Saturday, March 31, 2007

Thoughts on the "Hyperscheduled" Child Trend

We live near Silicon Valley, which has one of the highest concentrations of highly educated white collar professionals in the U.S. In our social circle, I've noticed a big problem with hyperscheduled kids who rush around from activity to activity without any time for spontaneous play because their parents are obsessed with building up an impressive resume for college applications that are often over a decade away!

The college admissions obsession around here starts before most kids are out of Pull-Ups. Our DD has several little friends who've been enrolled in drill-and-kill Jr.Kumon tutoring since age 3 in the hopes of getting into the "right" private kindergarten that the parents hope will ultimately lead to the coveted Ivy League admission. It's not just the recent Asian immigrants either.

I recently leafed through the "Bay Area Parents' Paper Guide to Summer Enrichment" to see if there were any good day camps for DD. I was looking for a traditional camp that offers things like nature exploration, arts & crafts, swimming lessons, and intro to a bunch of sports (similar to a gym class that rotates through the various sports). Instead, I found all these speciality camps: physics, computer science, astronomy, engineering, math, learn-to-read, Mandarin immersion, digital animation, creative writing, debate, and tons of sports camps that focused on one particular sport (basketball, soccer, tennis, gymnastics, etc).

Most of them stressed academics and included "scare tactic" wording such as "Can you afford to wait one more year?" "Are your kids getting enough? Studies show that kids who participate in the arts do better in school and in life!" "Use it or lose it! Over the summer, students may forget as much as 80% of what they learned in the classroom. Even the best students can fall behind- don't let your child's academic skills deteriorate this summer!" One advertisement went so far as to show a picture of a small brain labeled "your child's brain" and underneath it a picture of a larger brain labeled "your child's brain on ___ Summer School" Oy vey!

Do children really learn more from sitting in a classroom all summer than they would by exploring God's creation? Is there any evidence to suggest that formal art training at a young age produces more talented artists than creative art exploration? What about athletics- will specializing in one particular sport early build a better athlete than allowing the child to explore many different ones?

I recently read a profile of the eminent biologist Dr. Francis Collins, who heads the National Human Genome Research Institute. Dr. Collins was homeschooled on a small farm in the Shenandoah Valley by hippie parents who ran a summer theater. His homeschooling experience included lots of involvement in the arts but little science. Dr. Collins discovered a passion for physics and chemistry and went on to receive a PhD. in Physical Chemistry from Yale. During graduate school, a course in biochemistry sparked an interest in molecular genetics and the rest was history. Noticeably absent from Dr. Collins' biography is any evidence of hyperscheduling or early academic specialization.

This whole emphasis on hyperscheduling, early specialization, unhealthy competition, and external markers of achievement is a big part of why we decided to homeschool (along with financial and logistical concerns). It would be bad enough in high school but these are young kids!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Bill Introduced to Force CA Public Schools to Promote Homosexuality!

Lesbian state senator Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) has introduced Senate Bill 777 that would force all textbooks, instructional materials, school-sponsored activities, all school policies, and all teacher training courses to promote homosexuality to children as young as kindergarten!

In 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill from Kuehl, noting that current law already protects students from harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

According to Randy Thomasson of the Campaign for Children and Families, "SB 777 requires all teachers, all textbooks, and all instructional materials to promote cross-dressing, sex-change operations, bisexuality, and homosexuality, including homosexual ‘marriages'. Parents are expecting Governor Schwarzenegger to be consistent and veto these outrageous bills, like he did last year. This is not about safety – this is about sexual indoctrination in the classroom."

"SB 777 means good-bye to textbooks that say you’re either a boy or a girl, that marriage is only for a man and a woman, and that the natural family is a father, a mother, and their children. SB 777 means radical curriculum changes that include transvestite speakers and transsexual videos, classroom handouts on sex-change operations, and curriculum teaching children homosexual ‘marriage’ is completely normal. This bill is frightening for parents who want trustworthy schools, not schools that sexually indoctrinate their own children -- children as young as kindergarten!"

The California Catholic Conference has also urged defeat of SB 777.

