Sunday, December 28, 2008

I've Been Married a Decade Today...

DH and I are celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary today. Boy, does that make me feel OLD!

I know that rationally I shouldn't feel that way because we were practically babies by today's standards when we took the plunge (I was a month shy of my 22nd birthday and DH had just turned 23). But 10 years still seems like a fairly long time to be married!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there, the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.
When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."
So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.
From the humblest of births, the world was saved. Alleluia! Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Memo to Facebook: Moms Nursing Their Babies are Not "Obscene"

I'm a fairly modest person and when I'm nursing a baby, I personally prefer to look for a place where I can have some privacy if we're away from home. But I strongly support the right of other moms to nurse in public if they so desire. God designed a woman's body to feed her child, and it's not at all obscene for her to do so. Just because I personally feel more comfortable with a higher degree of privacy when I'm nursing does not mean that other women should be required to do the same.

I was therefore appalled to discover via Lisa Belkin's "Motherlode" blog on the New York Times that Facebook considers pictures of moms nursing their babies to be "obscene". Several moms have apparently had the site censor photos of them nursing.

A spokesman for Facebook told Ms. Belkin:
"[Nursing] is a natural and beautiful act and we’re very glad to know that it is so important to some mothers to share this experience with others on Facebook. We take no action on the vast majority of [nursing] photos because they follow the site’s Terms of Use. Photos containing a fully exposed [bosom] do violate those Terms and may be removed. These policies are designed to ensure Facebook remains a safe, secure and trusted environment for all users, including the many children (over the age of 13) who use the site. The photos we act upon are almost exclusively brought to our attention by other users who complain."

Facebook allows all kinds of highly provocative photos that I find distasteful and not particularly appropriate for minors. But a mother feeding her child? That's not obscenity, people!

On December 27th, there's going to be a virtual "nurse-in" on Facebook to protest the policy. Anyone can participate, whether they're a nursing mom or not. All supporters have to do is to change their profile photo to a picture of a nursing mom and to and to change their status to the sentence, “Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!”

I don't have any photos of me nursing, and wouldn't really feel comfortable posting them to Facebook if I did, so I'm thinking of using Our Lady of La Leche. And nobody could reasonably complain that that is "obscene"...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Does the "80% Commandment" Hold True in a Homeschool Setting?

Insomnia again, sigh. The silver lining is that I've got the chance to catch up on interesting posts from around the blogosphere.

One of these was on the "Kitchen Table Math" blog entitled "The 80% Commandment". It discusses a quote from a 1999 book by Elaine McEwan-Adkins and Mary Damer called Managing Unmanageable Students: Practical Solutions for Administrators. The quote is this:
"The relationship between students’ accuracy with schoolwork and their subsequent behavior is described by the 80% Commandment: 'Thou shall not expect a student to do a learning task when he or she does not have the skills to complete the task with 80% success. Otherwise, that student will either act out or tune out.' Today’s frustrated students who lack basic skills most often respond by acting out."
The author of the KTM post, Catherine Johnson, agrees wholeheartedly with McEwan-Adkins & Damer about the 80% Commandment and believes it's the reason why her students are struggling.

I tend to agree with this statement as it applies to a traditional classroom setting with 20-30+ students. But I wonder how applicable it is in a homeschool, where the child spends much of his/her time working one-on-one with the teacher.

I have definitely noticed that my DD will become frustrated if the task she's being asked to do is way over her head. At the same time, however, I want her to be challenged by her schoolwork and to stretch herself beyond her comfort level. That's the only way she'll grow in what she's capable of doing.

I'm not convinced that 80% is the optimal challenge level in a homeschool setting. If she's getting 4 out of 5 of them right all on her own, that seems to me like the task is too easy. I'd say that the challenge level I'm aiming for is more in the 1/2 to 2/3 range. Hard but not so difficult that she just gives up in frustration. Then I provide the "scaffolding" (to use the term associated with Vygotsky's work) that enables her to get to the point where she can complete the task herself with 80-90% accuracy. Once she can do that, I increase the challenge level again and the process repeats itself.

Because I'm only working with a single student, I'm able to do a lot more in the way of scaffolding than a traditional classroom teacher could. I can also devote as much time to a particular topic as she needs before we move on.

Last year we spent almost an entire month on one math topic that the curriculum we use is designed to cover in a few days (telling time to the nearest 5 minutes). She was having difficulty with the concept that each of the twelve numbers on the clock represents a different number (i.e. 5 representing 25 past the hour). That requires some pretty advanced thinking for a then-5 year old. But I kept working on it with her, and eventually the light bulb went on in her head.

I guess it's not so much the general principle of the 80% Commandment that I question, just the specific challenge level that was chosen. I'm curious to hear what other homeschoolers think- what do you consider as the optimal challenge level for your student? For those of you are homeschooling multiple children, do you find it varies from child to child?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Parenting a Girl Isn't All Sugar & Spice

There's an interesting guest post on the New York Times' "Motherlode" blog today from a mom of 3 sons mourning the loss of what she imagines parenting a daughter to be like:

"My future daughter had a lot of Anne of Green Gables and Ramona Quimby to look forward to, as well as French braids and tutus and Mary Janes and apron dresses. She was going to watch 'Felicity' marathons with me and ogle the new J. Crew catalog and have annual viewings of 'It’s a Wonderful Life' with me under a blanket with hot chocolate and lots of whipped cream....

My worst nightmare, back then, was that I would end up being a Mom of Boys, one of those women with a 'practical' haircut and flat shoes who spent her afternoons at the baseball field and washed a lot of sweaty athletic clothes. A Mom of Boys bought a lot of boring clothes for her children — polo shirts and khaki shorts and Nike trainers. She was looked on with pity by the Moms of Girls, who color-coordinated with their daughters and took them on trips to the American Girl store and 'The Nutcracker' and who had princess birthdays and tea parties with their mommy friends."

I just had to laugh at this. Parenting my little girl isn't 100% pink ribbons and taffeta. She's just as likely to be in jeans and sneakers kicking around a soccer ball as she is to be in a tutu twirling around to Tchaikovsky. Last weekend she had a blast playing engineer with her little brother and a virtually all-boy crowd at the Nevada State Railroad Museum. Her tea set gets more use digging in the dirt in the backyard than it does with her dolls.

I'm not sure if a ponytail or a French Twist counts as a "practical" hairstyle, but that's how I wear my hair much of the time. I did use to color-coordinate my outfits with DD but that went out as soon as I had a 2nd kid (now I just settle for everybody wearing clean clothes, LOL!)

From what I remember of Ramona Quimby, she wasn't exactly a girlie-girl either :-)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

And Always it Comes Back to the "S" Word...

There's an interesting post on BlogHer today from a mom who's considering homeschooling her DD next year for kindergarten and then enrolling her in a traditional school the following year for first grade. Overall, it's a fairly positive post and she makes a lot of good arguments for HS. However, I'm concerned about one particular statement she made (emphasis mine):
"I researched and I found myself becoming more and more interested in homeschooling, thinking it might actually be a great thing for us. That was until I ended up on National Home Education Network's site, reading their list of 55 Reasons to Homeschool. While I understood why majority of the list would appeal to many, I felt that they were indicative of taking away valuable life experience for children that would help mold them into well rounded people."
Oh, brother. Why do we always keep having to refute the mistaken belief that traditional schooling is necessary for proper socialization?

