Thursday, January 30, 2014

So sad, so unnecessary

Two years ago, a friend lost her baby due to attempting to give birth at home. My youngest daughter is about the same age that my friend's baby would have been. Today my daughter is feeding herself Cheerios in milk (with only a little bit of spilling) and delighting in hearing the same few books read to her over and over. She says "yank-oo" ("Thank-you") and cries when one of her parents leaves the house without her. She is, to get to the point, a darling.

While I get to be happy with my little daughter, my friend is left mourning because she trusted that "natural childbirth" was superior. While I'm the first to say that relatively uncomplicated labors are terrific for those fortunate enough to have them, nature is often very unkind and, without modern medicine, would damage or destroy many more infants and mothers than it does in the developed world. I'd far rather have had four surgical births than lose one of my babies.

On a brighter note, I had my 20-week ultrasound this week. Baby #5 appears healthy and is also a girl! Five little girls. I never imagined I'd get a string of just one gender. I now call my husband Mr. Bennet (as in Pride and Prejudice) sometimes.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Learning disabilities

I'm torn when I hear that someone has been diagnosed with a learning disability. It's clear that some people's brains work differently from others, and it's important to know what those differences are in order to help them work around or better utilize the brains that they have. But, on the other hand, the practical effect of getting a learning disability label often seems to be a long-term lowering of expectations for the labeled person, which is unfortunate.

Other people have covered this subject far better than I could. For instance, Bright Hub Education gives a summary of the pros and cons of being labeled with a learning disability:
Pros - IEPs, extra learning support, and specialized instruction
Cons - low self esteem, low expectations, and peer issues

At the end of the Bright Hub Education summary, the author gives a few ideas of what can be done to lessen the cons of being labeled:
Teachers can help prevent the negative consequences of the label by taking a few proactive steps to minimize the chance of problems occurring. Counselors and teachers should talk with learning disabled students and their parents and explain that a learning disability does not take away a student's value, that each person learns at a different pace and in a different manner and the school intends to provide the specialized education required to help the student achieve success. Parents and teachers should also be careful not to lower their expectations for the student and instead offer positive encouragement. Finally, teachers should talk to the class about learning disabilities and how different paces and styles of instruction are used. Open classroom discussions about learning disabilities can help to create an understanding between peers.

Those sound like laudable ways to address the problems, but I don't think they are as generally effective as educators and parents hope they will be. How can parents and teachers not lower expectations when they're being told that a child is not as able at learning as his/her classmates? And positive encouragement can backfire when used with children who are insecure about their abilities. Anti-bullying programs are associated with a increased rate of bullying, which makes it questionable whether open class discussions about learning disabilities will decrease bullying of those with learning disabilities. Schools may "intend" to provide "the specialized education required to help the student achieve success" but might fail at actually doing so due to lack of qualified personnel and resources.

Given that homeschooling helps a parent address both low self esteem (no classmates to compare one's self with) and peer issue worries, I can see why many parents choose to homeschool children with learning disabilities. At home, they can provide individual educations and extra learning support to their children, and they can independently seek out the specialists that their children need. It's a lot of work (and money to pay for the specialists), and I'm impressed by their efforts on behalf of their children.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Typical Sunday Morning

My husband is reading the Sunday comics online, dd9 is reading a Rose is Rose comic book, dd6 is reading an art workbook of projects, and dd4 and dd1 (almost 2) are playing with each other and play swords. Everyone is dressed for church except for mom. Mom is reading news on the internet. On Sundays I like to see what's new in archaeology discoveries. For instance, a mystery Pharoah was just found, and they've carbon dated the Adena mound in Ohio to around 2000 years ago.

When I was a kid, our family did very similar things on Sunday mornings...except for the internet bit.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Creation, Days, and Faith in God

One thing I watch with great sorrow is how some religious, usually Christian, homeschoolers and curriculum publishers consider it necessary to obsessively dwell on one of the many interpretations of Genesis 1, particularly the meaning of "day" as used therein. The Hebrew word for day, "yom", can be used to mean an indefinite period of time, just as our English "day" can. Why is it necessary to rigidly require that it mean exactly the period that it now takes our earth to rotate one time? And why is it necessary to tie that rigidity to faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

First, the actual text of Genesis 1 makes it very questionable that a "day" of creation, as used therein, is a rotation of the earth taking 24 hours. It clearly states that the lights of the firmament (i.e., sun, moon, stars) weren't even in place and defining the days and years until the "fourth day" of the creation.

