It is common for elementary age students to mistakenly capture their opponent’s King in a game of chess. During today’s chess club, I corrected a couple of kids. “You don’t actually capture the King,” I explained. “You win by arranging the board in such a way that the King is under attack and cannot get away. That is Checkmate.” I asked them to show me how this had happened.
When one of them walked me through the moves, I saw that a pinned piece had been moved, placing the King into check. You can’t do that. I took the opportunity to teach the whole chess club about pinned pieces.
A Pinned Piece in chess is a piece that is blocking an attack on the King. Moving it would place the King into check, and you aren’t allowed to do that.
How does this happen? Sometimes, a piece will be used to block an attack. If White has an exposed King (no White pieces in front of it), and Black moves a Rook onto the same file (vertical column on chess board), the White King is in check. A common defense might be to place the White Bishop in front of the White King. This is exactly what happened in today’s game.
At other times, crafty opponents might trap your piece by passive-aggressively attacking the King. They will arrange their pieces so that they would be attacking your King, if you were to move any of your pieces. You look for a way to shift your pieces into a more advantageous position, but they are locked down. Moving them would jeopardize your King. No can do! You begin to feel stuck, smothered, tied in a straight jacket.
As we were walking down the hallway of my school, heading toward the entrance where parents were waiting to gather their offspring, I closed the lesson on pins by summarizing some of the main points the club had discussed. Without even thinking, I shouted over my shoulder, “Even the most powerful piece can be made powerless with a pin.” That struck me as an important metaphor.
A highly skilled person with a lot of valuable experience is working a job that is way beneath their ability. Why? Why don’t they leave that job and work somewhere with better pay? If they did, they would lose their health insurance. Perhaps a retirement plan is pinned to their current job, and they must wait out the years, until they can cut the tie, or else jeopardize losing all of that savings. Maybe they have worked hard to climb the corporate ladder, and leaving would mean starting at the beginning! It could be pride, money, safety, or more pinning them to their powerless position.
Someone is in a relationship with a person who abuses them. How could they not just leave? Perhaps the abusive person has arranged all monetary and material assets in their name. The hurting individual would have to strike out on their own, penniless, not to mention poor in spirit! Maybe, the abusive person was cutting the person down emotionally. You don’t know how low someone can make another feel. Beliefs like, “I can’t do anything without my partner, because I am so dumb… I need her in order to feel good about myself… I am worthless without my family…” infect the heart and create, not cracks, but fissures in the Love Tank. Power pours out of a person squeezed by emotional abuse. They are pinned to their situation, and you can’t see it at all!
Can you think of any other examples of powerful people pinned to positions? If so, mention them in the comments.
Part of my lesson about Pinned Pieces on the chess board included how to avoid this predicament. “What could White do to get out of the Pin?” I began with.
A sharp student mentioned moving the White Rook over a space to block the pin. “Then the Bishop would be free (unpinned) to move around on the board. It could even attack the Knight on f5.”
“But, not before that Knight captured the Rook unpinning the Bishop, after having moved it to d6,” an even sharper student pointed out. “You could move Pawn to c6.”
“How would that solve the Pin Problem?” I inquired.
“The Black Rook would have to move in order to avoid capture.”
I studied the board. “Could Black simply move the Rook to another square, continuing the Pin?”
“Yes, d5 and d3 are both safe. And, if the White pawn advanced, the Black Rook could simply return to d4,” a collection of students offered.
A student in the back of the room raised her hand. I had to refresh my memory of her name before listening to her brilliant idea: “Move the King to c8.” Not only does this free the pinned Bishop, “It gives the King more spaces to move to. E7 is being attacked by the Black Knight,” she explained. Amazing thinking!
Unpin by removing the threat. Our highly skilled worker who would like to look elsewhere for a job might invest in a retirement situation outside of their job. Maybe they could acquire health insurance through a spouse or alternative situation. The abused romantic partner could find support in people or ideas independent of their relationship. They may not be able to “Block” the abuse, but removing the line of attack by getting out of the way could prove both saving and empowering.
In conclusion, if nothing else, analyzing situations from more than one angle can be a powerful way to govern one’s life. Treat your everyday scenarios like a chess match. They are full of cause and effect that, when analyzed carefully, could be played in powerful ways. This can extend to your life goals, as well. Evaluate your vision for the future. Is it “blocked” by a piece you wish would move out of the way? Are you “pinned” by being stuck where you are? Remove the pin or remove yourself, so that the powerless part of your life is no longer being pinned down. Free yourself.
My daughter Scarlet is in 5th grade. When she was in 1st grade, the two of us worked on a book together. The book, “Scarlet’s Superpower,” is about my daughter’s deafness. Because Scarlet has bilateral cochlear implants, she can “hear” from both “ears.” However, she has the unique ability to remove the magnetically attached head pieces that connect her cochlear implants to a microphone. This instantly renders her completely deaf. The ability to switch from hearing to 100% non-hearing is what Scarlet and I devised as her “superpower.”
My aim was to preempt any negativity Scarlet may experience, being different. I wanted to meet this head on; “Yes, I’m different, and it is awesome!” was the attitude (mantra) I hoped to instill in my daughter. It was a powerful and cute idea. Together, we came up with some ways that her “power” of NOT being able to hear might be advantageous.
Scarlet and I were dabbling with the idea of turning our stories into a book, when one day I saw a tweet that ignited the fire that I needed to fuel our project. A principal from California was asking the Twitter community to recommend books about superheroes to share with his school. I told him that my daughter and I were working on a book about her being a superhero!
By simply sharing this news, my intent was made public and real. I both decided and committed Scarlet and I to doing this. We would share our story via book, one way or another!
On April 28th, which happens to be National Superhero Day (I didn’t actually know that at the time:), I made “Scarlet’s Superpower” available publicly. That is to say Scarlet and I completed a version of our book that was good enough to be viewed publicly and I figured out a way to get it into a free Apple book version that could be accessed with Apple devices. Within a day or two I would get it onto Amazon, but people would have to pay around $3.
The book got some positive attention. It seemed like it had potential. People inquired about a physical copy of the book; It was only available in digital format. After looking into some self-publishing companies, I settled on using Lulu. I purchased a package that would provide several hard copies of the book, as well as a website and more.
While the original book was only 13 pages, Lulu’s publishing package would provide 26 full color pages. This seemed good at the time, but meant that I had several additional pages to fill. This pressure proved paralyzing. I have not worked on the book since.
It’s time to make it happen. This blog is meant to not only inspire (breathe life into) me, but act as a contract of commitment. It is a “Blog of Intent.” I am binding myself to finishing this publishing project this year.
Along the way I intend to write blogs, sharing the process of making the book. Part of my problem is that I have too many ideas for an illustrated kids’ book. I will parse some of them here.
Finally, if ever the book ends up amounting to anything important, this blog will serve as a collection of behind the scenes information. There is a lot that goes into making a book. The writing process involves tons of revising and editing. And then, there’s the marketing.
There is also a lot that doesn’t make it into a book. This is one of the things that is holding me up right now. I have tons of ideas that I want to use, but I’m struggling to weave it all in. I know that I’ll have to let go of a lot. By writing blogs about my thoughts, I hope to release the fireflies to brighten their own skies, and I can fine-tune the book to be published.
The word intent is related to the Latin intendere meaning “stretch out, lean toward, strain,” and I feel like I’ll have to do all three of those actions to make it. But, I intend to make this happen. So, with this “Blog of Intent” I contract myself to wrap this up. “Scarlet’s Super Power” will be empowered by getting published.
intent | Etymology, origin and meaning of intent by etymonline. (2015, December 13). Intent | Etymology, Origin and Meaning of Intent by Etymonline. Retrieved January 3, 2023, from https://www.etymonline.com/word/intent
How do you celebrate multiple cultures simultaneously? Is it even appropriate to talk about religious holidays in a public-education classroom?
The Polite Pirates experienced a "cheese & meats from around the world" tasting, following our performance. --Many thanks to Dr. Deb Campbell for the amazing charcuterie.