I suggested that the author read Rachel Gathercole's excellent book The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling.

Some other excellent blog posts on the topic include:
The "S" Word from Heather over at "My Supernatural World"
Homeschoolers Miss Out from Tammy over at "Just Enough and Nothing More"
So, How Do I Plan to Socialize My Children? from Dana over at "Principled Discovery"
"What About Socialization?" from Jen at "Bourgeois Baby"
The Socialization Question from Jena over at "Yarns of the Heart"
Monday's Musings: Socialization from Prairie Chick over at "Prairie Prologue"

I'm sure that there are tons more wonderfully written posts out there from my fellow homeschoolers so please don't be offended if I did not include yours in the above list. I just need to wrap this up so that we can go to our town's Christmas tree lighting :-)

Does Curvy = Traditional When it Comes to Women?

When I'm not pregnant, I've got very much of an hourglass figure. My weight has fluctuated somewhat as an adult, but I seem to gain & lose pretty evenly all over. I might be a 38D-25-38 size 8 or a 34C-22-34 size 4 or something in between but my waist-hip ratio (WHR) stays fairly constant (in the 0.64-0.66 range). If a pair of pants or a skirt fits me in the hips, it almost certainly is going to need to be taken in at the waist.

So I found it very interesting to read about a new study in the December issue of the journal Current Anthropology done by Dr. Elizabeth Cashdan of the University of Utah. Previous work has established that a WHR of 0.7 or lower in women is associated with higher fertility and lower rates of chronic disease. Studies have also shown that men prefer a WHR of 0.7 or lower when looking for a mate, which makes sense from an evolutionary psychology standpoint. Dr. Cashdan noted, however, that the average WHR for women in 37 societies around the world she examined was >0.8.
"If 0.7 is the magic number both in terms of health and male mate choice, why are most women significantly higher? That's where the hormones come in.

Androgens, a class of hormones that includes testosterone, increase waist-to-hip ratios in women by increasing visceral fat, which is carried around the waist. But on the upside, increased androgen levels are also associated with increased strength, stamina, and competitiveness. Cortisol, a hormone that helps the body deal with stressful situations, also increases fat carried around the waist.

'The hormonal profile associated with high WHR (waist-to-hip ratio) … may favor success in resource competition, particularly under stressful circumstances,' writes Cashdan. 'The androgenic effects - stamina, initiative, risk-proneness, assertiveness, dominance - should be particularly useful where a woman must depend on her own resources to support herself and her family.'"

In societies where women tend to be less economically independent, the typical female WHR is lower than in societies where women bear more responsibility for providing for themselves and their families.

The question Dr. Cashman's research raises in my own mind is this: given that I'm both curvy and prefer a more traditional gender role, which is the direction of the causality? Am I curvy because I'm more traditional or am I more traditional because I'm curvy?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Monday, December 1, 2008

Are Homeschoolers Motivated by Racism/Ethnophobia?

According to Dr. Gene V. Glass of Arizona State University, homeschoolers:
"appear to be motivated by a fear of mixing with the opposite class or race."
Pretty strong statement, no? One that a reasonable individual would want to see backed up with some compelling evidence when put forth in a scholarly work such as Dr. Glass' recent book Fertilizers, Pills, and Magnetic Strips: The Fate of Public Education in America, wouldn't you agree?

The only thing Dr. Glass uses to support his claim is the 1998 study of homeschooling done by Dr. Lawrence Rudner. There are several problems with using Dr. Rudner's study. The first is that it was done a full decade before the publication of Fertilizers, Pills, and Magnetic Strips. The second was that it was a self-selected sample of fewer than 12,000 families recruited from among the membership of the Home School Legal Defense Association. Dr. Glass may not be familiar with HSLDA, but those of us within the homeschooling community know that the membership of that organization is not particularly representative of all homeschoolers. It'd be akin to polling the membership of some suburban PTA and using that to generalize about all government-run school families.

In 2003, the National Center for Educational Statistics did a survey of homeschoolers that came up with a quite different demographic makeup than the earlier Rudner study. The percentage of non-Hispanic whites in the NCES study was 77% vs. 94% in the Rudner study. The percentage of blacks was 9% vs. only 1%, and the percentage of Hispanics was 5% vs. <1%. The makeup of the overall school-age population in 2003 was 61% non-Hispanic white, 14% black, and 17% Hispanic. Blacks and Hispanics are therefore somewhat underrepresented among homeschoolers, but it's not nearly by as much as Dr. Glass would have his readers believe.

Furthermore, I'm not convinced that the fact that non-Hispanic whites are somewhat overrepresented among homeschoolers is proof by itself of racism/ethnophobia. Is there any evidence that homeschoolers are disproportionately likely to reject integrated schools? I'm not aware of any research on the topic, but anecdotally it doesn't hold true for the homeschoolers I know personally.

For example, the school my children are zoned to attend is only 2.8% Hispanic and a mere 1.8% black. Low-income students of any race/ethnicity make up only 3.2% of the school's enrollment. So obviously my decision to homeschool is not due to a "fear of mixing with the opposite race or class" because there are hardly any black, Hispanic, or poor kids at our neighborhood school. In fact, I'm pretty sure the percentage of black and Hispanic kids in our homeschool support group actually exceeds the percentage at the school (it's certainly not less).

Out of all the homeschooling families I know personally, only one lives in a neighborhood where their kids would be zoned to attend a school with a significant Hispanic population. And they are strongly Fundamentalist Protestant and therefore wouldn't send their kids to the "Godless" government-run schools in any case. All the rest live in neighborhoods similar to mine.

Dr. Glass has a highly annoying tendency throughout Fertilizers, Pills, and Magnetic Strips to claim racism/ethnophobia as a motivation without providing much in the way of objective evidence to support his assertion. He even admits as much in the appendix, noting that his personal preference is:
"for psychoanalysis to explain many of the most important aspects of human behavior...I do see something akin to the 'defense mechanism' at work in intellectualizing of motives of both experts and ordinary people around questions of racial and ethnic segregation in public education. No one likes to be accused of being prejudiced, but most of us are."
Such conjectures have no place in a scholarly work. Stick to the facts, please! If I want psychobabble, I'll turn on Dr. Phil.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

One More Reason to Homeschool: You Can Recreate the 1st Thanksgiving in Peace

File this one under the category of "don't these people have anything more important to do?"

Police in Claremont, CA (an upscale suburb of L.A.) were called to Eleanor Daly Condit Elementary School after rival protesters clashed in front of the school. The dispute stemmed from the decision by the school board to cancel the construction paper costume portion of the four decades-old tradition of having the kindergarten students recreate the First Thanksgiving.