Second, the word "yom", as has already been set forth by others, is used to mean several different lengths of time in the Old Testament, including an age or even eternity. There is not just one possible interpretation of "day" in Genesis 1.

Third, faith in Jesus Christ rests on belief in his divinity and his power to redeem mankind. It doesn't rest on the Bible being a science text, which the Bible never claims to be. Faith certainly doesn't require that we dismiss as evil conspiracies the honestly inquiring minds of men and women with the objective, replicable results they have discovered just because those results fail to line up perfectly with our interpretation of the Bible. There's enough real evil in the world to deal with; we don't need to be turning scientists into bogeymen.

Fourth, the body of scientific knowledge grows as people pursue scientific knowledge, and so does the body of spiritual knowledge also grow, if we are willing to accept it. For example, when Jesus tried to tell his apostles--some of whom were apparently loathe to accept it--that his Messianic mission involved his imminent physical death, that went against their understanding and hope of what the Messiah was to be, yet with Jesus' resurrection his apostles came to understand that Jesus was accomplishing a far more important work than they had anticipated. We humans don't know all of God's ways.

Fifth, what are children to do who have grown up on a diet of math, spelling, reading, grammar, and sort-of science textbooks that dogmatically tie every good principle they're teaching to a literal 144-hour creation and young earth? When they grow up and find out that there are several ways of dating objects that show the world to be much older then they've been told, will they feel like they have to choose between Christian faith and the demonstrable marvels of modern science? Why make it so hard for them to embrace truth, be it revealed by God or man, for the sake of one interpretation of "day"?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Online M.Ed. from Western Governors University

My husband just finished all the requirements for an M.Ed. in Instructional Design from Western Governors University. He will be receiving his diploma through the mail in a week or two. He could go to an actual graduation ceremony, but it's in Georgia in less than a month, so he's going to pass on "walking." It's such a relief to have him finally done with the degree. This is his second time working towards a master's degree in this field; the first time he did all the coursework for an master's degree in Educational Technology at a brick-and-mortar university in the Philippines but was unable to finish the final project due to our having moved from Asia to South America. (That's a long, expensive trip.) Because he has both online and classroom experience in seeking very similar degrees, I thought it would be interesting to interview him about his studies.

Q: How long did you work on your master's degree from WGU?  A: About two years, but I took two breaks.

Q: How long did you work on your master's degree at the university in the Philippines?  A: About two years.

Q: Which program required more effort from you? Please elaborate.  A: I would say probably WGU did because the assignments, as far as I remember, were more difficult. Well, there was one assignment at the Philippine university that was difficult--it was the design and creation of educational software; all of the others were less memorable and not really challenging. Several of the WGU assignments, especially those leading up to the capstone, involved doing more work and things I'd never done before, such as task analysis and conducting a research study.

Q: Did you think the WGU graders were too easy or too hard or just right?  A: I think some of the graders may have been too light, or maybe I'm just too hard on myself. One of the graders did return an assignment saying it was missing a component, which was in the appendix where it was supposed to be per the instructions, so I just resubmitted it and it was approved then.

Q: How much time each week did you put into your master's degree studies and assignments during the periods when you were enrolled?  A: It varied from 0 hours some weeks to 3-5 hours a day, so 18-30 hours other weeks. [WGU students enroll for six months at a time, and students go at their own pace but must complete at least four classes per term.]

Q: How much did your WGU master's degree program cost in total?  A: A little over $12,000, most of which was paid for by my employer.

Q: Who are the people that you work with at WGU?  A: Each course has a course mentor, then there is a student mentor who stayed with me through the entire program. Previously, some of my colleagues who did degrees through WGU were allowed to change mentors. The student mentor's job was to communicate with me on a regular basis, weekly at the beginning, to ensure that I was making goals and making progress. The mentor has a set of questions to ask each week. The student mentor was supposed to answer questions that I have about processes and offer encouragement and assistance. There was also the capstone advisor, who was also the capstone content evaluator; that is like a thesis advisor. There were also the task evaluators, with whom I didn't really have contact except that they evaluated my assignments for correctness.

Q: Did you miss having physical classrooms, interaction with peers, and personal interaction with instructing professors?  A: No, not really. I didn't have a lot of friends in college [undergraduate]. I had people I knew, but not that I really hung out with, except for roommates, who I really didn't choose.