One of the ways I taught my students (The Polite Pirates) about various Winter Holidays and customs from around the world was by having them read plays. I’d construct the plays from the text of picture books. I’d have the Polite Pirates practice and perform the plays for their parents right before winter break. One of the plays is about Old Befana. It introduces an Italian tradition of getting stocking stuffers on January 6th (Epiphany) from a “Christmas witch.” There’s one about a family making Latkes to celebrate Hanukkah. Parents loved listening to their children pronounce the fancy French words from Margie Palatini & Richard Egielski’s “Three French Hens” that I turned into a play.
Many of the texts have wonderful themes. One of my all-time favorites is “The Christmas Piñata” by Jack Kent, a story about two pots who have very different uses. The “good pot” is made into a beautiful and useful watering can, while the other comes out of the kiln broken. This broken pot is sad that it can’t be as useful as the “good pot…” until one day it is made into the star of the Los Posadas parade in a Mexican village! This makes for a very powerful play whose theme, even the youngest children can interpret.
This year I decided to do something different, and it proved totally awesome! Rather than use an already existing book to make a play, I wrote my own. I wanted to have the Polite Pirates travel around the world to experience various cultures. Perhaps their pirate ship could magically become a flying vessel that skips from one continent to another. Then, the idea came to me… I would use my silly pirate captain to lead everyone all over time and space by appropriating the zany television legend, Doctor Who and his TARDIS. Instead of “Doctor Who,” however, it would be “Captain Who”.. and the idea for a time-jumping class of kids was born!
Of course Mr. Weimann has a smoke machine… And, of course we had to use it each time we jumped through time!
Instead of focusing on winter holidays, I decided to research the origins of the Christmas tree. I knew that the symbol of evergreen predated the dominant religion’s appropriation (Schroeder, 1992). I did not know that the use of branches, trees, wreathes, and plants to symbolize immortality stretched back to ancient Egypt and beyond (History.com Editors, 2021). The variety of places, cultures, and uses of evergreen over the face of the Earth and throughout time is staggering.
Rather than deciding which of the many facts to include in our classroom play all by my lonesome, I decided to include the Polite Pirates in the project. We practiced research by writing down open-ended questions. I wetted their appetites by giving them teasers like, “Did you know that Christmas trees were illegal at one time?” and “Some cultures don’t call them Christmas trees.” Then I had my students read the History.com article (2021) that started me down this rabbit hole.
After learning many interesting facts, the Polite Pirates and I decided on our favorites to include in our play. Each story would be a separate scene for our TARDIS-traveling pirate players to visit. They would explore one of the oldest cultures to use greenery as a symbol of life; ancient Egypt; with its mythology of the sun god becoming ill, and therefore reducing its daily dose of light. The god gets increasingly sick, until the Winter Solstice finds him lying in bed the longest of any day of the year! Egyptians would decorate with palm fronds to encourage Ra to awaken and feel better.
We also wanted to share the experience of getting in trouble for having Christmas trees. This happened during the puritan era of early Massachusetts. They believed it sacrilegious to make merriment on or near the day they celebrated Christ’s birth (December 25th).
How did Christmas trees come to be a favorite holiday decoration? It was a popular monarch who changed everything. And, it wasn’t a king. Queen Victoria was the evergreen tree trend-setter. She had married Prince Albert of Germany, and invited him to share some of his Christmas traditions with her. This little story was a nice way to show the Polite Pirates open-mindedness and acceptance, as well as cause and effect. It was a newspaper illustration that turned tree decorating into a national craze. A picture of the royals standing next to a 4 foot high tree decorated with glass ornaments from Germany and placed on top of a table was published in a local London newspaper in 1846. After that, Christmas trees were the rage in every English-influenced culture.
Finally, it’s always helpful to include something the students are extra fond of. Everyone wanted to know the story behind the German pickle that hides in the tree. Here was an opportunity to learn that research does not always yield neat answers. According to Alexandra Churchill (2021) of Martha Stewart.com, no one knows exactly where this tradition originated.
The Christmas Pickle
I made a scene at the end of our play that has a shop owner speaking with a pickle-eating worker, while a couple of patrons peruse the recently invented and imported German-made glass ornaments. This story encapsulates the way myths are born. In the play I even named the pickle-eater “LEGEND WRITER” to point out that this tradition stems from people simply making up the idea.
In several ways the process of researching mirrors the Scientific Method. After coming up with a question, looking for answers, and carefully observing information, recording what you learned, one must do something with what is found; The crux of it all is to publish your findings. The Polite Pirates are well-versed in writing paragraphs. Why not use what we learned to produce performance art? Of course that was the point all along, but I pointed out that our classroom’s winter holiday celebration play is actually a way of publishing or “making public” the information that we researched.
And so, without further ado, here is our play; the readers’ theater that the Polite Pirates performed for parents visiting the Willow Lane cafeteria on December 21st, which actually is the Winter Solstice! Feel free to use, adapt, and enjoy this play with your class. Perhaps you want to use this process to have your class make its own. Let me know how it goes.
SETTING: Behind 2 foot high pirate ship
PIRATE3: Land, Ho!
PIRATE4: More like “School, ho!”
PIRATE5: This DOES seem like a place of learning. But, what’s that tree, there?
PIRATE6: More like a place for eating to me. What are those called?
PIRATE3: cafe? Trattorie? (Italian for casual restaurant, pronounced “truh*tor*ee”)
PIRATE4: restaurant? Are we in Italy?
PIRATE5: eatery? I thought that this was Pennsylvania.
PIRATE6: No, no, no…
STUDENT11: (enters, wearing a Santa hat, and seeming to ecco PIRATE6) Ho, ho, ho…!
STUDENT12: (addressing the hat-wearer) If you want to play Santa in this performance, you’ll have to “Grow, grow, grow…”
STUDENT13: Not necessarily. That all depends on whether you want to portray the original “Saint Nicolas” or the modern, mythological…
PIRATE3: Students… HO! Never mind labeling the luncheonette! Here are patrons.
PIRATE4: (ignoring everything, and continuing with synonyms for cafeteria…) Not tratorrie. Osteria (Another Italian word, pronounced “oh*stir*eeee*ah”)
PIRATE5: These DO appear to be students. Let’s see if they can help us figure out where we are.
PIRATE6: (triumphant, and ignoring others) Cafeteria! That’s what it’s called.
(All of the students stumble to the ground in alarm.)
STUDENT11: (first to regain composure) Why hello there. Nice ship. Where do you sail?
PIRATE3: (In an overly loud, boisterous voice) Hello! We are the Polite Pirates, comrades of Captain…
PIRATE4: (Addressing PIRATE3, as much as the students) There is NO need to shout at them. (And then, polite speaking to the students…)
We, the (throwing the word “polite” over his shoulder, at PIRATE3) Polite Pirates are pleased to make your acquaintance.
STUDENT12: Yes, well, welcome to the cafeteria of Willow Lane.
STUDENT13: (over-emphasis the “who”) Who is your captain? From whom do you take orders?
PIRATE5: The captain comes and goes. He has invented… or found…
PIRATE6: Captain entered an old fashioned police box the other day, and we haven’t seen him since.
STUDENT11: (seemingly beginning to get frustrated…) Yes, but…
EVERYONE: Yeah! (Everyone enters the TARDIS. More smoke.)
SETTING: A Puritan village in 1649 New England
(Students and pirates observe the exchange between the police officer and puritan, without getting involved… Students speak amongst themselves over on the side.)
POLICE: (Hands a person a piece of paper) You must pay this fine to the local magistrate by the end of the week, or we will be forced to return and confiscate something of comparable value.
PURITAN: I don’t see what the problem is with hanging a little evergreen around my house. It is MY home.
POLICE: I don’t make the rules. I just enforce them. No decorating on or near December 25th. That’s the law.
STUDENT11: What? People are not allowed to decorate for Christmas?
PURITAN: I bet the baby would have liked the wonderful, lively smell of evergreen. It would have covered up the foul smell of all of those barn animals.
