Monday, August 31, 2009

Movies, meet Reality

Like most of the world, I enjoyed High School Musical. I knew that it was filmed in a high school in Salt Lake City even though it is supposedly set in Albuquerque, New Mexico. However, it wasn't until I actually visited Albuquerque that I realized the absurdity of expecting an audience to believe that some of the movie's scenes were set in Albuquerque. Do you remember the big, lush yards of Troy and Gabriela? It's very difficult and expensive (incidentally, didn't Troy have a super-nice house considering his need for money and the fact that his dad was a high school basketball coach?) to keep a large lawn alive, much less lush, in Albuquerque. Yards there are mostly small and landscaped with rocks of non-emerald hues and desert plants. Did Troy climb a cactus to get to Gabriela's balcony? Ouch!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Travel

There is simply no substitute for travel, even limited travel, to better understand the world and global issues. For instance, today we drove through northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Driving long distances over nearly empty land made me realize yet again the huge need for affordable energy for people in rural areas. They need to heat and light their homes far away from urban grids, and they especially need fuel to run their heavy trucks, tractors, and other machinery. It's not a solution to just say that they can all move to more urban areas because many of our country's major products come from rural areas. Even in the case of national parks, someone needs to be there to actually care for the land and handle tourism needs.

So, how do we get cheap energy? Oil is still fairly cheap now, but google "peak oil" if you want something new to worry about. "Green" forms of energy have yet to become really affordable. Where's my "Mr. Fusion"?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Toy Tip #1

Plastic Easter eggs make great toys throughout the year, and they're so inexpensive that you won't mind when they got lost or broken. Some uses: play kitchen props, bathtub toys, sandbox toys (especially for the park), and craft projects (my daughter and I just did one where we covered a plastic egg with aluminum foil to make a plesiosaur).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

She asked for it!

I just found out that one of my college roommates is homeschooling her son. She made the mistake of asking me in an email recently why I decided to homeschool. My answer was so long that I decided to post it here, too, as every homeschooling blogger inevitably seems to post a list of reasons for why they homeschool. Here it is:

1) My oldest sister did it successfully, so I've seen a good example of it.

2) My mom was a schoolteacher. She worked for the NEA just after her marriage and was disgusted by the alcohol abuse and promiscuous sex indulged in by her co-workers when they went to conventions. She still has a deep dislike of the NEA and always had books in the house like Why Johnny Can't Read and other such books about the negative aspects of newer school curricula. She encouraged us to read them, and I actually did, bookworm that I was.

3) My mom was an elementary schoolteacher, so she saw the "reading wars" up close and was very frustrated at the "look-say" way of teaching literacy and the general disrespect shown to parents' wishes about when/how their children should be taught to read. She taught us all how to read independently of the schools.

4) My parents were always very interested in education issues. My father once ran for school board. When I was a preschooler, they ran a private school for a year or two. As a result, we had a house full of textbooks and quality books. Much of my childhood reading was out of older textbooks, and I remember using a couple of them to help my youngest brother learn to read back when I was in high school. My skills with younger children have developed quite a bit since those days, so I'm pretty sure I can teach my own children how to read. :)

5) Ed schools and publishers have been turning out many nonsensical, busy-work-filled curricula for decades now, and they've gotten entrenched in the schools. Most annoying, they mock or downplay phonics instruction, which approach appears logical for those unaware of the reasons for the irregularities in written English. I've learned five or so languages now, and one thing I'm convinced of is that reading and writing are obviously based on symbol-sound correlation (i.e. phonics) in most modern languages, including English. Teaching "sight words" and "guessing strategies" is much less effective and even harmful to developing readers. Tutoring a couple of local boys this last school year convinced me that even "balanced literacy" is counterproductive and producing many poor readers. The schools aren't getting a chance to ruin my daughters' reading abilities with their non-evidence-based popular methods. Especially since we're raising them to be bilingual in German and English, and they'll need an ability to read phonetically to figure out all those lovely compound German words!

