mic you heard all sorts of things (and I was in another room, not even the person actively engaged in the class).  We heard screaming babies, loud television being watched apparently by someone else in the house, dogs barking, conversations, and even some sibling's teacher as that sibling was sitting nearby also on their remote class.  All that distraction drove me batty, and I'm not a five-year-old trying to learn.


It was also interesting getting some sense of the variety of accommodations parents are making for this to work.  Some kids had a quiet work space and an adult reasonably nearby to help.  Others didn't.  Others were clearly sharing space with siblings.  Some were in daycare situations.  One distraught daycare worker interrupted the afternoon session thoroughly confused (we all need lots of prayer and alcohol).  Fortunately no parent inserted themself in what was going on; I had worried about that.

I think the parents/guardians might need to find a way to connect and brainstorm our ways to support what's going on.  I know that we preschool parents really pulled together in the spring and that helped a lot.

I imagine even after one day, teachers are rethinking a handful of things and adapting what they had already rushed to plan.

So we can prepare for lots of distractions, boredom, lots of breaks.  But Sebastian is also really excited to learn and is very excited by having his own tablet.  He seemed to have a good day.