What consenting adults choose to do in the privacy of their own houses is their business. I am certainly entitled to my own personal opinions about it; however, I don't think the government should be legislating sexual morality. Everyone will ultimately be held accountable for his/her actions by God. It's not the civil authorities' place to get involved unless one of the individuals did not or cannot consent (as in rape, sexual assault, incest, or pedophilia).

That said, I have a *HUGE* problem with anything that interferes with parents' rights to raise their children in accordance with their own family's values. The government should NOT promote homosexuality, particularly to innocent children! Let parents be the ones to decide what and when their children ought to learn about homosexuality. If the family holds a traditional Biblical view, the public schools should not undermine that in the name of "tolerance".

Let's all pray that SB 777 will be defeated and parental rights upheld!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, March 26, 2007

What's Wrong With This Picture?

I am not one of those homeschooling moms who is philosophically opposed to public education. I personally attended public schools from 3rd through 12th grade and feel that I received a decent education. There were certainly things that could've been improved, but on the whole I feel I learned a lot and was well-prepared for college.

Therefore, when we began checking out schooling options last fall for our DD, we started with our neighborhood public school. We live in a nice upper-middle-class suburb on the San Francisco Peninsula populated mainly by highly educated white collar professionals. The median family income in our town is over $105k and only 1.8% of the households fall below the Federal poverty line. The following are the demographic characteristics of the neighborhood public school:

47% Asian
46% White non-Hispanic
5% Hispanic
3% Black

Parental Education:
Graduate/Professional Degree 30%
Bachelor's Degree 43%
Some College 18%
High School Graduate 9%
High School Dropout 1%

Percentage Students Receiving Free/Reduced Price Lunch: 6.5%

Given the school's demographics, I would personally expect the school to have very good standardized test scores. Obviously, there will be a certain number of students at any school who are not going to test at grade level because of learning disabilities or limited English and so on. Still, I would expect in a town such as mine the percentages scoring "proficient" or "advanced" should be in the mid 80's. Instead, almost 1/3 of the kids are below grade level in English and almost 1/4 are behind in Math.

At first, I thought that the English scores might have been artificially depressed by the high percentage of recent Asian immigrants in our town. So, I looked at just the scores of the White non-Hispanic kids. Much to my dismay, they were even *lower* than the overall school averages.

The most telling statistic is that when compared to 100 other schools in California with similar demographics, our neighborhood school scores in the bottom 20%!

Standardized test scores aren't the sole determinant of a school's academic quality, of course. They do not measure whether students are actively engaged in learning. They often promote a dumbed-down "teach to the test" mentality where creative assignments are sacrificed in favor of "drill-and-kill" rote memorization. However, they do provide an objective assessment of certain aspects of student learning. When there's a large gap between where a school ought to be given its demographics and where it actually is, that's a huge "red flag" in my book!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Addendum to List of Curricula We Will Use This Fall

When I wrote up my earlier post about the curricula we will be using this fall, I forgot several items. For penmanship, we are using Letters of the Alphabet Wipe-Off Activity Book by Learning Horizons until DD is ready to begin Charlotte-Mason style copywork. For vocabulary study, we are using Scholastic's Vocabulary Word of the Day. To supplement our study of Ancient History, we are using the first 21 chapters of The Story of Science Volume 1: Aristotle Leads the Way by Joy Hakim.

As an important caveat about the last book- the last 80 pages covering the medieval period are marred by a serious anti-Catholic bias. For example, in the chapter entitled "A Saint Who Was No Scientist", Ms. Hakim promotes the false story that St. Cyril had the Library of Alexandria burned, when in fact it was most likely done by a lawless mob of peasants that included both Christians and pagans. She also criticizes monasteries for "locking up" knowledge behind closed walls, when actually they were sanctuaries in a continent overrun by barbarians. She selectively quotes early Christians such as St. Augustine, St. Jerome, Tertullian, Lactantius, and Cosmas to portray them as backward and anti-intellectual while portraying Islamic, Jewish, and Chinese scholars in a completely positive manner. The great Catholic intellectuals Sts. Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas are only portrayed positively because Ms. Hakim considers them to be "rebels" against the Church. For these reasons, I strongly recommend that the last 80 pages of Ms. Harkin's book be skipped.

Ah, the Naivete of Youthful Optimism...

