Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Homeschool Whistleblowers and the Religious Thought Police

Home educators are perhaps the most mystifying group of people on the planet.  We are all dissenters of one kind or another.  Some flat-out reject mass education, others feel their special-needs kids cannot be served well, and many fear negative socialization, violence and bullying.  But the majority of home educators do the arduous work of schooling at  home for religious reasons.  These families were the pioneers decades ago who blazed the trail for the rest of us.   Most of mainstream America cannot fathom why sane parents would choose to spend every day and night with their kids.  The whole world thinks we are weird.  That's our burden to bear.  Thanks to this article, our job just got a little harder:

Ms. Joyce begins her attack on Christian Fundamentalist home educators by telling a shocking tale of a young adult woman who is basically held hostage in her home by a mentally ill mother. For her to imply that this is emblematic or typical of home education is disingenuous at best.  It is a lousy introduction to what is an otherwise informative essay.

A few clarifications - I am not a fundamentalist, but I am a Christian, and I've home schooled for 15 years. We home school for academic excellence.   I've met hundreds and hundreds of home school families, most of them Christian.  It is safe to say no two families are alike.  As a population home educators are practically impossible to categorize.  We defy generalizations.  Not knowing any better, Kathryn Joyce stubbornly tries to categorize home educators but only succeeds carrying out a crazy witch hunt..  This is so regrettable because she does unveil other important issues - issues that merit more discussion.  But, the most worthy aspects of her essay are buried in her own bigotry.  More on this later.....

As mentioned, the most conspicuous flaw in this essay is found on the launch pad - the author devotes the first few paragraphs to the awfully sad,  extraordinary, and rather dreadful circumstances of Jennifer's schism with her parents.  News flash:  Correlation does not imply causation!  Jennifer's parents are a little nuts. Home school or not, these parents eventually would have been a force for poor Jennifer (and Lauren) to deal with.

After Kathryn Joyce primes the pump with this theatrical opening, she proceeds to throw many people and organizations (all of them conservative Christian in scope and sequence) right under the "religious-thought-police bus".  She has sat behind the wheel of this buggy for many years, but she seems only to steer toward Christians, cheerfully eager to plow them down.   She is a bigot and she is barreling around in the bigot bus, targeting Christian initiatives with all of the zealotry she seems to detest in others.

There are many ways she could have addressed some of the valid issues that exist in very conservative Christian home school circles.  An even-handed approach would have borne more fruit.  For example, this article would be more plausible, if it had included a discussion of what the Amish are taught in their homes and churches.  Additionally, if Ms. Joyce is truly concerned about what children are learning outside of this nation's state conditioning centers, she really should have included a discussion of ultra conservative Judaism, which is most analogous to the very conservative fundamentalist Christian. For example, in conservative orthodox Judaism, marriages are often determined by parents and it is frequently a financial arrangement.  Boys and girls are taught separately.  They are opposed to viewing secular movies and reading secular newspapers.  They are told to be fruitful and multiply.  This sounds like just the thing to get Ms. Joyce's knickers twisted, but she does not talk about them or other groups.

Kathryn Joyce is deeply interested in religious liberty.  Well, why doesn't she focus on the oppression of young Muslim girls?  Here, a storehouse of great exposés await her golden pen.  Imagine the good she could do by raising awareness of the ocean of brutality and subjugation in the extreme forms of this religion.   Instead she spends her time accusing Christians of evil-doing when they rescue children through adoption. Better those children should die slow and painful deaths from infection, neglect and abuse, right, Kathryn?  Anything would be better than having them cared for by Christians.

Also, I cannot  help but wonder why Kathryn Joyce did not give any space in her article to talk about the amazing achievements of home educated students.  It is a glaring omission.  It robs her thesis of integrity.

The Homeschool Apostates (the title of her essay) gave voice to a growing group of young adults who feel they were robbed of a normal childhood.  This is a terrible thing - a heart breaking outcome.  I am glad these young people have found each other and have a public forum for airing their grievances. Their parents may wish they had done things differently.  Many parents do and most of them did not home school.  But, I had no idea that there were homeschool recovery groups, and it was deeply challenging to read the personal stories of so many young adults on these homeschool refugee websites.  It is important to read how things can go sideways - it doesn't only happen in school families - it happens in homeschool families, too.   I am glad that Kathryn Joyce put these websites out there. Together, all of these recovery stories present a complete manual on what NOT to do if you plan to home educate.  Ideally, some of these stories would make it into the "new homeschooler info packet".

I do not want to detract from the stories of these defectors.  However, much larger than this apostate group (by several million) are the public forums for young adults who wish their parents had rescued them from a hellish existence in school.

Here's the thing - some conservative Christian families do go over board in my opinion.  I know families who do not allow their teens to date and where the "Master of the House" dad is viewed as an overlord.  There are some families who meddle constantly in their children's lives and who smother them with rules.  Some have a highly flawed approach to academics.  But, at the end of the day, this is no more my business than is the neighbor's kid who gets on a big, yellow bus every day and who at the age of 12 still cannot read.

Kathryn Joyce seems very alarmed by the fact that home education puts most control into the hands of parents.  Who else should have control over our children's lives - the marauding, predatory, minions in Washington?  It is obvious that this author wants everyone to have the same life views.  Yes, a mob of automatons would be a manageable mob.  Hmmmm.  Don't you wonder what Kathryn Joyce really wants?

In this article, she was trying to get at some of the flaws in home education but her hostility toward Christians derailed her effort.  Hate is a terrible burden to bear.  Ultimately, I think this author degrades herself with her evident hatred of Christians and the result is a lack of imagination in her research.

Monday, September 9, 2013

As the World Turns....for Labereelings

Another school year has grabbed me by the wrists, yanking me from one hour to the next, from one to-do list to the next.  Yet the days are not as jarring as they once were, now that there are just 2 young men to educate.  It should be so much easier and in some small ways it is.  But with John and Nora both living outside of the Laberee home, I have discovered a strange foe - an itinerant spirit.  My own heart has become part nomad, wandering through the house, through their rooms, and through the well-trodden alleys of my own mind searching for them and needing to engage them on some pressing matter, both out of habit and for the love of it all.  For the love of them.

