Thursday, December 18, 2014

Drapes

We moved into a new-to-us-but-fifty-years-old house two years ago. The woman who lived in it before us had lovingly cared for the same drapes and carpet for at least thirty years. The pretty living room drapes (still on working traverse rods!) are starting to fall apart despite my attempts to mend and patch. It is finally time to get new drapes.

This is not a simple matter. Nowadays, there are five different common ways to hang drapes: tab top, rod pocket, grommet top, pinch pleat, and back tab. I personally like our traverse rods, and since they are hidden by wooden cornices, I could theoretically attach nearly any kind of drapery top to the little plastic pieces--half of which are ancient and brittle and will need to be replaced--and get the benefit of being able to open/close the drapes quickly and without touching them. I like the fullness of pinch pleat drapes, which is what we currently have, but the selection available in that category is not very good.

Do I try to sew my own drapes? It's theoretically pretty easy. Hem big rectangles of fabric, then, if I'm feeling particularly ambitious, pinch together at the top for pinch pleats. But this is my living room I'm talking about! I don't want my sad sewing skills to be responsible for curtains with iffy hems that make me cringe for the next decade. For if I buy 20 yards of fabric (I have to do two windows), even at bargain basement prices, that's a lot of money, so I won't just toss them unless they're truly dreadful.

I'm hoping for some good post-Christmas department store sales in the drapery departments this year.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sycophant

An interesting etymology fact is that sycophant, which currently means "insincere flatterer," originated as a Greek word for a false accuser. False accusations could be very harshly punished in the ancient world. Some Mesopotamian laws made death the penalty for false accusations of certain crimes.

Why punish a false accuser so severely? To discourage false accusations, of course. False accusations tie up the legal system and harm the accused, particularly if the accused is wrongly found guilty and especially if he is executed due to the false accusation.

Recently the magazine Rolling Stone published an article alleging that a rape occurred at a UVA fraternity, and now it appears that the allegation, which resulted in university action against all the fraternities, was most likely fabricated. What punishment does a person in our modern world merit for making a false accusation of a serious crime such as rape? I certainly don't think it should be death or even imprisonment (since prison is reported to have a lot of actual rape culture going on, I disfavor prison in general if a different punishment will be as effective at crime deterrence), but there should be some sort of punishment. A fine. Community service. Something. Not only is bearing false witness against one's neighbor a violation of one of the ten commandments, it transforms our criminal justice system into a weapon against innocents. Defending one's self from criminal charges and dealing with the social and work fallout from such charges are not trivial considerations. I think sycophants, in both the ancient Greek and the modern sense, should suffer social opprobrium for their dishonest actions. And where that dishonesty has done harm to our justice system, the justice system should mete out an official, substantial penalty.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Sleep Training

My almost-six-month-old has regressed when it comes to getting enough sleep recently. I haven't been diligent about giving her naps in her crib (too often she ends up napping in her carseat near the family hubbub), and she's now old enough that it's time she had regularly scheduled naps. How did nearly six months pass already? Also, I've slipped back into getting up in the night every two hours instead of letting her put herself back to sleep. She used to sleep for 4-6 hours for at least one stretch at the beginning of the night, but she's stopped doing that. It can't be due to hunger, for she eats a lot, including milk (of course), rice cereal, puffs, and pureed fruit. We are both very tired. It's starting to interfere with my daily activities. So we are doing a little "sleep training," which consists mostly of me NOT getting up every two hours when she cries out. Here's hoping she's a fast learner!

Update (12/7/2014): And it turns out she is! We got a six hour stretch of sleep last night. :) I'm going to help her love resting her head on her crib mattress by getting her a chenille crib sheet for Christmas. (As the fifth girl, she doesn't need any toys under the tree!)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Reading Progress

Dd5 and I took a break for a couple of weeks or so from reading lessons. They weren't much fun, for she wasn't remembering some simple things such as the word "the." This afternoon, we finally had a formal lesson (#43 from Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons), and she did much, much better than either she or I anticipated. Where did this pleasant progress come from?

I think we owe it mostly to the Leapfrog Letter/Talking Word/Storybook Factory videos. Those are a terrific resource for children just figuring out the letter-sound code and how to apply their new knowledge. We own some Leapfrog letter fridge magnets, so dd5 and dd2 have been playing with them after watching the videos.

The concept of digraphs has started to really sink in for dd5. Previously she would see "sh" and say "ssss""hhh" nearly every time no matter how often I reminded her that "sh" says "sh." I suspect a few minutes of looking at this old toy, which we just had sitting around in a toybox, helped her realize that it's OK not to break the letters apart when looking at certain letter combinations:

Kiddicraft alphabet toy with 4 of most common English digraphs
The technical name for two letters representing one sound is "digraph." The most common consonant digraphs in English are "ch," "sh," "th," "ph," and "wh," per this phonics website. Note that four of those five digraphs are presented to the children on the Kiddicraft toy pictured above. How great is that! And it's not a fancy-schmancy electronic toy, so I don't have to worry about it running out of battery power. Even the hornbooks used for centuries didn't explicitly teach digraphs.