STUDENT12: It sounds like they mostly like the smell.
POLICE: While I agree that your evergreen clippings DO smell rather pleasant, you know the law: No hanging of decorations on or around December 25th. This is a sacred day.
PURITAN: Officer, I am NOT (said with attitude) “pagan-izing” my home just by making it smell nice!
POLICE: Are you being obstinate, my puritan friend?
MARY: This must be the puritan era.
ZEUS: Around the 1650s…
STUDENT13: What if the puritan really does just want the place to smell nice?
STUDENT11: I have a pine freshener that I took from my parents’ car this morning on the way to school. (Tosses the pine tree air freshener to the puritan.)
PURITAN: What’s this? (Holds pine tree to nose and sniffs.) Oooooh, this is wonderful.
POLICE: What do you have there? Where did that come from? What kind of witchcraft is this?
PURITAN: It’s just a thin wafer of wood, scented like an entire forest of evergreen.
POLICE: Hmmm (smelling pine tree), that does smell rather nice. I’ll have to check on this.
PURITAN: It’s so tiny (whining), can’t I keep it?
POLICE: (still smelling the tree… over and over, clearly enjoying the fragrance) I’m going to need to keep this… (to himself) I could hang it above my head in the paddy wagon. If only mirrors were invented, I could hang it from a rearview mirror… (wanders off)
PURITAN: Hey! (disappointed and whining) I found it!
(Captain pulls students back into TARDIS. Smoke. Police and puritan disappear.)
CAPTAIN: What are you doing?! You can’t share technology and ideas from the future with people from the past!
MARY: I totally forgot; We might mess up the space-time continuum.
ZEUS: The whosie-whatsit?
CAPTAIN: If you go back in time and alter something, it could completely change the future; our time! We could cease to exist.
STUDENT11: Oh no! What have I done? Am I fading? I think I can see through my fingers.
STUDENT12: That’s because you have them spread out.
STUDENT11: (closes fingers) Oh, you are right.
STUDENT13: Where are we now?
ZEUS: And, when are we now… I mean what is “now”? Or, when is “now”?
MARY: We get it, Zeus. Come on, let’s find out.
(Mary leads group away from TARDIS, toward pyramids.)
SETTING: Yellow pyramids in background. People hold palm fronds and speak to each other. One has a cold and is sneezing.
EGYPTIAN14: (pointing) I think it looks better over there.
EGYPTIAN15: Yeah, but no one will smell it over there.
EGYPTIAN16: I don’t know how much smell palm fronds have, my Egyptian friend.
(Egyptian15 sneezes several times.)
EGYPTIAN14: We could put the fronds in water, if we arrange them in this vase. They might last longer.
(More sneezing by 15.)
EGYPTIAN16: Oh, for crying out loud! (Talking to 15) Can’t you take something for that?
EGYPTIAN15: I think I’m allergic to palm trees.
EGYPTIAN14: I don’t think that’s a thing. We live in Egypt. They are everywhere. You probably have a cold.
(Again, the students and pirates remain separate from the people from the past. Just observe the Egyptian conversation.)
PIRATE3: (speaking to the TARDIS travelers) So, we are in Egypt this time.
PIRATE4: Your powers of observation are impressive.
PIRATE5: That doesn’t sound very polite?
PIRATE4: You’re right. (turning apologetically to pirate3) And, you are right. I wonder what these Egyptians are doing with those palm fronds.
PIRATE6: It appears they are using them as decorations. I wonder if they are celebrating a holiday.
EGYPTIAN16: Why don’t we just get more fronds and put them on both sides of the house?
EGYPTIAN14: I like that. They can symbolize both, Ra rising and Ra setting.
EGYPTIAN15: (sneezes) Ra has forsaken me!
EGYPTIAN16: No, he has been experiencing the same thing you are.
EGYPTIAN14: Maybe he gave you his cold.
EGYPTIAN15: That would explain why it is so powerful (extra big sneeze)
EGYPTIAN16: But, now we turn the corner.
EGYPTIAN14: After today, Ra will return in strength.
EGYPTIAN15: I can’t wait for my strength to return.
EGYPTIAN16: This will be your darkest day.
CAPTAIN: I bet the Egyptians are celebrating the Winter Solstice.
MARY: The shortest day of the year.
ZEUS: Who is Ra? And, why is he sick.
CAPTAIN: Ra is the Egyptian sun god. They must be talking about his disappearance.
MARY: Because there is less and less daylight.
ZEUS: They think he got sick?
CAPTAIN: That would explain why he hasn’t been around as much.
MARY: And, after today, the daylight will begin to increase.
ZEUS: As in Ra is recovering…
SETTING: Palace in England
QUEEN: This is such a magical time of year, my dearest husband.
PRINCE: So true my queen. Might we decorate the palace to celebrate the season?
QUEEN: Tell me, your majesty. What traditions did you practice in your homeland of Germany?
PRINCE: My people erect trees in their homes and decorate them with fruits and nuts.
REPORTER: “Queen Victoria Goes Nuts for Trees!” Get your paper. Hot news for sale.
STUDENT11: What? That doesn’t sound right. Would they be able to print that kind of salacious news?
MARY: I don’t think so.
ZEUS: I’m pretty sure they would lose their head.
CAPTAIN: This is 1846, not the dark ages.
STUDENT12: Yeah, he said Queen Victoria, not the Red Queen.
STUDENT13: Did you think we were in “Alice in Wonderland,” or something?
PEASANT: I’d like to purchase one of those newspapers, please.
REPORTER: Sure. That’ll be two pence.
PEASANT: Here you go.
REPORTER: Thanks. Everyone loves Queen Victoria.
PEASANT: I know. With this illustration of her and Prince Albert standing with their family next to a decorated evergreen tree up on a table, I wouldn’t be surprised to find one in every house tomorrow.
REPORTER: I already got one! Apparently, they are the rage in Germany. The Queen asked the prince about his childhood traditions.
PEASANT: She honored his traditions. How classy.
REPORTER: Right? The people will be happy to decorate. Somber occasions are no fun.
PEASANT: No fun at all. (Looking closely at newspaper) What do they have hanging on the tree?
PRINCE: My people used to place apples and other fruit and nuts upon the tree to symbolize the harvest. Then they began adding marzipan cookies and more.
QUEEN: That sounds joyous! I think it would look even better with color.
PRINCE: In the future people will make strings of popcorn.
QUEEN: They could dye the popcorn with various bright colors. Then they could mix berries in to vary the texture…
PRINCE: In 1847 people began making glass ornaments.
QUEEN: Like these?
PRINCE: Yes, like these.
REPORTER: (announcing to crowd) Queen’s tree full of glass!
PEASANT: Ornaments; glass ornaments.
REPORTER: Just a technicality.
PEASANT: No, truthfully…
REPORTER: Just trying to sell some papers, my man.
PEASANT: (reading newspaper) It says here that the tree is only 4 feet tall and sits upon a table. Is that true?
REPORTER: How do I know? I can’t read!
PEASANT: Oh, sorry. Well, according to this article, the dime-store magnate, F.W. Woolworth from Pennsylvania will visit Germany in the 1880s, bring some glass ornaments back to America and then make a fortune importing more. This will begin a trend in American Christmas tree decorating that will grow from there.
REPORTER: That article says all of that?
PEASANT: No, but that DOES happen…
STUDENT11: How do they know about Woolworth, when this is only 1847? That doesn’t happen until 1880.
MARY: I don’t know. Perhaps we are messing up the space-time continuum, doing all of this TARDIS traveling.
ZEUS: I don’t know, but I’m getting hungry. Do they have a Christmas pickle? That’s German, isn’t it?
CAPTAIN: I’ve heard the legend of the German Christmas pickle. I think it’s an ornament. Perhaps we could go to Germany next.
SETTING: Inside an old fashioned general store
STUDENT12: Are we in Germany?
PURITAN: There’s some lovely glass ornaments over here. (PURITAN & POLICE wander around the shop pretending to browse.)
