Friday, March 31, 2006

Why the School System Won't Be After My Kids

Many homeschoolers are terrified the school system is going to hunt them down and force them to send their kids to school. This fear is completely out of place in our school system. There's not enough teachers to take care of the students they've already got. Every school year for the past decade the state has started out hundreds of teachers short. Most teachers are already over retirement age, and some are nearing their second retirement. Today we found out that half the teachers at the local elementary school have put in for their retirement at the end of the year. That's an almost unimaginable crisis. Come after homeschoolers? I don't think so. They've got enough trouble on their plate already.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

It's a pretty day, and Brighteyes wants to play outside. I insist we do three lessons first: Math, Latin, and Literature. The others can wait for another day.

Brighteyes is having trouble with double-digit addition. When I ask her to double-check an answer, she slams her pencil down and says, "I can't do anything with you glowering at me!"

I laugh and give her a delighted hug. "Congratulations, honey! I don't know any other 6 year-olds who even know the word "glowering", let alone can use it in a sentence."

She relaxes. Five minutes later Math is done.

I think it's called "discipline", yes?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Minimus Worksheet Template, Chapter 2, Part 2

New Nouns: cheese, bedroom, sir

New Verbs: sit down (singular), get up, silent (plural), smiles (singular)

Adverbs: now, once upon a time, of course, especially

Noun Bank: mother, father, daughter, son, small child, cat, mouse, sister, soul, birthday, gift, house, garden, dress, soldier, cloak, wasp, whale, dolphin, horse, rabbit, pig, dinner, fish sauce, elephant, swan, peacock, parrot, fish, bull, dog, cow, hen, fox, cat, frog, badger, bird, cheese, bedroom, sir

Adjective Bank: famous, beautiful, dirty, messy, tired, excellent, fat, big, small, very big, very small, friendly, naughty, good, very good, clever, very clever, beautiful, lazy, energetic

Verb Bank: I am, we are, you are (singular), you are (plural), is, are, will be, I have, sit (plural), come (singular), sit down (singular), get up, silent (plural), smiles (singular)

Pronouns: I, we, everyone, my

Conjunctions: and, but

Greetings: Hello, Hello (plural), Goodbye, Dear (female), Dear (male), Dearest (female)

Exclamations: yeah!, oh dear

Negatives: not, don't

(Now/Of course) I am (Noun/Adjective).
(Now/Of course) you are (Noun/Adjective).
(Now/Of course) (Noun) is (Noun/Adjective).

(Plural Noun) (Plural Verb).
(Plural Noun) (Plural Verb) especially (Noun).

(Plural Noun) are (Plural Noun/ Plural Adjective) especially (Noun).

Oh, for the Wife of Bryan

Myrtle has a new homeschool blog dedicated to the question, "Where are the philosophy books for homeschooled children?" I want to know that one too. Myrtle, could you pretty please put up some more links and a bio? Your blog is looking great so far.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Building Better Geeks Part 1: The Simple Problem

I don't hear many anti-homeschooling comments in person, but the other day I read a troll who stated that "homeschooling turns kids into geeks". I was amazed. Were there really people around who still used "geek" as a pejorative? How '80s could you get!

This is the 21st Century. By now we all know what happens to geeks once they get away from the artificial conformity of the age-segregated school system. Most of them discover others who value their gifts and end up as happy, healthy, creative adults. A few of them wind up stinking rich in the process.

Dictionaries define geek as either "an intellectual" or "socially inept". It's typically used to mean an intellectual who appears socially inept to people in the mainstream. Gee if I didn't want my children to be intellectuals, I shouldn't have married a man with a 185 IQ. Likewise he shouldn't have married me.

I don't think you can "turn" someone into an intellectual. It's a tendency you are born with, just like musical ability. Over the years I've met many young intellectuals who had yet to find anyone who could understand them. They were all miserably unhappy, and opened like seeds in the rain in the presence of other intellectuals.