Traditional hornbook example, sold by Plimouth Plantation
Sadly, the Kiddicraft Flip-up Learning Center is only available used, but if you want one, it appears on eBay sometimes for a reasonable price. I think I found ours at a local thrift store a few years ago.

(I make no money from product placement in my blog posts. I'm just sharing things that I've found helpful.)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Not usually a sign of child abuse

I know two different young mothers who have had neighbors think that they might be abusing their children because they have heard small children yelling for extended periods of time from these mothers' homes. I can only imagine that the worrying neighbors were childless and thus ignorant of some basic childrearing know-how: some children are extremely noisy and contrary sometimes and most children throw tantrums at some point. Not all children, certainly, for temperaments vary widely. Moreover, some children have diagnosed issues such as autism or ADHD that go along with uncontrollable tantrums.

I don't take child abuse lightly. By today's standards, my father was unquestionably guilty of child abuse. He spanked repeatedly and harshly--even quite young children--and sometimes with hard objects. We lived in terror of his arrival home after work because if anything was messy--a common condition of a house with many young children and a busy mother who was rather uninterested in cleaning--he would often yell at and possibly spank the first child he lay eyes on. (Ironically, he didn't realize why we ran from him and would sometimes ask, "Where is everyone? Why isn't anyone here to greet me?" Sad, isn't it? He was abused as a child, too.)

When I look at signs of child abuse, I don't see "children scream a lot" listed as a sign. Sure, parents screaming a lot can be emotional abuse. Also, age-inappropriate or sudden tantrum behavior can be a danger sign of abuse. But, in my experience, mere "children scream a lot" is a fairly good indication that the children are not being directly subjected to abusive behavior because the children do not live in terror. Let me say that again for emphasis. They don't live in terror. Living in an abusive situation is living in terror. It's the opposite of the security and care that a child hopes for and should be able to expect from his or her parents.

My father successfully terrorized us into being model children (at least, when he was at hand). We didn't throw tantrums. He would have never put up with us screaming for long periods of time. A harsh spanking would have put a stop to that kind of behavior right away. We were meek and scared and obedient. The neighbors suspected that things might not be great at our house, but the signs of abuse were not obvious. We were even forced to end spanking sessions by telling our father that we loved him, yet under those desperate words of love, gasped out to make the spanking end, were hurt, frightened children who temporarily hated yet quietly did as commanded.

So, well-meaning neighbors of the world, please keep looking out for the children you know. But please be aware of the probability that young children screaming for what sometimes seems like forever is more likely an indication that they feel comfortable enough to yell at their parents than it is a sign of an abused child living in terror.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Home for the Holiday

We have a norovirus or similar bug running through our family which is causing pain, distress, general yuckiness, and an end to most of our Thanksgiving plans with extended family. We know at least two other families dealing with it this week, but based on the timing, it's unlikely we all got it from the same place. Sometimes these things really do just "go around," and it's nearly possible to avoid them (but it helps if the toddler hasn't been messing with the dishwasher settings so that the dishes don't get properly cleaned).

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are less effective against norovirus, so wash your hands before eating!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Developing skills

I'm so proud of dd10. She just posted pictures from a field trip to the Denver Zoo that she took herself! They are on her blog here. When she first started her blog, she would dictate her entries to me and I would type them for her, editing as needed for clarity and accuracy. She's been learning to type this year, and now she types her own entries. She appreciates the wavy red lines in Blogger that tell her when a word is misspelled, for her spelling abilities are still developing.

She isn't pleased with how her photos look on the blog, so I showed her how to use a photo editor today to crop and compress photos. I hope she uses that skill soon.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Good for a lot of laughs

The commentators here are hilarious, what with their ignorance of how to convert from the imperial system (miles instead of kilometers) and jokes about different kinds of football and being "shaken but not stirred."


I laughed so hard I cried.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Landing on a Comet

We went to a local museum's event to celebrate the landing of Philae on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. We heard afterward that they estimated they had only a 22% chance of the lander successfully making it onto the comet's surface. Yet they did it! With technology that is already ten years old!

Although the lander ran out of power (it ended up in a place where it couldn't access enough of the sun's rays to recharge itself), it sent back interesting information. The comet appears to have a dusty, rocky surface with a layer of very hard ice under that. Also, the lander detected organic molecules. And because it's in a shady spot, it will last longer than expected as the comet approaches the sun in 2015. Here's hoping Philae wakes up then and gives us some more interesting data!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Discovery Geometry

Back in college, I tutored math for three years. I quickly came to hate the discovery calculus that a few of the honors calculus classes were experimenting with. The students--good ones, these were honors students--often had no idea what to do and were needlessly frustrated. If "discovering" calculus on one's own were so easy, it wouldn't have taken until Newton and/or Leibniz in the 17th century for humanity to have come up with it.