Apparently, one Condit parent, Dr. Michelle Raheja, who teaches Native American Literature at UC-Riverside, complained that the costumes were "racist". She compared the recreation to:
"asking children to dress up like slaves (and kind slave masters), or Jews (and friendly Nazis)"
Testifying in front of the school board in support of Dr. Raheja's position were Dr. Jennifer Tilton, professor of Race & Ethnic Studies at the University of Redlands, and instructors from Pitzer College and Riverside Community College.

Parent Constance Garabedian accused Dr. Raheja of:
"using those children as a political platform for herself and her ideas. I'm not a professor and I'm not a historian, but I can put the dots together."
The school board took the political correct position and ordered the students to forgo the costumes "in order to be sensitive to the Native American culture."

I'm of Irish heritage. My ancestors had to deal with oppression by foreign conquerors and when they fled to the U.S., they faced discrimination. But that was a long time before I was born. I wouldn't get my knickers in a knot if some kindergarten kids wanted to celebrate St. Patrick's Day by making leprechaun costumes out of construction paper. True, it may be a bit cartoonish, but certainly not racist.

They don't call it "La-la Land" for nothing!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Average American Fails Civic Literacy Quiz

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute has released the results of its 3rd annual Civic Literacy quiz, and they're pretty dismal. 71% of respondents failed the quiz; the average score was only 49% correct. A mere 0.8% of those surveyed received an "A", yikes! Those in my age group (25-34) got only 46% correct. College graduates only did slightly better than average, with a still mediocre 57%.

I'm pleased that I only missed one question, for a score of 96.97 % :-) And it was an economics-related question, which is a subject I have never formally studied. I had narrowed down the choices to 2 possibilities and simply guessed wrong.

You can take the quiz here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

As If I Don't Have Enough Stuff To Do...

I just got a jury summons to appear 8 days before my due date. So now I've got to get a note from my OB to verify that I would be medically unable to serve at that time. What a complete pain in the you-know-where...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Anybody Use a Cloth Diapering Service?

I've always been tempted to cloth diaper but frankly have never wanted to deal with the hassle of so much additional laundry. With my previous 2 babies, there's never been a diaper service available where I was living. This time around, I've found a service called Tiny Tots that's based out of Campbell and delivers to my area.

Their monthly price isn't really a huge premium over what I'd be paying for disposables so I'm seriously considering giving it a try.

Has anybody out there used a cloth diapering service? If so, were you satisfied with the quality of the diapers and the customer service?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's Going to Be One Heck of an Election Day...

...if the lines for the early voting in my county are any indication. I'd been hearing predictions of a heavy voter turnout for next Tuesday's election for a while now, so when I happened to be over near the county elections office this morning I decided to swing by and cast an early ballot. Even though it was mid-morning on a Wednesday, the place was mobbed. I had to wait about half an hour before it was my turn.

As I was leaving, I happened to remark to a Fed-Ex deliveryman that I was surprised to see it so crowded. He told me that it'd been that way for the past couple of weeks!

Although I have a feeling that I may not be too happy with the outcome of this year's election, I do think on the whole it's a good thing for our country for its citizens to show a higher level of civic engagement than has been the norm in recent years.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Any Suggestions for Relieving Pregnancy-Induced Isomnia?

I've tried drinking chamomile tea, I've tried reading a dull book, I've tried yoga and I'm *STILL* not tired. This has been happening a fair amount lately, and also I've been waking up in the middle of the night & then having trouble falling back asleep :-(

Anybody got ideas for how a mom-to-be who really needs to catch some Z's can do so?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Can Pick Cherries, Too! The Myth of the "Teaching Penalty"

I recently came across an interesting post on the "Public School Insights" blog from back in March entitled "Teacher Pay is Prosperity Proof". It discusses a report from the liberal think tank the Economic Policy Institute called The Teaching Penalty. You can read the full 82 page report here, but in a nutshell the researchers argue that the average weekly pay in 2006 for teachers was 14.3% below those in "comparable occupations".

The validity of this argument hinges on whether the occupations selected for comparison truly are comparable. The authors of the report give a highly technical explanation for how they chose "comparable" occupations, but a number of the results seem to defy basic common sense.

Here's the occupations the authors claim are comparable to teaching: accountant, reporter, registered nurse, computer programmer, clergy, personnel officer. Okay, I can see nurse, clergy, and possibly personnel officer because like teaching these are all "helping" professions. But the others strike me as having little similarity to teaching.

Including accounting and computer programming in particular is going to skew the results because those have some of the highest entry level salaries for new college graduates (as of 2007 they were $46,718 and $56,201 respectively). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 25th percentile of wages for accountants is $44,230 and the 75th percentile is $75,020. For computer programmers, the numbers are $51,450 and $87,950.

Two occupations that strike me as much more similar to being a schoolteacher are social worker and librarian. According to the BLS, the 25th percentile of wages for social workers is $30,250 and the 75th percentile is $50,530. For librarians, the numbers are $40,730 and $63,440.

If I average the BLS median weekly wage for social worker, librarian, registered nurse, and personnel officer, I come up with a figure of $940. That's only $20 greater than the EPI number for the average weekly wage for teachers. Not to mention that that if I average the numbers from the BLS data for elementary, middle, and secondary schoolteachers, it results in a figure of $1,205/week, which is 28% more than the average for the 5 "helping" occupations.

My college stats professor used to love to remind us of the old saying about there being 3 kinds of falsehoods: lies, d*** lies, and statistics.

So the next time you hear someone using the EPI report to bolster his/her argument that teachers are underpaid relative to comparable occupations, you'll know to be appropriately skeptical...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

George Weigel 1, Catholic Apologists for Obama 0

Boy, do I wish I had the disposable cash to make photocopies of the article by George Weigel in this week's issue of Newsweek to put on each car at my parish this weekend during Mass. The article is entitled "Can Catholics Back Pro-Choice Obama?" and it's a brilliant critique of the flaws in the arguments of several well-known Catholic supporters of Sen. Obama such as Douglas Kmiec and Nicholas Cafardi.

It's a message that many of my fellow parishioners would likely not want to hear, but as St. Paul wrote two millennia ago to the Galatians:
"Am I now seeking human approval or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of God." (Galatians 1:10, NRSV Cath. Ed.)

Despite House Speaker Pelosi's recent assertions to the contrary, the Catholic Church has had a clear and consistent record of opposing abortion dating back to the 1st century A.D. teachings of the Church Fathers in the Didache.

Pope Benedict XVI, back when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote that a Catholic can vote for a pro-abortion candidate for other reasons only when those reasons are "proportionate". Under Catholic teaching, the taking of innocent life is considered the most serious sin prevalent in society today. For that reason, none of the commonly suggested reasons for voting for a pro-abortion candidate like Sen. Obama such as peace, health care, poverty reduction, etc. are considered proportionate.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Frustratingly Misleading Piece on GATE in "Ed Week" has an article on a forthcoming book on giftedness to be published in January by the American Psychological Association entitled The Development of Giftedness and Talent Across the Lifespan. I found the EdWeek article interesting, but very frustrating because it perpetuates the myth of "evening out" in the 3rd grade.

Here are some excerpts:
"Academic talents can wax and wane, the latest thinking goes, meaning that a child who clearly outpaces his or her peers academically at age 8 can end up solidly in the middle of the pack by the end of high school."