SHOPOWNER: (in a “salesy” voice) Oh, yes! We just got those in from Germany last week. Hot off the furnace.
LEGENDWRITER: (eating a pickle, says to himself) Those were probably made months ago.
SHOPOWNER: (whispering to the LEGENDWRITER) Shhhh, we want them to think that our German glass ornaments are better than ever.
STUDENT13: These two seem a little shady.
LEGENDWRITER: Sure. Why don’t you just get ornaments that are unique and special? Something different. (Hold up a pine tree air freshener.) This one’s different…
SHOPOWNER: (scolding) Put that down! That is sacred. And what are you eating?
STUDENT11: Hey, that’s my air freshener!
STUDENT12: I don’t think we’re in Germany. They keep calling these glass ornaments “German.” If we were in Germany, they’d just be “ornaments.”
POLICE: (sort of complaining) We already have one of all of these.
SHOPOWNER: (complaining to the LEGENDWRITER) As if I have any say over what arrives from Germany. It’s the 1800s. It takes weeks to get a shipment of ornaments that have sailed across the Atlantic. It’s not like they can just fly them on over in the matter of hours. It’ll be another 200 years before Amazon takes every last bit of work out of shopping and shuts me down!
STUDENT11: That was a lot to unpack. Are we in the 1800s?
STUDENT12: I’m pretty sure we are.
(LEGENDWRITER is munching on a pickle louder and louder, drawing more and more attention to his actions.)
CAPTAIN: I wonder if the space-time continuum is fracturing.
STUDENT13: How would this shop owner know about Amazon?
ZEUS: Uh oh, we should probably head back to our time.
MARY: What did you say, Zeus? I can’t hear you over this guy munching on… What is that thing?
LEGENDWRITER: (answering everyone, but talking to the SHOPOWNER) This? Oh, it’s a pickle. I was hungry.
SHOPOWNER: Well, put it down! We have customers.
(LEGENDWRITER slyly sticks pickle on a shelf.)
PURITAN: (picking up the pickle) Hey, we don’t have one of these.
POLICE: That looks like a pickle.
SHOPOWNER: That’s not just any old pickle…
LEGENDWRITER: (mumbling to himself) Yeah, it’s my pickle. And, I’m still hungry.
SHOPOWNER: It’s a magical (draw the word out, making it sound mystical) pickle! (elbow the LEGENDWRITER)
LEGENDWRITER: Sure… It has magical powers (barely buying in to the silly sales pitch).
SHOPOWNER: With this pickle… Whoever finds this pickle (Look to the LEGENDWRITER for inspiration)
LEGENDWRITER: Okay, ok (sighing, and giving in). Look, (in a matter a fact voice; unimpressive) this pickle is to be hidden on the Christmas tree… Every Christmas tree… And, whoever finds it first… You know, when the tree is first revealed, or something, that person gets good luck for the year. Yeah, that’s it. (Clearly, this guy was making up this legend as he went.)
SHOPOWNER: (impressed with the story) Ooooh, that’s good.
PURITAN: What if it’s an adult who finds it every year. The kids would hate it. It’s just a pickle.
LEGENDWRITER: Right. Well, the adult who sees it should leave it where it lies. They’ll just know that they get good luck for the year… see? And, the first kid to find it gets to be the one to begin the gift opening.
POLICE: That will solve the problem of deciding which tyke begins the present mayhem.
STUDENT11: That’s what we do in my home.
STUDENT12: Is this really how the German Christmas pickle tradition began? I’ve heard that a Civil war hero was saved from starvation eating a pickle.
STUDENT13: I heard that Saint Nicholas saved two boys by sticking them in a pickle barrel.
SHOPOWNER: You should write down those rules. That was good.
LEGENDWRITER: Sure. Or, we could add to the rules, change them, make up new stories each year, building on the legend. Who knows? Perhaps it will become a tradition.
SHOPOWNER: It’ll help us sell more German glass ornaments, anyway.
CAPTAIN: Come on everyone, let’s return to the present.
ZEUS: Did someone say present.
MARY: Not the kind you open. It’s a homonym…
SETTING: Back on pirate ship, but the entire length of it has pine tree air fresheners all over it.
ZEUS: What is that funky smell?!!
STUDENT11: And, what is all over the pirate ship?
PIRATE: Are those pine trees?
MARY: It feels like my nose is being accosted by an entire evergreen forest!
EGYPTIAN14: What? We are just decorating for the annual pine tree air freshener party.
PEASANT: (slightly correcting the Egyptian) Polite Pirate Pine Tree Air Freshener Party.
REPORTER: When we celebrate the Winter Solstice with the smell of the everlasting…
QUEEN: Forever green…
PRINCE: Symbol of life…
POLICE: For our hemisphere may be cold and dark, now…
EGYPTIAN15: (small sneeze) With Ra… (sniffle) I mean the sun… hiding himself a large portion of the day…
EGYPTIAN16: But, today we turn the tide… Our day begins to grow… With the smell of these magical trees…
(Everyone turn and gaze at air fresheners, pointing, and “aaaahh-ing”)
ZEUS: Wait a minute, remember, Lea threw the air freshener at the puritan back in the 17th century.
MARY: The police officer took it.
STUDENT12: He must have kept it. He had mentioned attaching it to a paddy wagon, whatever that is.
STUDENT13: I think it is the equivalent of a 17th century police car.
PIRATE3: Perhaps, this is where the tradition of hanging air fresheners on rear view mirrors comes from!
PIRATE4: I don’t think that is really a tradition. It happens all year long.
PIRATE6: Yeah, without one, you wouldn’t want to step foot in my family’s car!
PIRATE5: Could we have altered the past when we left that marvelous feat of modern technology behind?
STUDENT12: (incredulous) A pine tree air freshener?
STUDENT13: Feat of technology? Really?
STUDENT11: They are pretty marvelous… And, sorry;)
NARRATOR — Hi, my name is _____(name of reader), and I’m the narrator of this play. While the other characters are reading dialogue, my job is to fill you in on the “behind the scenes” information. Because we aren’t “acting” this out, and do not have a set with decorations and all, you will have to picture some of what I tell you in your heads. This is called “visualizing.”
MARY — Hi, my name is _____(name of reader), and I’m a Polite Pirate, named Mary, in this play. I’m a Polite Pirate in real life, too. Polite pirates look like regular pirates, but we don’t steal anything. Also, we have extremely good manners.
ZEUS — Hi, my name is _____(name of reader), and I’m a Polite Pirate in the play, as well. In the play my name is Zeus. The problem is that I think people will not like me if I act like my normal polite self. Wait until you see the silly stuff that I do, to try and look tough!
CAPTAIN — Hi, my name is _____(name of reader), and I’m the Captain of the Polite Pirates in this play. I am very wise.
EVERYONE: So wise!
SAILOR1 — Hi, my name is _____(name of reader), and I play a sailor in this play. I think that Zeus is funny.
SAILOR2 — Hi, my name is _____(name of reader), and I’m also a sailor in the play. I’m sad to say that my sailor friend and I end up making fun of Zeus a little. Find out what happens as you listen to…
EVERYONE: “Talk Like a Pirate… Or Else!”
NARRATOR: There was once an island that rescued several sailors who had survived a massive storm.
ZEUS: Where are we?
CAPTAIN: We are safe.
ZEUS: I asked, where we were; not how we were.
MARY: Are you questioning the captain?
ZEUS: No, that was a statement. I do declare, my statement was referring to our whereabouts, rather than our condition.
CAPTAIN: The storm has taken a toll on us. We have lost many crew members; We are weary and hungry; We have no shelter; This is a strange and foreign land; But, for the moment, we are safe.
ZEUS: You are right, Captain. I apologize for my ungrateful attitude.
CAPTAIN: Apology accepted. Now, lets make a fire and collect some food.
NARRATOR: These three polite pirates were not the only sailors surviving on the island. There were people from several different ships marooned on the same piece of land. And, yes, I did say “Polite” pirates… For this small remaining band of pirates was none other than Captain Iron Knee’s crew of Polite Pirates!
