Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Getting Ready for Homeschool Day

We preparing for Mississippi Homeschool Day 2005 in Jackson this weekend. We'll pack up the kids, check out the T-Rex at the Mississippi Natural Science Museum, and get to meet a bunch of people we've been talking to online. My husband will be giving a lecture on how to teach algebra; he's posted his notes I'm over my illness but haven't regained my stamina yet, so I fear bloggage will be intermittent until next week.

Monday, July 25, 2005

That joke really is as old as the hills.

Scientists have found a 28,000 year old carved stone phallus in a German cave. It's highly polished, clearly recognizable, and of the proper size to have been used as a sex aid. Apparently it had a secondary use as well, for it's scratches show that it was also used to chip flint tools, like knives, axes and spear points.

I'm not going to make any of the obvious jokes, but I'm delighted to see that even 28,000 years ago our cave-dwelling ancestors had a sense of humor we can recognize and relate to. I guess not that much has changed after all.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

What They Teach You in School

This story comes from my daughters' RE (Sunday School Teacher). A cousin of hers was taking a truck driving course at the local Truck Driving School. The instructor had to be away for a week. The Regional Supervisor was going to be in town anyway for that week and took over the class.

The students were all adult men who either had or were getting their commercial drivers' licenses. When the Supervisor showed up to teach them, they all began acting up just like kids in school act up before a substitute teacher. They were old enough to know better, but their school training ran too deep for them to override it.

Regional Supervisors have a notoriously low tolerance for nonsense. This man looked at his class full of alleged adults and said, "Go home. This class is over. There is no business in this state that's willing to hire people who act as immature as that." He cancelled the rest of the class and put an ad in the paper for the next class that afternoon. My friend's cousin was barely able to talk his way into the next class, and he still had to start over at he beginning.

Sometimes it pays not to learn what they teach in the schools.

Spoke Too Soon

It appears the virus is fighting a valiant rear-guard action to defend it's last remaining colony against the rampaging Red Blood Cell Menace. I'm not going to be over this as quickly as I thought unfortunately.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Carpe Porkum

After an unusually nasty virus(?) I'm mostly healed, partially on my feet and arguably coherent. The good news is I got ice cream for breakfast for four days in a row. The bad news is it tasted like a saltwater slushie. The really good news is that apparently the girls didn't catch it. Yea!

But I really, really must get back on my exercise schedule. I dropped it over a year ago when morning lessons began taking longer, and I've noticed I don't have the energy I used to have. Maybe if I'd stayed with it I could have fought off this bug. That ought to motivate me back on my feet -- after I can stand up again that is.

Last weekend my husband and the girls stayed out of my hair by making a shepherd's sundial from _Nature Crafts for Kids_. They've had fun reading the time on sunny days when there wasn't a hurricane nearby.

This week Brighteyes had her morning biology class. It wasn't nearly as well run as the art class had been. The lecturers were disorganized and their material consisted of stuff we already had (the Schoolhouse Rock! DVD and the _Everybody Has a Body_ activity book) and stuff the library has (the Magic Schoolbus book on the human body). She has been very disappointed.

Sunshine has been reading the first Bob Books! set and wanted to play with the tiny puppets and puppet theatre that come with the box. I showed the girls had to turn their own drawings into stick puppets by cutting them out and stapling them to popsicle sticks. We're working on turning an box into a puppet theatre.

The highlight of the week came Tuesday evening with our "carpe porkum" moment. While I wandered aimlessly as a cloud in a painkiller-and-decongestant haze, Brighteyes' little silky terrier puppy seized the moment to seize the supper ham off the kitchen table. Then he hid, had an upset tummy, and made messes on the floor all night long. I knew I was on the road to recovery when I started laughing about it.

I've got to go now. I'm working on some longer posts, but right now there's a pile of laundry calling me and a pillow calling me louder.

Friday, July 15, 2005

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Rant...

...for a really rotten head cold. The current prognosis is that I'm going to feel like death warmed over for the next week. I can believe it. So tune in again next week, Friday July 22, for more thrills, chills and gripe sessions. Same bat time, same bat channel.

