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.