6) I didn't sacrifice my health, comfort, a second income (potentially substantial, given that I'm an attorney), etc. to be a full-time mother just so my offspring can spend their best waking hours in the company of other immature children and an overworked teacher. I brought them into the world, and I take full responsibility for raising them (well, dh has some responsibility, too). Also, why should the schools get them all day just as they're starting to become good company? (Not that infants aren't wonderful, but they sure lack conversational skills...)

7) Discovery math is largely unrealistic and wastes a lot of time. It took humans millennia to develop modern mathematics. Expecting students to come up with it on their own is unrealistic and leads to frustration. Also, group math projects are overused and not nearly as helpful as educators seem to think. Left to themselves, children often "discover" wrong conclusions, and they remember those wrong conclusions. Exercises with prompt, corrective feedback are essential to becoming proficient in math. Since I graduated in mathematics, I feel strongly that my daughters can excel in math, and I will help them do so.

8) School socialization is negative in more ways than I can list. There's a reason I left high school at 16; it started with me becoming a bullied pariah in 5th grade. I am still dealing with effects of the persecution I received from schoolfellows. A little negative social experience--I'm fine with my children having to deal with that as appropriate for their age and maturity. In fact, I plan to have my children participate in public school on a part-time basis. Have them spend all day in a public school setting? No way. By the time they get to high school, they are awash in rude behavior, low scholastic expectations, immodest clothes, immorality, a ridiculous emphasis on proms and clothes, omnipresent encouragement to have boyfriends/girlfriends, rated-R language, substance abuse, self-destructive behavior, moral relativity, cheating, and racial/class/ability discrimination (I'd like my children to learn to "look upon the heart" rather than just the outward appearance).

9) Children aren't inmates. I'm very grateful that my parents weren't the type who made us go to school all the time, no matter what. If we had a legitimate reason for not wanting to go, they were just as happy to let us not go to school. As a result, we weren't the type to "cut" class. Where's the rebellion in an excused absence, anyway?

10) Healthwise, it doesn't make sense to force little children into mingling with hundreds of other children everyday and high school students into being away from home for over 12 hours a day (dh was often away from home from 5:30 a.m. until after dinnertime when he was in high school). Adults aren't even at work that long!

11) Public schools are not the place anymore, if indeed they ever were, to be fairly exposed to more than one side of a story; there's always a subtext of "this is the right answer for the test" (well, except for some discovery math questions ;) ). For children to be exposed to many facts, even those which aren't politically correct, homeschooling seems to be the best way to go. I want my children to learn to weigh different theories, respect those who have come to different conclusions than they have, and make logical, calm arguments in support of their own political/scientific/social/etc. conclusions.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bride Wars

We just watched the movie Bride Wars.

Here's what I liked about it:
1) Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway are just cute, especially when they have blue hair or orange skin.

Here's what I didn't like about it:
1) Completely over-the-top characters and scenarios
2) Reinforcement of the stupid idea that a) one should spend more time fussing over wedding arrangements than making sure that one is marrying wisely and b) wedding celebrations should cost more than your average house down payment.
3) One of the brides breaks up with her groom, even though most of the foreshadowing of the breakup makes it look as though he's the one dissatisfied with what's going on and we never see him mistreat her. To be consistent, he should have done the breaking up.

The Business of Being Born

Last night, dh and I finished watching The Business of Being Born, a documentary that focused on midwife-assisted deliveries. The natural births they showed were fascinating and very beautiful emotionally because the mothers got to hold their babies immediately afterward. I've had two drug-free deliveries in foreign hospitals (I was doing what it took to avoid the cascade of interventions that often leads to a C-section, and my labors turned out to be a lot less painful than I had expected), and both times the OB-GYNs have forced me into reclining positions against my body's preference just before I pushed my babies out. As a result, both times there was so much stitching to do that I didn't get to hold my babies for some time afterward. I'm really looking forward to giving birth (just 10 weeks away, give or take a week or two) with the assistance of a nurse-midwife this time. I'll still be in a hospital, but I'll finally have a birth attendant who respects the instinctual knowledge of a woman in labor about what she needs to do with her own body. And maybe I'll get to hold my baby right after she comes out!