Our Journey to Homeschooling Part 1: Something Better

A few years ago my husband met the local 1st grade teacher while out buying milk and introduced her to our then-3 year old and then-2 year old. The woman pulled him aside, nodded to Brighteyes and said in a low voice, "Please homeschool that child. She's very bright and very lively, and I don't have the resources to teach that kind of child. She would get bored and become a troublemaker. You don't want that and I don't want that." My husband nodded and thanked her. He didn't tell her that we had already started homeschooling both of them, or that we had decided to homeschool our children over a decade ago.

We met in college, dated for three years and married the summer after my husband graduated. Like most newlyweds we were eager to have children and anxious to do a better job of rearing them than had been done with us. We both had concerns about bringing up children that we wanted to hammer out as soon as possible, and the biggest concern by far had to do with schooling.

I attended one of the best public schools in the state, with three times the course offerings of the average public high school, good discipline, and an excellent college track. My husband attended a well-regarded private school. I was in the Honors Program and graduated Star Student. He graduated Star Student and valedictorian. We should have been shining examples of everything that mass education can do well, but we both hated the schools we attended. We found school boring, frustrating, demeaning and mostly pointless. Between us we had seen the best, and it was not good enough.

I had also been the subject of constant harrassment by my classmates. By the fourth grade I realized that this behavior couldn't happen without the tacit approval and subtle encouragement of the adults who were supposed to be watching out for me, and my anger at my peers transformed into a cold hard fury at the system that produced them and the grownups who worked the system.

There are those who say that children who are different from their agemates need such treatment to teach them how to conform. Unlike Abraham, I was not prepared to sacrifice my beloved child to the One True God of "Conformity". As much as I wanted a baby I told my husband flat out that I was not even going to consider coming off birth control until we had found something better for schooling.

Six months after we got married we found a newspaper article on homeschooling. Approximately 30 seconds into the article we knew we had found the answer. We were going to homeschool. From that point on every decision we have made for ourselves and our family has revolved around that choice, even though it would be over 10 years before our children were born.

Continued in Part 2: Insurance

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Review: _Marva Collins' Way _

I am a classical homeschooler. The average person who asks, "How are you teaching your children at home?" has never heard of classical schooling and doesn't want a lecture. But if you say, "Like Marva Collins," their face lights up. For over 25 years Marva Collins has been the most famous teacher in America, yet not one American in a thousand can tell you what her method is called, how to find a local school that uses it, or how to teach that way at home. That disconnection sums up America's educational crisis in a nutshell.

Marva Collins was reared the only child of a wealthy African-American family in segregated Alabama. She learned early on that only three things really mattered: your knowledge, your courage and your willingness to work hard. After graduating from college with a degree in Business, she found the only jobs available at that time to college-educated African-American women were as teachers. She eventually became an elementary school teacher and honed her craft with 14 years of public school teaching.

Marva Collins didn't follow any curriculum. She asked veteran teachers what worked and tested their recommendations in her own classroom. She discarded what didn't work and kept what did work, and what worked for her students was phonics and a "Great Books" approach to learning delivered with large doses of positive reinforcement and lectures on self-reliance, a method that had been named by others "classical schooling."

By the early 1970s the veteran teachers who had trained Marva Collins were retired, and the new administration did not support her intensive learning style. In 1974 the principal abruptly took her own class away from her in the middle of the year. The parents were enraged and the principal was forced to back down, but Marva Collins knew it was time to strike out on her own.

At the urging of neighborhood mothers, Marva Collins began a private school, first in the basement of the local community college, then on the second floor of her house. She started out with a handful of students in what used to be called a one-room schoolhouse and is now called a "cottage school." After a shaky start, the school got good press and good results with their students. New students and donations poured in, and within a few years Marva Collins found herself the principal of a sizeable and highly regarded prep school.