An update on the fearless foursome:

John is starting his sophomore year at UPenn and rowing varsity ... for one of the top 10 college crew teams in the country.  Yeah, I'm just a little proud.  He's taking courses in Russian (that is, they are taught in Russian!) and he is enjoying history, psych, and more.  Oh, and a part-time job. Hope he takes those vitamins I sent!

Nora is in Hungary where she is taking her senior year of high school and a full load of classes, taught in Hungarian, of course.  She reports that it is tiring beyond description but she is enjoying her host family, the beauty of Hungary, the cool weather, her jaunts into Austria and her new friends.   She has already been interviewed by Hungarian television because of the essay she wrote describing why she wanted to go the Hungary.  She talked about the Hungarian story called "The White Stag".  It was a hit!   Do I miss her?  Well, I step into her bedroom every morning and spray a little of her perfume around the house.  Then, the rooms smell glorious, and I feel like she is near. Yeah, that says it all.

                 In Austria .... I think the Alps are behind her? Sooo proud of this cool customer.

Andy is enjoying his new role .... he always gets a front seat in the car and has seniority these days.  He began the school year with a party in Boston with friends he made while at Brown University this past summer.  With three AP classes, a course at Stanford's OHS, and a move up to varsity rowing, he has come to fully appreciate simple things like good sleep, good food, good coffee, and down-time.  He started strong this year and shows no signs of slowing down!

Hanging with some pals this past weekend.

And James has turned into a fanatical reader!  He consumes 2 books per week, minimum, but often 3.   All of the kids have been avid readers, but James has actually out-read his sibs when they were 10.  He has a very busy year with continued study of Latin, Mythology and Ancient History in our Classics Club, in addition to weekly fishing, art class, golf clinics, and one afternoon per week on a farm.  I can promise that getting muddy,while chasing goats and pigs, will be his favorite time of the week.  He was accepted into the Gifted Learning Program for middle schoolers at Northwestern University and will be taking some of his classes online this year, for the first time (!)

I don't think a day goes by that Peter and I don't marvel at how good God has been to us and to our family.  It is a great privilege to partner with our kids in life this way.  It is a great blessing to serve.

"As for me and my house....we will serve the Lord."   Joshua 24:15

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Time ...

"...and time for all the works and days of hands, that lift and drop a question on your plate..."
T. S. Eliot

My home school years lurch one after the other, engulfing all of my faculties for months on end such that I hardly have time to look closely at the strange reflection staring back at me from that heartless mirror, and so I do occasionally give a gasp at how time has salted my hair and how it tugs without pity on all corners of my face.

I don't mind being surprised by the slithering, skulking, treachery of my own inevitable decline. Time does what time does.  The lines on my face are not what bother me about passing time. It is the perfidious nature of the deeds of time that brings me to my knees.  Time is a shameless charlatan.

When we decided to home educate, we knew we would not miss any of the milestones - we had reserved a front row seat in each of children's lives.  Every year, Peter and I acknowledge that when we are sharing a park bench quietly, many years from now, we will never ever regret the extra time we have had with each of them.  It is why we keep doing it.  That, and the fact that it's so darn right in every way.

So, we have given our time and it has been so right.

With great clarity, I can recall the look in each of their eyes when they cracked the code and took off with reading.  The daily casual breakfasts followed by rapid-fire discussions of current events, the palpable satisfaction for an essay well-written and the relief at completing a science project - with all of these things time lures me in, allowing me to imagine that the four of them have a place in my life that will never change and that I have an unchanging place in theirs.  No.  They all have very bright futures, that's for sure, but futures where mom and dad move to the background.  While we work hard to guide and nurture, ensuring success when that moment of separation arrives, we are completely flabbergasted when it all goes well, and they walk off into the sunset.

I have not experienced anything that so thoroughly unhinges and yet is a good thing.

With John back at Penn and Nora in Eastern Europe, I am unmoored.  Floating through the days, I realize that time has played a mephitic trick on me.  I thought things would never change.  I thought that we would be ushering in every Autumn together, every Winter, Spring and Summer, too.

But time has proved me very silly indeed.

Although I am temporarily stumped, Sir Time, I do not intend to change my ways, because, in the end, I really do win.

"So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom."  Psalm 90:12

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A day filled with welcoming smiles .....

Today, my husband and I delivered our precious daughter to AFS Orientation staff in New York. The big smiles and open arms were such a welcome sight.   This encomiastic welcome lifted a heavy weight from our hearts and made it easier for us to walk back to our car, after the many hugs and kisses goodbye.  It's true, our daughter's chutzpah is the stuff of movies.  She has begun the venture of a lifetime!   In six months, we will go back to New York to pick her up, and in between, she is going to have an incredible new chapter of life at the foot of the Alps in Hungary at the Austrian border just 1/2 hour from Vienna.

Where she will be (and where the sun and stars will rush to meet her!)....

But that's not all.

When we got home, we took John back to UPenn to begin his sophomore year.  Again, every parent we met and every student we saw was wearing a smile from ear to ear.  Each person we met was happier than the next. At Penn, everyone knows they are lucky to be there and everyone shows it.  How much easier it is to turn around and walk back to the car when there are happy people surrounding your son or daughter!  His apartment this year might have one of the best views of any apartment in Philadelphia.

His apartment is on the very top floor  !!

The view is just stunning - a spacious 4 bedroom ... heck, I'm jealous !!

And so the day wraps up on a smile.  We said goodbye to Nora for six months and we sent our son back to college, halving our household's dependents in just 8 hours.  Again, I'm a little dizzy.  But the smiling faces we greeted along the way really did make all the difference.  

Friday, August 16, 2013

Dizzying summer.....

Summers should be restorative.  Mine rarely are.  I am so glad this season it almost over so I can merely continue the daunting job of home education while running a household.  I look forward to it like a vacation, and, well, that's just wrong, you know?

The summer (not yet over!) went like this....

