Tag Archives: prior knowledge

Good Enough

In my high school years, I really loved Sarah McLachlan. I think I actually took the CD from my brother’s huge box of CDs — remember when you could get 12 CDs for  $1 or something crazy like that from BMG? — and just started listening, without much prior knowledge of what her music would be like. When I like something, I tend to love it; no lukewarm feelings for this girl. So I used to play track 4, “Good Enough,” off her album Fumbling Towards Ecstasy over and over again starting somewhere between late sophomore year and into my junior year.

“So don’t tell me why
He’s never been good to you,
Don’t tell me why
He’s never been there for you,
And don’t you know that why
Is simply not good enough,
Oh, so just let me try
And I will be good to you
Just let me try
And I will be there for you
I’ll show you why
You’re so much more than good enough”

While I’m sure there there are lots of interpretations of these final chorus lyrics — as there are any time words are put out into the universe — the part that always resonated with me was the phrase “good enough,” especially the last line: “I’ll show you why/You’re so much more than good enough.”

My entire life I have wanted to be “the best.” The best student, the best athlete in my sport, the best teacher, the best ______. I think it’s important to aspire to greatness, to want to do a thing well. But it’s also a very dangerous desire, to want this, because if you don’t become the best, then does that mean you have failed? I still struggle with this idea at times  because I am used to doing things well. I can be easily frustrated when I’m learning something new (I’ll save my skiing meltdown anecdote for another day) instead of enjoying the process because I start getting competitive with myself or start comparing where I’m at with others. I know objectively that it doesn’t matter, that I only need to worry about my own improvement, but… I struggle.

I think most people today (myself included) are more often guilty of underestimating their own abilities than they are  of overestimating them. While most of us can probably picture right now the face of the most arrogant person with whom we have ever worked, I guarantee that arrogance is only a facade for the fear of being inadequate. We worry that we’re not qualified enough to apply for that job; not athletic enough to try that new sport or workout; not worthy enough to be in that relationship. If any of my friends, regardless of gender or sexual preference, ever ask me for general relationship advice, my go-to response is that you have to work on the relationship you have with yourself before you can start/maintain/improve a relationship with another person. Because at the end of the day, if you don’t believe that you are “more than good enough,” then who else will believe that? My mom always taught me that; she often used to say, “You have to know what you’re worth. If you do, they can’t touch you.” “They,” of course, being anyone else who wants to sit in judgment about your character or talents. “Can’t touch you” meaning they can’t harm you emotionally or break your spirit. As I grow older and have a clearer understanding of my self-worth, I am mostly able to remain “untouched,” though it’s not easy every day. On the hard days I talk to Husband or my mom or my sister or one of my best friends.

During my senior year in high school, I led Kairos for my peers. In fact, I was the rector, in charge of my fellow student leaders and of overseeing the entire retreat in conjunction with our Campus Minister and the teacher team. Up to that point in my life, I would argue that it was the most meaningful thing I had ever done. As the rector, I was charged with giving the final talk of the 3-day retreat, entitled “Live the Fourth” — it is intended to inspire the retreatants to take what they have learned from their time of reflection and bring that spirit into their daily lives.I’m sure that somewhere in my old bedroom I could find the physical copy of my speech (typical of the writing saver that I am), but I still remember, 12 years later, that I talked about my battle with perfection, and the way I disliked being labeled by others who only knew me from the outside. What “they” didn’t know was that I worked my tail off (and still do — it’s the only way I know how to invest myself in my work) primarily because of the high expectations I placed on myself, not because I sought out attention and recognition from others. I know better now that all of those kind of external rewards go away (or never come), and in the end we are left facing ourselves in the mirror back at the original question: Am I good enough, just the way that I am?

And so each day, even for a fleeting moment, I try to remember that who I am and what I can give in a particular moment is the best of me, that it is “good enough” for that time. And in the spirit of Kairos, that the best is yet to come.

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Smells Like Dog

Believe it or not, this is the title of the current YA novel I am reading on my own, just for fun. I bought it at the Scholastic Book fair at school back in the fall, and the primary motivation for this purchase was the book cover, because it showed a Basset Hound. Intrigued, I read the back cover and figured that it was worth the $5.99. The main character is a 12-year-old would-be treasure hunter named Homer Pudding, who is chubby and friendless. His dad wants him to become a goat farmer (they live on a farm), but his mom understands his need to pursue his dreams. The inspiration for becoming an adventurer comes from his Uncle Drake, who dies unexpectedly at the beginning of the book… and leaves Homer with his Basset Hound. The family, at a loss for what to do with a dog so unlike their border collies, names him Dog. As expected, Homer and Dog, both outsiders, grow to be close companions.

I am thoroughly enjoying this book because the characters are so terribly charming and because the author completely nails the personality of a Basset Hound. It is absolutely spot-on, so I think of Sounder all the time when I’m reading it. In fact, Husband even let me read some of the book to him on Saturday after I convinced him that he would love the descriptions of the dog.

What I’ve been thinking about while I read this book is all of the kids who are struggling readers. Schools are so worried about making sure that every student is reading, and reading on or above grade level at that. While this is valid and important to the future success of students, it isn’t that simple. Schools seems to think that if they only teach reading and math, then kids will excel in reading and math. But that logic is flawed, in my opinion and experience. Kids eventually learn to read, even on a basic phonics level. But if they have no outside reference points or prior knowledge — say from music, sports, science, social studies, and any other school subject that isn’t reading or math — how can those words make sense on a comprehension level or beyond? If Smells Like Dog was about some rare dog breed that I didn’t know, I wouldn’t think it was nearly as funny because I wouldn’t have as many visuals going on in my mind while reading. I could absolutely smoothly read aloud a complicated book about math theory, but my comprehension level would be much weaker because the highest math I’ve taken is college calculus. My point is that part of our job in schools is to build up students’ prior knowledge so that their reading makes more sense; reading is so much more than just pronouncing words out loud correctly.

In my dream school, where every student is engaged, teachers create wonderfully rich learning environments, where subjects constantly speak back and forth to each other. I LOVED teaching American Lit because the U.S. History teachers were excellent partners in building context around our texts. You’re reading The Crucible? Let’s talk witch hunts and McCarthyism. Great Gatsby? 1920s and the Jazz Era. And on and on. I think that blending can and should happen much earlier in schools, and I know that our kids will benefit. Our brains were made to make connections.

As for my book, Smells Like Dog, one of my first thoughts when I even looked at it was of a Basset owner  who said that Bassets smell like corn chips. I couldn’t agree more, and I was happy to make that connection. Score another point for prior knowledge.