_Marva Collins' Way_ is an inspiration to everyone, but the book has great practical value to classical teachers and homeschoolers. For all the talk about classical methodology there are very few descriptions of how classical schooling can be taught. Half this book contains detailed accounts of events in Marva Collins' classroom, making it by far the most descriptive work I've yet found about classical schooling in action.

Mrs. Collins is a devout Christian, but it might well be that nonChristian parents benefit the most from her method. While her speech to teachers in the appendix is one Biblical allusion piled on top of another, the transcripts of her daily lessons with students show that she uses a multicultural approach which treats the Bible as one Great Book among many. It has been argued that the moral principals at the heart of classical schooling can't be taught without a religious core, specifically without a Christian core. In her classrooms Marva Collins organizes her lessons and her moral principals around a core of Emersonian self-reliance, specifically Getting Out of the Ghetto, instead of a Christian theme. This method could be very helpful to secular parents who wish to use classical homeschooling but who are put off by the relentless Christian focus of much of the available material.

I can find only two criticisms with this book. While Mrs. Collins frequently castigates teachers for the failure of their students, not once in the whole book does she hold principals and the administrative staff responsible for not supporting the teachers. This glaring omission comes in spite of years of research showing that a school's success or failure is directly dependent on the quality of backup teachers receive from principals, a fact that she mentions directly in her preface and that comes through clearly in her autobiography. Decades worth of educational reform have stumbled into that blind spot and failed completely; it's past time to bring it out into the open.

The other criticism I can make about Marva Collins' way is the lack of an organized system for introducing new material. The transcripts make it clear that Mrs. Collins herself doesn't need one. Like James Burke, she is brilliant enough to make the "Connections" between just about anything and just about anything else. But how many other teachers can do likewise? Not many. When I mentioned I was reading this book, a former teacher who had done her student teaching at Marva Collins Prep School mentioned that while she saw children given lots of work she could discern no overall structure being given to them for them into which to organize the information. Perhaps one wasn't available at that time. I know the authors of the classical homeschooling manual _The Well-Trained Mind_ have put out a series of instructional materials that can be used by classical homeschoolers and classrooms; hopefully their work will begin to address that problem.

The one fact that comes through the strongest in this book is that Marva Collins is a saint. She has the stamina, the passion, the higher purpose, the total commitment and the mission of a saint determined to save the hearts and minds of her children from the corrosive effects of the ghetto. Without the vision, drive and charisma of a saint new social movements all too often fail to get off the ground. But I was also reminded of William James speaking of the difference between a saint and a philosopher. The philosopher is the person who analyzes the teaches of the saint and writes them into a creed that the ordinary person can follow. We desperately need a philosopher to analyze Mrs. Collins work and turn it into a system that any halfway competent teacher could follow, so that we can save the rest of the children caught in the maw of the "school system".

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Flashback: "Battleship"

Last year my husband spent a week teaching his 8th grade math class how to play "Battleship" and organizing "Battleship" tournaments. That's all they did in class that week. The kicker was that they had to play "Battleship" using Cartesian coordinates.

The games got really intense and after a while accusations of cheating started. These were first made before other teachers. As soon as they heard the complaint the teachers laughed their heads off. The aggrieved parties eventually brought up their complaints in class in front of the accused cheater.

My husband laughed his head off. "The whole point of this week was not to play "Battleship". It was to learn Cartesian coordinates. Y'all were scared of Cartesian coordinates a week ago. You've learned them much more thoroughly than if we had done math problems all week long. Now every single one of you can manipulate them like pros. Even the cheater couldn't cheat unless he first learned Cartesian coordinates!"

My husband says he'll never forget the confounded look on the students' faces as they realized they had been tricked into learning something, especially the accused cheater who was a "problem student".

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Grey Kitten

We love cats, but we haven't had one in years. We live on a road with heavy traffic where the speeders top 90mph at times. Worse, the drivers are mean. They run off the road to hit animals that walk along the edges. I've seen drivers get stuck in ditches while trying to run over a squirrel. They'll even drive off the road to run over an animal's corpse. We keep our dogs and children in a fenced-in yard and turn down offers of free kittens.