That's confusing intellectual potential with academic results. IQ is remarkably stable over time after the age of about 6. But certainly there are plenty of gifted children who underachieve in school. An estimated 20% of high school dropouts are intellectually gifted. Many more manage to graduate from high school but without stellar academic records. As I've mentioned before on this blog, one of my brothers was like this.

The EdWeek article also quotes Randy Collins, the director of one of the best-known schools for the gifted in the U.S., Hunter College Elementary School in New York City. Hunter receives along the lines of 1800+ applications each year for a mere 48 kindergarten slots. Collins told EdWeek:
"Third grade is probably a better place to admit someone because assessments are more reliable at that age."
This is the same kind of nonsense I heard from the superintendent of our district when I questioned her why the district's GATE program did not start until 4th grade. Research has shown that while the highest IQ stability was found among those tested at age 6+, testing at age 4 (Hunter's current practice) results in only somewhat lower stability (median correlation of 0.72). That means nearly 3/4 of those tested as preschoolers will not see a significant change in IQ if they are retested later!

Yes, children who are "late bloomers" ought to have the chance to participate in GATE programs if they qualify at an older age. Schools like Hunter ought to take a certain number of additional children who did not initially qualify at about the 3rd or 4th grade. But that doesn't mean that educators should deny those who show signs of giftedness at an earlier age the chance for a properly challenging environment.

Most educators who will read this EdWeek article will presumably not be all that familiar with the literature on giftedness. It's really a shame, therefore, that the article perpetuates the "evening out" myth :-(

Monday, October 13, 2008

Government-run School Sponsors Field Trip for 1st Graders to Gay "Wedding"

I haven't really talked much about Proposition 8, the California Marriage Protection Amendment. which would restore the traditional definition of marriage in the state as that of one man and one woman. Not because I don't think it's important but because it's one of those issues where you either hold traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs or you don't. Supporters and opponents can talk each other blue in the face and nobody's going to convince the other side of anything.

The whole argument about legal rights is a smokescreen because homosexual domestic partners in California already had the SAME rights as married couples under state law BEFORE four activist judges overturned the will of the people back in June. Nothing in Prop. 8 would change that!

Where Prop. 8 IS important is how marriage is presented in the state's government-run schools. The CA Ed Code requires teachers to instruct children as young as kindergarteners about marriage- and if Prop. 8 does not pass, that would include gay "marriage". Teachers in government-run schools would have to treat gay "marriage" as NO DIFFERENT FROM traditional marriage regardless of how parents feel about the issue. Obviously this is an issue about which there is tremendous controversy, which is why PARENTS ought to be the ones making the decision about how they want it presented to their own children in accordance with their own family's values.

What prompted me to bring up the subject of Prop. 8 today is a story that is shocking but sadly not surprising. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a government-run school in San Francisco sponsored a field trip Friday by a FIRST GRADE class to a GAY "WEDDING" officiated by mayor (and notorious adulterer) Gavin Newsom.

The interim director of the Creative Arts Charter School, Liz Jaroslow, justified the trip on "educational" grounds thus:
"It really is what we call a teachable moment....I think I'm well within the parameters....As far as I'm concerned, it's not controversial for me."
If the teacher in question had chosen to invite her students to attend her "wedding" outside of class time, then I wouldn't really have a huge problem with it. That would've been a non-school event and no taxpayer dollars would've been spent funding it. I might still question its appropriateness for such young kids, but that's a judgment call for the students' parents. But this trip was done during time that the state is paying this school to educate the children.

I looked up the data on the Creative Arts Charter to see if the school is doing such a wonderful job that it can afford to waste time on non-academic pursuits such as this field trip. Here's what I found:

Percent of students scoring Proficient or Above in Math: 28.6%
Percent of students scoring Proficient or Above in Language Arts: 56.8%
Ranking of this school compared to others in the state with similar demographics: bottom 10%

Seems to me the administration needs to spend a bit more time teaching its students academic basics and a bit less time on indoctrination...

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bill Ayers: "Guilty As H***" and Proud Of It

The more I'm learning about Bill Ayers, the more repugnant I'm finding him- and the more unbelievable it seems that so many of the elites in this country are excusing away his atrocious past behavior.

"He was never convicted of anything!" is one thing I've heard several times from liberals so completely besotted with Sen. Obama that they are simply unwilling to face the ugly truth about Bill Ayers.

In an interview with David Horowitz in the early 1990's, Ayers recounted the details of his terrorist activity. After he was finished, he gloated: "Guilty as h***. Free as a bird. America is a great country."

I also discovered that for all Ayers' talk about social justice, he was a child of enormous privilege. His father was the CEO and Chairman of the giant utility company Commonwealth Edison and a crony of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and President Richard Nixon.

It seems clear to me that Ayers developed the entitlement attitude unfortunately not uncommon among those who've grown up wealthy that he is above the laws that govern everyone else. Horowitz describes Ayers as possessing "a shallowness beyond conception" that has resulted in an inability to distinguish right from wrong.

So tell me again- just *WHY* are so many otherwise intelligent individuals rushing to defend Ayers?

Matthew K. Tabor over at the "Education for the Aughts" blog has an excellent mini-carnival of posts from education bloggers critical of Ayers. Definitely worth checking out!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bill Ayers' Violent Past: "Passionate Participation" or Terrorism?

I don't always agree with the authors of the "Core Knowledge" blog (especially when it comes to their cheerleading about the No Child Left Behind Act and their push for nationalizing the curriculum), but there's an excellent post today from Robert Pondiscio regarding unrepentant terrorist/"education reformer" Bill Ayers. Here's an excerpt:

"The Support Bill Ayers document would have us believe that Ayers is being silenced as a means to 'intimidate free thinking and stifle critical dialogue.' Forgive me for saying so, but what is violence if not an attempt to intimidate and stifle viewpoints with which you disagree? It would be a lot easier to move past what the document dismisses as 'history' if Ayers might at some point allow that his particular brand of 'passionate participation' was ill-advised....

Ayers, for his part, has never come close to such an admission. 'I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough,' he told the New York Times in an interview that was sitting on millions of breakfast tables on the morning of September 11, 2001. This lack of introspection on Ayers’ part makes the education establishment’s embrace of him troubling on so many levels."

What I can’t understand is how such a large number of elites in this country can be so morally relativistic that they can’t acknowledge that terrorism is never justified. Even if they’re sympathetic to the goals of the attackers, why can’t they just admit that the means are despicable? Some things really ARE black-or-white, with no shades of gray.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Why I Should Beware the WTM Bulletin Boards...

Remember how yesterday I was talking about how many interesting-looking programs there are now available for studying Latin in the elementary grades? Well, through the Well-Trained Mind website bulletin boards, I discovered yet ANOTHER one: Song School Latin. This one looks really fun!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ultrasound Results

I'm very relieved to report that the ultrasound I had this afternoon showed a healthy-looking baby girl who is only a little small for her gestational age (measuring about a week behind). The technician said that's within the normal range and that the doppler flow measurements of the baby's blood vessels looked good :-)

Thanks everyone for your prayers!