This past week I've been helping a teenage boy who's being befuddled and deeply discouraged by his discovery geometry textbook. It makes the students figure out the "conjectures" and then requires them to apply the just-introduced conjectures in all kinds of novel, thought-provoking ways. Such a method sounds like a math prodigy's dreams come true. But I think it's terrible for average or below-average math students.

This boy has attention issues and Asperger's traits, so class lectures--where the conjectures get explored, explained, and supposedly compiled by the students into their own little reference notebooks--are less effective for him. This is a kid who, if he doesn't immediately know the answer to something, looks off in space, starts scratching at the side of his calculator, or enters numbers into the calculator without having a clue as to what mathematical operations should be done. His mom has worked hard with him; one year she pulled him out of school for two periods and "home-schooled" him in math. Under her tutelage, he did two years worth of math in just one. He seems bright enough and his attention issues disappear when he knows how to attack a problem. Discovery geometry is just wrong for him.

The mom corresponded with her son's teacher about the problems he is experiencing due to the book constantly hiding necessary information (formulas and such, the kind of things I grew up seeing inside the covers of my math books as ready references). The teacher responded by saying that some kids thrive and some kids struggle, but the book is in the syllabus and it's what he is going to teach. Great for the kids that thrive! And terrible for the kids that don't! Math is not a one-size-fits-all-endeavor, and when it becomes clear that a kid needs a different approach, that approach should be adopted.

When tutoring him, I've taken to letting him use a very basic geometry reference sheet like the one below:
http://stufiles.sanjac.edu/thea/theamathreviewforwebsite/geometry.gif
It's done wonders for his confidence. He can actually get through some problems on his own now. And he's not doing mere "plug-and-chug" work. He finally has an inkling of what he is expected to do and can go at it. Anyway, I'd rather see him doing "plug-and-chug" exercises correctly than cluelessly entering numbers in his calculator in flailing attempts to solve problems he doesn't comprehend.

I don't know yet what math text our family will use for geometry. Dd10, the oldest, only just started BJU's Math 5. BJU has a great incremental "mastery + review" elementary math program that has been pleasant for our family to use. But because of my math background, I'd like for my children to have more extensive experience with constructing proofs, and those are rather out of vogue in K-12 math. One thing is for sure: no matter what we end up doing for geometry for my Aspergery eldest, it won't be "discovery geometry."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Personhood and Extremes

When I found out I was pregnant for the first time, I was so excited. I was only a few weeks along, somewhere between 6-8 weeks. In my excitement, I started telling friends and coworkers of my pregnancy. Then I miscarried. I realized I was miscarrying while at work at the US Embassy. I had to go to my supervisor and tell him I needed to leave work because I was bleeding and likely miscarrying. In my shock, I told my husband to stay at work while I went to get checked out. How I wish I had told him to come with me. When the person giving me an ultrasound started talking clinically about my "threatened abortion," I felt awful. My baby was dying or dead already. Based on the final diagnosis of "blighted ovum," my baby never even got past the point of being a fertilized egg. And, oh, sitting alone on a bench in a foreign hospital and crying, how I mourned my child that was not.

I share this to put into perspective something: I voted against the "personhood amendment" yesterday in Colorado's election. It goes too far. I marked "no" with sadness in my heart because I don't condone abortion generally. I certainly don't think public funds should be used for them except in extremely rare cases. I think that a fertilized egg is a form of human life. It's life, and it's human. I'm not sure what else we can call it without dispensing with our standard biology definitions.

But the hard truth that pro-life organizations and politicians must grapple with is that a woman's body is inseparable from a growing pre-born child for nearly six months. Respect for individual rights mandates that we permit a woman to do things to her body that might harm her baby without punishing her for it. There is no way to have a personhood amendment without then putting extreme athletes/coffee abusers/anorexics/homebirthers/obese women/etc. at risk of prosecution for murder.

European countries regulate abortion more than the USA does. We are actually rather extreme in the USA as to what abortions we permit. But the answer is not to swing back and declare a fertilized egg a legal person.

To think aloud a bit, perhaps abortion should be treated legally in a fashion similar to suicide. No one could physically help a woman terminate the life in her, but they could still sell a mother the chemicals she wants to ingest to end her hosting of a forming life and monitor her afterward for complications. We permit gun sales all the time, despite the proven link between gun ownership and suicide. Individual rights are important. Why not allow over-the-counter sales of abortifacients and birth control? Let the individual woman decide what she wants to do to her body, including her uterus. Science has come far enough that most desired abortions could be done via medicine due to how early morning sickness tells most women of their pregnant state. If an abortion requires physical dismemberment or poisoning of the fetus, then perhaps we should accept that the baby is far enough developed that the mother's individual rights no longer outweigh its rights.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Sensitive

For memorization these past two weeks, I planned to have dd10 and dd7 learn the first stanza of "Der Erlkönig."