Occasionally a feral cat lays claim to the backyard. It gives the dogs something to bark at and exercises the field mice who visit our garden. They seldom last more than a few days before the road gets them.

The latest cat is different. She's a larger than average calico, and she's bold enough not to bolt at the first sight of us. She's brave enough to stalk the fat mouse who eats out of the the dogs' food bowl, and she's smart enough to stay out of the road.

We were surprised to hear a cat in our backyard late one night. The calico was an experienced huntress and this yowl had a "cat up a tree" quality to it. We turned on the lights and went outside. The yowls became more plaintive. We walked over to our tallest tree, and the yowler started sounding like a kitten.

Suddenly there was a rustle of leaves and the yowls came from another direction. For a while we played chase with our mysterious visitor. We would move to one side of the tree and it would move to the other. Then a grey flash took off across the yard, and we got our first look at the cat.

It was a tiny grey kitten, barely old enough to be weaned. As it headed for the bushes at the back of our yard the girls squealed, "A totoro! It looks like a totoro!" It did resemble the scene from _My Neighbor Totoro_ where Mai chases the two little totoros through the underbrush.

We herded the girls back inside, explaining to them that if the calico was the grey kitten's mother, then maybe she would return for it once we were gone. We didn't tell them that she might have abandoned it with us. If that was the case, it looked like we had a cat. But for how long? Everyone we knew who could keep a cat already had one. It would be impossible to keep a cat locked up in our house. We keep the doors open in mild weather, and the children keep the doors open most of the time. Maybe the calico taught her kitten how to stay out of the road. Maybe the lesson sunk in. Maybe.

The kitten followed us back crying, but whenever we opened a door he took off. We hoped he would be gone by morning.

He wasn't. My husband found the kitten sleeping on top of the engine block the next morning on his way to take Brighteyes to a morning art class. He plucked up the kitten, Brighteyes squealed, the kitten sprang away and had to be chased out from under the car.

I sat a bowl of milk on the front steps where Sunshine could watch the kitten from the window. He drank it greedily and put up with her shouting, "It's a kitty!" over and over again. We played with it for a while, opening the door to make it run away and closing the door to make it come back. It was a bold and bossy little cat as long as the door was closed.

The next morning my husband plucked the kitten off the engine block again and gave it to me to hold. The kitten was male. He didn't try to scratch or claw. He put up with being held and petted by Sunshine while Brighteyes reluctantly went off to her class. When he began to look scared I put him back outside with some meat scraps. He stalked the kitchen door the rest of the day, especially after my husband brought home a bag of kitten food.

That night was the Summer Solstice. I was afraid the bonfire would scare the kitten away, especially since my husband's idea of a "proper" firestarter is the quarter-million BTU propane torch with the six foot flame. But after it was all over we heard the kitten crying back at the kitchen door as usual.

The next morning we thought we heard the kitten but we didn't see him. He wasn't on the engine block or under the car. I was a little worried, but thought he might be sleeping off some ham fat we gave him the day before.

The day wore on. There was no sign of the kitten. The food and water out front for him went untouched. Our girls asked about the kitten. We told them maybe his Mommy had come back for him.

The next day came. There was still no sign of the kitten. We began to smell something new though. Around the kitchen door was the unmistakable stench of a fresh corpse. We looked all around, but we couldn't find the body. We didn't see any animals other than our dogs in the backyard. Even the mice couldn't be found.

The days went by, and we saw no sign of the kitten at all. My husband and I came to believe him dead. The bag of kitten food was set back for the dogs.

The Fourth of July came just over two weeks after we had first heard a cat up a tree. My husband stepped outside right after dark to prepare for fireworks and called us all to come, quick! We saw the calico crouching under our car. She launched herself into the night towards her home. A grey flash took off behind her.

It looked just like a totoro.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Review: _Delilah_ by John Bemelmans Marciano

_Delilah_ is a picture book for 4-8 year olds. It is the first picture book I have ever seen with a pro-geek, pro-homeschooling message.