Latin Making a Comeback in Schools

There's so much disheartening news about the state of K-12 schooling in this country that it's refreshing whenever I see an article about a positive trend, such as the article in today's New York Times entitled "Latin Returns From Dead in School Languages Curriculum".

Enrollment is booming in Latin courses across the country, with the language expected to surpass German as the 3rd most popular foreign language taught in schools. The number of students taking the Advanced Placement exam has doubled over the past 10 years, and the number taking the National Latin Exam has increased by roughly 1/3.

The president of the American Philological Association, Adam Blistein, told the NYT that studying Latin builds vocabulary and grammar for higher SAT scores, appeals to college admissions officers as a sign of critical-thinking skills and fosters true intellectual passion.

Students who study Latin in high school have average SAT-Verbal scores significantly higher than students who study French, German, or Spanish. Some of this may be due to selection bias, but learning Latin provides a real advantage in figuring out the meaning of unfamiliar English words. 90% of English words over 2 syllables are of Latin derivation.

I have not yet started my DD on the study of Latin but I think I will once we reach Ancient Rome in history (which I'm guessing will most likely be this coming spring). The hard part is choosing from among the many interesting looking programs for elementary Latin instruction. Minimus? Learning Latin Through Mythology? Catholic Heritage Curricula's Little Latin Readers? The American Classical League's Activitates Pro Liberis?

Monday, October 6, 2008

U.S. Schools Failing Bright African-American Kids

In general, I'm not a huge fan of all the attention paid to the so-called "racial achievement gap" in test scores because I think it obscures the fact that even the white and Asian kids aren't doing so hot. On the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the average scores for white students fell below grade-level proficiency for both reading and math in the 4th and 8th grades. I'd like to see more of a focus on raising achievement levels for *ALL* students regardless of race. If significant progress was made in raising test scores for all groups, then everyone would be better off even if the gap between the groups remained the same size. A rising tide lifting all boats, so to speak.

That said, I was surprised and dismayed to read on the "Eduwonkette" blog about new research from Professor Sean Reardon of Stanford on the size of racial achievement gaps between African-American and white students who entered kindergarten at high vs. low levels of ability. Dr. Reardon found that African-American students who entered kindergarten at the 84th percentile of ability in reading and math fell behind similar-ability white students twice as fast by fifth grade as African-American students who entered at the 16th percentile of ability. By 5th grade, the typical African-American student who had entered kindergarten at the 84th percentile was only scoring the same as whites in the 55th percentile.

This finding is important because it means the problem is something in the child's environment causing him/her to underachieve compared to his/her potential. Dr. Reardon does not go into detail in his paper about what that might be, but mentions 3 possibilities:

(1) high achieving black students encounter less challenging curriculum and instruction and attend schools with fewer resources.

(2) high achieving black students are subject to different sets of teacher expectations and behaviors than similarly high achieving white students.

(3) high achieving black students have less access to out-of-school enrichment than high achieving white students.

Another couple possible contributing factors that Dr. Reardon does not mention include:

(4) whether high-achieving blacks face greater anti-intellectual peer pressure than high-achieving whites.

(5) whether high-achieving blacks have fewer positive role models both in their communities and in pop culture than high-achieving whites.

It is interesting to note that studies of homeschooled students do not show a significant racial achievement gap in test scores. Whatever is causing bright African-American students enrolled in traditional government-run schools to fall behind their white peers is not an issue for homeschoolers.

We need to do further studies to determine the cause(s) of this type of underachievement and figure out a way to remedy them for the children whose families are unable or unwilling to homeschool.

Depressing Survey About Teen Girls' Aspirations

A new survey of the career aspirations of British girls aged 13-18 done by the organization New Outlooks in Science and Engineering found that the majority picked beauty over brains. While 32% of those surveyed were interested in becoming a fashion model, 29% were interested in being an actress, and 20% were interested in being a beautician, only 14% were interested in becoming a scientist, and a mere 4% were interested in becoming an engineer (note: girls were permitted to select more than one answer).

I am saddened but not surprised at these results. Pop culture very much values style over substance, particularly when it comes to women. Female celebrities popular among teen girls such as Paris Hilton, Jessica Simpson, the actresses on The Hills, and so on often give the appearance of vacuousness (even if they may actually be not quite as dumb as their public personas would indicate). Television portrayals of women tend more towards the walking clothes hangers of America's Next Top Model than the braininess of Dr. Amita Ramanujan on Numb3rs. Far more teens could likely name last year's American Idol winner (Jordin Sparks) than could name either the current Secretary of State or the female member of the U.S. Supreme Court (Condoleeza Rice and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, respectively).

Given that we are now three-and-a-half decades past the landmark passage of Title IX, I find this state of affairs very depressing. Today's girls are so lucky that they do not face the barriers to participation in scientific and technical fields that stood in the path of previous generations of women. True, more still needs to be done to allow for a better work-life balance in scientific and technical careers (an issue that disproportionately affects women although it's becoming important to an increasing number of men as well). But the main thing today keeping girls from becoming scientists and engineers is themselves.

So long as girls go for glamor over contributing to the betterment of society, we're likely to see a continuation of the gender gap in the sciences and engineering. And that's really a shame :-(

New Carnival for Environmentally-Conscious Mom Bloggers

Many of us homeschoolers strive to be good stewards of the Earth's resources, whether it's for religious reasons (like me) or secular ones (like a number of the families in my local inclusive HS support group). Whatever your motivation for your environmental consciousness, I highly recommend checking out the recently formed "Green Moms Carnival".

This month's theme is "Coping With the Commercialization of Halloween and Other Holidays" and is hosted over at the "Green Bean Dreams" blog. Even if your family does not celebrate Halloween, there are lots of good ideas for simpler, less materialistic, and more eco-friendly holidays.

November's theme is "Gratitude for Your Favorite Green Things" and submissions are due by October 27th to greenmomscarnival (at) gmail (dot) com.

(HT: afterschooler extraordinaire MC Milker over at "The Not-Quite-Crunchy Parent")

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Time Once Again to Play "Fill in the Blanks"

Here's the quote:

"The unease with [name of politician] is not [sociological term]-based. It is empirically based. [He/she] is a rising political star, a young [man/woman] — [he/she] is only [age] —who has done extraordinary things. It takes guts to offer oneself for election, and to serve. It is far easier to throw spitballs from the stands than it is to seek and hold office. [He/she] is a [current political office], and [he/she] has the courage to go into the arena. For that [he/she] should be honored and respected....But it is only prudent to ask whether [he/she] is in fact someone who should be president of the United States in the event of disaster. [He/she] may be ready in a year or two, but disaster does not coordinate its calendar with ours. Would we muddle through if [name] were to become president? Yes, we would, but it is worth asking whether we should have to."

So is the author here discussing Sen. Obama or Gov. Palin?

Here's a huge hint: the quote comes from an article in Newsweek. You can find the answer here.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Please Pray for Our Family

I've been having a kind of rough day today and could really use any moral support that you all could offer.

This morning I got a call from my mother-in-law that DH's grandmother passed away last night. She had been suffering from diabetes complications for a long time and was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday so it wasn't totally unexpected but we're still going to miss her.