German:
Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind;
Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,
Er faßt ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.

English translation:
Who rides, so late, through night and wind?
It is the father with his child.
He has the boy well in his arm
He holds him safely, he keeps him warm.

It is a well-known German poem by Goethe that tells of a boy dying after being attacked by an elf king, while his father rides like mad trying to get the boy home safe. It was set to music by Schubert, which made it even more well-known. Here's a great shadow puppet version of the song:


They started memorizing it with no complaints. Pleased to have found such a lovely, artistic rendition of the song, I then showed this video to my girls. Once dd7 saw it, she no longer wanted to memorize the poem. It was too sad for her.

She's memorizing "Bruder Jakob" ("Are you sleeping?") instead.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

No good response

An extended family member at a recent family gathering seemed to feel it necessary to inform everyone that she will never have children. She is in her early 30s and very influenced by modern feminism and women's studies.

What am I, a mother of five children, supposed to say to that? 
  • "I'm sorry?" - I am. I value children and being a mother. I'm sorry she'll be missing out on those herself. But saying it sounds so patronizing, so I can't.
  • "You might change your mind...when biology makes it no longer a daring choice but merely a foregone conclusion." - True, but kind of mean. 
  • "How wonderful! You wouldn't have made a good mother anyway." - Super mean.
  • "Oh, yes, what a great decision. Children are so overrated." - Overrated, sure, sometimes. But still worth it.
  • "You evil feminist harpy!" - I got the vibe that she was hoping for that response so she could play victim later in her feminist circles. But we love her and aren't going to attack her like that. 
So I said nothing.



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Titus 2:4

Often when it is "dictation day" (the day of the week where language arts includes a dictation exercise), I don't put a lot of thought into the sentences ahead of time. This past Tuesday was one of those days. Because I was in the kitchen repacking chicken for freezing when she asked for her dictation assignment, dd10 ended up with a sentence about the importance of meat safety. Dd7's math lesson had asked her for the total number of verses in Titus and she had left the Bible lying on the couch afterward, so when she asked for her dictation assignment, I quickly scanned Titus and told her to write the following:
"Teach the young women to love their children." 

I excerpted it from Titus 2:4, which reads in its entirety:
"That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children," 

As I repeated the first sentence a few times for dd7, I realized how few places young women hear that message anymore. Social media use, while it does give us a place to show off our children--and, boy, do I engage in that--too easily gets in the way of loving our children, especially if we are so fixated on screens that we only look in our children's eyes when we're snapping their photo.

Institutions of higher education tend to discourage "family life" and make us SAHMs feel like we've failed our half of humanity by opting out of paid employment to stay home caring for little children, even though studies make it clear that kids, at least in my ethnic group, are better off not being sent to full-time daycare (I'm not trying to insult anyone; the science is what it is, and I have no motivation to pretend otherwise) and biological reality means that females are more affected by pregnancy-related health concerns. The cynical part of me thinks this happens in part because it's harder to cajole alumni donations from unemployed people.

Advertisements constantly tell us to buy things and experiences for our children at peril of being mean moms. (Sorry, Disney, I'm not giving in to your fiendish plot to make me feel like a wicked witch for not springing for a Disney World family vacation.) If advertisers really wanted to help us love our children, they'd point out how richly blessed American kids already are as far as material goods and counsel us parents to go read a library book to our kids before they grow up. But there's no money in that....

I've always been grateful for my mother telling me that the most fulfilling and important thing she did in her life was to be a mother to me and my siblings. She is a very intelligent woman who has been a schoolteacher and private school administrator, earned a PhD and a JD, and is still practicing law in her 70s.

Thus far, I have only daughters, and I will heed this counsel to teach them to "love their children." I'll teach them by example as I cuddle my infant and struggle not to get too angry when the toddler makes yet another mess. I'll teach them that they should expand their minds and do great good in the world, but that they should also carefully choose their paths so they have the best chance of being able to take loving care--which requires a substantial amount of face time--of their children. I'll counsel them to eat well and take care of their bodies, for their health directly influences the well-being of their future children, as well as the egg cells that will become their grandchildren. I hope they heed the lessons, for my personal experience is already mirroring that of my mother: there is no accomplishment that matters more to me than nurturing my children well. Isn't it ironic that self-fulfillment comes more easily when we're not focused on ourselves?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Great Sand Dunes National Park

We had a terrific field trip yesterday. It was a bit of a drive but so worth it. We went to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in southern Colorado. The weather was very nice. It was a warm day for autumn in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, so we were able to play in the sand--some wet and some dry--while taking in the golden aspens, snow-capped peaks, and the beautiful sky of the San Luis valley.

