Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Is There a "Hidden Agenda" Behind the Push for a Mandatory National Curriculum?

If there's one lesson that all of us Americans should've learned from political events in recent decades, it's that we cannot automatically trust the government to tell its citizens the truth about the reasons behinds its actions. Regardless of one's personal political affiliation, it's easy to find examples where those in power have behaved deceitfully. Power seems to corrupt those on both sides of the aisle, and in all levels from local to national.

There's a very interesting entry to the 96th Carnival of Homeschooling entitled "Define the government, don't be defined by it: 10 ways that schools shape students" from the "Culture Slave" blog. The author makes some thought-provoking points about how government-run schools control the population by their influence over children. He writes:

If the government shapes us as children, how can we be expected to shape the government as adults? When we give the government the power to determine our upbringing, we give the government the power to limit our understanding of the law.

A look at our society shows what happens when the government has this kind of power; we end up with a politically apathetic populace that is alienated from the legal system that acts on it’s behalf. Only a minority of people become politically involved — the vast majority passively accepts whatever nonsense the government spews out.

Pretty scary stuff, huh? In the U.S. the political agenda of government-run schools may not be as blatant as it was in the U.S.S.R. or what Hugo Chavez is attempting in Venezuela. But it's there nonetheless:

Schools teach students that it’s natural for authority figures to tell them what to think about. They have to study what the government tells them to study when the government tells them to study it. They have to read what they’re told to read when they’re told to read it. They have to listen to what they’re told to listen to when they’re told to listen to it. In this way, students learn that it’s normal to entertain the thoughts that government employees tell them to entertain. Schools give students tunnel vision. By controlling what students spend their days thinking about, they have considerable influence over what students don’t spend their days thinking about. The power of omission is a dangerous thing in the hands of the government.

I blogged last week about my objections to E.D. Hirsch, Jr.'s call for a mandatory national curriculum. I touched briefly on the issue of control but the "Culture Slave" post has made me wonder about what hidden agenda may be driving the push to nationalize the curriculum. Is it really based out of a benign concern about varying quality of education or is there something more sinister going on? Who stands to gain from greater Federal government control over education? Is the next step beyond a mandatory national curriculum a mandatory international curriculum such as the International Baccalaureate program?

Consider the newly introduced IB theme "Sharing our Humanity". Sounds pretty innocuous, right? Well, consider the political implications of teaching impressionable young minds about the following topics:
  • The fight against poverty
  • Peace keeping, conflict prevention, and combating terrorism
  • Education for all
  • Global infectious disease
  • Digital divide
  • Natural disaster prevention and mitigation.
Now, nobody is in favor of poverty, war, infectious disease, natural disasters, etc. Obviously, we all want to eliminate these tragedies but the $64,000 question is how to do so. Do you trust some committee of educrats in Belgium to decide how these highly contentious issues are framed to young, impressionable minds? Somehow I don't think they'll be given a fair & balanced treatment so that children can carefully consider all competing viewpoints before deciding for themselves where they stand.

The ironic thing is that a common criticism of homeschooling is the belief that home educated children will not have an opportunity to learn about different viewpoints. Here's a quote from Professor Robert Reich of Stanford University from a segment last January about homeschooling on the PBS program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly:

If parents can control every aspect of a kid's education, shield them from exposure to the things that the parents deem sinful or objectionable, screen in only the things which accord to their convictions, and not allow them exposure to the world of a democracy, will the children group up then basically in the own image of their parents, servile to their own parents' beliefs?

One could just as easily substitute the word "government" for "parents" and make the exact same argument about traditional public schools. So the objection isn't truly about indoctrination, it's about who gets to have the control over children- their parents or the state?

It's pretty clear where God stands on the issue. The 4th Commandment (or 5th if you're Jewish or Protestant) says to "Honor your father and mother" and throughout both the Old & New Testaments there are numerous references to parental authority (Deuteronomy 6:7, Proverbs 22:6, Ephesians 6:1, and so on). The only reference I can think of to state authority is the famous "render unto Caesar" passage in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, & Luke. That passage specifically distinguishes state authority from God's authority and warns about the dangers of collaborating too closely with a godless government.

96th Carnival of Homeschooling is Up!