MARY: Zeus, I have collected this dry wood for a toasty fire.
ZEUS: Excellent! The captain will have to instruct us on how to begin the flame. He is so wise.
MARY: So wise.
NARRATOR: Captain Iron Knee was considered rather wise:)
ZEUS: Now, let’s gather some food.
NARRATOR: The fire was started and food was gathered. As the polite pirates ate, they looked around. They saw other surviving sailors who did not have a toasty warm fire. Not too far away were two sailors shivering on a log.
CAPTAIN: We should share some fire and food with those unfortunate souls.
ZEUS & Mary: Yes, mmm, definitely.
NARRATOR: As you can see, these pirates did not behave in the typical piraty way. However, they did look like other pirates, complete with eye patches, pirate hats, and even an iron knee. It doesn’t get much more piraty than an iron knee!
CAPTAIN: Why don’t one of you two go over there and offer some food and fire to our neighbors?
ZEUS: I will go.
NARRATOR: Zeus hesitated, though. He wondered what the neighboring survivors would think if they knew just how polite he and his friends were… Or, was it the fact that they looked like pirates but did not act or talk like pirates. Either way, rather than going over to the two shivering sailors and saying…
MARY: “Hello, I happened to notice that you have been struggling to begin a fire over here.”
NARRATOR: …He actually said… er, growled…
ZEUS: Ahoy!! Shiver me timbers! Dis be a fancy mess o’ sticks! Avast: me fire be yours if ye belay that shiverin’, get yerselves off the yardarm and fetch some (far less piraty voice) really really small sticks. I suggest the fine twigs of spruce trees. Those work quite well. (recomposing himself) SHOW A LEG! Let’s go!
NARRATOR: You can well imagine that the shivering sailors were as confused as they were cold after that display.
SAILOR 1: What on earth was that?
SAILOR 2: I do not know. (Thinks for a moment; then in a gruff, piraty voice) Yarr, I be not knowin’ what that be ‘bout!
(Both Sailors giggle.)
NARRATOR: Zeus did not walk upright, the way he usually did on his return to Captain Iron Knee and Mary. He was hunched over, dragged one leg, and swung his arms ferociously.
CAPTAIN: Zeus, did you offer those sailors some of our food and fire, as I asked you to?
ZEUS: I did tell them that they could have some of our fire.
MARY: How exactly did you communicate that idea?
ZEUS: (Hems and haws; then mumbles) I talked like a pirate.
CAPTAIN: That is what I thought.
ZEUS: (Making excuses) But, what if they don’t like us? What if they think we are weak or not scary?
MARY: What does being scary have to do with anything?
(Pause and look at sailors who are acting out piraty behavior)
SAILOR 1: Hoist the colors, hearties!
SAILOR 2: The Jolly Roger be missin’, cap’n!
SAILOR 1: Blimey, land lubbers be scrapin’ off with me hook if-wernt-‘tached-me-arm!
SAILOR 2: And ye may lay to that!
(Back to the polite pirates)
CAPTAIN: Now look at what you have done!
MARY: Were you trying to sound scary, the way pirates typically do?
ZEUS: (embarrassed) Maybe.
CAPTAIN: Why would you do that? That is not a way to make friends. If we are going to survive on this island peaceably it is important to make friends. We will need to cooperate.
MARY: (In an understanding, kind tone) Captain Iron Knee is correct. We may be pirates, but we are shipwrecked just like every other person on this island.
NARRATOR: Zeus thought about this, and felt badly. He walked back over to the sailors still giggling and trying to talk like pirates, themselves. Only, this time Zeus walked the way he normally would, tall, proud, with shoulders back, straight, and chin up; not swinging his arms, but carrying them like instruments for helping others.
ZEUS: (To the sailors who have been mocking him and pretending to be pirates) Excuse me, but earlier I came over here and behaved badly. I was afraid that you would not like me if I talked to you normally, so I tried talking like a pirate. The thing is… I am a pirate, but a rather polite one. I belong to an unusually mannerly group of pirates who share politeness with others. Actually, that is why I was sent over here, originally. We have food and fire that we would like to share with you if you are interested.
NARRATOR: This left the two sailors rather speechless.
SAILOR 1: Yarr! (Sailor2 nudges the first) …Uh, yes, yes, we would greatly appreciate some help with fire and food.
SAILOR 2: Thank you for coming back over here and explaining your behavior. We weren’t sure if you were a silly person, weird pirate, or shipwrecked savage.
ZEUS: My name is Zeus, and I am the chef on Captain Iron Knee’s ship.
(They get close enough for Mary to hear this.)
MARY: You were chef of the ship. Hello, I am Mary.
(Sailors shake hands all around.)
CAPTAIN: Pleased to make your acquaintance.
SAILOR 1: We would be grateful for your help.
SAILOR 2: We are freezing over here.
ZEUS: Rather than give you fire, why don’t the two of you join us.
MARY: Yes, we have enough food for all of us.
SAILOR 1: You really are polite pirates!
SAILOR 2: How do you become a polite pirate?
NARRATOR: And with that, the polite pirate crew grew once more.
Long ago there was a farmer who got nervous around bees. He had been stung a few times, and it hurt. He did his best to avoid the yellow and black menaces, until one day…
The farmer noticed a bee struggling in a shallow birdbath. The birdbath was not deep, and yet the bee would drown if it did not right itself and get to the rim. Overlooking his nervousness, the farmer placed his finger in the bath near the bee. The floundering bee found the farmer’s finger and grabbed it. This surprised the farmer, but he patiently and peacefully held his hand still. The bee might think his finger was a stick. It would be silly to sting a stick, thought the farmer.
After pulling itself out of the water and shaking itself off, the bee rested on the farmer’s finger. It was exhausted. The farmer remained motionless, as still as a statue.
The bee was surprisingly tired. It just sat there for what seemed to the standing statue like a very long time. Finally, the bee did one last shake and began to walk around on the farmer’s finger. If this made the farmer uneasy, what happened next really shocked him.
The bee said, “Thank you very much Mr. Farmer. You saved my life. Now, I am going to help you.”
The farmer’s tongue seemed to have swollen inside his mouth. He could not utter one word.
“Your crops have been struggling to grow the way I was struggling in that water. Some years they do okay, but others they seem to drown in the dirt, never producing a fruit.”
The farmer, getting over the initial shock of a bee talking, thought about the bee’s words: He was right. There hadn’t been a truly successful yield for a very long time.
“Here is what I will do for you,” the bee continued. “I have a large family. I am going to have my brothers and sisters help you out in repayment for your saving my life. You may not know this, but your vegetable plants need to pollinate.”
The farmer looked lost.
“This is when pollen from a flower’s anther is transferred to the stigma.”
The farmer looked at the bee in wonder.
“Pollination happens many different ways: The wind can blow pollen from the anther of a flower to the stigma. A falling leaf could rub against the anther and then brush a stigma. But, the main source of pollination is bugs!”
This sent shivers up the farmer’s spine. Bees made him nervous, but the word bugs creeped him out. How could they pollinate?
“My brothers and sisters can easily fly over your entire field, resting on each and every flower briefly. We would knock the pollen about and cause it to stick to the stigma, thereby pollinating your whole crop.”
At last, the farmer found his tongue: “You would do that for me?”
“Before you think us completely selfless, you should know that my brothers and sisters would like to collect some of the leftover pollen that is not used to pollinate.”
Without even thinking, “Of course, of course, take as much as you like. If what you say is true, there ought to be much more than necessary!”
The bee didn’t skip a beat. “There is, there is! Nature makes way more pollen than necessary to help flowers pollinate, however, like I said and you have witnessed, without bugs flowers are dependent on the wind or a falling leaf.”
The farmer thought aloud: “It can be breezy, but the really windy times of the year are before flowers bloom and after harvest. Also, with no trees near my crops, there would be no falling leaves or anything else for that matter. I can see that I definitely do need your help!”
“And my family will be happy to oblige. We use the pollen in our hive.”