Autumn in the San Luis valley

My children insisted on completing the Jr. Ranger program and getting their Jr. Ranger badges at the visitors center. We all got a chance to slide down sand dunes on a wooden, waxed sand sled. Trudging through the fine sand made for a good teaching moment about what it is like trying to get around in the Sahara desert.

Not fun to walk in after the first two minutes

If you're ever in southern Colorado, try to make time for a visit to this national park!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Graded on Our Moms

When I was in sixth grade, I did well academically. Socially, horribly. I was such a pariah that the school teacher in charge of the school adaptation of Macbeth backed off from his initial plan of having me play Lady Macbeth because the boy given the part of Macbeth refused to act the role of my pretend spouse. (Weird, right? It's not like the Macbeths are renowned for their public displays of affection.) The teacher was limited in his choice of boys that could act well, so I lost out.

The school had me meet with a counselor to help me make friends, but I just didn't "get" social interactions. Twenty years later, I might have been given an Asperger's diagnosis. Back then, at least I could feel good about myself at school when it came to academic achievements. That is, until the (say the next two words in your best nonverbal voice of doom) "Pharoah Projects."

These ambitious projects lasted for several weeks. We were divided into small groups and told to prepare an exhibit about a specific pharaoh. I think my group's pharaoh was Ptolemy I. A woman--probably a volunteering mother--came to class one day and showed us how to stuff pantyhose with cotton to form the head and limbs of a dummy. Each group was to make a life-size pantyhose dummy of a pharoah, sew features onto its head and digits into its extremities, and dress it in appropriate clothing.

Such a sewing project was way beyond my abilities, but somehow I, of the three kids in the group, ended up with it as my lot. I still remember cringingly the night before the dummy was due, how I hunched next to my bedroom closet near midnight, trying not to wake my sister, as I tearfully did my best to work with needle, thread, and running nylons. It was so frustrating, and I felt pathetically alone (so much for "group work") and overwhelmed. Somehow, I managed to finish a pygmy, Greek-ish dummy, but we got an "F." My dummy was a sorry sight next to all the beautiful, life-size pharaoh dummies that could only have been made by parents.

The mother of another kid in my group took my pharaoh home and redid it, so we eventually got a C or D on the whole project. That low grade rankled for years. Why didn't someone tell us we were going to be graded on our mothers' crafting abilities and free time?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Count Day

Today was "Count Day" for the state of Colorado. That means all the students are supposed to be enrolled and attending their school of choice, whether full-time students or homeschoolers utilizing supplemental programs.

My children's charter school did several things to help ensure high attendance numbers today. First, they made sure that parents knew it was Count Day.

Second, they made it Picture Day. Dd10 wore her favorite, too-well-loved animal shirt, which she wears at least once a week. Dd7 wore a red shirt and burgundy pants; she had already given in to my command that she "not dress weird" today, so I didn't pick a color fight with her. My children like to express themselves through their clothing. I would be just fine with a uniform requirement.

Third, the school added some extra enrichment activities to the day's programming. My kids learned about fractals and 3-D modeling, among other things that they either can't recall or can't explain to me. All in all, it was a fun day for them. And they were counted.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Carnival of Homeschooling #456 - "Ozymandias" Edition

Welcom to the 456th Carnival of Homeschooling! This carnival's theme is "Ozymandias."



Doesn't it just make you happy to say the name "Ozymandias"? My voice becomes sonorous and commanding, and I envision stark desert scenes, which I love, having mostly grown up in the American Southwest.

Written in the early 1800s, the sonnet "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley deals with many themes in its short 14 lines. Among them are travel and history, the effects of time and the natural world, artistic creation, hubris, recording one's deeds, and the collapse of human power.

I met a traveller from an antique land

Christy submitted a post about the Borgia Family and Machiavelli, saying "I love the freedom homeschooling gives, the chance to follow interests and to use silly things like a comedy show as a jumping off point for a unit study. The Borgia Family lived in Renaissance Italy. They knew Machiavelli and Leonardo Da Vinci."

The Cates' daughter wrote an essay for college on her homeschooling experience and used it to help argue that homeschooling is a viable educational option.

April E. contributed ten lessons she has learned during the journey of homeschooling her high school students.

Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

No matter how powerful or enormous a monument, the forces of nature slowly erode it away. The blog What DID We Do All Day? includes a fun look at how one homeschooling family learned about erosion.

And speaking of science in general, occupational therapist Sharon Stansfield submitted some tips on how to help children with slow processing blossom when doing their schoolwork: "Children who process information slower than their peers are often very clever but need understanding and correct teaching methods to help them blossom. I give simple and important tips to use for teaching these children. The tips are just as useful for home-schooled children. Knowing the best way to bring out your child's true potential makes teaching and home-schooling so very rewarding."

