Tuesday, December 29, 2009

We'll Officially Be Homeowners Tomorrow!

The short version of a long, long, long story is that while we came very close to walking away from the deal (to the point where we had formally signed a cancellation notice), we did finally come to agreement with the seller on the price. All the paperwork has been signed, the money is in the escrow account, and the sale will be formally recorded tomorrow. We're picking up the keys on Thursday and will be moving on Sunday. Yeah, I know it's supposed to be a day of rest but we'll attend Saturday evening Mass. DH has to go back to work on Monday & really wanted to get moved before then.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Dollop of Politically Incorrect Humor for the Season

This came through on our local Catholic homeschooling support group e-list and I thought it was too funny not to share.

"To All My Liberal Friends:

Please accept with no obligation, implied or explicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice/Chanukkah/ Kwanzaa/etc. holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2010, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere.

Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, or sexual preference of the wishee, not to exclude joint tax-payers filing singly.

To All My Christian Friends:

Blessed Advent, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!"

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I've Not Suffered Death by Paperwork (Yet)

Buying a home has turned out to be a bigger pain-in-the-rear than I had imagined. Our offer was accepted on November 30th. The inspection, however, revealed problems with the roof, siding, and foundation. The good news is that the structural engineering inspection found that the foundation issues are minor. The bad news is that the roof and the siding need to be replaced. During our initial negotiations, the seller had forwarded an appraisal done in mid-September claiming that the roof, siding, and foundation were all in "good" condition. Since this turns out NOT to be the case, we're attempting to negotiate a fairly hefty price cut. We're willing to eat a certain amount of the cost of the needed repairs but not all of it. It remains to be seen whether we'll be able to come to agreement on a fair price for this home given its current condition.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sorry to be so quiet here lately, we've been bogged down in negotiations on a house purchase. We've been going back & forth with the seller for a week & a half. We almost walked away from the deal twice now but submitted our "final, final, did we mention- final?" offer yesterday at the same price as our 2 most recent counters. Ugh, what a pain! The seller has been stuck on the price the home was appraised at back in August. We told them that we were not bidding on what it was worth last summer but rather where we feel the market is heading in the near future. If the seller truly believes that they can find another buyer willing to pay a higher price than us, by all means tell us no. But the home has been on the market for 45 days already so I really don't think they've got folks beating down their door. They need to sell the home more than we need to buy it (it's an estate sale). We're not trying to take advantage of the situation, we just don't want to overpay given the very real risk of a further market decline. But enough real estate venting!

Hope you all are enjoying a nice holiday!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Funny Response to Writing by Formula Assignment

I wish I could claim credit for this but it's one of Miss Scarlet's little friends. The girl is 8 and is enrolled in 3rd grade through a virtual charter school.

Her assignment was to write a 3+ paragraph persuasive letter using the following formula: first paragraph states the position and 3 reasons supporting it, the middle paragraph(s) provide at least one detail for each reason and acknowledges/counters the reader's concern, and the last paragraph restates the position/reasons and calls for action.

Her father is the one overseeing her work for the charter school and apparently he was getting a bit frustrated by how long it was taking the girl to complete the practice letters. For the last practice letter, he asked her to write a persuasive letter on whether she should have to do any more practice letters to be scored on a 4 point scale. Here's what she came up with:

"Dear Daddy,

I see that you are frustrated with me, but I think this should be the last
one. My reasons for feeling this way include, I am giving three reasons, my
details will support my reasons, and my reasons support my position.

First, I am giving three reasons. Because I gave three reasons, I believe I
should get a four. Moving on, my details support my reasons. For example,
I believe I should get a four because I gave three reasons. Last but not
least, my reasons support my position. Here is an example of a reason that
does not support my position: I love puppies. If you thought that I would
forget to acknowledge your concern, look here I did it!

I saw that you were a little upset with me, but I think this should be the
last one. This is why: my reasons supported my position, my details
supported my reasons, and I gave three reasons. Please make my score a


Isn't that a hoot? I'm so glad that her father gave permission for sharing it!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Why Does this Not Surprise Me?

One of the subject areas I feel was majorly lacking in my own formal education is economics. My high school offered an elective course in economics my senior year but I did not have room for it in my schedule. My college alma mater had a well-respected economics program but again I did not take any of its courses. So whatever I know about the topic comes from what I've learned on my own or from my parents, both of whom were economics majors undergrad and pursued graduate studies in business administration.

