jump to navigation

The Second Coming of The Lorax (Or, the Day after May 21) May 22, 2011

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in A New Kind of Question, Childhood, Christianity, Environment, Nature, Saving the World, Through the Looking Glass.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

For a while, when I was about five years old, I would wake up each morning around 5 or 6 am. My room had an east-facing window through which I could see the masses of cloud lit with the flame-bright colors of sunrise. It was so beautiful, I thought, that maybe – just maybe – this would be the day that Jesus returned.

I was raised in the Seventh-Day Adventist church, which strongly emphasized the Second Coming. Any moment could be the magical moment when it would happen – and we had to be sure that we were prepared. Of course, the church insisted that nobody could “know the day or hour”, a caution born out of its predecessor’s disastrous fling with Rapture mania in 1844.

At any rate, I was determined to be ready, and I read my children’s Bible with great fascination – particularly Revelation, with its mysterious beasts, angels and fiery cataclysms. If Jesus did return in my lifetime, I was pretty sure it was going to be during such a brilliant sunrise, when the sky was already so majestically illuminated. And so each morning I watched in breathless anticipation…and mixed disappointment and relief as the sunrise faded.

Similarly, I watched yesterday as the world crossed into 6 pm, May 21, 2011. No earthquakes, no crowds rising into the sky, no cars or trains suddenly colliding due to Raptured drivers. Of course, I really hadn’t expected anything to happen. Much less did I want billions of people to die in a fiery Apocalypse. But once again, somewhere inside me was…just a tiny little sliver of disappointment.

Disappointment? Why?

*******

Last week Kristy (a fellow Tweeter) and I were discussing Revelation and the Second Coming. She wasn’t a member of the May 21 movement (she describes herself simply as a “born-again Christian”). But she was adamantly certain that Jesus would return, probably very soon, and when he did, everything wrong with the world would just…vanish. We’d live with one another in perfect harmony, free from any temptation to treat each other badly. Our devastated planet would be replaced by a pristine paradise, untouched by human greed. And Satan himself – the source of all evil – would be destroyed forever.

She spoke about her hopes for a new earth. “Personally, I look forward to a new one. I don’t want to keep this one with what we’ve done to it. It will only get worse as time goes on….I would love to start all over again.”

But, I argued, isn’t this a sort of a cop-out? Like a little kid going to their math teacher and saying “this assignment is too hard – just give me the answers?” And what about the suffering that we’re causing for countless millions (or billions, as things get worse) due to our misuse of the Earth’s resources?

My mind came back to our conversation several times that week. Yes, it’s understandable to want someone to come solve our problems. Clean things up and give our world a fresh start. I think we’ve all had that feeling of being overwhelmed by all the things that are wrong with this world, to the point where we feel like just throwing up our hands: “Someone else can deal with this mess – it’s not my doing.” And yet, even if Jesus did return to fix things for us…wouldn’t this be too easy?

Thinking over the environmental aspect in particular, my mind went to one of my favourite children’s books, The Lorax…the tale of a natural paradise, once perfect, now turned to a wasteland by human greed for profit. A young child listens as the “Once-ler” responsible for the devastation tells his story of the Lorax. The long-vanished Lorax who “lifted himself away” into the sky “without leaving a trace”, and would one day in the future – just maybe – “come back”…

…Wait.

*******

“The Lorax said nothing. Just gave me a glance…
just gave me a very sad, sad backward glance…
as he lifted himself by the seat of his pants.
And I’ll never forget the grim look on his face
when he heisted himself and took leave of this place,
through a hole in the smog, without leaving a trace.”

The Lorax: a mysterious figure that appears miraculously to warn the greedy Once-ler about the consequences of his thoughtless actions. But his words are disregarded until “the very last Truffula Tree of them all” is chopped down (a symbolic martyrdom of the one who “speaks for the trees”). Finally The Lorax vanishes into the sky leaving behind only a strange, enigmatic prophecy that someday he will return…the Second Coming of the Lorax.*

Robert L. Short, in his book The Parables of Dr. Seuss, argues that reading The Lorax as a book only about environmental issues misses a major part of the point – and I agree. As we listen to the Once-ler’s tale, it becomes apparent that his rampant destruction of the environment is merely an accidental byproduct of his utterly egocentric worldview. In his quest for riches he is eager to manipulate everyone he can into buying the ridiculous (yet, for advertising purposes, highly “spinnable”) Thneeds. Long after his business empire has collapsed, he still exacts a petty and useless toll from a child – “fifteen cents and a nail and the shell of a great-great-great-grandfather snail” – in exchange for the privilege of hearing his story. He utterly disregards the suffering that his actions have caused; he allows himself a cursory moment of “feeling bad” for the starving, child-like Barbaloots, but concludes that “business must grow/regardless of crummies in tummies, you know.” Like those who run so many of the world’s major corporations, the Once-ler is a deeply psychopathic individual who can only see the world and others through the lens of profit.

And, inevitably, his actions lead to an Apocalypse. The water is poisoned, the trees cut down, and the sky darkened with “Smogulous Smoke”. Seemingly abandoned by both the Lorax and his family, the Once-ler goes into denial. Hiding in his Lurkem from the hellish wasteland outside, he endlessly waits for something to change, thinking about the moment when the Lorax left. Might he someday return to fix what went wrong – to make the Truffula Trees regrow, the sky blue, the water clear again? To magically undo the Once-ler’s mistakes, re-creating the paradise that once existed?

“And all that the Lorax left here in this mess
was a small pile of rocks, with one word…
“UNLESS.”
Whatever that meant, well, I just couldn’t guess.
That was long, long ago.
But each day since that day
I’ve sat here and worried
and worried away.
Through the years, while my buildings
have fallen apart,
I’ve worried about it
with all of my heart.”

But the prophecy of the Lorax remains hopelessly obscure, no matter how hard the Once-ler tries to decipher its secret code…until a third person enters the picture.

The child listening to the tale.

“But now,” says the Once-ler,
“Now that you’re here,
the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It’s not.

“SO…
Catch!” calls the Once-ler.
He lets something fall.
“It’s a Truffula Seed.
It’s the last one of all!
You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.
And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax
and all of his friends
may come back.”