I highly recommend this documentary to any pregnant woman. One caveat: be careful who you watch it with because ladies delivering babies aren't exactly focused on modesty.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Busybodies

Having moved here from Ecuador, a place where children are generally beloved and taken shopping regularly by their parents, I've been surprised at how seldom I see people grocery shopping here with young children. Occasionally, there might be one child with a shopper, but rarely more than that in some stores. It seems that one result of the relative rarity of children in stores is a greater degree of ignorance about what constitutes truly dangerous behavior by children. That ignorance, against a backdrop of liability and damage concerns, causes some people to behave in rather ridiculous busybody ways.

I admit, I'm still smarting over the blowsy, stained-shirt-wearing woman who accosted me today in the supermarket parking lot and railed at me for letting my younger daughter--a remarkably large and agile child for her age--climb on the grocery cart (I had actually been rather pleased with myself for having been able to keep her safely contained for more than half the shopping trip, energetic, willful toddler that she is) and threatened to call child protection services and the police on me for child endangerment. I'm the type of mother who avoids driving on the freeway, generally drives just below the speed limit, has plastic safety plugs and latches all over her house, and stands worriedly under the aforementioned child as she stretches her climbing abilities (which are advanced) on playground equipment! I really don't appreciate people who don't know my daughter's capabilities threatening to call down police power on me when she misbehaves. What am I supposed to do? Spank her? I strictly limit the use of that disciplinary measure since it's too easy to use counterproductively. Leave her in the car or at home alone? Not remotely an option. Or just not take her shopping...easier said than done if you've ever tried to buy a family's supply of groceries at those self-check stations which are often the only open lanes in the morning.... Now I understand why my older sister just had her groceries delivered for a while. :P

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Case in Point

In my last post, I stated that a moderate degree of testing is necessary in order to find out whether a school is fulfilling its basic educational mission. Via Joanne Jacobs' website today, I saw that there actually exists a school--L.A.'s Locke High, very recently made a charter school due to its abysmal performance--where under 2% of the students are at least "proficient" in mathematics. Yikes! Fill-in-the-bubble tests are very valuable when they provide information like that about a student body.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Weapons of Mass Instruction

I just finished reading Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto. Being an advocate of homeschooling as a legal option, I supposed that reading his book might be rather like being a choir member hearing a sermon on the importance of worship. In many ways, it was. I do not feel it wise of our society to force children younger than 7 or 8 and older than 16 to be schooled; those in the former group are often too immature for institutional academics, and many in the latter group are mature enough to make life decisions (that's why nearly every U.S. state and the majority of European countries allow 16-year-olds to marry with parental consent). Also, I value the information Mr. Gatto included about the origins of compulsory schooling and the proven ability of many to succeed in life without being "A" students.

But, here's my big "however" about this book. Mr. Gatto, while pointing out the ineffectiveness of many schools to actually educate, is on a crusade against standardized testing. Why? Doesn't he realize that standardized testing is the only way for those not personally involved with a school to find out to what degree it is successfully producing students who can read and do basic math? We can't just trust that schools are seeing to instruction in these basic skills. (And we just can't do away with all schools, either.) As Mr. Gatto points out on page 197 when discussing the lack of sufficient--despite being legally-mandated--physical exercise in New York City schools,
96 percent of all schools in New York City break the law with impunity in a matter threatening the health of the students. What makes it even more ominous is that school officials are known far and wide for lacking independent judgment and courage in the face of bureaucratic superiors; but something in this particular matter must give them confidence that they won't be held personally liable.