“Excellent!” chimed the happy farmer. He rescued not only a bee this day, but his entire crop.
That spring the farmer witnessed countless bees, butterflies, and other insects flying, fluttering, and hopping from flower to flower in his field. There were even times when it seemed like one bee or another would come over to his shoulder and look him in the eyes. Never did one talk to him again, however.
That fall the farmer had more vegetables than he knew what to do with. The other farmers were astounded. “Where did you get all of this fruit?” each would ask over and over.
“A little bee helped me,” is all the farmer would reply.
In the month of November the farmer awoke one morning to find something peculiar on a plate near the window. It was gray with holes. There was a gooey substance all over it, glistening in the early morning sunlight. When the farmer touched it with his finger he found it very sticky. The taste was extraordinarily sweet. He had to tell his wife: “Honey, come take a look at this!”
How were the Bee and Farmer alike?
How were their actions different?
How much did Farmer work to save the Bee?
How much does Bee work to help the Farmer’s field of vegetables?
Is it a fair trade?
Why do you think the farmer does not tell his neighbors all about the whole story?
Background of Story
This story was inspired by the old fable of “The Mouse and the Lion.” Mouse helps Lion, and in turn is not only saved, but helped by Lion in the future.
What the farmer did at the beginning of the story, I did last summer. I was walking in the shallow end of my swimming pool, skimming debris off the water’s surface, when I found a great big bumble bee drowning. I had mixed emotions. Because I had recently taught my elementary students that bees will only sting if threatened, I knew that the bee probably would not hurt me. But, the bee could hurt me.
I put my hand underneath the bee, scooping it out of the water. When the water filtered through my fingers, the bee came to life. Slowly at first, the giant bumble bee stirred, then shook. I watched in amazement as the bee cleaned the excess water from its legs. It did not talk to me or show any sign of gratitude, but just being able to witness this beautiful babe of nature return from the dead because of my help was reward enough.
I have lots of flowers all over my property, and bees are everywhere all of the time. They are always busy, and never bother me or my family. This was a day when I had to put it to the test. My curiosity was rewarded and hypothesis proved true.
Finally, I wanted to share a story of the helpfulness of bees because the honey bee is threatened by farming. Pesticides harmful to bees are used on crops. I wanted to introduce the fact that bees are actually helpful, regardless of their potential sting.
I’d like to invite you to join the Willow Lane Chess Club kids for a game or two of chess. “But, I’m not good at chess,” you may say. This might sound weird, but you are exactly what we are looking for! The purpose of this event is for the Willow Lane Chess Club to show off its skills. We want to impress you with our knowledge of the game and ability playing it. The less you know of the game, the more impressed you will be when witnessing our skills. Also, as discussed in a previous blog, playing and losing to children is empowering (for them;).
This event is the very first of its kind. Grownups are being invited to join the chess club from an elementary school; these are 9 to 12 year olds; during their regularly scheduled last club meeting. We have been meeting every other Tuesday all year. Students have learned how to move the pieces, win the game with checkmate, use tactics like skewering, pinning, and forking, as well as practicing with game after game. Each club member has played nearly every other one, and it is time to put our skills to a new test.
Parents who attend will view not only their own child’s chess-playing ability, but that of their peers. The adult who is willing to sit down with a preteen and potentially lose at a strategic game like chess is a giant in humility and a god of empowerment. Students will become giant killers of fear, apprehension, and insecurity when they survive a chess match with people they view as all-powerful. Even if a child does not win, being able to play with dignity and hold one’s own against an adult will help raise a child up in their own perceived self-worth.
If you think that you are too good at chess to join us for this day of play, I have two things to say to you. 1. Let’s see. And, 2. Please share. First of all, we have some pretty competitive kiddos in our Willow Lane Chess Club. If you are game, come on down and show us your stuff. Perhaps you crush our top players. Good. That will teach them some humility and show them how much they have yet to learn. If they give you a run for your money, all the better. Growth through challenge is strength. Secondly, we would greatly benefit from experiencing high-quality play. You could show our students some playing techniques and strategy that will help them in the future. The model of your play will give them something to strive for.
With the simple goal of showing off our skills, this ought to be a fun afternoon of gaming. Adults will be able to play a few kids. The winners of matches will NOT be recorded. This is NOT a tournament where only a few players sift to the top of a pyramid. Rather, it is going to be an hour of playing a FIFTEEN-HUNDRED-year-old game, minus the stress of game clocks, notation, or elimination. Even if you don’t know how to play at all, come and learn. If you have well-behaved children you are responsible for, bring them. They may be inspired. Don’t let anything hold you back from this extraordinary event.
Mark May 24th down on your calendars. Sign up on signup genius. Invite other grownups. And, prepare to be wowed by the students of Willow Lane.
When you’re a kid, you have very little power. Grown ups make all of the decisions for you, from what you wear, to what you eat, to when you wake up and when you go to sleep. What does a kid have control over?
Give your students the gift of power.
Sports and games are tools and times for kids to experience power. After teaching a child how to play a game, you let them make their own decisions. They try out different tactics. Sometimes they fail, and it’s your job to make sure that is okay. We work at providing nurturing spaces to practice wielding power. Both successes and failures will help children adapt behaviors and thinking.
During a foot race, maybe a child will sprint the first few meters, only to find out that they ought to have saved a little energy for the end. Another will conserve energy too successfully, allowing all of her opponents to pass and get so far ahead that she will never catch up. A basketball star will learn that his team isn’t going to be as pleased with him taking all of the praise, even if he did score the winning basket. It’s a good idea to share the wealth when it comes to glory.
There are many life lessons that can be learned and experienced through playing games. One of my favorite games for empowering kids is chess. This is NOT because I am good at it. I’m not. In fact, it is because my students CAN and do beat me at chess, that I have witnessed, first hand the empowerment of the game.
I teach third grade, which means that my students have not quite developed abstract thinking yet. Chess presents concrete cause and effect relationships, combined with complicated but recognizable patterns that help players predict the future.
The game involves capturing your opponent’s pieces and ultimately cornering their king. The various pieces have different ways of moving and capturing. The fact that there are so many rules for moving pieces may seem daunting to a novice, but I find that they provide power. Knowledge of how chess works unlocks the mystery of the game for kids. Have you ever seen the gleam on the face of a child who tells an impressed adult, “I know how to play chess”? You might think that they could perform CPR! And, if you run across a student who has checkmated an adult, you’d swear they could fly or jump over entire skyscrapers in a single bound at the very least.
Immediately after teaching my students how all of the pieces work, I jump right to the very end of the game; checkmate. I show my students how it works and what it looks like. Checkmate happens when you are attacking your opponent’s king, and there isn’t any way for him to get out of being attacked. He is trapped. You possess all of the power of the board.
Once you understand what checkmate is, you work toward making it happen. This usually involves capturing your opponent’s defensive pieces. A player will try to trick an opponent into giving up “material,” by creating scenarios that cannot be escaped or avoided. It takes planning ahead to forge tactics like forks, pins, and skewers; chess terms depicting powerful strategies. Likewise, it requires noticing patterns to avoid these pitfalls.
When a child wins a game, he or she will feel good about him- or her-self. So much more, if the game is complex and difficult. Combine that with the idea of defeating an adult or someone who traditionally signifies power over them (babysitter or older sibling), and the effects are exponential.
I have seen this first hand. In order to squeeze more chess into the school day, I sometimes use a chess clock. This is called speed chess. You still try to capture pieces and ultimately checkmate your opponent, but added to the game is “running out of time.” Whoever has their time disappear first loses.
Well, I was playing a wily 3rd grader earlier this year, and he placed me in enough troubling situations that I needed to use more time thinking about getting out of traps than I was allotted. Suffice to say, my clock ran out. As time ticked down to seconds, my opponent’s friends gathered around our game. They couldn’t believe his success. And, when my clock turned red (time’s gone), he jumped up and screamed, “I beat Mr. Weimann!” followed by running around the room, further announcing to classmates, all of whom definitely already heard the news, that he had defeated the giant.