If the Lorax is a Christ figure in this “parable”, and the Once-ler represents the worst in human nature, who is the child? Us. Every one of us alive today who has the potential to change things, to undo the bad that has been done and sow the seeds (Truffula seeds!) of good.

Inspiring, right? Well, yes…when I read it as a child. This time, though, my first impulse was to shout furiously at the Once-ler. “Someone like me?? Why not someone like YOU! I didn’t make this problem. You guys did, now you fix it. It’s all very well and good for you to shout “Catch” and happily toss me and my generation the responsibility. Why should we clean up your mess?”

Indeed, why?

“We didn’t start the fire”, the Billy Joel song insists. We didn’t put the hole in the ozone layer, spark the centuries-old ethnic conflicts that continue today, force young children to work in a sweatshop. Other people did. Why is it our job to fix their mistakes?

Well, on one level it *is* our doing. Merely by living in the society we are born in we find ourselves complicit in its collective actions. We get into the car, or even take public transit, and automatically contribute to climate change. We throw out a plastic bag and add to the ever-growing Great Pacific Garbage Patch. We stroll into a clothing store in the mall and buy a  $60 pair of jeans that a young child, halfway around the world, earned a few cents for sewing. We don’t deliberately choose our actions to have these consequences. But often they are an inescapable part of the economic and cultural system we find ourselves in. If we want to eliminate our individual contribution towards an impending planetary Apocalypse, this will have to involve working to change the system as well.

But, on a more pragmatic level…it doesn’t matter whose “fault” it is. Nobody but us is going to fix it.

The Once-ler won’t. He doesn’t have the knowledge, or vision, or optimism. (In many cases, he might not even be alive anymore.)

The Lorax won’t…because unless we learn to solve our problems ourselves, “starting over” would do us no good whatsoever. (Sure, give the Once-ler another “Eden” filled with brand-new Truffula trees – just how long would that last?)

_Nobody_ is going to fix our planet except us…and if we sit waiting for Jesus, or somebody else, to do it, we’ll still be waiting when the world burns, and nobody comes to save us from the very real, literal Hell we’ve created for ourselves.

Jesus is not going to come back and give us a new planet to pollute and consume as we did this one. (Sorry…)

Jesus is not going to come back and magically end all the wars and generations-old conflicts between ethnic and religious groups.

Jesus is not going to come back and stop human beings from exploiting one another for greed and profit.

Jesus is not going to come back and instantly change us all from self-absorbed, anger-prone, judgmental individuals to perfect beings who can live together in peaceful community.

Jesus is not going to come back and fix our problems for us. If He comes back, it will only be after we fix them ourselves – and, in doing so, become the sort of people who are able to live in Heaven for eternity without destroying it…or each other.

*******

In a book by one of my favourite Christian authors, Brian McLaren, the character “Chip” describes how, to him, Christianity had always been mainly about two key questions:

1. If you were to die tonight, do you know for certain that you’d go to be with God in heaven?

2. If Jesus returned today, would you be ready to meet God?

But now, Chip explains, two different questions have become equally central to him:

1. If you were to live for another fifty years, what kind of person would you like to become – and how will you become that kind of person?

2. If Jesus doesn’t return for ten thousand or ten million years, what kind of world do we want to create?

As I think back to those early childhood days of reading Revelation, my favourite part – despite all the excitement of the middle – was, of course, the ending.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new Earth, for the first heaven and the first Earth had passed away…Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

A beautiful image – who wouldn’t long to live in such a place? But wait…

In my childhood church (and nearly every interpretation of Revelation I’ve ever read) we’d always been told that God would create this perfect paradise for us, and all we’d need to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy it. But the first line doesn’t read “Then God created a new heaven and a new Earth, while humankind watched passively…”

Perhaps we’re meant to play a part in creating this new Earth? Perhaps we’re even required to? Isn’t it likely that UNLESS we take on some responsibility and at least attempt to change this world for the better, God is not just going to do it for us?

But if we do…then it could truly become a Rapturous place to live. 🙂

– The Contrapuntal Platypus

*Of course, I’m hardly the first one to notice this similarity, as a quick Google search revealed. See Heinz Fenkel and Robert L. Short‘s writings for more on the subject. (I find Short’s argument the most convincing of the two…but Fenkel’s is interesting as well.)

Positive Piano Teaching May 12, 2011

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Childhood, Music, Teaching.
Tags: , , , , ,
2 comments

“How can you stay so positive?

Last year I wrote a post entitled “Nix the Negativity, Please” and I thought the above would make an excellent springboard for a discussion of the opposite – being positive 🙂

Last Wednesday, I was talking with the mother of two of my students. Let’s call her Katy, and her two boys Joel and Travis. Joel is the oldest of the two boys; though highly talented at math and other logic-based subjects, he finds kinesthetic activities – like tapping or moving to a beat – far more difficult. Travis, on the other hand, is the epitome of the “right-brained” child: dance, gymnastics, art all come to him with great ease.

We’d just had the lesson, in which both boys had made good progress and passed several of their songs. Katy and I were chatting in the car on the way to the bus afterwards, and all at once she burst out with, “I don’t understand it! How can you stay so positive?”

“Well, I really love teaching…” I ventured tentatively.

“No,” she elaborated on her theme. “It’s more than that. If it were me teaching them, there’s no way I could truthfully say ‘That’s great, you’ve made so much progress on this piece.’ Of course when I help the boys practice I try not to be critical, it’s my job as a parent to be encouraging. But listening to them from the other room, I could hear so many things wrong with their playing – and all I could think was “That really sucked, how could you mess up there again, why can’t you get it?””

Part of what fueled it, of course, had been a week of frustrating practice with Joel. I’d assigned him a simple metronome exercise, and asked Katy to help: tap along with him, one beat per metronome tick, then fade out and let him take over. Then two beats per metronome tick, alternating right and left hand (just like playing the bongos).

It had driven her crazy, or nearly so. “I just don’t understand how he can’t get it. He tries to tap along, but he’s *waiting* for the tick and taps after it, too late. I don’t think he’s getting any better. Travis finds it easy, of course.”