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

While watching Dr. Who last night (Season 1, episode 3 for the Whovians out there), I was struck by how Charles Dickens, upon meeting a Time Lord, wanted to know just one thing about the future: "Would his books last?" Artistic creations, as ephemeral as they may seem, can long survive worldly powers, just as the sculptor's work in "Ozymandias" outlived the power of the real Ozymandias.

Real Life at Home has a post on "10 Reasons to Homeschool Your Creative Child." I can especially relate to the fourth point about conformity; my children's art appears very individualistic compared to that of their peers at the school they attend part-time.

A blogger I follow, author and linguist Katherine Beals at Out in Left Field, just posted about how her daughter wouldn't have time for all her musical pursuits if they weren't homeschooling.

And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Not all public school administrators are guilty of domineering behavior, but Dewey's Treehouse links to an account of a family in New Jersey that was (wrongly) told by an assistant superintendent that "policy" required them to conform their homeschool curriculum to the Common Core standards. Mama Squirrel points out that some parents don't want their children's education to be that narrow.

Homeschoolers in the thick of things seem to be a fairly humble lot (at least when not having to defend their homeschool choices to detractors); they want to give their children the best education they can and constantly wonder if they're doing enough. Those worries can be magnified when faced with the task of creating an impressive transcript recording our children's studies. To help keep perspective, 7Sisters gives us "Balancing Life and the Homeschool Transcript."

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Here at my blog, I wrote about how seemingly all-powerful and permanent institutions, including public school systems, can and do go into decline.

Susan Raber submitted a post on why "free stuff" isn't always the best choice. One reason for that is that we may come to depend on a free resource only to have it become costly or even disappear later.

That's the end of today's carnival. Thank you to all who submitted, and for those who want to submit to future carnivals, you can find out how here.


Carnival of Homeschooling

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Declining institutions

As part of our homeschool history studies, we've been learning about ancient Egypt. Ancient Egypt experienced about 30 pharaonic dynasties over a period of nearly 3000 years. That means that each dynasty lasted on average for roughly 100 years. That's not very long. I have a grandmother who has been alive for almost 100 years. She's senile, but she is quite lively for her age.

One thinks of the pharaohs as having been very powerful because they ruled a wealthy, literate civilization and built enormous, long-lasting structures like Karnak and the Great Pyramid of Giza. However, the buildings that house a powerful institution can outlast the institution, be it a dynasty or a school system.

Six years ago, as a newcomer to my city I attended a school board meeting for my local school district in which they discussed needing to close some elementary and middle schools due to declining enrollment. At the time, I didn't have any school-age children, but I wanted to know what was happening in our local school district. I suspect the administration was making some poor decisions at the time, for while our centrally-located school district was seeing enrollment fall, the district just to the north was experiencing a very large influx of students, some of whom were "choicing" into it from my school district. (Colorado law has a school funding system where the funds follow students to whichever school will accept them.) One elementary school I saw up north had a playground filling up with modular classrooms.

Presently, my two homeschooled children are part-time students at a charter school housed in one of those closed-down district schools. The brick-and-mortar structure still stands; indeed, it looks like it has been there since the 1950s. But the local school district has declined in numbers and importance, and a new institution, a charter school that caters to a specific niche, has moved into its space.

No matter how large or powerful an institution is, it can go into decline. Among other things, wise decisions by competent people are necessary to maintain its strength. The repeated failure by school district employees and leaders to make wise decisions that satisfy parents' varied needs and/or wants can weaken--sometimes drastically--those public school institutions.

We live in a time when technology makes personalization of many services much easier. Service tailored to an individual is often expected. Search engines customize results to take into account your friends and location, Amazon.com sells 6.8 million products just in the category "iPhone cases," Google shows you ads based on your emails' contents and search history, and, by law, schools must create Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students with disabilities. It seems obvious that many parents will want to seek out educational services that fit their own philosophies and their kids' particular needs, but too many school districts remain too unresponsive to parents, be it for ideological or logistical reasons or just because they suffer from bureaucratic inertia. I think that is a primary reason for the current strength of charter school and homeschool movements. School districts still think they can offer a Sears* education to a society used to Amazon.com.

It seems hard to believe that the public school system could cease to be the power it was in my childhood, back when only rich people and Catholics were outside the public school system and most people watched only three TV networks and PBS. But choice is here to stay, both in entertainment and in schooling. The institution of public school as I think of it might be in irreversible decline already. (See law professor Glenn Reynold's ideas on a K-12 education implosion.) That idea is easier to accept when I consider that compulsory education became universal in the USA in 1918, the same year in which my still-living grandmother was born. If a pharaonic dynasty only tended to last a century, how can I expect the present public school system to survive much past that?

*Actually, I malign Sears. Even Sears now offers customers a chance to "Shop Your Way."

Carnival of Homeschooling
This post is part of the Carnival of Homeschooling.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Send in your posts for the Carnival of Homeschooling!