Then at my OB appointment this afternoon, my doctor found that I'm measuring quite small for the baby's gestational age. Not only that, but the measurements hadn't changed at all since my last appointment a month ago. So she has referred me for an ultrasound to make sure that the baby and placenta look okay. Unfortunately, the first opening the clinic has is not until Tuesday afternoon :-(

The good news is that the baby's heartbeat sounded strong and she's been moving about quite a bit. Also, my DS also measured very small for his gestational age and was only 5 lbs. 12 oz. at his full-term birth. He's still a little peanut (almost 3 but is the size of a typical 18 month old). Our pediatrician has run a bunch of tests on him & has not found any medical problems. As she has reassured me, "Somebody's got to be in that below-the-3rd percentile on the growth curve." So hopefully that's the case with this new baby, too. I just wish that I didn't have to wait 4 days to have the ultrasound.

Sorry to ramble on, but I just wanted to ask you to please keep our family in your prayers :-)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Wrong Way to Go About Implementing a GATE Program

A government-run elementary school in the town of Duxbury, MA decided to implement a cluster grouping program aimed at the top 3-5% of students in the third, fourth, and fifth grades to provide differentiated instruction for them. That's the good news. The bad news is how the school went about setting up this GATE program.

According to an article in The Boston Globe, the pilot program was not announced until after classes had begun in September. The 14 participating children had been selected not based on any objective criteria such as standardized test scores but rather on a chart of behavior traits associated with gifted children. Parents of children chosen for the program were notified, but instructed to keep it a secret from other parents.

Rumors flew of favoritism when it was learned that the son of School Committee member George Cipolletti was one of the students selected for the program.

Not all gifted kids fit the stereotype of the good little teacher's pet. My brother was one of these- he tested off the charts but was constantly in hot water at school because he refused to comply with anything he considered to be "busywork". That's why the selection process for GATE programs need to include objective criteria like test scores. Additionally, the administrators need to be open and straightforward with the community about what is going on.

We're Officially a Private School!

DD turns 6 in a couple of weeks, so this is the first year that California's compulsory education law applies to her. We've chosen to establish our own small private school, which I officially registered with the California Department of Education as of 9:03:01 A.M. this morning.

Filling out the Private School Affidavit was very easy, thanks to the line-by-line instructions provided by the Homeschool Association of California.

Also thanks again to all the hard work done in recent months by HSC, the California Homeschool Network, the Christian Home Educators Association of California, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, the Pacific Justice Institute, and their legal teams to preserve the right of California parents to educate their children at home!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Removing God from Govt. Schools "Leaves Moral Vaccuum Filled by Celebrity Culture"

The chairman of a group representing 250 private schools in Britain has blasted the government-run schools in that country for treating God as "an embarrassment", which has led to "a moral and spiritual vacuum and the breakdown of any shared value system."

Rev. Tim Hastie-Smith told the annual conference of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference:

"In our schools we have the freedom, if we choose, to fight that malaise. Not by retreating from society but engaging with the big questions in a mature and reasoned way, offering possible answers and challenges rather than the passing fads of an X-Factor culture."

The X-Factor is a British reality show similar to American Idol. Rev. Hastie-Smith is dead-on in his critique of how abandoning the schools' traditional role in teaching children in accordance with Judeo-Christian principles has led to moral relativism and the valuing of style over substance.

Rev. Hastie-Smith also said state schools were being smothered by red tape and government dictates and should be given the freedom to set their own curriculum and appoint staff that private schools enjoy:

"Education, if it is to achieve true excellence and if it is to be tailored to the needs of the individual child, should be free of government control....Free from political control, free from the red tape and dictates which can smother our colleagues in most of the maintained [i.e. government-run] sector."

To have a truly effective school, decisions need to be made at the lowest feasible level. Micromanagement by politicians and other bureaucrats hundreds of miles away in the state capitol or thousands of miles away in the nation's capitol interferes with the ability of teachers and school administrators to do the jobs for which they've been hired. We need to grant them the flexibility they need to meet their students' individual needs rather than forcing them to follow a "one-size-fits-all" model from on high.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Judith Warner Completely Missed the Point

The other day Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, wrote a blog post for the New York Times on feeling surprisingly sympathetic toward Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin entitled "Poor Sarah".

Ms. Warner's discussion is full of the typical elitist snobbery towards Mrs. Palin- at one point the author dismisses the governor as "a moose-killing Alaska frontierswoman with her five kids, five colleges, and pastoral protection from witchcraft" - and reiterates the Democratic party line of attack on her that she's allegedly "out of her league".

Am I a particularly big fan of Gov. Palin? No. Do I have concerns about her relative inexperience? Yes, but I have even bigger concerns about Sen. Obama's lack of experience. I would much rather see a young, relatively inexperienced politician as second in line to be the president than actually being president. The learning curve is much steeper and the stakes are much higher for the actor in the spotlight than for his/her understudy.

But what really caught my eye in Ms. Warner's blog post was her discussion of one of my favorite movies from the past few years, Legally Blonde. The movie is an adaptation of a semi-autobiographical novel written by a woman who was a sorority girl at party school Arizona State before deciding to attend Stanford Law School. Like the heroine of Legally Blonde, Elle Woods, the author felt out-of-place with her designer wardrobe and pink accessories and was subject to snobbery from the other students. She found solace in writing long letters to her friends back home skewering her classmates, which ultimately became the basis for her novel.

In the movie, Elle discovers to the surprise of everyone around her that there's much more to her than just a pretty face. She receives a near-perfect score on the Law School Admissions Test and once she decides to get serious about her law school coursework, she starts acing them. At the end of the movie, she has solved a big murder case through her quick wits and has graduated with honors from Harvard.

I've always felt a kinship with Elle Woods as someone whose abilities often get underestimated simply based on my appearance. If I had a dollar for every time I've heard the back-handed compliment, "Wow, you're a LOT smarter than you look!" I could buy myself a pair of Manolo Blahniks. Like Elle, I've overheard myself being dismissed by one of my female classmates as a "walking Barbie" because I'm cute, blonde, and a bit of a girlie-girl. Yes, I was in a sorority and do like shopping, but that doesn't make me dumb. In this day and age, I resent the implication that women are still supposed to choose between being pretty and being smart.

In Ms. Warner's NYT blog post, she completely misses the whole point of Legally Blonde. She sees Elle as an "imposter", who hides the fact that she's "not the intellectual equal of her peers" behind a mask of self-confidence and "dressing up in a nice suit". Ms. Warner tells her daughter after they watch the movie together that (emphasis in the original):

"You can’t accomplish anything worthwhile in life just by being pretty and cute and clever. You have to do the work."