“Actually, Joel was much better at it this week – at least with me,” I assured her. But she remained skeptical. “It’s great that you can be so positive about it. But I really wonder if he’ll ever learn it.”

*******

A week later, I was back at Katy’s house for the boys’ next piano lesson (in which they both did quite well, passing most of their pieces and showing a lot of improvement on the others.) In the car after the lesson the subject of Joel came up. “I have to say,” ventured Katy, “he does seem to be getting better at the rhythm thing. He found the metronome exercise a lot easier this week.” (Her expression told me she’d found it much easier as well. ;))

“That’s great!” I responded. “And then,” she went on, “we were sitting in the car, driving, and there was pop music playing with a heavy bass beat. And all of a sudden I saw him moving to the beat – and tapping along! ‘My teacher said I needed to practice this,’ he told me.” (I was astounded to hear this – even I hadn’t expected him to practice in his “free time”, and in such a creative way!)

And I realized I had my answer…this is why I stay positive. Not because I’m self-deceptively optimistic or naive or walking through life with stubbornly rose-colored glasses, but simply because I’ve discovered two general truths about learning:

1. It is pretty much possible for anyone to learn any skill, no matter how “bad” they seem to be at it at first.

2. Intelligent, persistent practice generally pays off much faster than anyone imagines it will.

Our society, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, puts far too much emphasis on the myth of “talent.” Note that I’m not denying there’s such a thing as – let’s call it – “aptitude”. Obviously everyone finds some things easy and other things not so easy; that’s universal. But the idea of “talent” – that you’re endowed with a particular genetic heritage which makes you good at some things and bad at others, and will determine everything from your hobbies and interests to your career path – is absolutely a myth.

It’s amazing how much resistance to this idea I’ve gotten from fellow musicians in particular. (There was a piano forum in which I stated, very seriously, that anyone could achieve concert-level performance ability with enough persistence and a good teacher. I was thoroughly laughed at, but I still stand by that comment.) Perhaps it’s because we have a bit too much invested in this idea of talent? That we, as musicians, were showered from On High with an ineffable, special, divine talent which mere drudgery alone will never match? That if (horrible thought!) anyone could match our achievements under the right circumstances, maybe we’re not such amazing, “gifted” people after all.

Well, of course, we are…just because we’re human. 😀 But not because of our so-called talents. Because we are all incredibly adaptive, creative beings who can learn to do pretty much anything we’re interested in, and who can’t be pinned down by labels like “klutz” or “tone-deaf” or “unmusical.” (Or, for that matter, “dyslexic” or “hyperactive” or “slow” or “autistic” or “unimaginative”…or any more of the Negativity-labelled pigeonholes adults will often try to stick children into.)

…And really, what more reason does one need to be positive? 🙂

– The Contrapuntal Platypus

Beyond Carrots and Sticks: How to Motivate Children (Or Why it’s Not Necessary) January 17, 2011

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in About Me, Childhood, Creative Writing, Music, Philosophy, Poetry, Teaching.
Tags: , , , , , ,
15 comments

My response to Amy Chua, Part 2

“Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.” – Mark Twain

Student: (sarcastically commenting on a challenging piano exercise I’d assigned): “Oh, fun, fun.”
Me: “Maybe it will be fun – why not? You haven’t played it yet, so how do you know for sure it won’t be?”
Student (after a moment’s reflection): “You win.”

********

Last week I wrote Part 1 of my response to Amy Chua’s article on “Chinese parenting” featured in the Wall Street Journal. A storm of controversy followed Ms. Chua’s article; in the intervening week her book has been released and she has given several interviews, such as this one, which help to “moderate” the tone of her WSJ piece. Ms. Chua emphasizes the book is more a memoir than a parenting guide and that she is not trying to tell others how to raise their children. Yet, even in the interviews, she still makes some sweeping claims about “Asian” vs. “Western” forms of parenting. It’s these statements I’ll be responding to now.

In particular, one quote from the article leapt out at me.

Western parents romanticize the idea of pursuing passions and giving your kid choices. If you give a 10-year-old the choice to pursue his or her passion, it’s going to be doing Facebook for six hours. I don’t think it’s going to be playing the violin or doing any school work very seriously.

Ms. Chua, it seems, is convinced that Children Are By Default Lazy. If they do have “passions” – perhaps to play an instrument or win a sports competition – these are transitory flickers of desire which will soon fade, leaving nothing but TV-seeking apathy behind. Children don’t have the planning or time management skills to work towards a long-term goal. Above all, they aren’t interested in learning, because learning is Hard Work and couldn’t possibly be fun. Hence they must be forced to learn, as they certainly won’t do it on their own.

Is this the case? When I think back over my own childhood, here’s a small sample of “fun” activities I remember:

– Going to the local library with my mom, picking out armloads of books and going to a nearby park to read beneath the trees. (In the following years I would read thousands of books).
– Drawing maps of various fictitious countries described in the books I read (The Phantom Tollbooth, “Ponyland”, Narnia…)
– Learning various math concepts from my mom (before their introduction in the school curriculum): place-value, negative numbers and tessellations.
– Playing soccer from age 6 to 14.
– Major roles in four school plays: Titania (Midsummer Night’s Dream), The Goose (Charlotte’s Web), The Wicked Witch of the West (Wizard of Oz) and the First Witch (Macbeth).
– Taking piano lessons through Grade 12 (and flute until Grade 11; I also played in a youth orchestra.)
– Making a large hooked rug for my room.
– Writing a short story which won first place in a city-wide competition, as well as dozens of poems and other short stories.
– Memorizing a large amount of Romantic poetry, including Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, around age 9. (I still know it today!)

All of these activities have three characteristics in common: (a) I had fun doing them, (b) I learned something in the process and (c) they were totally voluntary. Some of them my parents suggested or provided help with, others were entirely my idea, but I was never coerced or “bribed”. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who remembers these sorts of childhood activities being “fun”…so why do we take for granted that children need to be forced into doing them?