Spiritbee is hosting this week's 96th Carnival of Homeschooling: Yearbook Edition. Very cute theme!

My high school yearbook photo was taken at Glamour Shots (are they even still in business??) so I'm barely recognizable in it, LOL!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Will a Rookie be World Series MVP?

What a phenomenal night for the Red Sox rookies! Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury had 4 hits and 2nd baseman Dustin Pedroia had 3. Between them, they went 7 for 10 and drove in 4 runs. Dice-K had his best postseason outing so far as a MLB player and even had a key 2 out RBI single.

If the Sox do end up becoming World Series champs and Pedroia hits well in the remaining game(s), I hope he gets voted MVP.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Science Nearly Eliminated from Bay Area Government-Run Schools

In a state where so much of the economy is powered by science and technology, California's government-run schools are abysmally failing to prepare the next generation in these domains.
California 8th graders scored 49th in the nation on the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in science. On the 2007 state standardized tests, a whopping 63% of 5th graders failed to demonstrate basic proficiency in the subject.

The Lawrence Hall of Science, a science museum run by the University of California-Berkeley, recently surveyed nearly 1000 teachers at government-run elementary schools here in the Bay Area. According to the survey, the barriers to offering a high quality elementary science program include a severe lack of time devoted to science instruction, poor teacher preparation, and little administration & political support for teaching science.

80% of teachers surveyed spent less than 60 minutes per week teaching science and 16% did not teach it at all. This was particularly a problem in the early grades. Of K-2 teachers, 22% taught no science and another 21% spent less than 30 minutes per week on it. A mere 7% reported spending more than 60 minutes per week.

The elementary teachers surveyed felt the least prepared to teach science of all the core subjects. While only 4% felt unprepared to teach reading & math, 41% felt unprepared to teach science. This was particularly a problem for inexperienced teachers, who comprise 1 in 7 of Bay Area teachers. Many districts had rates approaching 1 in 3. Few teachers had the opportunity for professional development (PD) in science. 71% of districts offered less than 5 hours' worth of science PD and 28% offered none whatsoever. 92% of the respondents wanted more PD in science.

The LHS survey also found a lack of administration support for teaching science. 52% responded that their districts did not offer any support for science education. Nor is there much funding on the state or Federal level for science education. Of the $325.4 million California spent on teacher PD in the 2006-2007 school year, a mere $1.2 million (0.37%) was for science. Notably, the funding for the California Science Project has been cut by 75% since 2002 (the first year the No Child Left Behind act applied). Of the $342.8 million in Federal funding, only roughly $9 million (2.6%) was for science.

As someone who studied biology in college, I find these numbers extremely depressing. Yes, the primary focus in the earliest grades will be the 3 R's, but science still has an important place in the curriculum. Some parents (typically affluent ones) will be motivated to "afterschool" their children in science to make up for deficiencies but what about all the rest who are too busy and/or disinterested? Their children will grow up at a major disadvantage when it comes to competing in the global economy. Particularly since we all know the premium that Asian cultures place on achieving scientific and technological prowess.

This survey is just one more reinforcement that we made the right decision to homeschool our children.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

An Oldie but Goodie

I happened to stumble across a link to a really funny piece called "You Know You're in San Francisco When..." via "The Homeschooling Revolution". Be forewarned that some of the content is a bit on the risque side. I'm no Republican, but out here I might as well be Ralph Reed.

Some of the highlights:
  • Huge traffic jams are caused not by vegetable-oil-powered cars but by thousands of bicyclists intentionally messing up traffic just to irritate the Neanderthal motorists.
  • There is an extreme housing shortage, but the political establishment responds by not allowing builders to build.
  • Your family is making more than $125,000 a year, but you can't find a decent apartment, and you can't afford a house.
  • The only flags being waved by marchers at parades have rainbows on them.
  • Each morning, while drinking a latte at Starbucks, you review a complete list of companies you need to boycott.
  • You lament the negative impact of those awful big-box stores on local mom-and-pop hardware stores while you're complaining to the cashier at Home Depot.
  • You enjoy books about the struggles of smaller, independent bookstores that are systematically being taken over by huge corporations -- and you buy them at Barnes and Noble.
  • You won't cross a picket line, and you proudly display your "Buy Union" bumper sticker on your imported car.
  • You're not snobbish -- you just happen to honestly think it's only San Franciscans who know anything about politics, literature, love, food, fashion, culture and art, except for that high-brow director Michael Moore, of "Roger and Me" fame, who hails from Flint, Mich.
Too funny!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007