At the outset, John was juggling three jobs but his "rowing" car went to car heaven in early June and he has not yet replaced it.  The challenges this lack of transportation presented to my life cannot be expressed using words appropriate for this blog (!) But, in spite of this, he held a job as a steel grinder, truck driver, welder and kept his job at Wharton Global Initiatives AND had an internship at a Russian law firm in Philadelphia.  Mercifully, this grew his bank account sufficiently to ensure that his stomach will not go empty during his sophomore year at UPenn.

Nora took a part time job at Wharton Global Initiatives, but in late June she left for Malaysia and Singapore, one of 16 hand-picked high school students in America to go!  She had an exotic and exciting time in the jungles of Malaysia and under the city lights of Singapore while doing sustainability research. (I, on the other hand, continued to teleport from Philadelphia to NJ at an alarming pace, to keep up with my other kid's lives.)

No sooner did I get her on the plane, that I had to turn around and drive Andy to Brown University where he took a pre-college program in DNA Science and Biotechnology.  He had the time of his life!  He did not want to leave, but two weeks later, I drove back to Rhode Island to get him and never missed a beat in my rocket-science, precision scheduling in service to the other busy Laberee-lings.  Before I knew it, the day arrived to head to JFK airport to pick up Nora!  Once home, Nora returned to her job at Wharton and her volunteer work at Academy of Natural Sciences.

And for a few days everyone was under the same roof.  But not for long.

Time to go back to Brown to deliver Andy to a competitive row camp and John was preparing to go to Russia for a few weeks and the paperwork needed for this transaction actually does require rocket-science.

Once I got John off for Russia, I headed back to Brown to get Andy.  Soon after Andy got back into life at Labereeland, John returned from Russia.   By this time, I had confessed to a nagging dizziness.

That brings us to the present moment.

While waiting for phone calls and texts from far-away places to get news about the safety of my brave travelers, I am sure I completed my tragic metamorphosis from brunette to grey-haired gorgon. The mirror does not lie.

The last leg ...the saddest leg of the preparing to send Nora, my rising senior, to Hungary, where she will live for six months.  This is in 4 days.

I can't post about Nora's departure yet, because I promised her I would not cry until she was up in the air.

heavy sigh....

Yes, summers are great.  But I'd much rather have September through May, than the bedlam of June through August !

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Summer Reading binge....

This 10 year old was ecstatic when he learned that his favorite Erin Hunter series, The Seekers, had a sequel!!  It is called The Seekers, Return to the Wild.  Only a Seekers book could have interrupted his new passion, The Warriors, by the same author.  So he quickly finished the second Warriors book (a series of over 20 books!) to return to where his heart is, with Toklo, a Seekers bear.

I guess we will now be toggling between the two series, and at the rate of 1 book per week, he will finish this year!

                                                   Meet the Warriors:

Meet the Seekers:

Meet the animal-loving, enchanted 10 year old:

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The wisdom of a liberal arts education ....

Regarding a liberal arts education - here is a sobering look at trends from Business Insider.  I have taken the liberty of pasting the whole article below, because every word is golden.  However, if you only read the following words, you will get the gist and I hope be inspired to read it all.

A 2010 study from Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa found that students majoring in liberal arts fields see " significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study." 
De-emphasizing, de-funding, and  demonizing the humanities means that students don't get trained well in the things that are the hardest to teach once at a job: thinking and writing clearly. 

My p.s.  -  With the US government exercising unprecedented control over the lives of its citizens, it is more important than ever before that we know how to think and express ourselves clearly.  Otherwise, we have nothing more than a global society of sheep.

The article:

The decades-long war against English and the other humanities has succeeded in many ways, which has had some unintended and very negative effects, according to a new report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Parents don't read to their children as much, K-12 humanities teachers are not as well-trained as STEM ones, federal funding for international education is down 41% over four years, and many college students graduate without being able to write clearly.
Although humanities degrees are not in total freefall, the bigger problem centers on the  decline in pre-college humanities education and in the liberal arts curriculum in college.
Humanities get a tiny fraction of the federal funding that STEM programs do. Many schools, public ones in particular, are already under huge financial pressure, so they're going to focus more of their energies on the things that they can get others to pay for:
Federal funding by academic discipline
That means fewer offerings, less faculty, and a decline in the sort of introductory and mandatory classes that used to be standard in college. 
The result is not only relatively fewer humanities majors but also a generation of students who get out of school and don't know how to write well or express themselves clearly. 
 The New York Times' Verlyn Klinkenborg, who has spent time teaching writing to both undergrads and graduate students at places like Harvard, Yale, Pomona, Sarah Lawrence, and Columbia'sGraduate School of Journalism, reports that kids are shockingly ill-prepared:
Each semester I hope, and fear, that I will have nothing to teach my students because they already know how to write. And each semester I discover, again, that they don’t.
They can assemble strings of jargon and generate clots of ventriloquistic syntax. They can meta-metastasize any thematic or ideological notion they happen upon. And they get good grades for doing just that. But as for writing clearly, simply, with attention and openness to their own thoughts and emotions and the world around them — no.
Those are undergraduate and even graduate students at some of the top colleges and universities in the country who have chosen to focus on writing to a certain extent. Things are presumably even worse elsewhere.
A 2010 study from Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa found that students majoring in liberal artsfields see " significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study." 
De-emphasizing, de-funding, and  demonizing the humanities means that students don't get trained well in the things that are the hardest to teach once at a job: thinking and writing clearly. 
CEOs, including Jeff Bezos , Logitech's Bracken Darrell , Aetna's Mark Bertolini , and legendary Intel co-founder Andy Grove emphasize how essential clear writing and the liberal arts are. STEM alone isn't enough. Even Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke recently gave English majors a shout-out.    
The point is that good writing isn't just a "utilitarian skill" as Klinkenborg  puts it but something that takes a great deal of practice, thought, and engagement with history and what other people have written.
Let's hope that argument keeps the field alive.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Our littlest scholar....

Not to be outdone by his three older sibs, upon our return from the International Science Olympiad yesterday, James had a surprise in the mail - the results of his Latin Exploratory Exam.  Summa cum laude!!

Now, our youngest scholar is as happy as can be !