So I was interested to see a thread on the Well-Trained Mind bulletin board about materials to teach kids basic economics. Several of the books recommended have been ones I've used with Miss Scarlet- The Everything Kids Money Book by Diane Mayr, The Story of Money by Betsy Maestro, and If You Made a Million by David Schwartz.

There was one title mentioned in the thread that looked really intriguing: Capitalism for Kids: Growing Up to Be Your Own Boss by Karl Hess. I read a review of the book that made me think it would provide a great counterbalance to all the negative "spin" that we've been hearing in the elite media (e.g. the media blitz promoting Michael Moore's new movie).

Since I'm the frugal type, I checked the availability of the book at libraries in my area. First I checked the county inter-library loan system. Nope. Then I widened my search to the San Francisco public library since I drop my DH off in the city every weekday morning. Nada. Then I checked the Santa Clara county system even though that would be a bit of a schlep down the peninsula. Zilch. Turns out that the closest library that carries the book is 20 miles away, across the bay down in southern Alameda county.

Sadly, I'm less than shocked that none of the libraries in San Francisco, San Mateo, or Santa Clara counties carry a kids' economics book with a pro-capitalism message...

P.S. I'm most likely going to purchase the "Business, Economics, and Entrepreneurship" course from Bluestocking Press that includes Capitalism for Kids plus 2 other titles & a teachers' guide.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Not Everything That's Wrong Should Be Illegal

A Louisiana justice of the peace is in hot water after declining to perform a civil wedding for an interracial couple and referring the couple to a colleague.

While I totally disagree with Keith Bardwell's refusal, I'm leery of the government forcing justices of the peace to perform weddings to which they object & not allowing them to refer the couples to a colleague. What if the situation were not an interracial couple but a homosexual one? Should the government force a Christian justice of the peace to officiate against his/her deeply held religious beliefs? At least 11 justices in Massachusetts resigned after that state legalized homosexual marriage and then-Governor Mitt Romney told justices they could not refuse to perform them.

What's so wrong about allowing a justice to say, "sorry, I can't help you but you can go to my colleague so-and-so"? The inconvenience of the couple having to go elsewhere should not outweigh the conscience right of the justice of the peace.

Do I think Keith Bardwell is flat-out wrong in his stance on interracial marriage? Absolutely. But he and other justices of the peace should have the right to refuse to marry a couple for whatever reason so long as another justice can be found to perform the marriage. Otherwise, Christian justices may very well have to choose between keeping their job and following their religion.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Look Beyond the Hype to the Actual Data

How's this for a headline:

"99.6% of homeschoolers studied have had no involvement whatsoever with the child welfare authorities and 97.8% of homeschool graduates are employed or pursuing higher education/training"

Not going to sell very many papers, is it? Nor will it do much to support the governmental push in the U.K. to dramatically increase regulation of homeschooling in that country.

But what's the actual headline found in The Guardian?
"Children educated at home at severe disadvantage, study shows."
I wish that the above were a joke, but unfortunately it's real.

Graham Badman, the former education director of the town of Kent, recently provided a report to the U.K. Parliament committee for children, schools, and families on home education in Britain. The review looked at the status of 1,220 children (out of an estimated 40,000-60,000+ U.K. homeschoolers) from 74 local authorities (no info on how those were chosen).

The report claimed that:
"while 0.2% of children in the UK population were known to social services, the figure was 0.4% among those who were educated at home....The percentage of home-educated children who are not in employment, education or training [NEET] is more than four times the proportion in the national population".
First of all, the Financial Times in August quoted a report from the Department for Children, Schools and Families saying that the "NEET" rate in the U.K. is 16%. That would be almost EIGHT TIMES the rate found for homeschool graduates. I find it incredibly hard to believe that the NEET rate would plummet from 16% down to 0.5% over the past 2 months. The most plausible explanation is that at least one of the two government reports has an incorrect number. If I had to estimate the true rate, I'd say it has got to be closer to the 16% than the 0.5%.

But let's suppose for the moment that the claims made in the Badman report were accurate. Does a 0.4% rate of involvement with CPS (note that it includes the numerous investigations in which the parents are ultimately declared innocent) and a 2.2% NEET rate actually warrant the term "severe"?

To put the numbers into context, the teen pregnancy rate in the U.K. is TEN TIMES higher than the rate given for CPS involvement among homeschoolers. That number is nearly double what it was in 1990 (unlike the U.S. where the rate has declined 45% over the same time frame). Government ministers called the teen pregnancy rate "disappointing".