Farmer Red wants a lamb for wool and for company. The factory farm sells expensive sheep that are one year old and have been fully trained in obediance, grazing and wool production. All Red can afford is one little unschooled lamb. He names her Delilah. She is curious and eager to be with him, so he teaches her all sorts of ways to help around the farm. Delilah spends all year learning how to take care of plants and the other animals. For Christmas Red gives Delilah a collar with a bell. Red enjoys Delilah's company so much that in the spring he uses the money from her wool to buy a dozen year-old sheep.

But the factory sheep aren't like Delilah. They have been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe that all they should do is graze and grow wool. They don't want to work or even to play. And they want nothing to do with Delilah as long as she "acts like a person."

Red is unhappy because Delilah is unhappy. Delilah wonders if there is something wrong with her. She asks the sheep what it will take to be accepted by them as a "normal" sheep. They order her to give up her individuality and become a nameless member of the herd. It breaks Delilah's heart, but she can't stand being an outcast any longer. Red finds her discarded collar, and it breaks his heart too.

For months Delilah tries to be a "normal" sheep and not do anything except graze. The effort makes her and Red miserable, and the other sheep are just as mean to her as they were before. Finally Delilah can't stand it any longer, and joyfully goes back to being Red's friend and helper.

"As for the other sheep? They keep to themselves and eat their grass and can't understand why Delilah would want to do any differently. When they see her with Red, they make nasty faces, but Delilah doesn't care. It's a farm after all, and there's work to be done."

I'm so glad to see a picture book that celebrates individuality and achievement. May this book help many young children fight off the corrosive effects of peer pressure to "conform". But for me the best part of the book is how I got it. My sister-in-law gave it to my older daughter for her 6th birthday, and the book represents my sister-in-law's ringing endorsement and support of our decision to homeschool our children.

I whole-heartedly recommend this book for any child who is homeschooled or who just needs encouragement to stand out from the crowd.

John Bemelmans Marciano is the grandson of Ludwig Bemelmans, the creator of Madeline. This book is Marciano's first work for children that features original characters.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Christian Alliance for Progress endorsed by Jerry Falwell

The new organization for liberal Christians just got blasted by Jerry Falwell, which amounts to a ringing endorsement for those who find Falwell distasteful and illogical. I'll spare you the distasteful quotes and just include one sample of an illogical quote from the above article:

"...the Bible is clear – "Thou shalt not kill.""

Two paragraphs later:

"...the Alliance calls for peace and an end to war, but they cannot understand that the only true peace that man can know comes through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ."

As long as Falwell gives the world such wonderful examples of clear-headed thinking as that, there's going to be a whole lot of folks who will take heed to march in some other direction than where he's headed.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Reduce Bribery: Homeschool

While we were in town yesterday my husband noticed a flush of fresh stock at the toy store. When he asked the clerks they told him the new toys were for bribes for reluctant children who would be returning to school in the fall. The other customers confirmed this fact, speaking of buying specific toys their children had said they wanted to get them back on the schoolbus.

I could make a comparison with the epidemic levels of bribery and corruption in our society, but it's too easy. Anytime someone hates something so much you have to bribe them to even show up, it's time to rethink the matter. People should definately be rewarded for their work and their achievements. In fact, the lack of clear cut rewards for work is a major problem right now. But rewards and bribes are very different things, and no one should be taught to expect a bribe just for showing up.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

My Children

We have three children, two who live with us and one in the Summerlands. Brighteyes will turn six soon. She was in such a hurry to get here she was born on the side of the road, and she hasn't slowed down yet. She's a bright, bossy, outgoing Type "A". She's reading at the fourth grade level, and a book is the only thing that will keep her still and quiet for any length of time.

Sunshine is four years old. She is much more timid and reserved than Brighteyes; and she is the reason our DVD diet is currently restricted to the tamest nature documentaries, a few classic Disney videos, and Miyazaki's mildest movies. What she lacks in assertiveness she makes up for in stubbornness though. She's frustrated with being a little sister. Every now and again we catch glimpses that she may be even smarter and more creative than Brighteyes when she feels confident enough to open up.