And mom and dad could not be more proud!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

International Science Olympiad Finalist

When my daughter's research was accepted to the International Science Olympiad, no one was more surprised.  She planned and executed on an environmental research project but had not even planned to submit it to any science competitions; she was working to have her research published.  She succeeded and her research will be covered in a Preservation Science Newletter soon.  Since she had already done a good deal of work on her topic - Pine Barren Ecology - she decided it would not hurt to submit it to this International Olympiad.  She had nothing to lose.  And, here we are!

It is intimidating, to be sure!  So many students of consequence and so many imposing, complex projects is a real honor to be here.  It is a true pleasure to talk to the students, supervisors, teachers, volunteers, and parents all of whom have reached for and grasped excellence in scientific research.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

What does allergy research have in common with home education?

More than you'd think.

Most home school families believe that the old-fashioned way of learning works best.  They have turned their backs on government schools and the 'latest and greatest' trends in order to keep it simple, solid, stable and superior.

It is all too easy to get pulled in by enormous shifts in thinking and too few of us question the received wisdom of those in the education business.  

What does this have to do with allergies?  Read on ...

Recently, I was reading about the history of allergy research.  Important to note - nineteen years ago when I gave birth to my first, I was warned by doctors to keep him off solid food until he was one, especially peanuts and to be careful about what I ate, too.   Science had concluded that the staggering increase in peanut and dairy allergies in the US and the UK had to do with introducing these things too early in the infant diet.   Newsflash - they no longer think this.  

The new focus of allergy study is on the immune system, solely.  Here is the most interesting thing.  They are getting some intriguing and challenging information by examining people with (for lack of a better term) "hyper-hygiene" habits.  That is, they wash their hands A LOT, they use hand sanitizer A LOT, and they take anti-biotics A LOT.   Frequently, these also happen to be the folks with the worst allergies.    The conclusion is that through the hyper-hygiene trend, we have ruined our immune system by not allowing enough nasty stuff to pass through us.  Newsflash - a little dirt won't hurt.  In fact, it might help.  

I had a good chuckle when I was reading this.  Those who know me know that I am not terribly fussy about these things.  If one of my kids should drop his apple on the ground and then pick it up to continue eating it, I don't care much.  If  the youngest plays outside for 2 hours and runs in to woof down a piece of pizza without washing his hands, I don't bark.  Although I prefer clean hands, many years ago I had concluded that despite the fact that I did not insist on hyper-hygiene, my kids were actually sick much less often than the average kid.  So, I stopped fretting.  My two older boys row on the Cooper River many days out of the year and, yes, occasionally they fall in.  In this river, they've seen dead animals float by and other unmentionables.  No big deal.  They don't flip out.  My oldest use to put large Madagascar Roaches on his tongue .... for the fun of it.  It never really bothered me.  

So it looks like the world is coming full-circle when it comes to how we should live.  Maybe having dirt under our fingernails will be the "new cool"?  Maybe eating the peanut butter and jelly sandwich that sat in the car for 3 days will be advisable ...perhaps even prescribed?  As someone who generally ignores expiration dates, this puts a spring in my step.

This "hyper hygiene connection" to allergies is a fascinating idea, though.  I am very blessed - I do not suffer from allergies nor do any of my kids.  But just in my own life-span I have seen allergies skyrocket and this explanation makes sense from an environmental and evolutionary perspective. (Oh, and I do like that it conveniently fits the choices I've made....big smile.)

Back to home education ....what is the connection?  Well, it turns out that earthlings do not need a wildly over-engineered, complicated set of rules to live by.  Keep it simple.  Don't be afraid to be out of step with the mob.  Learning has not changed, but the so-called experts want us all to believe that it is hocus-pocus hard.    Books + inspiration = learning.  That's all.   Science is gathering evidence that hyper-hygiene is ruining our immune systems .  Our immune systems already know how to do the job naturally, without all the contrived help we offer.  Likewise, you already possess all of the skills to get a thorough education, for yourself and your kids, without all of the contrived help you are offered.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Educational Ecosystem

I overheard this striking aphorism the other day; words spoken by one battle-weary parent to another:
"You are only as happy as your saddest child."
Wow.  Think on that.  It packs a punch.  Those of us with multiple kids know - we are buoyed up by one child's success only to be brought down by the other's struggle.  At the end of the day, the plight of the troubled child is the last thought, the last words in our sleepy prayers for answers... for guidance.

This got me thinking about the ecosystem of families.  No family event, no family issue, arises in isolation.  Everything touches and changes everyone.   In nature if you take away something as simple as ants or bees, it can cause a collapse on a grand scale.  Correspondingly, the tragic tendrils of one child's misery can reach into every corner of family life, challenging even the most casual kitchen conversations. As parents, educators, providers, and cruise directors, we have to strike an absurd balance here.  Specifically, the task is to maximize the well-being of all family members so the ecosystem infrastructure does not rupture and so that all thrive. (This is the ancestral birthplace of heartfelt prayer!)

Thankfully, families have the ultimate superglue - love.  Love finds solutions where all else fails.  But, it is a formidable task, nevertheless.

If you think family ecosystems are complex, what of educational ecosystems?  Is a class only as good as its worst student?  Is a course only as effective as its least contributing, least interested student?  Maybe.

Ask any teacher and they will eagerly describe their trials and tribulations in the classroom.  If they have students who don't want to learn or who are disruptive, little can be done.  Like a drought or a monsoon on fertile fields, uncooperative students change everything:  the classroom atmosphere, the speed with which material can be covered, the teacher's mood, the motivation of the other students, and, of course, the learning outcome.

It is true in public schools, private schools, and home schools.

As home educators, we have checked out of the group-learning, school model, only to desperately recreate it at every turn.  We have homeschool-schools, co-ops galore, small group learning, and clubs.  We are not immune to the educational ecosystem challenges.  With the alacrity of an inborn, genetic predisposition we rush together and embrace the new ecosystems we create and all the concomitant complexities.

The metaphorical question is - how to treat an invasive species?  In nature, if long-horned beetles are spotted in a woods, the big chemical guns come out, treatment is aggressive, and many other beneficial insects and organisms are sacrificed in an effort to spare the trees.  This is imperfect but it does save the trees.  Measures like this (metaphorical only) don't work in schools.  The goal is to educate all, control the wayward, and keep everyone there ....whether they want to be there or not.  So, the invasive species is really part of the landscape, forever.  The weeds must be welcomed.