One Size Does NOT Fit All When It Comes to Education

Almost 2 decades ago, E.D. Hirsch, Jr. wrote an expose on how "progressive" ideas in education are creating cultural illiteracy among Americans. Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know spent 6 months on the New York Times best-seller list and Hirsch went on to found the Core Knowledge Foundation. Now Hirsch has written another excellent and thought-provoking book entitled The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Gap for American Children.

This book provides an answer as to why Americans fall further behind their international peers the longer they have been in school and why the racial test score gap widens in each successive grade. Hirsch makes an excellent argument that success on reading comprehension tests depends on having the background knowledge assumed by the author. The job of schools, therefore, should be to help students build up a broad factual knowledge (i.e. cultural literacy). Instead, schools have been focusing on teaching "all-purpose" cognitive strategies in the belief that they are universally applicable to all subjects. Hirsch shows how this "formalism" is a waste of instructional time.

Where the book misses its mark, however, is in Hirsch's call for a mandatory standard curriculum set at the national level. He wants a "one size fits all" detailed list of specific topics to be taught to every single child in every single school at exactly the same grade without taking into account the tremendous diversity both of vastly different communities in the U.S. and of cognitive abilities among children. Do parents really want some committee of bureaucrats in Washington D.C. to decide what their children should learn or do they want their child's teacher to be able to tailor instruction to his/her individual ability and their community's values?

Hirsch's "Core Knowledge" model reminds me of chain restaurants. A patron can walk into any Applebee's anywhere in the country and he/she will get essentially the same meal. It will be adequate, but not remotely as good as what the best local chefs offer at the little mom 'n pop restaurants.

Instead of requiring a standardized "menu" with no deviations permitted, why not come up with general guidelines similar to the food pyramid to make sure all basic needs are met but allowing individual consumers the freedom to fulfill them however those consumers deem best for themselves? The end result of basic competency is what's important, not how that competency is achieved.

The National Education Association, the largest public schoolteacher's union in the country, recently updated its position on homeschooling and reaffirmed its belief that homeschoolers "must meet all state curricular requirements". While most homeschoolers do take those requirements into consideration as general reference, we reject the idea of an impersonal "one size fits all" top-down mandate. I don't want Big Brother controlling my child's education any more than I would want them to control his/her diet. I'll certainly take their recommendations into consideration but ultimately it's my decision whether to accept, "tweak", or reject any given recommendation. If I'm lactose intolerant, then I'm not going to eat 3 servings of dairy just because the government says I should.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

World Series, Baby!

Things looked tight for a while tonight, but thanks to Pedroia and Youkilis there are no tears in Red Sox Nation :-)

It's kind of absurd that my 5 year old will have seen the Red Sox play in more World Series than I did in my first 26 years of life, but who's complaining?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

How 'Bout Those Sox!

Wow, what a game! There's something about facing elimination that seems to motivate the Sox. Schilling is now 5-0 in games where his team is facing elimination and he looked solid tonight. The addition of Jacoby Ellsbury really energized the bottom of the lineup. Drew couldn't have picked a better time to start earning his $70 million paycheck, let's hope it continues tomorrow!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Who's Promoting "Patently False" Information?

I don't understand what it is about the idea of promoting abstinence for *CHILDREN* that provokes such rage in certain liberals. Regardless of one's beliefs about whether or not adults should reserve sexual activity for marriage, there really ought to be widespread agreement that it is extremely risky behavior for teens. One does not need to base a pro-teen abstinence argument on traditional Judeo-Christian morality (though of course many people, myself included, feel those reasons are also very important).

The New York Times has an op-ed attack piece on abstinence-only sex ed today by an Amanda Robb. Ms. Robb is the niece of Dr. Bart Slepian, an abortionist murdered in his home in 1998. James Kopp, an anti-abortion activist, was convicted but serious questions remain about whether he is in fact the true culprit. Certainly, the mainstream pro-Life movement does not condone murder and we believe that prayers and peaceful activism are what's needed to end the evils of abortion, not further violence. Ms. Robb is understandably hurt and angry about her uncle's murder, and she has apparently decided to vent her bitterness by attacking proponents of traditional sexual morality.