Our son is our firstborn. After a "textbook-perfect" pregnancy (my OB/GYN's words) he was born with a heart defect. While in NICU he picked up a hospital infection and fought for three weeks before he died. The staff physicians tried to first persuade and then bully us into pulling the plug every time they saw us. They didn't want to have to write "iatrogenic infection" on the death certificate. Afterwords we couldn't find a lawyer who would sue them because of "tort reform".

At our son's funeral, we invited his spirit to come visit us whenever he wished. Sometimes when I turn the corner I catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of a little boy playing with my old dog, who died not long afterwards. I'm normally a very reasonable person, but there are times when reason is inappropriate.

Our son taught us that some children only come to visit. That knowledge makes us appreciate even more the ones who come to stay.


Okay. I started blogging last Monday exactly one week ago, mainly to keep all my rants in one place instead of scattered over my many lists.

Monday night I got my first publishing offer for a piece I put up Thursday. Acorns, the Pagan homeschool newsletter wants the mandala piece.

Excuse me, I must find my jaw.

Monday, July 04, 2005

First Classroom

In June Brighteyes went to her first official "class". I've been homeschooling her for two years now, but this year she's 5 and eligable to take a week-long summer program with the nuns at Catholic Charities. They offered a range of morning classes, we chose two: an art and music class in June and a biology class in July. She loves both subjects, and she needs some exposure to group schooling settings. In addition, it would give me more time to work on Sunshine's reading.

She did beautiful work in her art class, and according to the nuns she was no trouble at all. The problem was getting her up every day for a 9:00 class. Monday she bounded out of bed, Tuesday and Wednesday she dragged, Thursday she came home and slept until Friday morning. Friday we shoved her out the door half asleep for her recital. When we arrived for the show an hour later, she was still asleep on her feet. She didn't really wake up until she was on the stage and saw me wave to her from the audience. While she will be old enough to begin first grade this fall, she clearly isn't ready for months of early rising. I wonder how any child manages that.

All in all she enjoyed the experience, but I don't think we'll do many more. She was disapointed with how strictly her time was controlled in the class. The students were set out one to a table, and didn't have a chance to interact with the other children until lunch. She wanted to spend more time with the other girls and boys.

I did enjoy having a week alone with Sunshine, and she made great strides in her reading. I must remember not to let Brighteyes hog all the attention.

The following week it took Brighteyes two days to recover the homeschool routine. She was very tired and somewhat irritable because the class hadn't been what she had expected.

Sunday night we got a call from one of the nuns. Since Brighteyes had enjoyed herself so much, would she like to come to next week's class? They hadn't had enough children sign up for it and would put her in for free. We declined because she was still too tired. Also, the class was "Introduction to School" for kindergarten and first-graders. I wonder how many other parents decided they didn't need that class besides us? ;)

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Alternative Family Matters/Alternative Families Matter

I'd like to congratulate my sister listees on the UUA homeschoolers list who this week set up a website for homeschool groups who "have identified themselves as completely inclusive, welcoming everyone of all races, ethnicities, religions, family compositions, sexual orientations, learning styles, lifestyles, abilities and disabilities, and asking only that rules of civility, kindness and compassion be honored by all, for all." after Terri Willingham's local Florida group got kicked off another website for welcoming gays. The website is here: The newspaper writeup is here:

And Mississippi's inclusive homeschool network was one of the first listed: PEAK

Go UUs!

Friday, July 01, 2005

Military Intelligence?

My husband knows a gentleman who was disabled while in the military and who has been on disability status for many years. This gentleman abruptly received a notice saying that he had been "rehabilitated" and ordering him to report for a two-year training program.

The training program is in basic bookkeeping and accounting. The gentleman is over 70 years old. A few months before the training program will end he will turn 72 and thus be qualified to retire from the military with full benefits, which he could not do while on disability status.

Obviously the military is aware of their desperate shortage of people who can count.