This vast disconnect between what we expect from children (laziness) and what’s actually there (energy, creativity and curiosity) goes right to the heart of what’s wrong with our educational system today. Our society has a collective idea that Learning Is Boring. “Obviously” children are not going to want to learn about negative numbers, write stories or practice piano on their own initiative, right? So either we have to bribe or coerce them.

Bribery comes in all sorts of forms in our educational system. Most often it’s a sensory form; for example, a computer game that will let you practice your times tables by lighting up and flashing every time you get the right answer. Exciting, isn’t it? From a post by my fellow blogger Montecelery: “Somewhere along the line, the idea that children need stimulation went horribly, horribly awry…there’s just this conception in our society that children need or want brightly colored stuff, stuff that lights up and makes noise, whatever.” If it isn’t loud or flashy things, it’s cute dancing cartoon characters, the promise of a movie after class, or chocolate. But, so goes the conventional Western wisdom, they will not swallow that bitter spoonful of educational medicine unless we promise them some sugar to go with it.

The traditional “Asian” method is rather less subtle. Why bribe the children if we can coerce them? It’s their job to clench their teeth, buckle down and learn those math concepts or spelling lists, distasteful, boring and tedious though it may be. No spoonful of sugar needed here; they’ll learn to take their bitter medicine each day and do it promptly, or they’ll have an angry parent or teacher to answer to.

In contrast, I’m going to advance an alternative theory.

(1) Children – in general – are naturally creative, curious, and enjoy learning. (Obviously, some children will have more energy or passion for a given subject than others. However, if there’s a child out there who has absolutely no interest in learning, I haven’t taught or met them yet. :D) There’s even a school in Britain named Summerhill, where the children are under absolutely no obligation to go to classes, take tests or learn anything at all. But, amazingly enough, they do!

(2) Though children enjoy learning, they won’t just spontaneously learn if they’re entirely left to their own devices – not through lack of motivation but lack of tools. It’s absolutely essential to expose them to a wide range of possibilities (teaching them to read or introducing math concepts at a preschool level; signing them up for soccer or other recreational opportunities; going on nature walks; taking them to the library to borrow books; and so on.)

(3) If you want your child to enjoy learning, the best thing you can do is spend time interacting with them. Opportunities for learning will naturally come up. If there’s one thing that almost all 5-year olds have in common, it’s that they never stop asking questions! Learning is much more fun when there’s someone else there to do it with. 🙂

(4) “Educational” TV shows and DVDs, by and large, do far more to dampen intellectual curiosity than to sharpen it.** They teach children that learning consists of sitting passively and absorbing information. (Of course this prepares them very nicely for the mainstream educational system…which involves 12 years of sitting passively and absorbing information! Is it any wonder that parents, a few years down the road, bemoan their children’s “apathy” and “lack of motivation?”) Learning is an active process, and watching TV is by nature passive.

And most importantly…

(5) Learning doesn’t consist of stuffing information into one’s brain. It’s a process of exploring the world around us and finding out how it works. An interest in learning, and “being well prepared for tests”, often have very little to do with one another.

This is why the Asian model is so self-defeating. It supposes that one can generate curiosity through hours of drudgery. Does Ms. Chua truly believe that memorizing lists of spelling words, or doing pages of long division, will give one a passion for literature or mathematics? Of course, spelling and arithmetic are useful skills in our society; I’m not denying that! But the very idea that one can “drill” a passion into a child through rote repetition is, to my mind at least, absurd.

Children do not need to be “motivated”. They come that way naturally. The danger is that they will become “demotivated” – either through passive TV-watching (usually when both parents work outside the home) or through an educational system that emphasizes “right answers” and “good marks” over intellectual curiosity. But, if they are given the tools that will let them pursue their passions, they won’t be spending six hours a day on Facebook.***

Of course, these may not be the same passions that Ms. Chua appears to personally value, such as academics and music. For example, one of my cousins has an amazing talent for renovating older cars and re-selling them. Why shouldn’t he “pursue his passion”? If a 9-year old longs to be in a school play, or on the school basketball team, why does Ms. Chua not consider these good choices?

The truth is that children come with a wide variety of interests and this is good. Yes, our world needs doctors, lawyers and engineers. It also needs teachers, plumbers, computer programmers, entrepreneurs, retail workers, dental assistants, musicians and far too many other careers to mention here. Your child’s interests may not match your own, and that’s fine – but it’s also none of your business to tell them what they “should” enjoy.

In closing, I’ll hand it off to my dad, whose advice on careers was always as follows: “I have only three requirements for what career you pick. One, you need to enjoy it. Two, it has to be legal. Three, you need to be able to earn a living at it.” That’s all any parent should insist on. After that – hands off. 🙂

– The Contrapuntal Platypus

* Just for those who are curious, the maps of imaginary countries, the short story/poetry writing, and memorizing the Ancient Mariner were entirely on my own initiative. (Nobody could have been more surprised than my parents at that last one.) 😀

** To clarify, I am not telling parents never to turn on Discovery Channel or to borrow educational DVDs from the library. This shouldn’t, though, make up the bulk of the child’s “learning time.”

*** Unless, of course, their passion is for network design or computer programming…in which case they may be the next Mark Zuckerberg. That wouldn’t be so bad either.

Give Back their Childhood…for 7 Dollars January 11, 2011

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Childhood, Human Rights, Saving the World, Social Media.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

How much does it cost to give a kid back their childhood? Just $7.

“I knew this boy from before. We were from the same village. I refused to kill him, and they told me they would shoot me. They pointed a gun at me, so I had to do it. The boy was asking me, “Why are you doing this?” I said I had no choice.” Susan, a 16-year old girl

“As a soldier, I had 24-hour sentry watches and was forced to keep alert. The days were abusively hot, and I often scoured the hillsides many miles for firewood, split the wood, and worked the farms.  The nights in the mountain winds were freezing. It was then that the reality of my life often hit me and I would lie awake and cry with no blanket and little hope.” Sanan, a 9-year old boy

“The soldiers found me and put me in jail for deserting. For three or four days, I couldn’t eat or sleep.  The food was horrid.  The smell was worse.  We slept in our own feces.  I cried and screamed for mercy.  During the days, we were slave laborers with no sleep at night…I had been in jail just a little over a month when one of the staff from Project: AK-47 came and negotiated my release.” Neso

Today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day (and to my delight “Trafficking Awareness” is currently a trending topic on Twitter!) One of the most horrific forms of human trafficking are the use of child soldiers, in which children as young as 5 are bought, lured or simply kidnapped into the army and forced to fight. Often young children, both boys and girls, are subjected to repeated rape and physical abuse. Those not forced to participate in armed combat (often younger children and girls) are assigned work in the army camps, forced to train in brutal conditions, or – considered expendable – sent to perform dangerous activities like spying or clearing mines. Their childhoods are stolen. It’s estimated that there are over 300,000 child soldiers active today.

