Pasupatidasi's Blog

thoughts, poetry, life as it is…

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learning twice

i heard a saying once that goes something like “to teach something is to learn it twice”.
that is most certainly true in my experience.

altho i’m not a certified teacher, i have homeschooled three daughters, one of whom is ziona. i have volunteered for Project Literacy U.S, tutored in college while i was pursuing my own education, helped adults seeking their G.E.D and participated in some of my older daughter’s classrooms as the poetry parent, for lack of a better title.

it is exciting for me to learn how another person learns! and it just so happens that it is a good way to be effective as a teacher. much like neuro-linguistics, finding out how someone learns makes it easier to know how to present materials to them. so it is that one truly learns twice that which they would teach. even the most reticent of students can have their curiosity piqued in something if it is presented to them by making it understandable from their own bent of mind, or areas of interest.

but some, like ziona, have naturally questioning minds. the things she asks, born of her own curiosity upon being introduced to a concept remind me of my own childhood school experience, wherein i drove many a nun to the brink of anger with my inquiries

“if god made everything, what did he make it out of?”
“what was there before god made everything?”
“who made god?”

anyone who has a scientific mindset who has been schooled in a catholic or other religious school well knows that such questions are not answered, and one is immediately made aware that asking the questions is totally inappropriate,…even sinful maybe!

ziona asks very interesting questions.

when we were first studying cells, she wanted to know where and how that very first cell happened. when we were delving into astronomy she was curious about what there was before the big bang, and from what or where did all that energy which later was to become stars, planets and moons, the stuff that was spewed and exploded by this big bang to the point of creating space,time and all the dimensions, originate.

so i faithfully dig into my own knowledge, and search out other good sources online, sometimes documentaries on youtube, learning what i already know all over again, so that i can satisfy that thirst in her for answers. she has a much easier time of posing questions than had i in my elementary school experience, needless to say.

a couple of days ago, after her bath, she had another really interesting question, one it may not be possible for me or anyone else for that matter, to answer.

she asked if it were possible that “since i got the boy parts even tho i am a girl, maybe another transgender kid got the girl parts i should have gotten, even tho they are a boy”

at first, being hopelessly cis-gendered, i didn’t get what she meant. then it hit me! we had been talking about the fact of the conservation of matter, a lesson that began her thinking about the whole big bang thing since it means that all the matter and energy present today have always been around, only changing forms, never just blinking out or into existance. she likened this to the notion that if there are x number of boys who should’ve gotten female bodies, perhaps there are also x number of girls that should’ve gotten male bodies. like her real body was out there somewhere, as much a problem for the would be boy that was stuck in it as is the boy body she is stuck with for the time being.

i couldn’t answer the question of course. i told her that for a completely balanced ‘mix up’ like that to be true one would expect to find just as many trans-males as trans-females…and to my knowledge the numbers don’t bear this out. upon hearing this she immediately offered,

“well maybe some of the people who are transgender don’t know it yet. you know, like some of your friends who didn’t know it until they were grown-ups.”

so now i will be absolutely bothered until i do a lot of online research, to see just what the ratio is of transgender females to transgender males. not learning something twice this time, but learning something new! not an uncommon thing for me since the day i started raising this very special child.

because of ziona, i have learned about autism, about balanced trans-location of genetic material from one chromosome to another, about seizures, about juvenile polyposis syndrome, and about transgender children, just to name a few of the things i have become aware of because of her. all these things in addition to the many things she’s taught me about love, patience, compassion, and even such as video games and dinosaurs.

i love being her teacher/student!

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by heart

i love homeschooling my kids. especially this late life child, ziona!
our sociology lesson for yesterday was the movie “samsara” (just click on create streaming link, type in code it gives) or here it is from youtube

this beautiful and moving film shows life as it is. the good, the bad and the ugly of it all. the sameness and differentness of the people of our world. the daunting majesty of nature juxtaposed with the works of man.

watching this, with the only narration being me answering any questions ziona had about certain places or things depicted, took slight over an hour and a half. it was the discussion afterward that proved the effectiveness of this film.

public schools aren’t able to pursue this sort of methodology in teaching. aren’t able to or just don’t try to…not sure which is a truer statement of the facts. but the practice of education as a mere ‘pouring in’ of information into containers overlooks the reality that young minds aren’t empty cups. they are mini-processors already involved in decoding and encoding much of the experience taken in through their senses, information cued by their surroundings, by their observations, or inspired by what they see, hear or to which they are exposed.

sociology can’t be a mere exercise in rote memorisation of the main export of this or that country, its population, or the major languages spoken there. it is, after all, the study of society, and the social constructs that pervade it. any attempt to understand the subject of social arrangements that concerns itself mainly with the gross national product or the governmental and religious systems of a place will omit the most important things: the actual people that comprise the population. sociology fails miserably if it overlooks the historical and cultural backdrop behind the facts.