For years, I have been reading and learning from a wide variety of homeschooling parents through the posts submitted to the Carnival of Homeschooling. 

Next Tuesday, I will be hosting the Carnival. Please send in your homeschool-related posts by Monday night by following the directions here.

If you're looking for ideas for posts to submit, I'm going to have the carnival's theme be the poem "Ozymandias" by Shelley because my children have been memorizing it for the past three weeks. Among other things, the 14-line sonnet touches on travel, history (ancient Egypt), societal change (collapse of power), science (erosion), art (sculpture, persistence of art), and human nature (hubris, short-sightedness). It has also enjoyed renewed popularity recently because of its use in the TV show Breaking Bad. But any post about homeschooling is welcome!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Passive-aggressive behavior

From Wikipedia:
Passive-aggressive behavior is the indirect expression of hostility, such as through procrastination, sarcasm, stubbornness, sullenness, or deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible. 
For research purposes, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) revision IV describes passive-aggressive personality disorder as a "pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance in social and occupational situations".
There are three people in my life whom I recall having heard label other people "passive-aggressive." Interestingly, these three people treated others harshly. I think their harsh treatment of other people temporarily brought out behavior typical of those with genuine passive-aggressive personality disorders.

The first person I heard lecture about the evils of "being passive-aggressive" was a high school music teacher who was very hard and critical. Multiple kids refused to continue in school music classes specifically due to his personality. He was so energetic when yelling at students that he once broke his directing baton on the edge of his stand. Since I sat near the front, it flew my way, and I still have the baton fragment (rather an odd souvenir from high school). I suspect he ran into a lot of people who responded in quietly hostile ways because he seemed so mean. That seems more probable than large numbers of people with passive-aggressive personality disorders being concentrated in his vicinity by random chance.

The other two people are my father and my husband's older brother. I have seen both of them bring out passive-aggressive behavior in my husband, ordinarily a well-meaning, helpful person in nearly all his actions and thoughts. Interestingly, my husband is an introvert, and if I'm reading it right, a recent study found that introverts are more likely to exhibit passive-aggressive behavior. My personal experience (and, yes, I'm introverted, too) is that it is not worth the hassle of open conflict all the time with domineering people, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to happily submit to everything they say or want me to do. Sometimes a little sullenness is justified when it's impossible to prevail via open conflict, particularly when dealing with "authority figures" who think they should always win because of pride and/or their position of authority. Does this work for me? It certainly feels healthier mentally than being a complete doormat or embroiled in frequent fights.

When encountering quiet resistance from a subordinate (or someone we treat as a subordinate), I think it is more productive to ask one's self, "Why is this person behaving hostilely towards me?" than to think, "Oh, that person is just being passive-aggressive." Odds are that, rather than facing someone with a personality disorder, we might be provoking the hostile response with unkind behavior.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ancient Egypt

We made it all the way through the four volumes of the Story of the World during the last four years, and we have now started over with Volume 1. That means Ancient Egypt! We're doing the usual supplements - pyramids out of wooden blocks and Duplos (the toy, not the chocolate candy, alas), British Horrible History comedy sketches like "The Mummy Song", library books like You Wouldn't Want to Be Cleopatra, and library videos like Prince of Egypt and Reading Rainbow's "Mummies Made in Egypt." On Friday we are going to begin mummifying a chicken.



And my favorite part of learning about ancient Egypt: introducing my children to The Mummy with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz.




Carnival of Homeschooling
This post is part of the Homeschool Carnival.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Inquiry-led Learning

Back in school and college, I wasn't much of an in-class questioner. I benefited greatly from listening to other students ask their questions and get answers from the teacher, but I rarely asked questions myself. I'm still like that.

"Why?" I (rarely) ask myself. I love to learn new things, especially in fields of interest to me. Perhaps I think that the teacher is up there to teach that which he/she deems important and my consternation is relatively trivial and shouldn't take away from the teacher's time to give his/her prepared presentation; after all, I can usually figure out the answer on my own afterward. Perhaps I feel rude asking questions because it implies that the teacher did a poor job of teaching me. Perhaps I believe that there really is such a thing as a "dumb question," and I don't want to ask one. Perhaps I'm more interested in going to lunch.

At any rate, I don't question much, and it would appear my daughter is similar to me in that respect. When I picked up dd9 from school this afternoon, she told me that as part of their study of living systems, they did the first two parts of a "KWL" exercise, in which they asked themselves the following questions :

  • "What do I know about living systems?" 
  • "What do I want to know about them?" 
  • "What did I learn about them?"

She told me that she didn't have anything she wants to know about living systems. This from a girl who has been independently reading a book on genetics recently and is always picking up nonfiction books about animals for recreational reading. Maybe she was thrown off by the nonspecific topic label of "living systems," or maybe she just doesn't have questions about them at present. I hope her teacher doesn't confuse today's lack of questions with an absence of curiosity.