Home educators would be foolish indeed if they became saddled with the issues germane to group education.  We need to work just as hard at striking the ecological balance in our home schools, as we do in our families.  It helps to frequently revisit why we started on this journey in the first place.  For excellence, Godliness, familial ties, and freedom of choice - when we find ourselves in grave conflict with our original vision and our educational ecosystem is unbalanced,  it is time for a change.

"Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand."

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Home Education in the News ....again.

It seems that every few months, New Jersey newspapers are destined to churn-out same old, same old articles on home schooling. Very few of the reporters take the time to dig deeply.  I think I know why.

A week ago I was contacted by a reporter who wanted to talk to someone about home education for an article he was writing.  I responded with a long and detailed email of at least 300 words.  Buried in the email were these words ...."For the record, I think that home educators should not be regulated.  Ever."  Of course, these are the only words that made it into the article.  I had no idea I was being quoted in the article, until a friend emailed me about my name appearing in it.  Imagine my surprise.  Here's a link:

Why do we continue to have the same discussion over and over again?  When people ask if home schooling works or if it is good for kids or not, they might as well be asking if we are sure the Earth is spherical and not flat.  Lord, it really is time to move on.

This is the article that should have been written.....

When you see the Scripps Spelling Bee and the Math Counts Competitions trying to finagle ways to limit participation by home school students, you know we have succeeded.  Yes, home educated kids have to sign a special form developed by Scripps in which they promise not to study too hard or too long.  I am not kidding.  Also, a home school parent may not start or run a county level bee.  Burlington County has not had a sponsor for several years, hence NO student in Burlington County can participate in the Scripps Bee because there is no feeder bee.  I could have fixed this and offered to do the work,  but was barred from doing so because my kids do not attend the local state conditioning centers.  Huh?  Translation:  Parents and Hollywood got angry when so many home schoolers began winning at Scripps.

Math Counts has also demonstrated their respect for home educated kids by barring them from forming teams.  Why? Well, because they would then have all the smart math kids on their team.  But, when the local school puts together a team, do they choose the football players?  I think not.  They choose their best math students.  And they are permitted to do this and, of course, would be fools if they did not.  Not home school kids.  No teams permitted there.

These examples of discrimination could be viewed (by those of us who do this hard job of managing our own kid's educations) with bat-crap crazy rage, but are better viewed as an institutional bow of respect.  We win. Lots of people do not like this.

Everything the government does to interfere with parental rights leads America to greater mediocrity.

Fact:   Home education is the ONLY educational outpost of progress on this blue planet.
Fact:  The media and the political spin doctors will never stop looking for ways to maintain their tragic fiction.
Fact:  Home educated kids, regardless of their religious beliefs, are independent thinkers who will never be walking in lockstep with the masses.  They have not drunk the Kool-Aide and thus are still original thinkers.

That, my friends, is why the trite ,hackneyed, fluff articles continue to circulate.  For, as long as those who remain in the US Dept of Education trance can cast a shadow of doubt on the stunning success of the home education movement, they can continue to feel good about their own choices.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

JSA - The Guts and the Glory

My high school students participate in this national debate and civics organization - The Junior Statesman Association. For over 5 years I have been driving them and many other teens to conventions and congresses, beginning with John, when he was in 8th-9th grade.   Nora has also participated for 4 years and now Andy does it too!  Exhausting?  Yes. And, I would not miss it for the world.

I have seen kids get up to debate who never thought they could do it. Since kids participate from multiple NJ high schools, I do get to see them grow from freshmen to seniors.  What a privilege it is to be able to quietly catalogue a young adult's progress on the "JSA stage".

This weekend alone I saw a home schooled, novice, first-time debater win a best speaker gavel, a home school teen earn a prestigious, elected cabinet position (making history in the national JSA organization - congratulations Angela!) and a deserving Lt Gov race turn out well!  The most inspiring part, however, is watching those who did not win - those who tried but did not get the position they wanted.  They show grace and poise and wisdom well beyond their years.

Anyone who thinks that debate club is NOT a full-contact sport - think again.  These kids are in it to win it and they give it their all.  Bravery?  I can't believe how much courage they demonstrate, gutting it out to the end.

The life lessons in JSA can never be tallied up.  In fact, they are infinite.

Every time I get ready to head out to a hotel for 2 or 3 days with a pile of teenagers, I think to myself ...."Why am I doing this?  It so hard."  But then I look at what the teens are doing at these conventions ....and, frankly, I am humbled.  Plus .... I always have so much fun!!

This is a pic of Nora with the Mid Atlantic Region Lt Gov Cole Aronson, and Chief of Staff Allison Berger. Nora is Director of Financail Aid on the Lt Gov cabinet and she's had such an exciting year working with these outstanding statesmen !!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Race to Nowhere ??

Have any of you seen this documentary?  Race to Nowhere is a film about the pressure to succeed in high school in order to gain admission to a competitive four year college. It's primary focus is on the super-testing atmosphere and the demands of AP classes and extracurricular activities on the students and their families.

I watched it twice.  Each time I came away with the same impression.  The families and students interviewed seemed utterly unprepared for the competition they were in.  My 16 year old daughter watched it and had the same impression, stating quickly that most or all of the students interviewed extensively in the movie never should have been put into the pressure-cooker in the first place.  Her words:  "These kids are not equipped for high performance and should not have been put into AP classes or told they could get into Harvard or Stanford or UC Berkely, in the first place!"  I do agree.

The problem is NOT too much homework, as the movie suggests.  The statistics bear out the opposite - most kids in high school watch 4 hours of TV per day and play video games on top of this ....daily.  The problem is one of goal setting.   For example, my youngest child is not the athletic type.  Outdoorsy - yes.  He'd much rather be outside, no shirt, playing for hours, running and carrying on.  But give him a basketball or a baseball and bat?  It is not a pretty sight.  Would I ever put this kid in a competitive sport with a ball that had to be bounced, kicked, caught or hit with a racquet?  Never.  I have different goals for him - reasonable goals for him in the realm of sports.