Then there's the "socially inept" definition. Geeks mainly appear "socially inept" when forced into strict age-segregated environments where they are surrounded by people with whom they have nothing in common save species, geography, and proximity of birth dates. The greater the mix of individuals and the less the expectation of conformity, the better geeks perform. This is especially true of geek children. The solution is obvious, keep geek children away from age-segregated environments that enforce conformity. In other words, homeschool and let them spend their copious free time in non-age-segregated environments. Duh, people.

That said, it's true that geeks of all ages sometimes appear "socially inept" because they are out of step with the dominant culture. I'll discuss that in Building Better Geeks Part 2: The Deeper Problem.

Goodbye American Democracy

Group sues to block budget law that never passed House

By Jonathan Weisman

Washington Post

WASHINGTON - For anyone who took fifth-grade social studies, how legislation turns to law always seemed pretty simple: The House passes a bill, the Senate passes the same bill, and the president signs it.

But last month, Washington threw all that old-fashioned civics stuff into a tizzy when President Bush signed into law a bill that never passed the House. The bill -- in this case, a major budget-cutting measure that will affect millions of Americans -- became a law because it was ``certified'' by the leaders of the House and Senate.

After stewing for weeks, Public Citizen, a legislative watchdog group, sued Tuesday to block a law that aims to cut $40 billion over five years, charging that Bush and Republican leaders of Congress flagrantly violated the Constitution when the president signed it into law knowing that the version that cleared the House was $2 billion different from the Senate's version.

The issue is bizarre, with even constitutional scholars saying they could not think of any precedent for the journey the budget bill took to becoming a law. Republicans are evoking an obscure Supreme Court ruling from the 1890s to suggest that a bill does not actually have to pass both chambers of Congress to become law.

What are we supposed to teach our children for Civics now? "This is how our Government works, as long as its convenient for the Administration to play along"? I can't imagine a more definitive example of hubris than the Republican's failure to realize how this dangerous precedent could turn around and bite them in the ass in some future Administration.

UPDATE: Here is the original longer article.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

My daughter is an Unitarian.

There's an old joke that an Unitarian would rather go to a talk about Heaven than go to Heaven itself. This evening Brighteyes spotted the Lady and the Tramp dvd and asked if she could watch it. I said yes, after she and her sister got ready. She then stood there and told me about the Lady and the Tramp story in her Disney storybook instead of running off to get ready for the movie.

Break out the Laurel Wreathes!

Greek court allowed association of worshippers of ancient Greek deities to be set up, Radio Svoboda informs. At the moment Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Athens, Hermes, etc. are being worshipped by 100,000 Greeks. Until now Ministry of Culture banned them from conducting public worship at archeological sites and their gatherings were often secretive. Greek Orthodox Church is severely criticizing worship of ancient deities.

Friday, March 24, 2006

All Homeschooling is Faith-Based

There's a myth shared by non-homeschoolers and some newbie Fundamentalist Christian homeschoolers that all homeschoolers are "faith-based" i.e. Fundamentalist Christians. Nothing could be further from the truth. Homeschooling families span all religious faiths and no religious faith. But it is true that homeschooling is a "faith-based" activity. Homeschooling is based on a faith that we as parents can do a better job of educating our children than any other available alternative. We have faith in ourselves, faith in the homeschooling process, faith in our analysis of the other choices, but most of all we have faith in our children. That's a lot of faith to have out on display in today's cynical world, and there are a lot of people of all ideologies who do not share our faith. It is the nature of faith to be questioned by those who do not share it. But we have good reasons to believe in our faith and ultimately to believe in our children.

UPDATE: And people who have no faith in themselves and their children will never understand how we could find the nerve to do such a thing.

Excuses, excuses

Haven't had much chance to post lately. Two weeks ago was Spring Break. I spent all my time running around trying to facilitate for my husband on his vacation as well as homeschool my kids. Somehow I didn't find any time for myself.

The past week was dominated by the events in the post below. The children don't know the full details of course, but they've still been moody afterwards. Brighteyes has been up and down all week. One day was terrible, the next wonderful, the next the worse day yet. Yesterday we got in some Usborne puzzle books, and she seems to have settled down with those.

The weather has been a big part of the problem. We had one beautiful week, then it's been cold and rainy ever since. If they could just run around outside they would feel better, but the backyard's a mud hole right now.