You must face the fact that an outlaw ethic runs throughout institutional schooling. It's well-hidden inside ugly buildings, masked by dull people, mindless drills, and the boring nature of almost everything associated with schools, but make no mistake--under orders from somewhere, this institution is perfectly capable of lying about life-and-death matters, so how much more readily about standardized testing?
I am not against standardized tests per se, and I have no inclination to take part in a "Bartleby Project" campaign against them (I never liked Melville's fictional scrivener; he seemed an empty, purposeless man unworthy of emulation). Standardized tests serve an important function: holding schools accountable for academic instruction. If schools can get away with insufficient P.E. time, then they are certainly capable of not doing any effective academic teaching where no way exists to catch them being delinquent in that basic duty.

For the record, I am against more than one or two days per year being spent taking or even preparing overtly for standardized tests. They should be written well in order to accurately measure proficiency in reading and math and science comprehension, proficiency which should already be being developed by the teachers and curriculum throughout the year. Teachers should have no need to "teach to the test" because the test should be measuring that which they should have been teaching all along.

While I learned much from Weapons of Mass Instruction, I am not enamored of this book in large part because of the author's unwillingness to recognize any value in a moderate amount of standardized testing. I have no philosophical objection to my children being tested as Colorado law requires (first in 3rd grade, then every second year thereafter). I expect the exams to be easy for my children because I will have educated them far above the standard, which is actually quite a low level these days. Any shortcomings they might have in their exam scores, I will take responsibility for and work to remedy, as becomes an adult who has taken charge of a child's education.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dinosaurs!

Who knew that dinosaurs were probably warm-blooded? Or that if they lived in water or air, they're not technically dinosaurs? I didn't this morning, but thanks to a family trip to the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center in Woodland Park, Colorado, I have since learned these things. This is a very serious dinosaur center--they have their own lab in the back, and they sell dinosaur skeletons to museums all over. Not having been a dinosaur enthusiast all my life (unlike my husband, who still LOVES Jurassic Park), I found my eyes glazing over as I read some of the exhibit signs. My favorite parts were watching my children delight in "digging" for dinosaur bones and playing with dinosaur puppets, taking pictures with our heads looking as though they were dangerously close to carnivorous dinosaur mouths, and learning more about the historical movements of continents.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fame

Fame is a limited state. One of the most famous Indian actors, Shah Rukh Khan, was recently detained for two hours after flying into the Newark airport. He says he was detained because of his Muslim-sounding name. However, his name could have been Osama bin Hussein and he would have had no problem entering the USA if his face were as famous in the United States of America as it is among Indians.

So, the moral is, if you ever are granted a wish and you have a hard time choosing between fame and money, choose the money if you plan to travel internationally. :)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Vanity, Vanity

Once I had fake nails. My mother, convinced I was a geek (hmmm, math graduate working in computer programming at the time....where would she get such an idea?), repeatedly told me that I should participate in the city beauty pageant. I didn't appreciate her pestering me on the subject, but I did see how it might be a worthwhile experience. When I realized that she was going to be out of the country on the night of the pageant, I signed up to compete in it. No stage mothering to worry about, and I'd get to dress up and have a chance to sing in public!

To not make a fool of one's self in a pageant, er, I mean scholarship competition, one must look the part (just watch Miss Congeniality for proof of this). So I went to a nail salon and got long acrylic nails. Wow! I felt so glamorous! Until I tried to wash my hair and realized that I was scratching my scalp and loosening my expensive new nails in my thick hair. When I went to work, I realized that I had to hold my hands differently to use my computer keyboard. All of the sudden, I became much less able to use my fingertips. I had traded in useful fingertips for nails that felt unnatural and required "fills" every week or two. Ugh. After one or two fills, I got rid of my long nails, and I've never worn fake nails since.