This same kind of reality check needs to be done all over the country, when it comes to college preparation. After I sat through this whiny vignette a second time, I asked myself why in the world these parents were doing this terrible thing to these perfectly nice kids.  I have met kids who can do 4 hours of advanced algebra without complaint and then turn to the memory work needed to prepare for five different AP exams.  They are calm, driven and gifted.  I have also met kids who are completely lost (academically) most days.  Not only are they unable to handle the intensity of AP level work while balancing other commitments, they also have no idea why they are doing it.  They lack the big picture, they are not playing to their strengths and pushing these kids up the Ivy hill is just wrong.  But, I blame the parents, not the schools for this tragic error of goal-setting.

I thought the entire move reeked of this and it could have been more aptly named ....The Injustice of  Erroneous Goals.

I found this Washington Post article illuminating:

The reason these kids are sick, distraught, overwhelmed and failing is that most of the parents (not all of them) were oblivious.  The parents were all watching a train wreck take place in their kid's lives because deep down inside, they want their kids to keep up when they really should have encouraged them to slow down.  Then they blamed the system, the homework, the AP classes, the unforgiving and unrelenting testing.  But, parents ALWAYS have a choice.  Parents ALWAYS have the freedom to walk away. The movie was about the 'system' so I did not expect to see much coverage of home education.  But, to not mention it even once as a viable alternative?  It was an odd omission.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Chosen Few

This is the season when high school seniors find out who got in and who got injured; college admissions is a full contact sport and not for the faint of heart.  For the past two weeks, I've been hearing reports from both the happy and heartbroken in this take-no-prisoners game and I was reminded of T. S. Eliot's modernist epic poem, The Waste Land, because it begins this way ....

"April is the cruelest month ..."   The poem is 434 lines long, so I won't inflict the entire thing upon you in this blog.  (I love this poem and spent a full year studying it - not because I had to - just because I loved it.)

There are legions of disappointed high school seniors who would agree that April is the cruelest month.

I read the open letter from Suzy Lee Weiss printed last week in the WSJ and titled ...."To all the colleges that rejected me ...."

More interesting than the writer's sprightly message to the Ivy League schools that rejected her were the reactions from casual readers.  Some were deeply offended, some thought it hilarious, and some were alarmed.  I had almost no reaction to it because I have seen so many similar essays and articles in the past.  I remember racing over the lines in the article and thinking, 'yada, yada, yada.....'    The young lady does not cover any new territory.  She merely shines a light on the same old-same old.   If we hate what we see it because we hate it (in fact) or is it because it is true?  I do not know.

I do know that gaining admission to a very competitive four year college is a vulgar game where the stakes are high.  I would never pretend otherwise. Still, I play it.  I do this because in the past 5-10 years I have witnessed a huge national decline in well-paid middle class jobs.  Median American wages are stagnant and I think they are going to stay that way.  There is a shocking concentration of wealth at the top (America's richest 1% now possess almost as much net wealth as the bottom 95% combined.)  And it is only getting worse.  I do not begrudge the 1% their millions.  Kudos to them.  Also, I do not think that money can solve all of one's problems.  But, as I tell my kids, money will solve all of the problem caused by not having money. And, God will take care of the rest, if you let Him.

This article on the $$ value of an Ivy League education is a good read:

Here is a quote from it:  "Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are among the most expensive universities in the country, yet their graduates are among the five colleges with the least student debt.  This is the case primarily because grads of these institutions find good jobs and make enough money to pay their loans back.  In other words, degrees from these institutions are terrific values in the long run, even if they cost a pretty penny upfront."

I do believe that a degree from a very good university will keep paying off years down the road.  Additionally, these institutions are pipelines to power.  Don't we, as Christians, want to see more Godly men and women at the very highest echelons of society?

Schools with admission rates below 15% are not for everyone.  But, regardless of your student's aptitude, I urge you to reach for the best possible school within his/her reach.

My husband and I have four kids to get into college.  The first one made it through the eye of the needle.  Most importantly, he is happy.  He loves UPenn.    Next year, we'll see if my daughter's dreams will come true.   Regardless of where she goes to college, my husband and I know she will thrive.  She knows what hard works feels like and she is not afraid of it.  And, most importantly, she loves to learn.  Still.

So, although it occasionally distasteful,  I will keep plugging away, planning and seeking out unique experiences and opportunities, looking for ways to challenge.  And I will fall asleep and awaken each day with a prayer of thanks on my lips.

Final thoughts from  The Waste Land ....

And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Andy is in!

Filling out applications to have our homeschooled students admitted to highly competitive programs is NOT a tea-time activity.  No, you need something much stiffer than a decaf Earl Grey to get through it.   All the odds are stacked against us because we are not daily inhabitants of this strange, bureaucratic world of bubble forms, approval letters, and gratuitous  rubber-stamping.  We are a feral group with merit-driven instincts so all of the forms, forms, forms seem downright confounding.

So, imagine my surprise when my 13 year old was accepted to Stanford University's High School Program.

Delighted?  Oh, yeah.   It will demand much from him.  He will grow and he will meet peers.  I am doing cartwheels!!

Yet, every time one of my students accomplishes something big, I have a twinge of worry mixed with the pride and gratitude.  Why?  I know that home school students are pushing history.  As more kids who have never stepped into a state conditioning center accomplish great things, we risk triggering an unravelling of the myth of public education.  The closer we come to it, the more our freedom is at risk.

For now, I am toasting Andy's success and will get down to the hard work of preparing him for the challenge and figuring out a way to pay for it (!)

Nice job, Andy Vic!

My Stanford man is wearing orange below .....

Friday, March 22, 2013

America's Entitlement Crisis and the Marshmallow test

Many citizens are confronting this harsh reality:   The US cannot keep up with its entitlements.  Welfare, Social Security, and many other government programs designed to help the weak and the old and the temporarily incapacitated, are going to fail.  Eventually.  Maybe sooner than most want to believe.

This crisis will open the floodgates for all kind of evildoers.  Nature instructs here.  Not all, but most animals instinctively exploit, desert or kill off the weak.  With the US showing signs of collapsing under the weight of government programs, Korea, the Middle East, Russia and China will naturally seek to gain.