Ms. Robb's NYT op-ed piece laments President Bush's recent veto of the bill that would expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program. She notes that the Federal government spends $200 million per year funding abstinence-only sex ed programs. By her calculation, if that money were redirected towards funding S-CHIP, it would be enough to cover 150,000 children annually. However, one could also fund S-CHIP by cutting any number of different programs. For example:

I could go on, but you get the point. The funding of S-CHIP is a red herring; what Ms. Robb truly objects to is the existence of abstinence-only sex ed programs.

She criticizes them as "shame-provoking" (is that a bad thing?), "ineffective", and "dangerous". She references the one highly-publicized but also problematic Mathematica study critical of abstinence-only sex ed and ignores 30 others that demonstrated positive findings. A summary of some of these can be found here.

Ms. Robb attributes the decline in teen pregnancy rates over the past decade as due mainly to increased contraceptive use, while in actuality two-thirds of it is due to less sexual activity among unmarried teen girls.

She notes that diagnoses of chlamydia and gonorrhea in teens are on the rise. However, since fewer teens are sexually active and those that are have fewer partners on average, this is likely due to a greater percentage of cases being diagnosed and treated. Simple urine tests are now in widespread use rather than the traditional cervical swab requiring a pelvic exam.

Ms. Robb also alleges that abstinence-only programs teach "patently false" information about contraceptive failure rates. According to the pro-contraceptive organization the Guttmacher Institute, the condom has a typical failure rate of 15%. For teens, the typical failure rate is nearly 19%. How, then, can she assert that "the chances of getting pregnant with a condom are 1 in 6" is untrue? She may very well want it to be untrue, but that doesn't change the numbers.

Shame on the New York Times for yet again printing such a biased piece of rubbish!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Interesting Question: What is "Middle Class"?

There's an interesting article today on MSNBC.com entitled "Who or what is the middle class?" Just about everyone I know considers themselves to be "middle class" whether they have modest incomes or ones that would place them in the top 5% of all American households. Our first year of marriage we had a combined income of roughly $35k/yr; we felt broke but still middle class. It helped that we lived in military housing, received free healthcare, and resided in an area with a low cost of living (Kentucky). Last year, we had an income that was significantly higher but we still feel a bit squeezed. We now pay over $35k/yr just for rent, utilities, healthcare, and student loan repayments.

To be fair, we do have quite a bit nicer lifestyle now than we did 8 years ago. We rent a 3 BR 2 1/2 BA townhouse rather than a teeny 1 BR 1 BA apartment. Instead of a 12 year old car with zero frills and 150,000 miles on it, we now drive a 3 1/2 year old car that has automatic shifting, power windows & doors, power steering, cruise control, a CD player, and 60,000 miles on it. We have a high-speed Internet connection instead of dial-up. We both have cell phones. We have an electric dryer & I no longer have to hang up our laundry on a clothesline. However, we still can't afford what I would consider to be an "affluent" lifestyle.

Buying a home here on the Peninsula is totally out of the question as our housing costs would almost triple. We can't afford private school tuition, which is a major factor in our decision to homeschool. We share 1 economy car. Our vacations are to visit relatives or local national parks like Yosemite. We don't wear designer clothes unless it's a gift or I can find a super bargain at the local consignment shop. We don't own fancy electronic gadgets or appliances. Not that I want a BMW, plasma screen TV, or Manolo Blahnik shoes, but it would be nice to have the option to buy a home, send our kids to a good school, and see the world.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

94th Edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling is Up!

Christine over at "The Thinking Mother" is hosting this week's 94th edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling. Lots of interesting-looking entries as usual!

