Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mona Lisa Smile - by Lily

After picking up a couple of books from the library, I lingered a little longer over the DVD section trying to find a good movie to watch. “Mona Lisa Smile” caught my eyes. I didn't know much about the movie, but with Julia Roberts starring it was good enough reason for me.

The story is set in 1953 on the campus of Wellesley College, a conservative women’s private liberal arts college. Ms. Katherine Watson joined the faculty to be an instructor in art history. As a progressive female professional she was struck by the dogmatic culture of the campus and by the conservative views and attitudes of her students showed toward learning and life. She used her teaching to awake people’s mind and to influence her students’ choices for their future professional and family life. I really enjoyed the character of Katherine Watson as portrayed by Julia Roberts. Many of the issues raised by the movie occupied my mind for several days.

Education. What is the goal of education? To learn knowledge? All those Wellesley girls studied their syllabus well and were fully prepared for class. But they did not know how to apply what they learned to assess new problems; they could not think and analyze on their own. Sounds familiar? Sure, the movie was set in 1953. But we still see this memorize/test/forget pattern in our kids today. The ultimate goal of education has to be to learn how to learn on one’s own, learn how to think, and learn how to apply learned knowledge to solve new problems.

Opportunities for women. Currently more than 50% of college students are female. Many women go on to obtain advanced degrees after college. Women work at all kinds of professions and at all career levels. We share house chores and childcare with our spouses. And we think this is only natural and fair. We have taken many things for granted. Yet back in the 1950’s college door was only opened to the fortunate few. In the elite Wellesley, the girls were taught that being a good house wife was their No. 1 priority in life. Yale law school would only admit five female students at the time. Seeing all these, I can’t help marveling that we have come a long way.

Life’s value. The value of a piece of art is often determined by people other than the artist herself. But who’s to say about the value of one’s life? It seems that only we ourselves know whether we live a happy life or not, whether the choices we make are sensible, and whether the compromises we make are worthy. There is no fixed formula to determine this. In the movie, one of Ms. Watson’s students, Joan, was accepted by Yale Law School. But she decided to give up that opportunity and move to Philly with her newly-wed husband. Katherine was stunned by her choice and tried to convince her that she didn't have to give up law school to be married. But Joan decided it was her own choice to make; she believed that being a house wife didn't mean she’d give up her education and intellect. There is always a balance between career and family life. In fact, a recent Accenture poll suggests that balancing work and family life is a No. 1 priority for most people. I know many people who have compromised better career opportunities for their family. They are happy and they are productive. And eventually hard-working earned them other opportunities. We make doors open for us through our work and capabilities.

Change. Katherine Watson’s progressive ideas about education and women’s choices may not seem too novel now, but back in the 1950’s her ideas were considered rather radical. Even though she whole heartily tried to help her students, her ideas were rejected by many. And the school hierarchy was dead against her unorthodox teaching. At the end, she had to leave Wellesley. Change is never easy. It takes courage, it requires tactic and patience, and it relies on timing. What should one do to push for a change for the better? One step at a time, move forward steadily, and convince others, one at a time, to join your effort.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Picnic and Jogging at Arbor Hills

Spring this year at North Texas has been quite a roller coaster weather wise. Finally we got some beautiful days last weekend and Justin was home from TAMS. We went to the popular local park Arbor Hills Nature Preserves for a picnic to enjoy the beautiful Sunday. The parking lot was almost full when we got there around 12:40 pm.

As always many people were jogging, running or biking in the park. We went to the picnic area first  for our lunch. Looking around, there were many families in the shelter area already, some had KFC, some had McDonald's, and there was a group BBQ.  We had self-made turkey ham sandwiches with fresh cucumber, lettuce  tomato - all  ingredients bought just an hour ago. To the boys' delight, they each had a large bottle of flavored sparkling water. But they did not need that for meal because the veggies and ham were so juicy. We had a great family lunch, enjoying food, sharing drinks and chatting.

After lunch we went for a walk along the big loop trail.

Sky was blue with few clouds. Trees were leafy green swinging gently in breeze. The temperature was around 72F. We jogged at a leisure pace, looking around, and had conversations on and off. As I was trying to capture the beauty of the late spring on camera, I was trailing the rest of the family most of the time.

A few minutes after I made the observation that flowers were sparse, likely due to the huge swing in temperature, we walked up a trail toward the observation tower, blooming yellow flowers covered the hill side! I lingered there for a while to take pictures and trailed the rest of family more.

When I finally caught up with my family, Lily noticed a green snake crossing the concrete trail - it was pretty slow on the concrete, and we had to warn a roller skater passing by. As it got into grass, it became much faster, disappearing in a blink of the eye.

Lily's conversations with the boys were apparently very engaging since neither of them complained about the long walk (2+ miles). We got back to our minivan at 2:05 pm and the parking lot was full now, a few cars were waiting as I backed out from our parking spot.

We had a lively and healthy lunch, the boys were away from computer games for a couple hours, and they were outdoor exercising for a full hour. In addition to fresh air, beautiful scenery, another reason I like to have outdoor family activity is that it is when the whole family is really together without distraction of social media and separation by computers.