As the US wrestles with moral issues that are implicit in helping those who cannot help themselves and as the US tries to develop more ways for government to help, it only succeeds in burying itself more thoroughly.  Meanwhile, other world powers regroup, rethink and react.  My opinion: The world is too big, too complicated and too diverse and no set of politicians regardless of philosophical underpinnings can untangle the mess.  At the risk of sounding trite or perhaps fatalistic ....I think that only the strong will survive.

Maybe it is time to think about how we got where we are so at least those who do emerge from the inevitable chaos in one piece can avoid the mistakes of the past.

I was reminded recently of the famous marshmallow studies of Walter Mischel.  Four year old children were offered one marshmallow, which they could eat right away, or a promise of two marshmallows, if they could just wait a few hours.  These children were then followed-up and, not surprisingly, the children who were able to delay the marshmallow reward (at the age of 4) were also the more successful adults.

If this test were given to a large group of American children, a large group of Chinese children, a large group of Iranian children and a large group of Norwegian children what story would the numbers tell?  In other words, can a test as simple as this predict which nation is best prepared for success?

In our own homeschools,  we try to have our kids work harder than the average kid.  We ask them to delay a present reward  for a greater and later reward.  We might tell them that they cannot attend a sleep-over because the next day they are facing a science test.  We might suggest that they not watch any TV during the week so that they have more evening time for reading and studying.  In these efforts we succeed or we fail and a pattern emerges which can follow a kid through life.  Add to this outcome the long-standing national concept that "we can have it all!"   How can a nation that knows not how to delay gratification and that at the same time promotes the idea of having it all have ended up anywhere else but in this utterly vacuous and deadly space - the squalor of the moocher state?

The inability to make do with less is why we continue to borrow money from China (money we cannot and will never be able to repay).  We want to be able to provide hip replacements for poverty-stricken seniors, give gallons of milk to moms on welfare, and offer special services in our schools for children with learning differences.  All of these things seem necessary, I agree.  It sounds like a good idea.  Yet, we continue to whistle in the dark ....even when intellectually we know there really is a big, bad guy hiding in the shadows.  And it is not China.  Nor Russia.  It is ourselves.  It is the American mind-set ....demanding to have all of its treats today without a thought of tomorrow.

Yes, we are the generation that grabbed the marshmallow that was offered, the moment it was offered.

God help us.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Nora's hard work paying off.....

Nora received great news twice in one week!

She submitted a science project to an International Science Olympiad and it was accepted!  We are heading to Houston in May for a week of competition with students from all over the world.
The International Sustainable World Science Olympiad

Nora also heard this week that she earned her Congressional Gold Award!  She is looking forward to a day of celebrating and award presentation in June in DC.  Exciting times.
The Congressional Gold Award

It is a wonderful thing when hours of efforts and months (even years) of dedication are recognized like this.

Happy, happy!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Global Economic Summit

Yesterday, I spend the day at the Fox School of Business, Temple University, where Nora, Andy and Faye Nugent participated in the World Affairs Council Global Economic Summit.  They each assumed a role of a key player - Nora (UK), Andy (Russia) and Faye (Vietnam).  They had piles of studying to do leading up to this model Summit in order to be "experts" and to be able to voice the concerns of the nation they each represented.  Nora was a student leader.  Here is a pic of her doing her thing - a born leader, this one.

Here are Andy and Faye, getting ready to go into the afternoon plenary session.  Yes, it is surprisingly difficult to snap a picture of Andy with his eyes open.

This is a pic from the back of the room during the closing session:

This was a well-planned day.  The World Affairs Council does an excellent job and their educational programs for high school students are a valuable part of our home school.  Through them, students discover how very complex compromise is and how conflicting interests of the various stakeholders in global issues work against the progress we all seek.  Yet it must be done.   Bravo to all the students who wrested with the big issues yesterday at the Temple Fox School of Business with the Philadelphia World Affairs Council!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Reading, reading, reading ....

I posted weeks ago about our dramatic move - sometime in early December, we took computer time away from our 10 year old.  Without a lot of fanfare, mom and dad quietly took his computer apart and moved it in pieces to the basement.   He did not cry; he actually seemed relieved.   It has stayed there and he does not ask much about it.  He has always loved reading and now he spends his evenings happily buried in good books.  Below is the latest installment from the local library.  I give this pile two weeks, tops.  Then, I will spend another magical afternoon with him at the local library, running from one shelf to the next, and will watch with pleasure as he fills the book bag.

He finished two of these in as many days and tonight he sits wondering which one to begin next ....

I do not know how long I can maintain this course, but as each week goes by he picks up reading speed, reading endurance and, most importantly, reading pleasure.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Counting my blessings ....

Our son John was with us for a full week - spring break at University of Pennsylvania.  His sibs (and his parents) are so happy to have him back that everyone wants these visits to be one big party.  I'm not sure James left his side for more than 10 minutes.   Andy, who has been working on a shelter in the backyard (said shelter is dry, warm and comfortable!) was very glad to have John help with some finishing touches.  And, of course, they found time to row together.   Nora greedily picked his brain on the insider track at Penn and mom and dad just sat back and smiled alot.  Several nights we went to bed and left them all chatting and laughing together in the family room until ....well, let's just say it was quite late (!)

Blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed, and happy to know it ....

Monday, March 4, 2013

Dr. Frankenstein's Epic Fail

I assigned Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to my Senior English class because of the book's unquestionable stature in literary circles but also because I had never read it myself.

I had no idea what I had missed by skipping over this gem.

While discussing the book with my students today, I was singularly dissatisfied with my own summary and I tried in vain to get at the thing that escaped my grasp.  It came to me while driving home.

You see, Dr. Frankenstein sets out to create a life.  He succeeds but he detests his creation.  Terrified, he denies what he has done, he abandons his creature and much suffering results.  His monster suffers most.  The monster works hard to become human but fails in the end to "feel" human, because nothing can or will ever love him.  He is too hideous.  Rejection and violence  turn him into a murderous wretch.  Frankenstein tries to kill his creation but he fails.  In the end, the reader is left feeling that society is somewhat to blame for the creature's inability to find its proper place in the human race.  We don't think that society is an excuse for the monster's brutal killings, but it leads the discussion in why Dr. Frankenstein's experiment was a failure.