I would personally argue that the government has its adjectives backwards...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Awesome Chemistry Resources Link

Our Rainbow Resource order finally came the other day and we got started on our study of chemistry. Miss Scarlet has been enjoying The Elements by Ellen McHenry. She's also been having fun doing experiments from the Thoms & Kosmos Chem 2000 chemistry set. We started off with simple "kitchen chemistry" ones- writing "invisible ink" messages using lemon juice & vinegar. Next week we're planning to try a more ambitious "invisible ink" involving Prussian Blue. Wish us luck!

While I was surfing the web, I came across an awesome page from another homeschooling mom with lots of great chemistry resources. Thanks, Jimmie!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

We Appreciate Your Husband's Sacrifice, Ma'am, But You'll Need to Leave the Country

A young Marine sergeant stationed in Okinawa fell in love with a Japanese woman, dated her for a year, proposed, and then got deployed to Iraq. Two weeks after he left, they learned she was pregnant and arranged to marry by proxy. Their marriage was legal in Japan and recognized by the Marine Corps. However, one month after the proxy marriage and before he had a chance to see his new bride again in person, he died in the line of duty. His widow wants to immigrate to the U.S. so that her in-laws can help her raise the baby. U.S. immigration law, however, considers the proxy marriage invalid because they never saw each other after the ceremony to consummate the marriage.

Sometimes our legal system can be really stupid. She was pregnant with his kid when they married but the marriage was "unconsummated"? Regardless of whether one believes the couple ought to have had sex prior to being legally married, the baby is living proof they did. There is no reason to believe that the couple would not have engaged in it again after his return had they been given the opportunity. The fact that he got killed before they had the chance should not invalidate the marriage. The family has sacrificed enough without being put into legal limbo because of a technicality...

Monday, September 14, 2009

When Good News Really Isn't

I'm currently reading a fascinating book by Dr. Daniel Koretz, a psychometrician at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, called Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us. In the book, Dr. Koretz talks a lot about the pitfalls of high-stakes standardized testing schemes such as those required by the No Child Left Behind Act. He devotes an entire chapter to the topic of score inflation.

I was reminded of this book today when I read an article in the New York Times about how New York State has reduced the passing score for its math test from 60% correct in 2006 to a mere 44% today. An investigation by the NYT found that a student who randomly guesses on all question now has an 89% chance of receiving a passing score.

Federal tests do not show the same kind of dramatic increase in passing rates that the New York state tests have in recent years. In fact, math scores have been stagnant on the 8th grade NAEP exams since 2003 and 4th graders have only made minimal progress. SAT math scores in the state have actually dropped by 18 points since 2005.

The jump in scores on state tests helped 97% of schools in New York City earn ratings of "A" or "B" on their state Dept. of Ed. report cards. Does anybody seriously believe that 97% of NYC schools actually are doing a good job at educating their students? Nearly 40% of all students in the city do not complete high school, including 49% of African-Americans and 52% of Latinos. Nearly 3/4 of those who do manage to graduate and enroll in college require remediation in at least one subject.

Families deserve to know the truth about how their students are faring. It is unethical to lower the bar and then trumpet the "progress" that has been made :-(

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Where's the Personal Responsibility in the Health Reform Discussion?

If every American made 4 simple lifestyle changes, 78% of the $2.1 trillion spent on healthcare last year would be unnecessary. These lifestyle changes would eliminate 91% of diabetes cases, 81% of heart attacks, 50% of strokes, and 36% of cancers. Not having to pay to treat preventable disease would leave plenty of money to subsidize coverage for low- to moderate-income folks.

These lifestyle changes are not difficult to understand or even to do for somebody who's sufficiently motivated. They are:
  • don't use tobacco
  • eat a healthy diet rich in produce, whole grains, and lean proteins
  • exercise 30 minutes per day
  • maintain a healthy weight
Sounds obvious, but fewer than 1 in 10 individuals actually manage to do all four. And that is one of the main reasons why my family had to pay $1500 for one month's worth of COBRA coverage.

Yes, genetics do play a role in body weight. We should focus more on eating healthy and exercising than the number on the scale. But while genetics might make someone 25-30 lbs. overweight, they're not going to make someone morbidly obese. That's the result of poor lifestyle choices. Genes haven't changed in the past two decades, but the percentage of the population who are morbidly obese has increased dramatically. And the rest of us are paying up the wazoo to subsidize the diseases caused by poor lifestyle choices :-(

Friday, September 4, 2009

How the Home Educator Recognizes it's Time to Move on to the Next Subject

The task in her grammar workbook was to write creative sentences imitating the structure of sentences from literature. The last one in the section was to imitate the following model:
"It appeared in the dusk as a crouched and shadowy animal, silent, gloomy, capable." - from "An Underground Episode" by Edmund Ware.
After being reprimanded several times for not focusing on her grammar lesson, Miss Scarlet finally dictated the following:
"The mother wrote in the morning like a terrifying and furious monster, mean, horrible, and abusive."
Somebody better call CPS to report the horrible abuse of teaching grammar...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Baby #19 on the Way for the Duggars

Their 18th is only 8 months old, but Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar have announced that she is 12 weeks along with baby #19. Wow!

