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 ....it 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.