I reevaluated Brighteyes' schedule this week. Since she's working well over a grade level ahead in both spelling and grammar we're going to do those only half a week each until she turns 7. We're not in any race, and she won't hurt from having more time to spend being a little girl.

Sunshine has rediscovered She loves it and crawls into the lap of whomever is on the computer demanding "Starfall! Starfall!" whenever you sit down at the machine, which cuts into time to blog.

But I'd be lying if I said those were the only reasons I haven't been blogging. I also haven't figured out just I want to say about the death of Sean Paddock. How many ways can you "Stop!" at the top of your lungs?

For those of you who aren't in the homeschool blog community, Sean Paddock is a little boy who was killed by his adoptive mother while using sadistic discipline methods from a child-rearing book marketed to Evangelical Christians. Many homeschoolers have condemned the book's author, as you can see here and here. Many Evangelical Christian homeschoolers have closed ranks behind him, as you can see here and here. The result has been flame wars and a boycott.

So why haven't I put my .02 cents in yet? I'm waiting for the flashbacks to die down. I grew up among Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians, and I've seen and heard more stories like this over the years than I can count. Painful memories of other such incidences in the past are crowding into my head, and I'm trying to forge them into something coherent. Give me a few more days. I've got a post on geeks to finish, and by then I should be ready to start on that one.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Unlike some people, I've only heard the anti-homeschool "socialization" argument brought up once. I discount it completely. I know all about the "socialization" that goes on in mass schools. It's taken me decades of work and thousands of dollars of therapy to recover from it. I swore before I turned 18 my future children would go through that nightmare over my dead body.

Studies have shown that homeschooled children are actually better socialized than mass schooled children because they have more time to devote to being with a greater range of people. Parents who care enough about their children to homeschool them in the first place are generally going to care enough about them to find them groups of people to socialize with. After a few years the homeschooled child is usually up to his or her neck in socialization opportunities. That said, the first few years can be rough until the family finds people for their children to socialize with, especially if the family lives in a rural area where resources for children are few and quite far between. This is the situation we are in.

The nearest town (pop. 3,000) has no playground, no dance classes, no Girl Scouts, and no Campfire Girls. The Big Town has a small inclusive homeschool group we take part in. They also have Christian homeschool groups, but they don't advertise their meetings because they don't want to risk "contamination". We've stumbled on two of these groups over the years. The people running them acted exactly like members of junior high cliques, including staring through strangers, not speaking when spoken to by newcomers, not playing with children they didn't know, incredibly strict but arbitrary standards of conduct, malicious gossip, and cutting down junior members. In my opinion, junior high school socialization is textbook "bad socialization" and the exact experience I want my children to avoid. I'm not going to rush out and embrace Fundamentalism just so I can relive Middle School Hell.

What a recruiting poster that would make: "Find the 'Real Jesus' and return to the glory days of Junior High conformity! Spend the rest of your life trying to get along with people who have the social maturity of 13 year-olds! Relax in the delightful company of Queen Bees and backstabbers! You may even become the Queen Bee yourself in 30 or 40 years!" I think not. I've been to churches like that before, so I'm not imagining them. I'm remembering them.

So my friend tells me of a wonderful group she takes part in that's started hosting children's activities. We go to the first one, and it's great. But the hosts aren't really fond of children, and each subsequent event gets less great until before long they stink.

My friend and I decide to revitalize the children's activities by bringing stuff from home. We spend hours coordinating on the phone, ransacking our houses, and running to the store. We show up with cookies, art activities, a boom box, music, show-and-tell, storybooks, childrens' game books and lots of determination to make this the greatest event ever! The kids love it.

At one point toward the end of the day I come back from taking a load of stuff back to my car to be told that my six year-old girl has upset a nine year-old girl by trying to kiss her. I tell the six year old to back off, that not everyone likes being kissed, and make a note to schedule a talk on boundaries.

Next morning I get this email:

Due to the unacceptable behavior of your oldest child towards another child last night at the ****, I have to inform you that you are no longer welcome at *****. We are not judgmental people. However, the safety and innocence of our children will be protected. As parents, I am sure you can understand this.

