Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Child Miseducated

"A child miseducated is a child lost."
John F. Kennedy

We are losing our children.

We are losing them to the streets, to the celebs they choose as role models, and to the fights over the newest game systems.

Our children are losing the ability to read. It is a growing problem; growing as quickly as the numbers of children diagnosed with ADHD. Without the ability and willingness to read, our children are imprisoned within the small confines of their own worlds, worlds which are much too small. Small worlds breed small minds. Unless they are fortunate enough to do extensive traveling, these children who cannot or will not read a wide variety of stories and non-fiction will never see past the ends of their towns and realize there is a much wider viewpoint than the one they have been taught in their own existence.

The old argument against friends and role models having major influence because it is their parents who teach them values and important lessons is failing. Why? Because parents aren't paying attention. They aren't home, or they aren't available, or they don't realize the danger signs when they see them, or they don't know what's causing the danger. Of course this is not true of all parents. Many are home and available and aware, but there are a growing number who are not.

There are two major causes of concern of which all parents should be aware.

One: When phonics was replaced with whole language in school English classes, it took away a child's ability to learn how to read without memorizing every word in the English language. Phonics is the knowledge of how to sound out words we don't know. Most of our children can no longer do this. Without the ability to sound it out, they also don't have the ability to figure it out. They are not learning prefixes and suffixes and roots that help them know what a word is they have never seen. This is essential to proper language development. We are pushing our kids to read. There are programs developed to urge them to want to read. But we are making it difficult for them to do so, which ends up being highly frustrating and turning them into non-readers. We must bring phonics back to our schools.

Two: Instead of giving our children books and creative imaginative toys, we are giving them video games and fighting strangers in stores in order to get the newest, most expensive video systems. Children need imaginative play. It is imperative to their brain formation if they are to ever learn how to learn and how to think for themselves. How many of us in the over forty crowd spent time outside creating games where we 'acted' and made up stories to play with our friends? I would guess most of us did. We had Barbies and Kens that were for use instead of for collecting, and Legos and Lincoln Logs, and Fisher Price towns and Pickup Sticks. These may have seemed like merely childish games, but in reality, they were training our brains. Our children are not doing this. They are stuck behind game systems mastering each "next level" to brag to their friends about.

While the games themselves are not destroying our children (although since most are quite violent, there is an added issue of how it may numb them to violence), the amount of hours spent on these are actually forming their brain patterns that will affect how they think and act the rest of their lives. They learn to think in a way that makes the games easier for their brains to adjust to the quick-paced, immediate action and gratification necessary to become skilled and advance levels. The more they do this, the harder it is for their brains to adapt to real life; to reading, to learning patience, to sitting and focusing on a teacher, and to obeying orders we give them. We are losing them to their games.

Yes, it is that serious. ADHD is heavily on the rise, correlating with the rising stock of gaming systems and emphasis on having each newest game and the lessening numbers of kids participating in music and art and sports and other types of creative play. It is most serious for those younger than seven and for teens. Most parents don't realize that a teenager's brain is reforming itself at relatively the same rate as a young child's brain. It is at this point that what they are doing and learning is extremely important. At no time in the future will they be able to build new neural pathways that will either help or hinder them during the rest of their lives as easily or as pronounced as during this time. What teens spend time doing will directly affect what they will or can do as adults. It can be the difference between finding a successful career and getting lost in the cracks. It is that serious.

Try it. If your child is a full-time gamer who won't read and has low grades, take the games away for a month: completely. Make sure he is reading a variety of subjects and has time to come up with other ways to entertain himself. Have him learn music in some way. Rent an instrument. Go to an art museum. Buy a baseball bat and send him to invite friends for a game. Give his brain time to readjust to the real world. And pay attention to the difference. Then, write notes to your school board about reinstating phonics.

Our children are getting a double slam. Some of them can rise above the phonics issue if language comes easily for them or if they are not spending hours a week on games. If it doesn't and they do, they can't, and it will hold them back in everything, not only in school, but in the rest of their lives.

We cannot afford to lose our children. We cannot afford to raise a whole generation who knows only how to survive in video games. Try Pickup Sticks and Lincoln Logs this Christmas. Leave the computerized games on the store shelves. They may not understand, but they will benefit, and so will we all.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


© LK Hunsaker

"Because philosophy arises from awe, a philosopher is bound in his way to be a lover of myths and poetic fables. Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder."
Saint Thomas Aquinas

Writing a novel is eerily like raising kids. You can plan and outline and create the "right" settings and know exactly where it's "supposed" to go, and yet, when the story is being written and kids are being raised, they tend to take over and have their own say, very thoroughly screwing up your well-laid plans.