Project AK-47 exists to give children like these their childhoods back. After negotiating their release from the army, they provide the children with housing, food, a quality education and a supportive, caring “family” to replace the one that they’ve lost. How much money does it cost to do this? Just $7 a month.

That’s right. $7 a month – less than the cost of two lattes – is the difference between an abused, terrified child forced to kill others and a happy, carefree child living a normal childhood. Though there are many worthy causes to support, that has got to be one of the best deals, in terms of results per dollar, that I can think of. (Which is why I’m sponsoring three – for the average cost of a single Chinese takeout meal a month.)

I urge everyone who reads this, and wants to do something real to combat human trafficking, to go to the Project AK-47 webpage and sponsor a child. Just do it. It’s probably one of the best investments you’ll ever make…and instead of one more killer, our world will have one more child who can live a normal childhood.

The Contrapuntal Platypus

Ten Reasons to Support Project AK-47

1. Maximum impact per dollar. When was the last time you could save, feed, house and educate a child for $7 a month?

2. There are over 300,000 child soldiers in our world today.

3. Project AK-47 negotiates child soldiers’ release, thus ensuring their safety after release and spreading awareness. (Often the army will freely let them go if they’ll be provided with education.)

4. Project AK-47 doesn’t move rescued children to another country, but rather gives them the tools they need to become the country’s next generation of leaders – putting an end to the cycles of violence responsible for child soldiers.

5. As child soldiers are often seen as expendable, they’ll be told to perform dangerous or lethal tasks such as mine clearance, spying or suicide attacks.

6. Project AK-47 doesn’t just rescue children from a life of combat and dangerous military duties, but from repeated physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

7. Though more people have become aware of human trafficking in recent years, few realize the extent to which children are used as soldiers in today’s world.

8. Buying and wearing a AK-47 dog tag inscribed with the name of a child soldier is an easy way you can help to raise awareness of this issue.

9. Think back to your own childhood…what price tag would you put on it?

10. And last but not least: no kid should be a killer.

Asian vs. Western Education: A Third Way? (My response to Amy Chua, Part 1) January 8, 2011

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Music, Saving the World, Teaching.
Tags: , , , , ,
26 comments

(This is Part 1 of my response to Amy Chua, focusing on her article though a music teaching/educational lens. UPDATE: Part 2, consisting of some more general thoughts on parenting and how to “motivate” children to learn, is now up here. Comments, questions, and debates are welcome!)

A friend of mine tweeted an article today titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”, which he suggested would more accurately be called “How to Rob Your Child’s Life and Live it For Them.” It’s written by an Asian mother, Amy Chua, who quite genuinely believes that the Asian method of education – rote memorization and practice, insistence on high achievement, and strict discipline – produces the most successful, and in the end happiest, children. When I tweeted back my initial reaction to the article, my friend responded, “She forgets that in order to become a musician, you need talent first and then you can practice like hell.”

I found this assertion extremely interesting, but limiting – just as I found the author’s stance more compelling than one might think at first glance, but also ultimately flawed. The Asian model assumes that rote practice and strict discipline can ensure “success.” In contrast, the Western model argues that inherent “talent” – either you have it, or you don’t – is first and foremost essential. Frankly, neither of those educational models seems ideal. Isn’t there any other alternative?

Though there are aspects of Ms. Chua’s article I quite strongly disagreed with (never allowing one’s children to have a playdate or be in a school play? Requiring them to be the top student in every academic subject?), I felt she hit some things right on the mark. She states:

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work… Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun…One of the worst things you can do for your child’s self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there’s nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn’t.

Agreed 100%. This is where the Asian theory, for me, comes out far ahead of the Western theory of “talent”. The Western model is horrendously disempowering, not to mention disheartening; children tend to assume, if they can’t get something right away, that they “aren’t good at it” and should just “give up.” (Of course, if I’d done this there’s no way I’d be a pianist today.) Say what you like about the Asian system – at least it provides some scope for improvement.

It’s only after this point that, for me, the Asian theory goes totally off the rails…

Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn’t get them, the Chinese parent assumes it’s because the child didn’t work hard enough. That’s why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it.

Ouch! The problem with the Asian model is that it assumes any failure to do well (in academics, music, etc) is due to lack of motivation, practice, or work ethic. As a teacher I know that far more often it’s due to a fundamental lack of understanding.  The child’s current level of comprehension is on one side, the concept is on another, there’s a gap in between – and no amount of screaming, punishment or shaming will give the child the ability to jump over the gap, any more than yelling at me would make me able to leap a fifty foot wide crevasse. Excoriating the child for “not getting it” won’t make the child any more likely to get it, only make them feel guilty for something that isn’t their fault. Rather, it’s the teacher’s responsibility to give them – one by one – the tools they need to bridge the gap on their own, and guide them through the process.

As an example of what can go so terribly, horribly wrong with the Asian model, I’ll hand it over to Ms. Chua once more.

Here’s a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style. Lulu was about 7…working on a piano piece called “The Little White Donkey”…incredibly difficult for young players because the two hands have to keep schizophrenically different rhythms. Lulu couldn’t do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off. “Get back to the piano now,” I ordered.

“You can’t make me.”

“Oh yes, I can.”

Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day…I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic….I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.

Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.

Lulu realized it the same time I did. I held my breath. She tried it tentatively again. Then she played it more confidently and faster, and still the rhythm held. A moment later, she was beaming.