Understand what? I couldn't make heads or tales out of it! I ask for clarification and was told that my six year-old had "sexually harassed" the nine year-old in ways my children don't even know about, and that my children must have been "sexually abused" to know about such things.

My day melts into a pool of shock, outrage, horror, and disgust.

It's a few days later. Phone calls have been made, more emails have been sent, bridges have been burned, and nobody is happy. My inner voice of experience tells me, "It's better to find out that people are jerks sooner rather than later." I don't want to listen.

My friend and I are talking about using our new-found organization skills to do some stuff for our kids. The 4-H lady wants me to call her and find out about 4-H clubs in our area. I'll probably call her back in a few days. Right now though, I'm feeling a little bruised.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Gifts and Curses

The link above leads to a thoughtful essay on the mixed nature of gifts and curses. The author wisely notes that all great gifts come with their own curse. I wish he or she had also noted that the great curses often come with their own gifts as well.

Monday, March 13, 2006

"Mommy, the whole backyard is a field of flowers!"

Spring is here. The sun is shining, the wind is blowing, and when the rain isn't pouring down it's really nice. We're taking more days off. Sunshine seems determined to pick the flowers off every weed in the backyard, and I'm not inclined to stop her.

If you're new to homeschooling, you might be surprised at the number of days we take off. We don't stop during the summer or when the weather is bad, we stop when the weather is good or when family matters intervene. I wonder what effect this will have on the future, when more formerly homeschooled adults are out in the workplace who know in their bones that good weather means "go outside and enjoy it"? I imagine it will have a good effect in the long run.

The homeschooling method we're using, the classical a la The Well-Trained Mind is very intense. The authors advise taking frequent breaks, such as one day off a week or one week off a month. Our breaks aren't as regularly scheduled as that, but we still take them.

In addition, both girls are working above their grade level so I'm not inclined to push them. Sunshine turns 5 this week, and she's already halfway through a kindergarten curriculum. Brighteyes has already completed at least one first grade curriculum in all subjects. She is working on the second grade level in most subjects and in some cases is working on her second sets of second grade curriculum. We've used two different sets of first and second grade curriculums with her. I suppose we could just let her race ahead to third and fourth grade curriculums after she finished the first set of first and second grade curriculums, but we felt she was at a very fragile age where it was more important to make sure she had a solid foundation of the basics under her than to race ahead as fast as she could. She tried the "racing ahead" bit last year. She got to the point where she was reading fourth grade material at five years of age and she could sort of understand it, but she didn't have the background to fully "get it." That dichotomy led to some major temper tantrums. Ever since then we've been studying at a slower but broader pace.

In yoga, at the end of every session you're supposed to lay down, relax, and give what you just learned time to "settle in" to your body. Sounds like a good rule to use in homeschooling as well, especially with younger children.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Excellent Blog

I've found a truly wonderful blog lately, written by Goro Miyazaki. Goro Miyazaki is the son of the animation genius Hayao Miyazaki. Hayao Miyazaki is the greatest animator who ever lived, and his Studio Ghibli makes the most beautiful animated movies in the world.

As a young man, Goro Miyazaki never wanted to compete with his legendary father. He made a career in urban planning and administration. He designed the Ghibli Museum, a building so exquisitely referential and playful it even has uptight snobs like me squealing like fangirls. When Studio Ghibli began a program to develop new animation talent, their President, Mr. Suzuki, invited Goro Miyazaki to join. He's hard at work on his first movie, Tales of the Earthsea, an adaptation of part of LeGuin's Earthsea Cycle.

In order to step out from under his father's shadow, Goro Miyazaki has been blogging the production of his movie. Along the way he talks about entering a new field of work as a mature adult, his changing perceptions of art and life, nature, Japanese family life, and a host of other topics.

Mr. Miyazaki is an enjoyable essayist. I have no idea how good his movie will be, but the film blog will appeal to every animation fan.

Public School Reality Check

Yesterday another local homeschooler told me she was nervous that she might "fail" to teach her six year-old son how to read. I mentioned that we have a 16 year-old "mother's helper" (in-house babysitter) who comes over to play with our girls sometimes. She's not coming over much these days, as she's working hard to get a scholarship. She's near the top of her high school class.