Stories and children are amazing things, though. Even with the same backgrounds and same main characters, they come out strangely unique. Two writers can never come up with the same story even with the same outline. Two children raised the same will not be the same. That inherent life force we have when we are born supercedes all else. We see the same angle in different ways. We interpret the same myths in contrasting lights. Our characters, regardless of what we want them to be, will become what they are born to be.

This is the third week of Nanowrimo, that week when revelations we didn't expect pop out at us from nowhere and bring an excitement to the work, a mystery of sorts. We don't know where it comes from and it doesn't matter. Week three makes us realize just why we are undertaking this seemingly insane quest. It turns out it is not so insane after all. There is, as they say, a method in madness. Pushing to get so deeply into a story so quickly forces you to write whatever will come out, not what you want to come. You tell yourself over and over that it doesn't matter if you want it there or not; it adds to your word count. You can take it out again after November.

So much of what is going on in my life right now is reverberating through my story. It will all have to be edited, but in the meantime, it's an incredible therapy. I will save the first draft as it is, in a separate file locked away to outside eyes. It is not meant for sharing, but for letting go. I can be free to write anything I want, letting the thoughts swirl around the paper and realizing it's pushing me closer to my goal. I'm still behind. I should be at 31,673 words by tonight and I am barely past 21,000. It's all well and fine, though. At the beginning of today, I needed over 3,000 words a day to hit 50K. By tonight, with my day's push, I need only 2,600 a day. By Friday, I was thinking I might as well throw in the towel. Now, I see that it's still doable, and if I continue using it as a journal, it's also healthy. *laugh*

I don't consider myself a poet or philosopher, but novelists need to be some of both. They also need to retain that feeling of awe. We have to believe it is all possible.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Obsessive Moderate

I'm an obsessive moderate. I require balance.

I need the weather somewhere between hot enough to provide heat stroke and cold enough to be wary of frostbite. Both come rather easily to me. I've been on the edge of both and I don't appreciate edges. I prefer slow inclines and easy descents. Up and down is fine, as long as they are in smooth, relaxed motions. My mood tends to stay fairly stable; I'm not easily rattled, easily excited, or easily angered (more so than before, but military life and parenting and rude drivers in congested traffic will tend to strain patience levels). I need my schedule -- the routine that provides a comfort zone. It may be a lenient schedule, as a strict disciplinarian type, I am definitely not, but it matters to my mental state. During this schedule, I need a slow wake-up time, a productive "play" time, a time slot for some kind of physical movement to get the blood circulating, time to get business-type work done, and then time to do "my" stuff (most often that means writing time). I like to read before bed, pulling me from the "real" world into a transitional phase before I give in to the dream world. Interruptions in this balance I've created for myself will surely set me on edge. Too many of these interruptions will push me over the edge.

And you thought this month would be all about Nanowrimo.

It is. By my counter to the left, that little blue box that shows my progress or lack of, it's quite apparent I have more "lack of" progress than actual progress so far. There have been too many interruptions. I have time at night to write, yes. What I don't have is the balance in my brain that allows me to push other thoughts away enough to write. To be on track, I need to hit 20,000 words by tonight, which means adding over 10,000 words. I somehow don't see that happening. On good days when I do little else, I can write between 5,000 and 6,000 a day. Those days are rare. I average 1,000 words an hour when it's going well.

However, it's still quite achievable to hit the 50K mark by the 30th. I need only to average just over 2,000 words a day. Yes, quite achievable.

Yesterday, I relished in the luxury of a mid-November warm-up. Running around in only a light cotton blouse (and my jeans, of course) with the car windows down and the sun streaming upon my skin, I knew it was likely the last day of the year for such a luxury and therefore, absorbed it into my soul as well as I could. I took the photo shown in this post as well as a few others, appreciating the beauty of "my" trees.

Today, after a full night of streaming rain and the light howl of an occasional gust of wind, I look out and watch the leaves being torn from the branches amongst the gray of a wintery sky. Nature is indeed balancing itself. While I sigh over the lack of color that I will miss until spring, I enjoy the starkness of the tree trunks, their lines strong and graceful, branches dancing with the wind and resting with its calm.

And I know this is a good writing day.

Yesterday I played in the weather like the squirrels chasing each other up and down the trunks and leaping from branch to branch. Today I am settled in and ready to turn my attention to the solitude of the keyboard clicking and the coffee relaxing and invigorating me all at once.