But, I think Shelley missed something.  The dialogues between Dr. Frankenstein and his creature are very detailed, logical, and convincing.  They are the meat of the story and we get pulled into the debate of what it means to be human very rapidly.  The problem is that Dr. Frankenstein's creation is not human.  He is a close approximation; close but no cigar.  He doesn't grow gradually over, say, 20 years, until he has  fully formed intellectual and emotional apparatus.  Everything about him is unnatural.  From the beginning, he was a solution in search of a problem.  Since he is a fake, every reaction he has and every moral conclusion he draws is highly suspect (well, to my mind, anyway).   Dr. Frankenstein's monster is more like a mythological creature.

Yet, because the rabbit is placed into the hat ahead of time ("Dr. Frankenstein's creation tells us what it means to be human ....") we mostly spend time in this space in discussions about this book.

You'll never guess where I'm going with this blog.  Right

Books, newspaper articles and, internet articles are proliferating on topics in education and they ALL put the rabbit in the hat.  We find ourselves in deep debates about bullying policies, merit pay for teachers, school boards, standardized testing, teacher's union contracts, school safety, tax increases to fund school improvements, curriculum choices, school bus violence, grading, the list is endless.  No one seems to notice that the rabbit is already in the hat, so no one is asking the most important question.  Just as it took me a while to say ....'wait a minute ....Frankenstein's monster is NOT human and that's the most important thing in this debate' seems that no one is willing to ask if public education is sensible. Everyone assumes that it is necessary and somehow legitimate.  No one is asking for a complete redo because of the myth of public education.

American education was founded on myth and myth reigns there still.  Myths are created to explain things that are otherwise impossible to decipher.  America needed answers to social ills, crime and unemployment, among other things.  The idea of compulsory education as a way to control, indoctrinate, influence and streamline took hold and state conditioning centers spread like crab grass.

When we read Greek mythology, no one is actually outraged when Cronus eats his own children because, well, it's myth.  But, when we have a bloated population of young adults who cannot read at a high school level, it is time to call a myth a myth and demand a re-do.

Until the spell is broken, America will continue to watch this failed experiment spiral tragically downward, to this predictable outcome:  those who can afford better education will find it in expensive private schools and those who cannot will fall further and further behind.

I say to the architects of public education the same thing I would say to Dr. Frankenstein , "It was a bad idea
from the beginning.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Visits home from college ....

It was a delight to have my oldest son home from U Penn for the weekend.  We were celebrating his 19th birthday; where, oh, where, does the time go?  Life is in a terrible hurry.   If only I could turn back the hands of time ....

John makes us proud every single day.  He is a profound thinker, an amazing athlete, a terrific musician, and the nicest young man you could ever hope to have the pleasure to meet.

Here he is 19 year ago ....

And here he is at his 19th birthday dinner last night

And this is how time flies and why I am so glad I was home to see it all ....

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Gold Medaling at the Center City Slam

My 13 year old erged his way to a record breaking 2K time at the Center City Slam on Saturday, February 9th.   He won a gold medal and broke a record at this annual event for his age group!  He gave it all he had as you can tell from the pictures below.  He fell off the machine afterward and was unable to move for a disturbingly long period of time.   What a performance!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Disassembling for Success ....

In the Fall of 2012, my youngest son came under the spell of attractive online computer games.  For over a decade we have resisted going down this road and have never owned a GameBoy, PlayStation, XBox, Wii, or anything like this.  "Playing" time on the computer was also very restricted.  It was extremely difficult and it continues to be difficult.  We believe it is a hill we must be willing to die on, though.  Our oldest son thanks us for maintaining our stronghold on this hill, now that he is in college.   He uses the words that we used at the time:  "It could have robbed me of my childhood, but you wouldn't let that happen.  I'm better for it."

So, when my husband and I saw James coming under the spell, we disassembled his computer and put it in the basement.  This was 6 weeks ago.  Below are pictures of the books that James has read since then and he shows no sign of slowing down.

Big problems occasionally require bold action.  The most interesting part - he hasn't complained.  The rich life he lives in his books at the end of the day is much preferred.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Deja Vu

My husband and I can both recall our long-suffering parents rolling their eyes as we played the same 45 over and over and over, singing along earnestly.  It was usually the Beatles or Motown.

Tonight we heard our youngest, with his friends,  singing along to the same song, over and over and over, and although it was a CD, not a 45 or an lp, the spirit was exactly the same.  What is interesting about this is that, 40 +  years later,  it was the same song !   Who knew?

Beatlemania is alive and well at Labereeland .....

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Caboose Child Singing Chinese Song on Stage

James is my caboose child - that comfortable car at the rear of the freight train.  Maybe not so comfortable, though.

This 10 year old doesn't get nearly enough attention but he should.   He says the most hilarious things.  When criticized for not taking his daily vitamins he responds this way: "I scoff at your remarks."   In the car today, after drilling me with pointed questions about salamanders, the demise of Freddie Mercury, and what the Polynesian language sounds like (I could answer none of these) he said dryly: "Well, it appears you know very little, I am worried about you, mom."

He makes me laugh out loud every day.  That says it all.

Here he is singing a Chinese song on stage with his friends from the South Jersey Chinese School.  He's the tall one wearing khaki pants, hands in pockets, wondering when this strange ritual will be over and done with.  If all of life's a stage ... he'd rather be a prop!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

She did it!

My beautiful and brilliant daughter was awarded the US Dept of State scholarship to study in Singapore and Malayasia through the American Youth Leadership Program!  While there, she'll get to do more of this fun stuff:

iphone 012.JPG                         photo (2).JPG

I have to give this kid credit.  She discovered the opportunity.  She dogged me until I agreed that she could go ahead and apply.  She reminded me, she followed up, she asked for references and she made it happen.

So....Nora can't wait to begin her experience and dad can't believe that he doesn't have to take out his checkbook.

Proverbs 12:14  (NLV)   Wise words bring many benefits and hard work brings rewards.