I've heard her read to my girls, and seen Brighteyes take the book from the teen to read it herself. She's 16 and can't read as well as our six year-old can. I found out last week she's been telling this story in public too, bragging about our daughters for us.

When a 16 year-old who is near the top of her high school class can't read as well as a six year-old, even a gifted six year-old, the local school system has already failed the teenager several times over. As I told my friend, a homeschooling mother would have to really work at it to fail her child worse than that.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Baking Day

Now that we're finally into the rhythm of doing something different on Fridays, we've started having a Baking Day one Friday a month. One of the arguments for mass schooling is that children need team sports to learn how to work together. I figure my children can learn how to work together in the kitchen just as well. For one day a month we put the lesson books down and get cooking lessons instead.

I've tried this before a couple of times in the past few months, and I think I've got the pattern worked out. The day before I wrote down the recipes and the ingredients we would be using and did what I could do beforehand. This morning we had breakfast, cleaned up and fed the dogs, washed hands really well and started to work.

First I cut up and steeped the dried apricots for our quick bread. Brighteyes and Sunshine made ham salad spread while I fixed up a pot roast in the crock pot. I had boiled the eggs last night. They peeled them (a major undertaking), smooshed them, and put them in the bowl. I opened the can of ham, Sunshine spooned the meat into the bowl while Brighteyes added the condiments. Then they mixed it up good and set it in the regrigerator. While they did all that, I had time to chop up half a crock pot full of vegetables and plunk the roast, seasonings, and tomatoes on top.

We cleaned up from the cooking and got ready to bake. We baked a double recipe of apricot-pecan bread. The girls were in charge of picking out the pans and greasing them while I got everything measured out and mixed up. We used muffin tins, which I find do better with quick breads than they do with either muffins or cupcakes. Then we cleaned up again and it was time for lunch. The girls got out the bread, cheese and spread and made up the sandwiches, with me helping spread. They were so proud of themselves! We got through before noon and nobody was tired, although by nighttime I felt wiped out. All in all a highly successful experiment.

The mail brought us Disney's latest round of Studio Ghibli releases: the re-dubbed My Neighbor Totoro, Whispers of the Heart, and Howl's Moving Castle. We watched Totoro tonight. We're going to hold off on Howl's Moving Castle until we read the book, which we started tonight, so the movie will be less scary. But I'm going to try to sneak up front and watch it tonight after the girls go to sleep. I'm so excited to finally get to see it!

Ancient Pagan Proverbs for Young Children

Christian proverbs are easy to find, but what if you're looking for the wisdom sayings of other cultures? I'm blogging a collection of ancient Pagan proverbs in language suitable for the 6 - 9 year old set. I'll update this list as I add more to the blog.

Sumerian Proverbs for Young Children

Ancient Egyptian Proverbs for Young Children: Ptah-Hotup

Ancient Egyptian Proverbs for Young Children: Temple of Luxor

Ancient Egyptian Proverbs for Young Children: 10 Virtues Required of a Candidate for the Priesthood

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Press Finds Story 27 Years Late

The link above is to an article on a former Southern Baptist turned to Wicca. What's so unusual about that? In 1979 the Southern Baptist Convention went from being the second-most liberal church in America to die-hard Fundamentalist in an abrupt Takeover. In subsequent years the Southern Baptist seminaries became hardline bastions, and thousands of Southern Baptists women who had planned to enter the pulpit "left Christianity altogether" as it was reported by a Southern Baptist faculty member at the time. Thousands more Southern Baptist men and women left the church before they got to the seminary, including yours truly. The flight away from Fundamentalism to Paganism is one of the most under-reported stories of the late 20th Century.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Selfless Love Stories

I wasn't too keen on love stories when I was a child. I thought them terribly overused. You couldn't take a step for tripping over a "boy meets girl, has adventures, gets girl" story. I didn't object to the plot, but did every story have to go that way? Besides, all this concentration on your future co-parent was inherently selfish. When all was said and done, the protagonists seemed more interested in their long-term comfort and genetic succession than anything else.

