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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Recurring Themes

“Change must always be balanced with some degree of consistency” ~Ron D. Burton. The Poisonwood Bible, the book I am currently reading in my English class is a perfect example of the importance of keeping certain things consistent while changing others; I will refer to these consistent things as recurring themes. For example, the author, Barbara Kingsolver, describes many things as either black or white. White represents cleanliness, purity, western thinking etc. Black represents dirtiness, primitiveness, Congolese people etc. Stylistically, she tells the story through different narrators, but manages to give each narrator a unique voice and personality. She alludes to the differences between Western culture and Congolese culture. Besides these main themes, Christianity, patriarchy, justice, independence, and growing up are all recurring themes in this novel. In a nutshell, even with all the variety in Kingsolver’s writing, she maintains certain themes not only to further her story, but to make it better. People learn to understand concepts, ideologies, perspectives, and attitudes when they are exposed to them more than once. This idea is successful in novels, but it also holds true in the real world.

Last week’s post and the wonderful comments I received in response to my post made me realize that not everyone has the same “recurring themes” in their lives that I do. This would cause us to have differing “most important things I have learned in school” lists. The characteristics that you develop at home correlate directly to your approach on education. That is why, like in literature, recurring themes at home are important factors in constructing an excited, curious, and open-minded mindset towards school. If you have not already guessed, my family has had a very positive impact on my outlook towards education.

Growing up, my parents asked me what my homework was, they helped me with some math problems, and they quizzed me Thursday nights for Friday’s spelling test. I know that already the tasks listed above exceed things that some peoples’ parents do, but for me, the activities above just scratched the surface. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my parents were very sneaky in the ways that they fostered my passion for learning and my ability to excel in school. For example, they asked questions that made me think comprehensively about what I was learning which in turn taught me how to respond to their questions concisely and thoroughly. As a result, I grew comfortable communicating with my parents. The confidence I gained from explaining things to my parents, in the comfort of my home, translated to explaining those same ideas to my teachers and classmates at school.

My mom made sure my siblings and I were always reading. We went to the library and she let us check out whatever books interested us. Yet, she also encouraged us to talk to the librarians when we needed help finding a book (again with the communication skills) and to use librarians as resources for suggesting books as well as accessing research material found in the library. My love of reading strengthened my vocabulary, and the more I read the more advanced information I understood. In an article about early childhood education, this fact is stated, “By the 1st grade, children from "linguistically advantaged" homes have four times as many vocabulary words as youngsters from disadvantaged homes do. Reading is SO important on SO many levels, such as acquiring knowledge about the world around us and also the fact that reading other people’s ideas and stories helps you to discover a lot about yourself as well.

Another skill I learned early on was listening to directions and explanations. My parents, for example, showed me how to tie my shoes. They gave me riddles to remember and explained any questions I had, but they made sure I was the one who taught myself in the end. In this essay about education, “kindergarten teachers reported that about half of their children are unable to follow or understand directions and show a lack of required skills.” Teaching kids how to listen and complete a task is vital to learn at home, because the teacher will have a hard time teaching something if the kid has not been disciplined to listen and accomplish tasks given.

The last thing that I discovered before going to school was cooperation. Having 3 other siblings, I had to learn how to play with them nicely, I had to learn to compromise, and I had to learn to stand up for myself when I thought my brother or sisters were being unfair to me. My parents taught us to solve our problems with words, and for the most part, my parents stay out of sibling fighting and interactions because they want us to problem solve without their help. In homes that don’t have these communication lines open for problem solving, the stronger kids usually result to violence and the quieter kids usually become introverted and shy away from sharing or defending their ideas.

My examples could go on and on. I am so lucky to be growing up in such a nurturing environment, but it should be stated that the kids that don’t have a home where they can learn these things, are not lost causes by any means. Once a student knows that they have someone counting on them, cheering for them, helping them, and watching them, they are more likely to put forth an effort. Even if it is not a parent, teachers, coaches, advisors, and friends can fill the void. Like literature, life is better when there are recurring themes. So make it your goal to be there for someone else and reinforce a theme, be it communicating, listening, reading, asking questions, or problem solving.

Until next time…



  1. Hi Ali,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog on recurring themes. It is true that there is hope for all, no matter their circumstances in life. If we each make it a priority to champion some one else, we can make a difference in someone's life. Everyone has the capacity to learn and to learn is to grow...and with growth(and knowledge) we can make this world better. It makes me so glad that you feel so nurtured in your home and that your love for education started here...It will take you far...The more we learn, the more we realize that we have SO MUCH more to learn ...It is a fantastic journey that never ends!!!I am very proud of your beautiful writing and your thoughts. I can't wait to see where you "go" next on your blogging journey. love, mom

  2. You have been blessed but a family that values learning, not just memorization. I was blessed also. We had to think, to look at all sides of an issue. We had to compare, contrast, offer and opinion, and be open to changing that opinion as more evidence was disclosed. I tried to raise my children that way. We had regular debates at dinner, and my son and I often just switched sides for the fun of it! That obviously has been your experience also.

    I hope your writings will be an inspiration to my students who want to be teachers. Most were taught differently than you and I. They were taught to memorize and burp-back information. They were not taught that gathering, sifting, and replacing information was essential to the learning process. You are helping them see learning differently. In doing so you are helping shape the learning for many students.

    Thank you very much. Mr. Chamberlain and I will arrange a conversation with you and your teacher soon. I will be out of town until next week. Then we will contact you. My granddaughter went to New Trier High School and is now a freshman at MIT. You may know her from your athletic activities. She is a rower and also plays soccer. We will discuss that when we have a chance to talk.

    And a note to Laura who commented above: "Thanks, Mom!" I can see that you are extremely proud of your daughter (and rightly so) and have played a major role in her "real" education. Thank you!

    Keep up the good work, Ali. I will read your blog regularly. We will talk soon.

  3. What do we do for the children that don't have the same benefits you have had?

  4. @Dr. Strange, Thank you so much for all of your support with my blogging! I hope my blogs have been an interesting perspective for your students to read about, I really enjoy their comments! That is so cool that your granddaughter went to New Trier and played soccer, my older sister who is now a sophomore in college probably played her in soccer two years ago! Small world!

    @Mr. Chamberlain-I don't know. This question has been on my mind for weeks. There are a lot of easy answers, but none are fair. I guess people who have the benefits need to look out for those that don't. Everyone, no matter where you come from, has talents, interests and ideas that they can contribute to a community, so it is our job to help them realize their potential.

    Still a thought process in the making, what do you think?