This morning, I had reason to be very grateful for my short fingernails. My two-year-old daughter was with me on my bed, and she lost her balance and fell into me. My finger and fingernail, what little there is of it, were pressed into her left eye socket as her head fell onto my hand. She cried for a few moments, but no lasting harm was done. Imagine what could have happened to her if I had long, thick fingernails! No, such vanities are not for me and certainly not worth an increased risk of injuring my still-awkward little ones.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"My boy"

Today my dd4 found the box of Maisy valentines and pulled out six of them. She indicated that four of them were for the four members of our family and then said that another valentine was for Robert. When I asked who Robert was, she responded that Robert was "her boy". Further questioning revealed that Robert was a little boy in her Sunday School class. I didn't expect to have my four-year-old wanting to give valentines to any specific little boys quite this early!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Memories in Songs

Now that I'm over 30 years old and have lived in a few countries, I have many memories attached to various foreign pop hits over the years. I just discovered (thanks to PC Magazine) Grooveshark, a website which allows one to listen to all kinds of music over streaming audio. I've been pleasantly surprised at how many of my favorite older foreign pop songs are available on Grooveshark. For instance, I found Alles aus Liebe, Znowu Pada Deszcz, Dragostea Din Tei, Inogda and Hej Sokoly (a techno version). But there is a sad lack of Floricienta songs.

Friday, August 7, 2009

What's in a number?

Quite a bit, when it's a CSAP score, in my opinion. The Colorado Student Assessment Program scores have just been released, and let's just say that they aren't inspiring me to run out and sign up my child at the elementary school she's been assigned to (although we live closer to a higher-scoring school). Is it really in my child's best interest to be in a classroom where only half the students are proficient at a basic skill? Yeah, I didn't think so...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Morning by Morning

I just read most of a very enlightening book about homeschooling. It was Morning by Morning: How We Homeschooled our African-American Sons to the Ivy League by Paula Penn-Nabrit. I really enjoyed her style of writing and how much she taught me about families, racial interaction and race issues, and education. Maybe I just understood her well because I am also a religious, law-trained woman, but I was surprised at how much of her message resonated with me, a white woman who doesn't even look the quarter-Hispanic that I am. I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Homeschooling officially begins...

The local powers that be have decreed that my dd, age 4, is supposedly old enough to begin full-day kindergarten in just three weeks, where she will be expected to feed and care for herself for six consecutive hours, be surrounded by peers whose home environments and values are completely out of our control, and be taught over 100 sight words by the end of the school year. To that, I say "Pshaw!"

Seriously, how absurd! So, we're about to start being some of those counter-culture homeschoolers. Our dd will still spend most of her day with me, and she'll learn how to read (for real, not just memorizing 100 words) by Christmas by working with me for just a few minutes a day. She's been in a linguistically-rich home all her life, and she can already sound out simple CVC words. (Did I mention recently how much I love the starfall.com website?) We recently started doing one page a day (we do go back and re-read the little stories from previous days because she likes the pictures and accompanying text) from Reading With Phonics* by Julie Hay and Charles Wingo. I can tell she is ready to steadily and easily progress through the entire book as long as I don't push her too fast and burn out her interest. Hooray for great reading instruction books and more time with dd, who is very dear to me indeed.

*Note: this Lippincott book is old and has some humorously un-P.C. things in it. For example, yesterday's reading ended with the sentence "Toy guns are fun." (Well, they are, aren't they?)

Monday, August 3, 2009

More monstrous Austen remakes...

My husband finished Pride and Prejudice and Zombies last night. He read parts to me, and I have to admit I found it amusing. I'm not sure why the adapter of the original Pride and Prejudice had to throw in ninjas, though; weren't the zombies enough?

I looked on Amazon.com and was surprised to see that there's a batch of similar books in the works: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, Darcy's Hunger: A Vampire Retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and Jane Bites Back. Scary!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Zombies in Regency England

My dh has been reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now With Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!, written by Jane Austen and added to by Seth Grahame-Smith. He was so excited to read it, and he's been fairly engrossed in it all evening. (I think "gross" might be an appropriate word for some of what he's been reading, based on the few excerpts he has read to me.) I hope Elizabeth ends up with Mr. Darcy before he turns into a zombie and she has to destroy him!