The Lifetime cable network has a TV special airing Monday night called "Spotlight 25". The show features a group of 25-year-old women discussing their life goals. Journalist Willow Bay decided to interview Gen Y women after reading articles on the trend of highly educated women "opting out" of high-powered careers to become full-time homemakers. Lifetime commissioned a nationwide telephone poll of 500 women aged 18-29 and found that 85% wanted to remain in the workforce after having children.

Ms. Bay gushes that these women were "ambitious about creating a life that works for them, and having balance. They are confident that they will make the right choices and set the right priorities to achieve success in doing that."

Wish that it were as simple as all that! I know that I personally had no clue before having my first child just how difficult it is to juggle the demands of a full-time job and motherhood.

Recent Census Bureau statistics find that the median age of first-time mothers is now over 25 . The median age at first birth for non-Latina Caucasian women is almost 28, and the median for college graduates is over 30. Given those statistics, few of the women in the Lifetime poll likely have children yet.

Talk to these women in 10 years, and we'll see how many of them still hold such a rosy view of being a working mom! Likely the reality of how challenging it is to balance career and family obligations will burst the bubble of their youthful naivete...

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Took the Plunge & Ordered Books for Next Fall!

It's official- after many months of researching curricula, I placed my first big order! Here's what I got:

I had previously picked up Bringing Math Home: Games, Activities, and Projects for Elementary School Math by Suzanne Chuchman, the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia, Janice Van Cleave's Biology for Every Kid, and Fr. Lovasik's Picture Book of the Saints.

I'm still working on putting together lesson plans and locating "living books" to supplement our study of Ancient History, Biology, and Math.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Stop the Presses- Employed Moms Want to Work Fewer Hours!

The April issue of Monthly Labor Review has an article by Penn State economist Lonnie Goldman that found that twice as many women as men would like to cut back on the number of hours spent on the job. Moms, particularly those with children under the age of 3, were especially likely to desire a reduced workload and were willing to take a paycut in order to achieve it.

Ms. Goldman notes that other workers surveyed felt underemployed and asked the excellent question: "If you have so many people hungry for hours and more income, how rational is it to have a segment of your workforce that wants to get rid of some hours and is willing to sacrifice income to do so?”

The dearth of good part-time positions is a major problem for parents and also those caring for an elderly or disabled family member. Because it's so incredibly difficult to juggle career and family obligations while working full-time, people often feel forced to choose one or the other. The result is widespread dissatisfaction among both full-time employees and full-time homemakers. The former frequently feel overly stressed and risk "burnout". The latter often miss the intellectual stimulation and adult social interaction of the workplace. Our economy also suffers when talented women (and a few men) who would like to participate in the workforce do not because of the lack of part-time opportunities.

Certainly there are women out there who are perfectly content with either full-time employment or full-time homemaking. Both are valid choices if that's what she feels is best for her own individual circumstances. Every woman ought to have the opportunity to pursue whatever level of employment she desires without being made to feel guilty about it.

Four decades after so-called "women's liberation", why has there been so little progress in creating family-friendly part-time jobs?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Temporary Reprieve for Emilio Gonzales Until April 10th

After attorneys for the family of Emilio Gonzales filed for a restraining order against Children's Hospital of Austin to stop them from removing him from his respirator on Friday, hospital administrators announced that they would keep providing treatment until April 10th.

Please keep Emilio and his mom Catarina in your prayers!

Urgent Prayers Needed for Little Emilio Gonzales!

Urgent prayers are needed for 16 month old Emilio Lee Gonzales of Texas!

Administrators at Children's Hospital of Austin are planning to remove little Emilio from his respirator on Friday over the objections of his mother Catarina. Emilio is a Medicaid patient who has been diagnosed on the basis of symptoms alone with Leigh's disease. There is no definitive test for Leigh's disease and the results of tests that might support the diagnosis are not yet complete. At the present time there is no cure for Leigh's disease and it typically kills the child by age 6 or 7; however a few patients have survived into their teens. Little Emilio is only 16 months old and God willing it's possible that with continued treatment he might live to see a cure.