I’ll be completely transparent and honest with you and myself: It felt humiliating. I was super tempted to sit everyone down and explain the handicap of having to make complicated decisions in a short period of time and how I never would have lost, had we NOT been using a chess clock.
Somehow, I was able to swallow that shame. Now, I am proud to say that some of my students have grown in their chess playing skills so much that they can beat me, even without using a chess clock. They practically beg to play me in hopes that they will overpower me. Crowds of kids gather around our games. I’ve had to make up rules like, “No helping one another.” I can’t win against the whole class! They LOVE it.
Would I like to be less beatable at chess? Sure, but having a flicker of hope that they could defeat the teacher has inspired my class to become chess enthusiasts beyond all previous groups.
I’ll end with this story and lesson. I wanted to teach my daughter how to play chess. She learned how the pieces worked, and she grew to understand the concept of checkmate. When she found no success in winning a game against me, she lost interest. I came up with an idea borrowed from golf; I gave myself handicaps. The first one was playing without a queen. I play just as seriously as I normally would, but an end game of my two rooks versus my daughter’s queen and rook puts her and I on a more even playing field. It equalizes the power-dynamic.
Another trick I tried was giving my daughter way more time than myself on the chess clock. She now tries to put me into troubling scenarios to run down my time.
Perhaps you may be concerned about losing power or respect when a child beats you at chess. It is true that they will no longer think you invincible on the board. Clearly, you can be beat. They just did exactly that! But, this does not change any other part of your relationship. If anything, it makes you appear more human.
I have always been keen to point out mistakes I’ve made in the middle of lessons, and I constantly point out that I struggle spelling certain words. Does this make me a less powerful teacher? It’s all about goals. What do you want to be perceived as? Are you hoping to be viewed as lord over them? Do you want to be seen as one who has all of the answers? My goal is to be my students’ guide. I am bringing them from the beginning of third grade to the beginning of fourth grade. Some students will have growth spurts while others will plug along. There are times and situations where it is most important for a student to simply “get healthy” emotionally, mentally, or intellectually, before growing. I will guide them through this experience.
Also, I will do my best to help them realize the power within them. I will work at showing them their power. I use chess to empower my students. What do you use?
I live in Pennsylvania, where it sometimes snows in the winter. It snowed last night. Some people love it. Some hate it. Some live with it. Some appreciate it. Some flee from it. Is there any point in complaining about it?
We all know people that we could characterize as “negative.” They seem to have something negative to say about everything! Perhaps you are one of these people. (If you’re not sure, but would like to explore the possibility, check out this article.)
I’ll go ahead and share, right off the bat, that I am the opposite of negative. I am naturally positive. I look for the light in everything. This has worked well for me. I have groomed and developed this trait in myself, and I have found that it makes me feel happy to be optimistic and plus-minded.
That being said, I am close to people who “see the dark side of things” very clearly, communicate them regularly, and tend to focus or “hone in on” what feels negative. As it happens, my friends who lean toward the negative are also very good and interesting communicators. They are not clouds of despair or drones of doom.
Recently, I was pondering the idea of criticising one of my friend’s tendency to criticise when the irony struck me; Am I doing exactly what I dislike in others? Why do I dislike what my friend did? Is there a place for criticism? Is criticism inherently negative? Is there a way to do it that is more classy?
This line of thinking led me down a path of researching “Negative People”; specifically people who complain. Social media is filled with memes, quotes, and advice about staying away from “Negative People.” In my experience, if you live on Earth, you can not completely avoid this type of person. So, I have taken it upon myself to learn a little more about them… Even, appreciate what they bring to the table.
According to Biswas-Diener, R. (2017), the act of “complaining is simply expressing dissatisfaction.” Something was lacking. An experience came up short. After summation, the end result was not positive in one way or another. To voice or communicate this deficit is to complain, but does the act of complaining “take away from” or “make negative” the situation that was “dissatisfying”?
There are a variety of ways to complain, some better than others. Biswas-Diener, R. (2017) writes about the chronic complainer. If you don’t know someone like this, you’ve heard of the person who seems to be addicted to seeing only the negative. They “ruminate on problems and focus on setbacks.” This attitude of unhappiness actually rewires not only the brains of chronic complainers, but the thinking of those subjected to listening (reading social media posts from said individuals counts).
Additionally, there are people who don’t seem to be consumed with complaining, but just have to get certain things off of their chest… ALL THE TIME! These people are “venters” (Biswas-Diener, R. 2017). They aren’t looking for solutions; Just listening ears to take in the complaining. This act of giving breath to venters validates their feelings of having been wronged. The act of listening to someone venting is not bad. It is friendly, but empowering them to fill air with negativity may not be the most healthy long-term practice. Think about regulating the acceptance of vented air. It may be healthy to help your friend find validation in a variety of ways, weaning them from the practice of spreading negativity.
Have you ever complained? Of course. We all complain. But, do you do it well? Or, have you fallen into the traps of chronic complaining and/or venting regularly? According to Scott, E. (2020), complaining in small doses can be a healthy stress relief. And, Complaining correctly can be constructive for others.
Right before composing this blog, I saw a tweet that praised a kid book that shared New Years traditions. The book had a catchy title, and I was interested in using it, so I looked it up. It had very high reviews, but one of the first write-ups was only 3 stars. I read this one, and very much appreciated the writer’s sincere, honest criticism of the text and illustrations. While I’m sure that the book has plenty of positive characteristics, this qualified reviewer (her background includes the culture that the book teaches) pointed out some significant flaws. In the end, I decided not to buy the book. It might add to the discussion about varying New Year’s traditions around the world, but seemed to be more “fluff” than fact. I greatly appreciated this critical review. It may have focused on negative aspects of the book, but it didn’t leave me with a poor attitude toward it. Plenty of other people will buy and enjoy it a lot.
This review could be characterized as “complaining.” The writer was pointing out elements that were dissatisfactory. That being said, the “complaint” has several classy elements to it. First and foremost, it was written in order to help people make an informed and intelligent decision. While it may point out the shortcomings of the book, it did not tear it up or leave me with disrespect for its author. It takes a lot to publish a children’s book. There were plenty of attractive things about the book that this reviewer allows to remain unscathed by criticism. The elements that were discussed in the review, while creating a sense of lacking in the picture book that it referenced, which could be viewed as “negative” by some, actually added to my understanding of the topic, thereby creating a positive balance in the end.
When a complaint is made in order to help people, and provides beneficial information that adds to the intellectual ether, it can be very classy to share. In fact, all of the reviews that praised the topic, rewarding the book with 5 stars, glowing praise, and thoughtless recommendations are creating a negative result in that they are ignoring the parts of the text that are not good. This process of undue enthusiasm fosters a bubble of fake optimism. People drawn to positive thoughts and feelings, like moths to a flame, will buy, use, and share the book, blindly following the advice of the blithely reporting online. Never thoroughly exploring the content of the text, whether it was accurate, misleading, or downright deceptive, allows a vacuum of overly positive vibes to suck people into uncritically purchasing and preaching ideas that are not well-balanced.
Because of the snow, my school district decided to have staff and students experience a “Flexible Instruction Day” (FID) today. This means that teaching will be done online, via Google Meet. There probably won’t be any complaining about this. Ha ha. I can’t even imagine being an administrator who has to deal with a never-ending stream of complaints, no matter what decision is made. Wear masks; Don’t wear them. Return to school; Begin virtual learning, again. Two-hour-delay, closure, FID, or 100% open EVERY time there is inclement weather! You will never make everyone happy, and there will be complaints galore, no matter what you choose.
One way that administrators curb the toxicity of chronic complaining about decisions is by providing reasons for their decisions. If a complaint is viewed as the communication of dissatisfaction, the lack of satisfaction could be quelled by knowing that at least a lot of thought went into the decision, and that it was made with the hope to help people have the best experience possible. When a parent, teacher, administrator, etc. says, “You should do what I said because I told you to do it,” they are communicating a negativity in that they acknowledge the lack of satisfaction, but don’t do anything to fill the void. This feeling of discontent will form a blackhole for respect. Any and all admiration, approval, and appreciation for the leader will get sucked in with the realization that “this person does not actually care about me.”