“Mommy, look—it’s easy!” After that, she wanted to play the piece over and over and wouldn’t leave the piano…When she performed “The Little White Donkey” at a recital a few weeks later, parents came up to me and said, “What a perfect piece for Lulu—it’s so spunky and so her.”

A success story for coercion? Not quite. Not being a child psychologist, I won’t speculate on what sort of damage can be done to a 7-year old by repeated insults, bullying and threats (not to mention withholding water and bathroom breaks – surely this would count as physical abuse?) As a piano teacher, however, I can pretty firmly state that no real progress was made here.

Here’s the first warning sign: “We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart.”

This is pretty much a universal problem among pianists – playing left and right hands separately, and putting them together, are two very different mental and physical tasks! It was certainly not due to the 7-year old being “lazy”, “self-indulgent”, “cowardly,” or “pathetic.” Even less was it due to a fundamental “lack of talent” (as per the Western approach). Rather, it is simply a technical problem the child hasn’t learned to deal with. Tackling a problem like this is not the child’s responsibility nor, in fact, the parent’s (unless that parent has extensive training in music.) It is the teacher’s, and Ms. Chua should have taken the issue to him or her in the next lesson. Trying to “shame” a 7-year old into playing two-hand cross-rhythms, without help from an experienced teacher, is like trying to “shame” her into solving algebra problems when she’s never been introduced to the concept before. Lack of understanding is not something one should feel guilty about.

However, it’s pretty clear Ms. Chua did not herself have the musical experience to analyze the problem and break it down into a form that Lulu could solve. Rather she tried to solve the issue by brute force – and for hours on end this was unproductive. But then, the light dawned…or did it?

Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.

Just like that! Magic! And all it took was hour upon hour of bullying, threats, verbal and physical intimidation, insults and screaming, right?

Not so fast. Unfortunately, by Ms. Chua’s account, it sounds as though her daughter stumbled across the solution by exhaustive (literally!) trial and error more than anything else. All piano students have moments where something that didn’t work before, magically starts to fit together. Unfortunately “magic” can only go so far; the student is left with little or no understanding of what they did to make it work, or how to fix it if – almost inevitably – it stops working again at some point in the future (usually the night before a major performance!)

Threats and insults aside, the problem with rote drill as a learning method is that it tends to entirely bypass the important long-term goals (musical understanding) in favour of more peripheral short-term ones (learning “The Little White Donkey” for the next day.) As a result, the child gets “good” at playing a lot of individual pieces but often has little or no general musical comprehension, artistic expression, or even music reading ability. (More on the weaknesses of the rote system, in my own and others’ experience, here.)

An ideal educational model neither relies on inherent “talent” nor “discipline” as primary strategies for teaching. Certainly, it can be useful to exploit a child’s strengths as a teaching tool (case in point: one of my students had an amazing memory for pattern and harmony, though he had difficulties reading music. I assigned him various technical exercises in the circle of fifths pattern – usually something only more advanced students would tackle. He learned them easily.) Likewise, rote memorization and repetition can be a useful tool for learning. However, neither works as a good fundamental teaching model.

Above all, a good teacher needs the ability to be both creative and analytical (pop-culture notions of right- and left-brained people aside, the two are not mutually exclusive!) Creativity is needed in order to formulate a problem in new ways, using analogy, stories, visual images, metaphor or whatever else is needed to get an idea across. Analysis is essential for breaking down a problem into steps and then handing the student the tools they need to process those steps, one at a time – so that the previously unleapable gap becomes a series of shorter hops, or if necessary easy steps.

This dual strategy of creativity and analysis produces short-term results as well as long-term understanding. But, more important than either, it gives the student the tools they will need to solve, not only musical problems, but any problem requiring creative and/or analytical ability. Ms. Chua’s assertions aside, bullying and insulting a child won’t give them self-esteem. However, neither will telling them that “everyone has different talents” and “someday you’ll figure it out” (what kid can’t see through that sort of rhetoric to hear the underlying “you’re not good at this” and “I’m not really sure why you can’t get it now”?) What will give a child self-esteem, however, is showing them the strategies they will need to solve any problem they encounter. And, unlike a late-night, tearfully forced mastering of “My Little White Donkey”, these are positive, empowering lessons that will last a lifetime.

– The Contrapuntal Platypus

* I taught an Asian student last year who transferred into my studio. After several years of study under a “rote” method, her technique and imitative ability were quite good but she was unable to read even a simple 2-line piece in C major. Furthermore she had no comprehension of how the music was constructed, what the composer’s markings meant or what the piece was trying to portray.

I told her mother that we would need to spend some time working through the lower RCM levels to improve her reading ability, after which we could return to more advanced music. We did so and she made excellent progress, moving through about 5 RCM grades in as many months. However, about 6 months after she began lessons, her mother called to tell me that she was leaving my studio. The reason (as I found out when I asked to speak with the daughter; her mom wouldn’t tell me) was that, apparently, she “wasn’t progressing fast enough.”

I asked the mother how quickly she expected her daughter to progress – and how passing six grades in half a year could possibly be insufficient. From her answer I gathered that she wanted her daughter to be playing the sort of “flashy” music that she’d been working on before and that goals such as long-term understanding, music reading and expressivity were, for her, secondary to surface brilliance and showiness.

Similarly, when my sister taught English in Japan for a year she found that the educational system was almost entirely structured around drill. Students would memorize, word-for-word, a small set of formulaic conversations with little understanding of their meaning or structure. As a result they would be able to say, for example, “I’d like a cup of coffee, please” but have limited ability to modify the sentence to ask for two cups of coffee, or a cup of tea instead. Many of her students who had studied English in school for years still were entirely unable to have a basic conversation with a native speaker.

I don’t mean to suggest with these anecdotes that all Asian teachers or students fall into this stereotype. However, it does seem to be a major weakness of the rote system that it promotes quick results over true understanding.

2011 Weekly Challenge: Write Year-Round for Human Rights! January 1, 2011

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in About Me, Human Rights, Iranelection, Saving the World.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

Happy New Year! As I mentioned yesterday, today I’m unveiling my 2011 New Year’s Human Rights’ Challenge. Though I created it as a personal New Year’s Resolution, I invite others to join me!