Inquiry-led learning receives a lot of praise these days, both by some advocates of unschooling and proponents of constructivist school curricula. While inquiry-led learning may work wonderfully for some children, it seems to poorly serve curious non-questioners like my daughter and me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Back to School 2014

School is "back in session" at our home. This year, I decided to print out daily checklists for the children. They like the feeling of checking off what they've done, and it helps them be more independent and speedy. Here's a sample morning schedule (in the afternoon, they are often at a charter school receiving supplementary classes and the opportunity to socialize). The second grader is usually done in about two hours, while the fifth grader has to exert herself to finish within three hours.

Dd4
o  Reading Lesson
o  Writing Lesson (1 page of penmanship)
o  Arithmetic Lesson from Mommy
o  Music (Practice three minutes on one instrument – piano, organ, violin, recorder, or music maker)
o  PE (Tabata or other exercise)

Dd7
o  Story of the World (listen to Mom read “What is History?”  & help add to timeline)
o  Composition – Copy poem:
A tutor who tooted a flute
Tried to teach two young tooters to toot
Said the two to the tutor,
"Is it harder to toot, or . . .
To tutor two tooters to toot?"
o  Memorization – Recite above poem three times through
o  German Study – Learn meaning of & write three times: Ich bin, du bist, er ist, sie ist, es ist
o  Read lesson from Core Knowledge 2nd Grade & narrate to Mom
o  Math – 2 pages from Math 3
o  Handwriting Practice (1 page printing)
o  Religion – Book of Mormon (1 page)
o  Music Practice (at least five minutes on two different instruments or music theory)
o  PE (Tabata or other exercise)

Dd9
o  Story of the World (listen to Mom read “What is History?”  & help add to timeline)
o  Watch 3 videos on finding the main idea and practice with the last 6 paragraphs in the lesson from Story of the World)
o  Composition—Copy:
The word history is used in two senses. It may mean either the record of events, or events themselves.
“Not to know what has been transacted in former times is to continue always a child.” ~Cicero
o  Memorization (recite four times):
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
                  ~ George Santayana
o  Reading assigned by Mom (10 pages from The Golden Goblet) & narrate to Mom
o  Math – 2 pages from Math 4
o  Spelling Workout (1 page or a test)
o  Religion – read 1/2 page from Bible & narrate to Mom
o  German Study (1/2 page from German in 10 Minutes a Day)
o  Latin Study (5 translations from Getting Started with Latin & check and correct them yourself)
o  Music Practice (at least six minutes on two different instruments or theory)
o  PE (Tabata or other exercise)


Friday, August 15, 2014

Snowed by Kim Jong-il

A few years ago, a visiting scholar to our city gave a lecture on North Korea. He had been to visit North Korea, and he declared that the USA wasn't doing enough to engage with North Korea.

Now, I spent two weeks working at the US Embassy in Seoul during a time when the USA was trying to have six-party talks with North Korea. But North Korea wanted only bilateral talks, in keeping with an apparent pattern of trying to extort money from the USA. It appeared to me that this visiting scholar was not presenting an accurate picture of the USA's attempts to negotiate with North Korea and that he might have been unwisely swayed by the apparent sincerity and possibility of good will from the North Koreans as well as flattered by having been granted access to North Korea.

Fast forward to the just-released memoir of a North Korean defector who had inside knowledge of what Kim Jong-il was up to. Kim Jong-il, who built up the personality cult around his father while stripping away his father's power and taking it for himself, feasted royally--the invidual courses were even specially lit with customized, colored lighting--while government propagandists told the country how he was sharing their hunger and living off mere rice balls. Foreign aid was being given to party officials to keep them loyal while the regular North Koreans starved to death, even being driven to sell their children on occasion. Fake Christian churches were set up in Pyongyang to make it look like religion was freely practiced and to receive donations from South Korean churches, but when a regular North Korean showed up to enjoy the hymns, he was turned in by a "cleric" to the police and arrested.

Diplomacy was never sincere; it was all about counterintelligence work:
The United States negotiates as a matter of diplomacy, to seek common ground on an issue; but when North Korea comes to the table, it's a counterintelligence operation. In other words, North Korea uses dialogue as a tools of deception rather than of negotiation, with the objective being the maintenance of misplaced trust in the other party. And why not? North Korea's opacity is its greatest strength. It allows things to be done on its own terms while other countries continue to take what North Korea says at face value. In fact, Kim Jong-il formally set these three principles as a basis for diplomatic engagment: 'The United States will buy any lie, as long as it is logically presented'; 'Japan is susceptible to emotional manipulation'; and 'South Korea can be ignored or blackmailed.' (p. 252)

My suspicion that the visiting scholar was unwisely influenced has now been cemented. To be blunt, I think the North Koreans snowed him.