A person who selfishly “vents” all of the time or habitually complains as a rule of thumb may be too narcissistic to see what it does to the people around them. A classy person may try to help the narcissist see others and appreciate what complaining does to the community. It could be classy to help neighbors use their complaining to identify solutions. Criticism could fuel change and growth (Scott, E. 2020). It can be motivational. And, there are times when all you can do is avoid the black hole. Distancing yourself from the pull of negativity and vanishing respect might be the healthiest, safest course of action.
My main takeaway from researching the pluses and minuses of complaining is that a classy person does not shun the negative. We should acknowledge this shadow of human behavior and appreciate what it can provide. While it is important to maintain mental health, and because it isn’t healthy to ignore legitimate feelings, whether yours or a close companions, complaints ought to be heard and analyzed. Ask yourself, “What is the motivation behind this complaint?” Consider, “Is this person just needing to vent? Perhaps it is important for their feelings to be validated. Is this one of an endless stream of complaints, and feeding this habit will strengthen a beast of negativity in my friend.”
It might be classiest to confront your friend. Or, the classiest thing to do could be taking action based on the dissatisfaction a colleague or subordinate has communicated. Here’s an idea: Ask the complainer what they would like you to do with the information that they are sharing. “It sounds like you had an awful experience. Would you like me to help you deal with this? Is there anything that I can do to help?” These questions could show that you listened, are willing to help, and care about the well-being of your friend. If you ask these questions, be prepared to follow through.
(Part 1 of obviously more than 1, but not sure how many just yet;)
With the winter holidays approaching, I wanted to prepare The Polite Pirates (my students) for being stuck in the house with “nothing to do.” While I’m not against video games, I think it’s wise to have some alternatives.
Hands-on games that promote thinking and problem solving are my favorite to teach and play. Chess and Dominoes are begun early on in the year. Now, it’s time to break out the Cribbage board.
The fact that there are tiny pieces that could easily get lost makes the unpackaging mysterious and exciting. The board looks interesting, and young students can’t wait to get their little fingers on those tiny pegs! This affords a concrete reward for paying close attention and practicing the game well.
Teaching Cribbage to children requires a scaffolding approach. There are many rules and ways to acquire points. They must learn all of these before earning theprivilege of placing pegs on the board. This motivation helps keep them interested and focused.
Analyzing combinations to find potential points.
After showing and modeling the board just enough to wet their appetite, I explain that the first part of the game is all about analyzing your cards. You must decide which cards to keep and which ones to discard (They go in what is called a “Crib,” but we don’t worry about that at first). First, I model, looking closely at 6 cards. Leaving out the idea of runs, I explain that we are looking for pairs and combinations that make 15. With only these 2 criteria, we work on adding up card values and counting potential points.
[A couple of things to keep in mind: Aces are always valued at 1 in Cribbage, and face cards are all 10. Also, and this is fun for teaching the point system/using combinations, three-of-a-kind is 3 separate pairs, totaling 6 points (2 points per pair).]
After modeling making wise decisions regarding which card combinations make the most points, I have students try. In groups of 3, I give kids 6 cards to puzzle over. I always shuffle the deck between every “round.” This makes it feel more like a card game and less like math practice.
If interest wanes at all, you could move the pegs on the board. That will get kids into looking for as many points as possible. Also, you could suggest that if one team sees points in another team’s cards that were not discovered and therefore not counted, the team that discovered the missing points gets them!
In other words, you have Team A and Team B. Each team gets 6 cards. If Team A only found ways to earn 4 points, but when they show their combinations, a player from Team B notices an additional way to make a combination of 15 that Team A failed to see or mention, the sly individual from Team B who uncovered the extra points gets them for their team (B, not A). This keeps everyone on the alert.
Notice that the students have to use “math discourse” to share what their cards provide. They do this to prove that they deserve the points they are claiming. It allows every player to perform backup mental math.
This exercise of looking for combinations of 15 will continue in this way for a week or two. Once students have grasped all of the ins and outs, you can introduce “The Starter.” This card is pulled from the middle of the deck after the cards have been dealt. It is placed face up on top of the pile of leftover cards. Students now have one more card to consider when choosing the 4 cards that they will keep. The Starter is static, staying on top of the deck and being used by all teams.
If you are interested in enriching the decision making process, tell the students that one team will actually get the cards that you discard. The two cards that each team gets rid of go into a “Crib” that the dealer uses to make points at the end of each round. This means that, in addition to trying to figure out what combinations of cards will afford you the most points, you want to keep points out of the hands of others. Don’t gift the dealer with good combinations. Or, if you are the dealer, you can feel comfortable placing a pair or good combination into the Crib.
A way to differentiate for your students who are continuing to make progress but could use some help is providing a chart of addends that form 15. You could also have manipulatives or base-ten boards/charts for students to make 15. Make a lesson of looking for tens and fives in number combinations.
Just as I would have The Polite Pirates practice for a while before introducing further ideas, I will end this blog right here. Playing with numbers, considering the value of combinations, analyzing which cards should stay and which ones should go, students will enjoy the randomness of shuffled hands. “Cribbage affords players both the anticipation of the luck of the deal as well as ample opportunity to exercise their skills in discarding and play” (Bicycle blog).
Have you ever felt super good after experiencing an extra grueling workout or after finishing something really difficult? This is natural and normal. The human body has a way of protecting itself from feeling pain; It releases what some call a “Happy Hormone” that tricks the mind, so that the body can heal in peace. This hormone release is known as endorphins (Myers, 2021).
I like to run in the morning for a couple of reasons. One is that it is when I have time. Running while my daughter and wife are sleeping means I’m not using up time that would be spent with them. Also, my wife and daughter aren’t the only ones sleeping at the hours I run. There are far fewer people pounding the pavement when the sun is just barely hinting over the horizon than later in the day. In other words, I can run in peace, with much less crowded park paths.
The other day I was running at a nice clip, and I was feeling pretty good about it, when a guy called to me from a jeep. He asked me where the “Water Park” was. I stopped to tell him to turn right at the light. I was about to explain more, but he told me that this was enough information. It actually was, since there are signs, and his destination was right around the corner.
As he drove off, I was left with curious thoughts and feelings. It is rare for someone to release you from helping them. Most people would sit there and take in all of the directions I would be willing to give. Another interesting realization was that I didn’t feel annoyed about this interruption hurting my pace or disrupting my run. I use an app to measure my pace, and I enjoy keeping pretty close tabs on how I am doing. A recent goal has been to run at a slightly faster pace. Stopping to talk to someone would hurt my overall average!
The overwhelming feeling that I experienced was one of giddy elation at simply helping someone. It was so strong that I videotaped myself sharing a hypothesis about these emotions. I wondered if, in addition to exercising, there were other times and ways to get endorphins.
Lots of runners are familiar with a “runners high” after a run. This high feeling helps the exerciser (It doesn’t have to be running; Any form of physical activity or exertion will work) NOT feel the pain that their muscles will experience. It is the body’s way of self-repair.
When I helped the traveler find his way, I had stopped what I was doing. My pace was suffering. I was not using my time for me. My focus was being distracted. My goals were getting harder to meet. In short, I was experiencing, albeit minor, psychological pain. But then, afterward, I felt awesome, having helped someone.
My scientific question: Could helping people cause endorphins to be released?
From just a tiny bit of research the answer seems to be, yes, helping others can cause real, physical, good feelings (Myers, 2021).
I highly recommend that everyone conduct many science experiments of helping others. How does it feel? Journal about it to collect data and observe trends.
Also, share with me not only what you discover from your own personal research, but any articles that support (or deny) this claim. I’d like to dig deeper into the physical benefits a person acquires from helping others.
“Being kind” isn’t just a nice thing to do. It actually benefits your self. So, be kind for #selfcare.