A few months ago I featured this video on my blog:

For the past two years I’ve meant to participate in the Amnesty Write for Rights event (held Dec. 10) and Greeting Cards Campaign (Nov 1-Jan 31), but it’s a busy season for piano teachers, and this year in particular was…chaotic. I did consider about setting myself the goal of writing greeting cards to the 31 prisoners over the 31 days of January. However, these cases have already been widely publicized and by all accounts these 31 prisoners are getting enormous volumes of mail. What Amnesty needs, I suspect, is more people who will make an effort to consistently write appeal letters during the other 11 months of the year.

So my personal goal for 2011 is:

Once a week throughout 2011, I will pick an Amnesty Urgent Action, write and send an appeal letter, and feature the case here on my blog to help spread awareness.

Why this goal?

(1) I’ve known for a while now that I wanted to become more involved in fighting for human rights in a number of regions. I’ve been on Twitter’s #iranelection hashtag for a year and a half now and have sent dozens of Iran-related Urgent Action Appeals for prisoners suffering in Evin or on death row.

However, as my interest in human rights has deepened over the past year, I’ve become less and less content to simply focus on a single country. There are oppressed people worldwide who need our voices, both to demand their rights be respected and to spread awareness. Even if all those in prison in Iran were liberated today, the fight for human rights would go on in many other places…and until all of us are free, none of us truly are.

(2) One of the perennial challenges of blogging is, as a friend observed last night, getting started. If I’ve made a commitment to blog about a human rights case once a week to help spread awareness, this will definitely be a strong motivating factor for blogging in general. A popular #iranelection saying, “We are the media” – “we” being bloggers, tweeters and other social media users – is particularly applicable when it comes to human rights cases, which the mainstream media tend to neglect. If we don’t publicize these cases, nobody will.

(3) A great side benefit of following the current human rights issues in Iran is that I’ve come to know so much about Iran’s amazing history, culture, and language. But Iran’s “story” is only one of hundreds. There are so many other cultures and countries in the world that are equally fascinating. What better way to discover them than while fighting for human rights?

What this means is that I’ll be posting here about a new human rights case each week. At the very least I’ll repost Amnesty’s summary and instructions for writing an appeal letter. If time permits I’ll hopefully do a bit of digging and include some more background. (I may include some sample letters for particularly urgent cases, but Amnesty does encourage people to write appeals in their own words. And really, if it were my life in danger…would I want people sending “form letters” to the only person who could save me?)

Please do leave your responses, comments, questions…I would love to get feedback on this idea! (And if you’d like to participate, please do subscribe to my blog for weekly updates!)

– The Contrapuntal Platypus

A 2011 Teaser (Contrapuntal Platypus is Back!) December 31, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in About Me, Human Rights, Saving the World, Social Media.
Tags: , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Yes, I’m finally back…after a month of piano festival application/Christmas recital craziness, Rumikitty chaos (it seems he did eat the string and it is now, er, gradually reappearing) and a family-wide epidemic of Norovirus – aka stomach flu – perfectly timed for Christmas Eve. Yay! 😉

Thank goodness December is almost over (and I survived, if barely). Here’s to a more consistent* year of blogging!

Now for the 2011 Contrapuntal Platypus Teaser…

While thinking over my 2011 New Year’s Resolutions, I realized that I wanted to (1) post more blog entries and (2) do more for various human rights causes worldwide. So I decided to combine the two, and begin the year by posting a special Human Rights Challenge…for any who dare to take part 😀 All will be revealed tomorrow at midnight!

Until then…Happy New Year’s Eve!

– Contrapuntal Platypus

* On this topic, I was chatting with a friend online who’d been thinking of blogging for a while, but who told me he preferred to “finish what he’d started in 2010” first. (I’m bad about that too as you can probably tell if you’ve been following…)

At once this reminded me of a joke I’d seen floating around the Net:

“Dr. Neil proclaimed the way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you have started.  So I looked around my house to see things I had started and hadn’t finished; and, before leaving the house this morning, I finished off a bottle of Pinot Noir, a bottle of Chardonnay, a bottle of Baileys, a bottle of Kahlua, a packet of Penguins, the remainder of a bottle of Prozac, Valium prescriptions, the rest of the Cheesecake, and a box of chocolates.

You have no idea how good I feel.”

…Chaos, Thy Name is Rumikitty December 21, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in About Me, Advent Calendar of Carols, Truth is Stranger than Fiction.
Tags: , , , ,
2 comments

Chaos RumikittyAnd so a week has passed since my last post..

The post when I finally got up to date with the Advent Calendar of Carols and was rejoicing that there was only 12 days left until Christmas. It had been a busy November and a chaotic December, but things were all easy from here. All I needed to do was bake some cookies, clean up, finish my last few days of teaching, record a Christmas carol or two I planned to post on my blog and then it would be Christmas break, starting with a weekend visit to some relatives in a nearby city. Simple…and with ample time for me to blog each day.

I had reckoned without my companion feline. Chaos, thy name is Rumikitty.

It was the night of the 15th, nearing 1 am last Wednesday morning, and I had just headed into the washroom to brush my teeth and – hopefully – get some sleep after another long day of last-week-before-Christmas teaching. I had just been playing chase with Rumikitty and his favorite toy and had left him – now dozing, sleepy and innocent – curled up in a little ball of golden fur on my pillow for his normal pre-bedtime snooze. Coming out of the washroom ten minutes later, I glanced over at the bed.

Then my heart nearly stopped.

Rumikitty lay directly in the middle of the bed, a deeply satisfied look upon his little kitty face, his paws clenched around the chase toy which I had, in a moment of carelessness, left on the nearby night table. A chewed half-inch of its foot-long string dangled forlornly.

The remainder of the string was nowhere to be found.

I’ll gloss over what the next hour involved…let’s just say a lot of tears, screaming, hunting for the string and chasing an increasingly-less-satisfied cat in rage around the apartment, until he hid beneath the couch and refused to budge.