"And the self-same well from which your laughter rises was often-times filled with your tears.
Kahlil Gibran

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Warning for US Parents

The other day, my daughter received a letter from the "National Honor Roll" saying she was accepted for inclusion and would receive another letter asking for her biographical details to be added to the book showcasing those who achieved honor roll status. It stated she would then be eligible for scholarships and the notice would be sent to local papers. Well, she got the "more info" today and I was rather suspicious when it asked for her grandparents' addresses in order to "inform them of her achievement." Hmm ... so, looking further, I found the main part of the letter that dealt with book prices, rather exhorbitant book prices. Jumping online to check them out, I found out it is indeed a scam. Not only are they vanity publishers who only send out the letters in order to sell books, but they operate by sending surveys to our children's teachers, getting them to have the kids fill them out in class without parent knowledge, and returning them to this company.

The "company" isn't even located within Washington DC as the address states. It's a mailbox that redirects to New York, to a marketing firm. Once these kids send in their "biographical information," the company uses it to sell to marketers who sell products of their particular interests. So, they now have not only our children's names, but also their school name, the home address, and their interests/clubs/activities list. Teachers are handing these things out without checking into it, thinking they are helping the kids to get scholarships.

If you're a teacher or work at a school, please pass this info along! If you're a parent of a school kid with a B- or better average, watch for this scam. The National Honor Society is legitimate. The National Honor Roll is not.

These people need to be put out of business. Not only are they scamming adults for money and marketing to minors without parent knowledge, but think about how these kids feel when they realize it's a hoax. Many will never realize it. Maybe that's better, if they haven't been taken for money they can't afford.

Spread the word. Here's more info, with substantiation:

The Better Business Bureau has complaints numbered about them and has them listed as a vanity publisher.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Know That You Can

Novels are not written by novelists. Novels are written by everyday people who give themselves permission to write novels. Whatever your writing experience, you have a book in you that only you can write."
Chris Baty, Nanowrimo Founder

Bring it on! Bring on the fatigue, the frustration, the mind blocks, the doubts, and the carpal tunnel (well, okay, maybe let's leave that out).

Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) is a huge mind game.

This is my third year "playing" and I learned a few things between the first and second attempts. In 2004, I was determined but not convinced that I could write 50,000 words of a new story in 31 days. My brain kept telling me it was too much, that it was a waste of time because anything you write that fast is garbage. I only got to 32,000 words by November 31st.

Yes, Nano novels are garbage, at least as long as they stay in first draft form. That's the key: you have to be okay with the fact that it will be garbage and rejoice in the freedom to allow yourself to write garbage. After all, no first draft is every ready for publishing (unless you happen to be an amazing writing talent and ... I'm not sure there is even an example of well-known writers who ever published a first draft). That's one of the important lessons of Nano. The first draft is about open, free creativity. That's all it should be. It should get your story down in print, with its huge warts and misspellings and horrid sentence structures, so when you've finished that draft, you can let it sit a while and have the freedom to go back and edit. It's truly impossible to edit well when most of the story is still nagging your brain to be let loose. The first draft has to capture the fire of the theme and the inner beauty of the characters. They will be stifled by concerns of spelling and grammar and construction if done simultaneously with the original creative process.

Another thing I learned between the two years is that you can only do something if you believe you can. It's sounds cliche, I know, but it's truth. I wasn't truly convinced I could do it the first year, and I didn't. Last year, I heard other writers say they weren't sure they could make it, and they didn't. The ones who made it were the ones who believed they could. In 2005, I began blogging. For several months, I blogged every day whether or not I wanted to, and this helped to form a habit. By the time Nano came around, I was ready to expand my writing habit (the same time of the day works best for me) into longer time spans, working two hours every night. At times, I worked longer than two hours because it was moving well and I didn't want to stop. The big difference, however, was knowing I was going to make the 50K, not wondering if I could. I ended up with over 60,000 words by the end of November. Then I kept going. Once my habit was established, it was quite easy to maintain.

Nano also provides a wonderful sense of community. Along with the official forums, it's easy to find other types of support groups or to create your own. Find the challenge form on the site and send it to anyone you know who might be interested in writing a story of any kind. Last year, I challenged my niece since she's a budding writer. She's there again this year. A new challenge brought Mom into the folds of Nanowrimo for 2006. We all have at least one story in us begging to be let out. Nano is the perfect time to do so. And tell people you're taking the challenge. Let them watch your word count and see your success and determination. Let them fuss at you for not meeting weekly goals.

Most of all, know that you can, but remember it's the effort you put in and the lessons you learn that count more than anything.

You'll find me at by searching for lkhunsaker ... I'm an open book. ;-)