Which is *EXACTLY* the message Elle learns! She's spent her whole life up until law school merely getting by on her looks and aspiring to be a socialite trophy wife like her mom. She finally gets fed up with being treated as inferior by her snobby classmates and sets out to prove to them that she's just as competant as they are. How does she accomplish this task? BY DOING THE WORK! The whole point of the movie is that Elle *IS* the intellectual equal of her peers in spite of her designer suit and pink scented accessories. How did Ms. Warner manage to miss that?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Extremist Legislation Would Bar ANY Abortion Regulation

I had never heard of bills S.1173 and H.R.1964, the so-called "Freedom of Choice Act", until I received a couple of email alerts today about them from Catholics for the Common Good and Trinity Communications (who run the website). S.1173 is sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and co-sponsored by 17 other Democrats including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry plus 2 liberal-leaning "Independents". The corresponding House bill is sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and co-sponsored by 109 other Democrats

So what exactly would this proposed legislation do? It would create a "fundamental right" to abortion THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE NINE MONTHS OF PREGNANCY. It would eliminate ALL limits on abortion and force all Americans to SUBSIDIZE ABORTIONS WITH THEIR TAX MONEY.

The abortion regimen imposed by FOCA would be MUCH MORE EXTREME than the implications of Roe v. Wade. FOCA would RULE OUT ANY possibility of limiting or regulating abortion.

FOCA would apply to EVERY FEDERAL, STATE, AND LOCAL regulation pertaining to abortion.

The measures that would be overridden by FOCA include informed consent laws, parental involvement laws, laws promoting maternal health, conscience protection laws, laws prohibiting a particular abortion procedure (e.g., partial birth abortion), laws requiring that abortions only be performed by a licensed physician, abortion clinic regulations, government programs that pay for or promote childbirth and other health care without subsidizing abortion.

As the legal analysis done by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops notes:

"If FOCA were enacted, it would wipe out a very large number of existing state laws on abortion, substantially impede the ability of states to regulate abortion, and override nearly 40 years of jurisprudential experience on the matter of abortion."

FOCA states that the decision whether to have an abortion is a "fundamental" right, even though in 1992 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Casey decision that states may regulate abortion so long as the regulations do not impose an "undue burden" on women. FOCA does not bar "substantial" regulations as Casey does but rather ANY interference with the decision whether to have an abortion.

As the USCCB analysis puts it,

"FOCA is a radical measure....It is difficult to recall any other single piece of legislation that, in a single stroke, would have such a comparable destructive impact on the government's ability to regulate abortion."

Pro-abortion groups are pushing the 110th Congress to enact this legislation soon. Those of us who oppose the expansion of the "culture of death" in this country must speak out for the voiceless potential victims of this heinous act!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

StoryCorps Project Coming to S.F.!

I don't know about you, but I'm a big fan of the Friday segments on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" program featuring personal vignettes from everyday Americans recorded as part of the StoryCorps oral history project. If you're unfamiliar with these, you can listen to a sample of them here.

I was very excited, therefore, to learn that the recently opened Contemporary Jewish Museum here in San Francisco has been selected as the very first museum in the U.S. to host a StoryCorps recording booth. On Thursdays and Sundays from October 12, 2008 through October 11, 2009, the StoryCorps project will be offering appointments for recording sessions to visitors. For more info, click here.

My mom's coming to visit in January to help out after the arrival of our new baby. I'm probably not going to feel up to participating in the project myself but I'd love to get the chance for my mom and my uncle to reminisce about my late grandmother, who was quite a remarkable woman :-)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Barking Up the Wrong Tree a Bit When it Comes to Education Reform

A couple of weeks ago, I discussed the ideas found in the recently released book Smart Kids, Bad Schools: 38 Ways to Save America's Future by Brian Crosby that I felt had merit. On the whole, I think Mr. Crosby (a veteran high school English teacher from Southern California) is on the right track with his suggestions for reforming America's government-run schools. However, I do believe he completely missed the boat with certain of his ideas.

Bad Idea #1. Moving teachers rather than students from classroom to classroom between periods. Mr. Crosby does acknowledge that this would only be possible if every student in the class took the exact same courses, but dismisses this concern:
"With the push toward more academic rigor, why can't they take the same classes? The students in the advanced classes are already tracked together; those who would be in a vocational track would likewise be taking the same coursework."
This is a false assumption. While certain honors classes may tend to enroll many of the same students, not every student in them is taking the exact same schedule as every single one of his/her classmates. In my high school during 9th-11th grades, I would say that probably 75-85% of those taking honors math also took honors science, and there was roughly the same overlap between honors English and honors history. However, there was a much lower overlap between honors math and honors English, only around half to two-thirds. Senior year, by which time almost all students had already met the school's graduation requirement for 3 years' each in science and history and many had chosen to drop one or both, had even more variations in schedules.

That's not even taking into consideration electives such as foreign languages, computer science, psychology, economics, statistics, the performing arts, study hall, etc. My friends and I tended to be in mostly the same core courses, but we took all different types of electives depending on our particular interests and post-graduation aspirations.

On top of the normal variations among students' schedules, I knew several individuals who were taking courses either ahead of or behind the typical grade level. A good friend of mine doubled up in math her freshman year so that she could take a distance learning university-level math course in 12th. I personally chose to start studying Latin as my second foreign language in 10th rather than the typical 9th (when I had tried Spanish but got frustrated with the lack of academic rigor in that particular sequence).

In addition to problems with coordinating students' schedules, there is also the issue of courses requiring specialized classrooms. Mr. Crosby, the English instructor, may very well be able to teach in a generic classroom. But what if he taught chemistry, biology, computer science, or a foreign language and needed specific equipment available on a regular basis?

Bad Idea #2. Having teachers instruct classes Monday-Thursday and then spend every Friday in professional development. Mr. Crosby writes:
"What do the teachers get to do on Fridays? They do something they only rarely get a chance to do- share ideas with other teachers....It also frees up one day a week for teachers to attend conferences without having to miss teaching to their students."
I agree that teachers ought to have more time available in their schedule for collaboration and pursuing continuing education. But devoting 1/5th of their working time (which is already quite a bit shorter than most other professions) to these activities seems excessive. I could see perhaps 2 Fridays per month, but not every single week.

Bad Idea #3. Bashing teachers who go above and beyond what they're required to do by their contracts for love of their students. This one just struck me as pure selfishness:
"I have often heard from principals how proud they are of teachers who volunteer to advise a club or chair a department. Yet these slave laborers are inadvertently harming the rest of the teachers....Many teachers, partly due to their strong Judeo-Christian ethics, sincerely believe in the 'I'm there for the kids' credo and view their jobs as missionary-like, a 'calling' if you will....These instructors sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice, but what they are really sacrificing is their own profession."
*HEAVEN FORBID* that certain teachers actually put the welfare of their students ahead of their own greed! The problem with today's schools is *NOT* that too few teachers share Mr. Crosby's self-centered opinion on this issue but that far too many do :-(

One of the major reasons that certain charter schools like the KIPP ones outperform their traditional government-run counterparts is that they attract teachers who put service to their students above selfishness. Who's going to do a better job for his/her students- the teacher who views the profession as a calling or the one who's "all about the Benjamins"?

The cynic in me suspects that Mr. Crosby is uncomfortable with his more altruistic colleagues because they make those who share his selfish mindset look bad...