the beauty of ziona’s mini-processor upon having taken in this film (which by the way, everyone should see) was on full display as she led the remainder of the lesson by stating her observations and asking the questions pertinent to her own understanding of what she had seen.

ziona’s autism hasn’t given her savant-like powers to memorise facts and numbers. to date, spelling and multiplication tables still give her the most trouble, altho she reads at a grade level 2 or 3 years above her own, and is beginning to learn algebraic mathematics. but like every other child, she has an innate curiousity and propensity for arranging information and thoughts in her mind. lessons that take into account the beauty and complexity of ways a child learns don’t rely on force-feeding.

yesterdays lesson was a glaring success. no, ziona didn’t learn what language is spoken today in brazil, or what religion is most practiced in the world. what she learned can’t really be summed up in words, can’t be assessed in an ordinary test…she learned to see the world with new eyes! she grew aware of the realities that other people on this planet experience. she began to take note of the samenesses shared and differences between the inhabitants of her world.

this is something not easy to impart with text books, charts and graphs. it is truly a lesson she’s learned ‘by heart’.



we are coming up on the end of the homeschool year and as usual for this time of year, busy planning our annual cross-country journey to the mendocino area mountains of california. last year our theme was ‘natural disasters’ for which we visited all of the towns along route from florida’s panhandle, where we live. there was plenty to see, as i’m sure the recent tornadic activity brings to mind the devastation of last year’s storms, and flooding. (we also did some spelunking in south dakota)

this year’s theme is celestial events. we have timed our trip to arrive at “spider rock campgrounds” for the annular eclipse of the sun which occurs on may 20th and will be visible in the western united states from california to new mexico. then after spending some time with friends on the pacific coast we have planned to leave the area on the day of a lunar eclipse occurring on june 4th.

we always bring our camping gear along so as to pull off road and take in the beauty of nature. spend some time communing with the trees, talking to a river, swimming in a lake we find, or steaming our bodies in an out of the way and little known hot springs. it is such a joy to have both time and opportunity to do this with children, especially so because ziona is much like myself about such activities. sure, she’ll miss the xbox and dvd player, but she loves gathering wood for a campfire and finding a good nature trail.

it used to be much more difficult to take her places. even the three times a week ride off the mountain to her special needs programs or therapy used to cause the most intense tantrums. i learned that to bring along a portable dvd player and one of her recent ‘favourite’ movies was one way to deal. but many things used to be more of an ordeal with ziona. her autism used to make even the briefest of trips to the grocery store on the least busy of days a mammoth trial. the screaming and melt-downs often gained me some not-asked-for and probably not well-meaning suggestions from people standing behind us in line. things like: “if my kid ever acted like this, i’d give them an immediate spanking!” and even less kind remarks.

for folk like this i used to carry around a little lamenated business card that read: “my child has autism, a neurological developmental disorder. for more information, call:….”

i gave some of these out. some people’s remarks i addressed more directly, managing to keep my temper altho the attitudes of the persons i addressed seemed not to be in the slightest ‘reigned in’.

since i live alone and have no one to care for ziona while i shop or anything else, not bringing her along has never been an option. so we spent months ‘desensitising’ her to the environment of stores by having her ride in the cart, under an umbrella, with headphones on her head playing peaceful sounds. now she is much improved. the only tantrum coming when she’s denied something she sees and wants me to buy. i think this is a normal ‘kid’ thing.

with that as our previous reality, one can perhaps understand why i’m so elated about traveling with ziona these days. for the past three years she has been an easy rider, and a mostly happy camper. the hurdles seemed to disappear around three years ago. she potty-trained (finally! at 6 yrs old) she began to be less fussy about eating, her frustration level over little things has changed. she is all around just alot happier!

it happened at about the same time as i finally came around and let her live as a girl. it happened not at all gradually, but as if all at once something ‘gave’ and she was able to be just a bit more calm, a little less ‘on edge’. so of course the timing didn’t escape my notice. i think that it must have been very frustrating for her to have to live a ‘lie’. to always feel as tho no one was seeing her for herself. everyday to have even those the closest to you perceive you as something you’re not. i can’t imagine what that feels like.

now she skips, she smiles, she doesn’t scowl when someone remarks about her beautiful blue eyes. and she’s much easier to travel with on our long-hauls across country! we used to have to fly, just to make it all go faster by. but now she enjoys telling stories to while away the miles and picking out the perfect campsite.

whether it was all the desensitising and therapy finally ‘kicking in’ or the result of ziona being able to live outloud, something changed abruptly for the better about three years ago. and it’s made a world of difference in our lives, and her sense of peace. not that she doesn’t still have tantrums…just not 20 a day!

so even as we map out the places we want to see and things we want to do along the way for this year’s vacation, i remember a different and more important journey that we are on, together. her journey to becoming herself, and mine toward a broader view of reality. both of which are truly celestial events!