My youngest, Princess P., is the same age and I can't even begin to think about having another one so soon. I'm still adjusting to the 3 I've got now! DH does talk about wanting a fourth but I'm taking things one baby at a time. With Miss Scarlet and Rusty, I didn't start feeling like I was up to the challenge of having an additional child until about their second birthday.

Of course, had God seen fit to bless us with a new pregnancy sooner than that, we would've found a way to make things work. I do strongly believe that babies should be seen as blessings rather than burdens. But I just can't begin to imagine how Michelle Duggar and other moms who have very large & closely spaced families manage it.

"Ethical Diversity" or Moral Relativism?

I have set up a notification at my local library such that I receive an email whenever they acquire a book on the subject of homeschooling. One recent acquisition was Write These Laws on Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling by Robert Kunzman of Indiana University. I was curious to read it even though I am more moderate in my political beliefs that the profiled families and of course am a Catholic rather than an Evangelical Protestant.

Kunzman is very concerned in the book with whether homeschooled kids get to encounter what he calls "ethical diversity". It's not enough in his view to merely expose kids to differing beliefs; he wants parents to:
"present conflicting perspectives- that they themselves reject -in the strongest possible light, to allow their children the opportunity to genuinely consider them as potentially reasonable alternatives."
He criticizes homeschoolers who
"emphasize why [they] believe those alternate worldviews are wrong".
Rather, home educators ought to
"provide the best case for [other worldviews], showing that they have points worth considering, even though at the end of the day you feel they're incomplete or even wrong?"
First of all, I don't believe for one second that government-run schools in this country present Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular in the strongest possible light or provide the best case for it. Just look at the treatment of the Church in the typical world history course. So it's hypocritical to criticize homeschoolers for not presenting alternative worldviews in a positive enough manner.

But leaving aside the bias in government-run schools for the moment, I take issue with Kunzman's basic premise. There's a difference between recognizing that we live in a pluralistic society where people are free to believe what they choose, and saying that all those beliefs are equally valid & should be presented as such. I reject moral relativism and I am going to teach my kids through the prism of our family's Catholic faith. I don't consider other worldviews to be "potentially reasonable alternatives" with "points worth considering" as if I'm merely choosing between different flavors of ice cream. This is eternal salvation that's on the line.

Do I fully support others' freedom to hold a different worldview? Absolutely. God gave each of us free will, and we have the liberty to choose our own paths. Christ warned us that the way is narrow and that only a few would find it. We should therefore not be surprised that there are so many competing worldviews. The Founding Fathers in their wisdom granted us Americans the legal protection to follow whatever religion we choose for ourselves. Respect for pluralism, however, does not mean that I don't consider other worldviews to be, quite simply, wrong.

I'm not going to be all wishy-washy and pretend that there is no objective right or wrong, just whatever's right for each of us individually. In Kunzman's chapter on the Protestant "Generation Joshua" youth civics program, he makes it clear that he disapproves of such an "adversarial", "narrow", and "dogmatic" view and he prefers one filled with "moral shades of gray", where "reasonable disagreement might exist on important issues." Christ, however, framed things in black-or-white terms: "He who is not with me is against me" (Matthew 12:30). That's the lens through which I'm going to teach my children.

Kunzman's book was published by Beacon Press, which apparently is the publishing arm of the liberal Unitarian Universalist Church. I'm not sure if Kunzman is Unitarian himself [Updated: he appears to be a member of the UU Church of Bloomington] but certainly he shares their enthusiasm for "ethical diversity" and dislike of moral absolutes. It may strike him as "adversarial" for me to teach my worldview as right and all other worldviews as wrong. But Jesus came into this world in order to be the adversary of sin. My responsibility as a parent is to do the best I can to raise my children to be Christ's disciples. As St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More Proof that Homeschoolers Are Weird

The task in her grammar workbook (Story Grammar for Elementary School by Don & Jenny Kilgallon) was to write a sentence of her own imitating the structure of the following model:
"Little Man, a very small six year old and a most finicky dresser, brushed his hair." - Mildred D. Taylor from Song of the Trees
My not-quite-seven year old offered the following:
"Cerberus, a three-headed dog and a most terrifying monster, guarded the entrance to the Underworld."
I'm pretty sure that the typical student at a government-run school would not have come up with that particular sentence just out of the blue. So yeah, homeschooled kids can be pretty weird at times.