I called the emergency clinic. I should monitor him, I was told, and watch for, well, any signs of the emerging string…from either end of Rumi. No pulling on it, that could damage internal organs if it had gotten tangled up somewhere. Watch for any discomfort or change in eating or bathroom habits. Take him in if things get worse.

I spent the next hour searching my room and then the apartment. As the next day. No string.

I looked everywhere…under beds, couches, tables, cushions, rugs. I even pulled out the stove and refrigerator (pulling out, I later found, the plug as well and making our fridge turn off for the next day). I have never looked behind the refrigerator. It proved to be the Graveyard of Lost Cat Toys. I found at least 20 dusty toy mice, a handful of the plastic straws he enjoys chewing, and an assortment of balls, stuffed toys and balled-up holey socks I had thrown to him to chase from time to time. But no string.

The next morning, he appeared to be having, er, litterbox issues and I thought it far better to be safe than sorry. Off to the vet.

Three hours and $200 worth of tests later, they thought it possible he might have eaten the string.

By the end of the day and $600 worth of tests later, they were fairly sure he hadn’t. They had run a barium series, which essentially consists of forcing a liquid solution of barium down his throat – barium shows up in X-rays as string itself doesn’t – and seeing if there was a blockage or obstruction anywhere along the way. Fortunately it went through with no issues.

It should also, I was told, flush out the string as it went – if there was a string to flush out. But by that evening…nothing.

“Are you sure he never ate it, then?” I asked. “Is there maybe a small possibility it could still be sitting there, not blocking anything but not moving either?”

“A small possibility. But I think we can feel pretty good about the situation here. If he does vomit, though, or stop eating, do take him back in at once.” They discharged him, swiped my credit card (ouch) and there we were, back in my apartment. Exhausted, about $700 lighter and still with no certainty as to where the string had gone.

I searched my room one last, exhaustive time. Nada.

Crossing my fingers, I entrusted him to the care of my wonderful cat-sitter and left town for the weekend. Quite fortunately, the trip went by without further incident than numerous panicked calls home on my part, only to be reassured that Rumi was doing just fine, no worries. He’s still doing fine as I write this now. But…no string.

Maybe micro black holes do exist after all? 😀

In any case, this is all by way of apology for being gone from this blog, and my Advent Calendar of Carols, and from Twitter and #iranelection for so long. Hopefully I’ll be excused this time at any rate.

To tweak the famous quote, NOTHING can upset both the best-laid plans of mice and men so much as…a cat. 😀

– Contrapuntal Platypus

December 13: The Twelve Days of Christmas December 13, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in About Me, Advent Calendar of Carols, Just for Fun, Music.
Tags: , , , ,
1 comment so far

…And so the second half of the countdown begins. Out of the 24 days until Christmas, only twelve are left…we’re halfway there! 😀

When I was young, one of the things I enjoyed most about Christmas was singing carols. Not just because I liked the music, or the words, but because I could remember them – all the words to every carol. (I had a near-photographic memory for poetry…useless for practical purposes, but fun.) Ever year I delighted in reaming off verse after obscure verse of carol after carol, while the grownups around me gazed on in astonishment at all those words they could never remember.

All right, I admit it…I was more than a bit of a showoff. 😀

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” was one of the best carols for this purpose. It was long and went on and on and on, with every verse adding a further level of complexity. I took great pride in remembering all the drummers drumming and maids a-milking and lords a-leaping and calling birds and swans a-swimming long after all the other singers around me had given up in disgust, or boredom.

I could post a YouTube video of this, but absolutely everyone has heard the Twelve Days of Christmas (probably far more often than they would have liked to.) So instead, here’s my favorite parody, by Frank Kelly. 😀

December 12: Ihr Kinderlein Kommet December 13, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Advent Calendar of Carols, Christianity, Music.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

Time for another German carol…one of my all-time favorites.

Last night I turned pages for a friend’s Christmas concert at a church nearby. They were performing Joseph Martin’s “Ceremony of Candles”…a beautiful choral reworking and interweaving of traditional Christmas carols, including “In the Bleak Midwinter”,” Il est Ne Le Divin Enfant”, “Silent Night” and many others. I actually got goosebumps during the performance…not once but several times. Amazing.

My favorite movement was “Invitation to the Manger”, based on the German Christmas carol “Ihr Kinderlein Kommet” – “O Come Little Children.” Martin reworks this simple, childlike carol into a brilliant contrapuntal setting complete with ringing bell-like chords in the piano, sudden shifts of key and a brilliant, jubilant tempo. I felt utterly drawn in – my only regret was that I couldn’t sing along!

I tried to find a usable recording on Youtube, but to no avail. However, here is a beautiful choral setting of Ihr Kinderlein Kommet…a must-listen in any case. Enjoy.

Ihr Kinderlein, kommet, o kommet doch all!
Zur Krippe her kommet in Bethlehems Stall
und seht, was in dieser hochheiligen Nacht
der Vater im Himmel für Freude uns macht!

O seht in der Krippe im nächtlichen Stall,
seht hier bei des Lichtleins hell glänzendem Strahl
den reinliche Windeln, das himmlische Kind,
viel schöner und holder als Engel es sind!

Da liegt es, das Kindlein, auf Heu und auf Stroh,
Maria und Josef betrachten es froh.
Die redlichen Hirten knien betend davor,
hoch oben schwebt jubelnd der Engelein Chor.

O beugt wie die Hirten anbetend die Knie,
erhebet die Hände und danket wie sie!
Stimmt freudig, ihr Kinder, wer wollt sich nicht freun,
stimmt freudig zum Jubel der Engel mit ein!

Oh, come, little children, oh, come, one and all,
To Bethlehem’s stable, in Bethlehem’s stall.
And see with rejoicing this glorious sight,
Our Father in heaven has sent us this night.

Oh, see in the manger, in hallowèd light
A star throws its beam on this holiest sight.
In clean swaddling clothes lies the heavenly Child,
More lovely than angels, this Baby so mild.

Oh, there lies the Christ Child, on hay and on straw;
The shepherds are kneeling before Him with awe.
And Mary and Joseph smile on Him with love,
While angels are singing sweet songs from above.