10 on Tuesday: 10 Useful Internet Sites

The theme of this week's 10 on Tuesday meme is "10 Useful Internet Sites". This was really hard for me to narrow down as I've got a ton of websites bookmarked but here goes:
  1. The Baldwin Online Children's Literature Project. This website makes available classic children's literature that are now in the public domain. It is a wonderful resource for nursery rhymes, fables, folk tales, myths, legends, hero stories, fairy tales, Bible stories, Nature stories, biography, history, and poetry.
  2. 1000 Good Books for Children from the Classical Christian Education Support Loop. Wondering where to find children's books that have both literary merit and reinforce traditional Biblical values? Sadly one cannot trust many public libraries these days as their shelves are full of books that are at best trite and at worst deliberately undermines those values. This website is a collaboration of 25 Christian homeschooling moms and the titles are grouped into those best for 1st-3rd grade, 4th-6th grade, 7th-9th grade, and 10th-12th grade.
  3. Classics List for Children and Youth from the appendix of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a New Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century by Oliver Van DeMille. Overwhelmed by the previous list? These titles are some of the "best of the best" for kids and young people.
  4. Living Math! Got a child who is a bookworm but resists math? Here's an extensive list of books covering mathematical concepts in entertaining story formats indexed by topic.
  5. Reading Your Way Through History Who says history has to be learned from boring, dumbed-down, politically correct textbooks? This website is especially useful for Catholic families who want to see how Biblical and Church history fits in with secular history. Please note that Protestant families will most likely want to skip the titles on the Reformation as they are written from a pro-Catholic viewpoint.
  6. Science Book List from Paula's Archives. "Living books" about science & nature.
  7. A to Z Home's Cool Homeschooling Ann Zeise has created a Yahoo-like guide to the best homeschooling resources out there.
  8. Love2Learn Favorite Resources for Catholic Homeschoolers. Alicia Van Hecke and a group of other Catholic homeschooling moms review both secular and Catholic homeschooling materials.
  9. The TAG Project. Support for families with gifted/advanced children including the TAGMAX e-mail list for homeschoolers.
  10. Catholic Culture. Awesome website for everything Catholic. My favorite part is the "site reviews" section where they rate other websites for fidelity to Church teaching. It can be hard to tell at first glance whether a website calling itself "Catholic" truly is. There are sadly many groups holding unorthodox and/or schismatic beliefs who claim the Catholic label such as the "Catholics" for a Free Choice on the left and the SSPX on the right. I always check the Catholic Culture reviews to see if they rate the site as faithful to the Magisterium.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Reflections on 7 Weeks of "Official" Homeschooling

We are beginning our 8th week of "official" homeschooling today. Overall, I feel like things are going fairly well. DD has certainly made a lot of progress. In fact, the trickiest issue for me has been to find the right level of challenge for her. There's such a disconnect between her cognitive ability and her fine motor skills.

I tried to pick materials that were supposed to be less writing-dependent than most, such as Right Start Math and First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind. She's been flying through the material but gets hung up on the written exercises part. She's such a perfectionist too, that she'll insist on erasing the whole letter/number if she's accidentally written it backwards rather than merely fixing the part that's wrong. That drives me nuts!

I've learned to let her dictate answers to me as much as possible, which has definitely made things go more smoothly. If the important part is her knowing the correct answer, then I don't mind writing them down for her. However, if it's copywork, I feel it's important for her to do it. I'm a big believer in Charlotte Mason's idea of learning correct grammar, usage, spelling, etc. as well as penmanship through copywork. I've been trying to minimize copywork by choosing the shortest options but it still seems to be a lot for her :-(

The other thing I've learned in the first 7 weeks of homeschooling is to only do 4 days of scheduled lessons and leave the 5th open for field trips or just general relaxed HS where she gets to pick what she wants to do for the various subjects. Honestly, I think she learns just as much (if not more) on these days. This is the type of HS we did last year for her "prep" year and I think it worked well. If it were entirely up to me, I'd probably continue this type of very relaxed home education in every subject but religion for now. DD is only turning 5 this week, and I think Dr. Raymond Moore was on to something with his whole "better late than early" philosophy about formal schooling. However, DH is still pretty skeptical about HS in general. I've still got to "sell" him on it as a long-term strategy rather than just a short-term solution for this current school year. So we're more "school-at-home" than I would prefer, but at least she's *HOME*.

I'm Back!

Confession time: I've actually had the computer back for a few weeks but have been suffering from writer's block. But it's been over a month since my last post so I really need to start blogging again!