Q: Do you think more socially-inclined people would have difficulties with WGU's online nature?  A: Perhaps, but WGU does have online communities for each of the courses and each of the programs, so students can post in forums for a bit more social interaction. I did not use them; I found them to be less helpful initially, so I did not visit them again.

Q: What kind of students would not benefit from an online education program?  A: Slackers. People who need a teacher following up on them. People who need handholding or cannot work independently may not have as good of an experience.

Q: But you had a mentor....?  A: Sometimes I can be a bit of a procrastinator, and knowing that I had a phone call at the end of every week or two helped motivate me.

Q: As a person who sometimes makes hiring decisions yourself, would you consider a WGU degree a better qualification than one from a brick-and-mortar school?  A: Not necessarily. If the job called for skills that one could attain through social interaction at a brick-and-mortar school, I think that would be more beneficial than an online degree. But a WGU degree shows that a person is more likely to be able to work independently on projects and not need as much handholding.

I've told the kids to call their daddy "Master" once in a while now that he's got the degree. :)

ADDENDUM: My husband says I didn't ask him what he liked about not having to be in a brick-and-mortar school. He liked not having to deal with drama from classmates who thought assignments were too hard.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Homeschool Music - No Tiger Moms Here

I really want my children to have the ability to read music and be able to learn whatever instrument they are internally motivated to study. I would also like them to be able to appreciate the finest and/or funnest music out there. I have no desire to force them to practice long stretches each day and go through the tears and fights that so often happen when children are forced a la Amy Chua (The Tiger Mother).

What that looks like in practice for our family is this: each school age child is expected to do five minutes on two different instruments (a page of music theory from a workbook counts as an instrument) every normal school day with any needed instruction given by me, a book, or an internet video. That's basically it. I did run a small children's chorale for 2 months with other homeschoolers this past fall to give them a group singing experience, but that was quite temporary. My children progress slowly, yet steadily, in primarily piano and violin, with excursions into the recorder, bandurria (a Filipino mandolin-like instrument), and trumpet. If any of our children becomes desperate for lessons, she will get long as she is willing on her own to put in the practice time that professional teachers will require.

Ask me in a few years how this has worked out. For now, there are few tears associated with our music studies, and that is more important to me than creating virtuosos. Besides, I have just one sibling who majored in music performance, and she literally does nothing with it now. Encouraging my children to be music performers for any reason other than their own unstoppable, internal drive to do so just doesn't seem practical.


As a former Foreign Service Officer, I found this excerpt from Story of the World, vol. 4 thought-provoking:
"Remember those polite messages that one country sends to another by way of an ambassador? Diplomacy looks courteous and well mannered, but usually one country agrees to the polite messages of another country only because both countries know that a war will start if it doesn't."

While I think war might be overstating the negative consequences of non-cooperation in most cases--other measures such as lessening of foreign aid, visa difficulties, trade obstacles, embargoes, and generally un-accommodating behavior are more likely in today's world--Susan Wise Bauer exhibits an acceptance of the German version of Realpolitik, the idea that political actions must be realistic and accept the reality of power as a governing force in politics as opposed to unrealistic political actions based on ideology. In the wake of this past year's foreign policy debacles--of the top 10 international winners of 2013, none are are the USA or Americans--the State Department might need to re-evaluate whether its foreign policy moves are based on political reality or merely hopes that other countries will share our goals. It is interesting to note that Germany did make it on the list of 10 winners in 2013.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


My oldest sister (age 46) is hospitalized in intensive care due to influenza A. She is intubated, sedated, and probably going to spend a month or two in the hospital. And that's with the doctors being "cautiously optimistic". This is just from the flu. They checked, and it's not H1N1.

This sister is about as perfect as mortals come. She is an intelligent, generous wife, mother, sister, and community member. She looks out for her health, having followed the self-denying principles of The China Study for years. She doesn't smoke or drink. She exercises regularly, and as far as I can see, her only underlying health "condition" that could have contributed to her getting so sick is that she has seemed a little underweight due to her energetic focus on healthy eating and exercise.

I know illnesses like hers are relatively rare in middle-aged adults, but that is no comfort when they happen to someone I love. The best case scenario at present is that she loses a month of her life to hospitalization. I don't know whether she got the flu vaccine this year, but if there's a reader who's been thinking of getting it, I would encourage you to get the vaccine sooner rather than later. A fever for a day or two as your immune system develops immunity (the flu shot only has dead virus, and you can't get the flu from it) is nothing compared to full-blown, put-you-in-the-ICU flu.