Bad Idea #4. Bashing educational alternatives to government-run schools like private schools and homeschooling. Like #3, I suspect that Mr. Crosby's antagonism stems primarily from self-interest rather than what's best for the students. He nearly says as much in the final chapter of Smart Kids, Bad Schools, when he writes:
"I'd rather have a broken public school system than have millions of kids stay home to be schooled. I'd rather deal with bureaucratic headaches than have vouchers given out to millions of parents."
Wow, I'm glad to know that Mr. Crosby is willing to put ideology of "believing in the public schools" ahead of the welfare of millions of American children.

Earlier in the book, he makes the astonishing claim that:
"Except for religious reasons and spiffy uniforms, there is no sound argument for educating children in private schools."
What about the fact that the government-run schools in many areas are truly dreadful? In Mr. Crosby's hometown of L.A., only 48% of students in the city's government-run high schools graduate in 4 years. Compare this with a 97.5% graduation rate in the city's Catholic high schools for students from low-income families, according to a recent study done by Loyola Marymount University in L.A. Also, test scores are consistently higher among private school students than among students in government-run schools.

Mr. Crosby notes that private school salaries are typically lower than those paid in government-run schools, and that often private school teachers lack state certification. He then makes the extraordinary claim that:
"The best teachers out there know this and that is why they work in public schools where they can command higher salaries."
I know plenty of wonderful teachers who feel that the greater autonomy, significantly better working conditions, and higher caliber student populations at private schools outweigh the somewhat lower salaries.

In addition, evidence is lacking that traditional teacher certification actually improves student achievement. In his book Education Myths, Jay Greene of the American Enterprise Institute notes that (emphasis in the original):
"After examining every available study on the impact of teaching credentials on job performance--171 in total--Eric Hanushek [of the the Abell Foundation] found that only nine uncovered any significant positive relationship between credentials and student performance, five found a significant negative relationship between the two, and 157 showed no connection. "
Mr. Crosby also dismisses parental concerns about there being far too much standardized testing in government-run schools. He points out that most private middle and high schools require an entrance exam. True, but that's *ONE* three hour test taken during the application period and it's typically prepared for outside of the normal classroom time. By contrast, California government-run schools require annual tests from grades 2 through 11 administered over several days. In addition, many schools these days devote a significant portion of the school year towards preparation for these standardized tests, resulting in less time available for other educational activities.

As for the brief half-page discussion of homeschooling in Smart Kids, Dumb Schools, it's obvious that Mr. Crosby doesn't know much about the topic; he regurgitates the same old tired stereotypes about socialization, spelling bee winners, and speculation about racial segregation playing a role in the decision to homeschool. I'm not going to waste my time dignifying them with a response as they've been so thoroughly debunked in the past better than I could ever hope to do myself.

Bad Idea #5. Parents should *ALWAYS* defer to the "authority" of the teacher, and should *NEVER* question the teacher's "expertise" or want to influence what their child should learn. This highly patronizing and paternalistic attitude is probably the biggest beef I had with Smart Kids, Dumb Schools. Mr. Crosby even goes so far as to title chapter 36 "Would You Ever Question Your Child's Pediatrician?"

Well, guess what? I don't automatically defer to my pediatrician- and she's got a medical degree from Yale. Not to sound like too much of an educational snob, but that requires a whole heck of a lot more brains and hard work than getting a credential from some no-name state college (what the typical teacher holds). The typical newly credentialed teacher in the U.S. has a SAT score placing him/her in the bottom third of college graduates.

But back to my relationship with my child's pediatrician- while I do take into consideration her advice, I may or may not choose to follow it. She's not God and I'm not going to take what she says as the Gospel truth simply by virtue of her position. In general, I have a lot of confidence in her diagnostic skills and often follow her recommendations. But when it comes to a situation where we disagree about what's best for my individual child (such as whether to follow the standard vaccination schedule or a selective/delayed one), ultimately I'm going to make that judgment call.

Mr. Crosby goes on a 5 page diatribe against parents, insulting them as "nasty", "manipulative", "pushy", and "busybodies" simply because they dared to "question the authority and knowledge of the teacher". He laments that:
"In the old days, parents would listen to what teachers and principals had to say about their children without questioning their expertise or authority...But with [today's] teachers, half of whom have master's degrees, parents seem to have no compunction whatsoever about suggesting ways to teach their children.... As Evan Chase wrote in Edutopia, 'Somewhere along the line [parents] have gotten the implicit or explicit message...that they are somehow entitled to unprecedented influence over what their child will learn and think they know better than classroom teachers what's best for their kids.'"
I hate to break it to you Mr. Crosby, but parents DO know their children better than someone whose interaction with them is limited to around 1800 hours for the typical high school teacher. So please forgive us parents for having the nerve to believe that we should retain the ultimate say over our own kids.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Upcoming HS Social Studies Fair in San Jose

Registrations are now being taken for the upcoming Social Studies Fair for homeschoolers of all ages to be held on Saturday, November 1st from 1-3 P.M. The fair will be held at the recreation room of Mary Jane Hamman Park, S. Greenview and Westfield, near Hwy 17 in San Jose. There is no charge to enter, and all students will receive a certificate of achievement.

For more info, contact Katherine Ingram at katipokat(at)yahoo(dot)com.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

If NCLB Applied to Football

I couldn't find the original source on a quick Google search, but I personally came across it in one of the comments on Tamara Fisher's blog "Unwrapping the Gifted".

No Child Left Behind: The Football Version

1. All teams must make the state playoffs, and all will win the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until they are the champions, and coaches will be held accountable.

2. All kids will be expected to have the same football skills at the same time in the same conditions. No exceptions will be made for interest in football, a desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities or disabiliites. ALL KIDS WILL PLAY FOOTBALL AT A PROFICIENT LEVEL.

3. Talented players will be asked to work out on their own without instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with the athletes who are not interested in football, have limited athletic ability, or whose parents don't like football.

4. Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in the 4th, 8th, and 11th games.

5. This will create a New Age of sports where school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach the same minimal goals.

Sexual Activity Doubles Rate of Depression in Teen Girls

A new study published in the September 2008 issue of the medical journal Journal of Health Economics has found that teen girls who are sexually active exhibit double the rate of major depression when compared to girls of similar backgrounds who remain virgins. The research team based at the University of North Carolina examined data on more than 14,000 girls aged 14-17 from across the U.S. and found that these negative feelings could be directly ascribed to sexual activity, rather than outside influences such as family difficulties.

Dr Trevor Stammers, a lecturer on sexual ethics and chairman of the British Christian Medical Fellowship, told the Daily Mail that the new study confirmed that most girls:

"retrospectively showed regret about early intercourse....[The study] also shows as closely as we have been able to show so far that there is a genuine link between increased risk of depression and adolescent females engaging in sex. My experience is that, for girls, depression, regret and shame are very common."

This is just further proof that teenage sexual activity is unhealthy, particularly for girls. Not only do teen girls face the highest risks of any age group for unplanned pregnancy and contracting sexually transmitted diseases, this new study shows that they also face significant risks to their mental well-being. Regardless of one's beliefs on the morality of teen sex, it is quite clear that from a public health standpoint, abstinence is the only way to go for teens. As a society, we need to make sure this is the message we are sending to impressionable young people.