Children's Hospital decided on March 12th that providing further care to Emilio would be "futile" and gave Ms. Gonzales only 10 days to find him a place at another facility before they would forcibly remove him from the respirator. Ms. Gonzales is a single mom who worked as a Wal-Mart cashier until Emilio became seriously ill. She struggles with English and feels that the healthcare staff and administrators have ridden roughshod over her.

Children's Hospital is a Catholic hospital and Bishop Gregory Aymond of the Diocese of Austin has been asked to intervene upon little Emilio's behalf. Unfortunately, neither the hospital nor Bishop Aymond are choosing to act in accordance with Catholic doctrine forbidding Euthanasia. While it is certainly morally acceptable to discontinue "extraordinary" medical treatment when the expended burdens are disproportionate to the expected benefits, CCC section 2278 states that it is the patient or next-of-kin who need to make that decision. Emilio's mother Catarina strenuously objects to discontinuing treatment at this time!

As the mom of a 16 month old myself, my heart goes out to Catarina Gonzales. I can't help but wonder if it were my DS who were ill would the hospital be pushing to take him off the respirator? Or would DH's and my socio-economic status, education, occupation (former in my case), marital status, private insurance coverage, and ethnicity cause the physicians and administrators to treat our DS better than little Emilio?

Please keep little Emilio and his mom Catarina in your prayers!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Introducing Our Family

"Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord; and the fruit of the womb is His reward" -Psalm 127:3

We have been blessed with two beautiful children so far- a daughter who is almost 4 1/2 and a son who is 16 months. Our little girl is inquisitive, bubbly, high energy, and very outgoing. We are currently doing a gentle prep year with her and will start formal kindergarten in the fall. Her strengths are in reading, biology, athletics, and social interaction. Our little boy is methodical, persistent, mellow, and somewhat shy. As far as one can tell at such an early age, his strength seems to be in the visio-spatial domain. He loves playing with blocks, Legos, and the shape sorter and is much more advanced in using them than his big sister was at the same age. It's amazing to see how different their personalities are!

"For this cause shall a man leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no one put asunder." - Matthew 19:5-6

DH and I have been together 11 1/2 years and married for 8. We both grew up in the Northeast- him in a suburb of Philadelphia and me in a suburb of Boston. We attended the same college in California and met during my freshman orientation week when he was a sophomore. He proposed shortly before he graduated, and we married two weeks after I graduated the following December. He then served 5 years as a military officer before leaving in 2003 to attend graduate school. He graduated in June 2006 and took a job in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am very grateful for how hard he works to support our family and allow us to homeschool :-)

Our Educational Philosophy

Whoever touches the life of the child touches the most sensitive point of a whole which has roots in the most distant past and climbs toward the infinite future. - Dr. Maria Montessori

Our primary goal in homeschooling is to teach our children to love God and to serve Him in everything they do. We teach science as the study of His creation; mathematics as His order for the universe; literature, art, and music as the fruits of His inspiration; history as His plan for humanity; health and physical education as taking care of His precious gift of our bodies; and religion as His instructions for how we should live our lives here on Earth. We strive to provide our children with the tools (spiritual, academic, and practical) that they will need in their future vocations.

We seek to foster in our children a true love of learning so that they will continually seek out new challenges and avenues for growth. We wish to encourage creativity, thinking “outside the box”, and approaching problem-solving in innovative ways. We believe this is best accomplished through integration across subjects; hands-on experiences; exposure to great literature, art, and music; discussing topics in-depth; applying what has been learned to novel situations; lots of variety and freedom to explore; and a balance of teacher-guided and child-directed activities.

We believe in tailoring the curriculum to the student's individual abilities, interests, and learning styles while still providing rigorous academic instruction. Our goals include the ability to read, write, and speak fluently and persuasively in English using proper grammar and spelling; strong quantitative skills and the ability to analyze data; familiarity with science, world and U.S. history, geography, and civics to be an informed citizen; computer literacy; and a thorough understanding of Scripture and Church doctrine in order to lead a moral life.

We draw upon the wisdom of many educators including pioneers like Charlotte Mason, Dorothy Sayers, and Maria Montessori as well as contemporary ones like Raymond Moore, Susan Wise Bauer, and Laura Berquist.

Welcome to our blog!