I disliked doomed love stories even more. I wanted to slap Romeo and Juliet silly. If you were going to invest that much effort into lining up a future co-parent, a little more common sense would have paid off bigtime. If she's worth fighting your way back from the ends of the earth for, isn't she worth using a few brain cells to keep from getting into that much trouble in the first place?

I've grown a lot more tolerant of such tales as I've come to see just how much work even the best relationship needs. I've also discovered something I like better than both, the selfless love story, where one person loves the other enough to help them get something that won't benefit the giver at all. It's not something you see well done very much. Most writers can't pull it off. I'm delighted to find two examples of it in the past week.

The first example is over at Phil and Kaja Foglio's Girl Genius. The (drastically shortened) plot goes like this: boy meets girl, boy proposes to girl, girl's parents strenuously object, girl's parents are brutally attacked and left for dead, girl runs away and is apparently killed. Boy then devotes himself to saving the lives of the girl's parents and nursing them back to health, even though he has nothing to gain and a considerable amount to lose from this action.

Putting it like that, it sounds like a soap opera, but I was reminded of my former gifted-ed teacher. His daughter went on a first date with a young man when their car was hit by a drunk driver at a stop light. She was parallelism from the waist down and for six weeks they weren't even sure she would live. But every day that young man showed up at the hospital and stayed by her side until the staff made him leave. As soon as she could sit up they were married, even though it was months still before she could leave the hospital. Such people do exist, and the world would be a better place if they got more attention.

The second example is Terry Pratchett's Reaper Man. Death is laid off for starting to feel compassion for the souls he takes, and has a bittersweet romance with an elderly spinster who was left at the altar 60 years before. Pratchett is an amazing writer, able to mix wit, profound observations and slapstick humor better than any writer alive and most writers dead. Reaper Man is the most romantic of his stories that I've read, and I've read almost all of them. It made me cry even more than his Small Gods, and I thought nothing could top the aftermath of the hurricane scene in that book.

Oh yeah, both of these stories are fantasies. They have to be, don't they? Everyone knows selfless love only happens in fairy tales. Or maybe the people who read fairy tales are the only ones who notice it happening around them.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

History outline

Last week I had a low grade flu and a high grade depression. I've had recurring bouts of chronic depression and PTSD since I was three years old. Nowadays the depression is no longer associated with my abusive childhood, but it's a wornout coping mechanism I haven't fully unplugged. It turns up whenever I get distracted.

When I'm depressed I pick a task to get completely absorbed in and work on it to the exclusion of most everything else, hence the proverbs and Latin worksheets. The other big project has been making a history outline.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the WTM method, World History forms the core of the curriculum, with everything else tied to it. You cover World History four times in four-year chunks. How you cover the material changes as the child's mind matures. Grades 1 - 4 are the "Wow, what neat stories!" years, Grades 5 - 8 are the "How did this happen?" years, and Grades 9 - 12 are the "Why did this happen?" years.

We've been doing "Wow!" history for nine months now, and I think I've got a feel for how it's going to do now. I sat down our first four-year history book, the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History and a stack of notebook paper. On the far left I made a column for the different sections, in the middle a column for "Activities" and on the far right a column for "Literature". I wrote down the names of all the lessons in the book, leaving a space between each one, then began scrounging around to see what I had that could go in the "Activities" and "Literature" columns for those rows. It took eleven pages and three hours. (I didn't make a spreadsheet. It wasn't my turn on the computer, I didn't want the job to take three days, and I like having access to it when the computer isn't available.) Now I have an idea of what activities and stories we'll need to go with what lessons. I can also see what holes I need to fill in.

One thing I deliberately left off was deadlines. I resent the element of pressure that brings into the equation. There are people who thrive under that sort of pressure, but I prefer not to add any more than life is already throwing at me.

Is this the final form our history lessons will take for the next four years? No. It's a road map, and it will doubtless turn out to be incomplete. I may even abandon it completely later on. But for now it gives me some idea of which way we're going to go.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

New Pretty-pretties up on our shop.

Here's some of the pieces we've done recently. There's also a bunch of under-$100 items we haven't had time to put up yet, meant to fill our cases at shows. We're still working on our show schedule, so if there's any show you'd love to see us attend, let us know.