But weird in a good way :-)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Take: Home-school Parents Deserve Freedom from Unwarranted Government Intrusion

Can you imagine the public outcry and indignation if an elected official called for mandatory home visits and regularly scheduled conferences with a social worker for all children of say, never-married mothers? After all, the politician could point to a handful of highly publicized tragedies and claim that justifies the gross intrusion of privacy for millions of families. Are our politicians afraid of the baby mama lobby?

If women insist on raising children outside of wedlock, they should be proud to show everyone how good a job they are doing, right? If they can’t, or won’t, perhaps their children really need to be rescued, and the mom sent to jail for neglect and/or abuse- shouldn't they?

Do you think any respectable newspaper would publish an op-ed piece calling for the implementation of the above policy?

Why, then, is it okay for school board member Peggy Boyce of Saugatuck, MI to call for government intrusion into families' lives for no other reason than their decision to homeschool their children?

If we would (rightly) be outraged by a politician considering all unwed moms to be guilty of child abuse and/or neglect until proven innocent, why aren't we outraged when it happens to homeschoolers?

By all means, child welfare authorities ought to investigate cases of suspected child abuse and neglect. But there needs to be some legitimate grounds for suspicion, not just the simple act of homeschooling. One cannot just go about calling for the government to invade the privacy of millions of American homes and to subject millions of U.S. children to interrogations by social workers without one heckuva good reason.

And the fact that Ms. Boyce in her not unbiased opinion considers homeschooling to be a "farce" simply isn't good enough.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Considering a Road Trip to Sacramento...

I've never been the kind of girl to attend a protest march or political rally. Just not my kind of thing, KWIM? Yes, I have strong opinions but to take time out of my busy life to go stand around with a bunch of other folks shouting slogans and waving signs? No, thanks.

When I first heard about the "tea party" movement last spring, I'll have to admit I rolled my eyes a bit. Was I mad about the Feds using tax dollars to bail out corporate losers in the financial services and automotive industries? Absolutely. But while I sympathized with the anger behind the tea parties, I didn't think much of the idea of protesting.

At this point, however, I'm so fed up with the whole Obamacare thing. I'm sick of being accused of racism and/or classism and/or being un-Christian and/or a Nazi and/or wanting people to die in the streets for simply having well-founded concerns about the quality of government-run healthcare. It's like the proponents are unable to make a legitimate case for their plan so they're resorting to ad hominem attacks on opponents. And conservatives are the ones being accused of wanting to stifle legitimate debate on the issue? Give me a break!

So I'm now seriously considering heading up to Sacramento on Friday for the national kickoff of the Tea Party Express bus tour. Not because I watch Fox News (we don't have cable or satellite). Not because I listen to talk radio (can't stand it). I'm not even a Republican (proud "decline to state" registeree).

But because I don't want my kids paying exorbitant taxes for mediocre government-run healthcare. It's time to stop being part of the "silent majority" against Obamacare and start speaking out publicly.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

No Wonder I Was So Cranky Yesterday...

I was coming down with mastitis :-(

I'd been feeling a bit dizzy and weak yesterday afternoon before I went to the park, but had thought it was because I had had a light lunch. So I ate a piece of fruit to get my blood sugar up and didn't think too much of it. But by the evening, I had a low grade fever and two hard red spots on my breast. I drank a whole bunch of water and went to bed early but I'm still feeling lousy this morning. So now I'm off to the urgent care center for some antibiotics before it gets any worse.

With my oldest, I got a really bad case of mastitis and wound up in the ER with a 104 degree temp, ugh!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dear Overprivileged, Ubertrendily Dressed Park Moms...

I should not have butt into your blathering on and on about how people should boycott Whole Foods because its CEO does not support government-run healthcare.

I should have kept my temper in check and not let you know just how bad government healthcare REALLY is.

It really isn't any of my business how clueless you, like virtually all civilians, are about the massive shortcomings of military healthcare.

I should not have told you about the long wait times, how the patient has NO choice about whom to see, how much of a nightmare getting a referral to a specialist is, how routine procedures like a second trimester ultrasound are simply not done, how providers switch prescriptions to cheaper but less effective medications, and how poor the overall quality of care provided is.

I should not have pointed out that Canadians who can afford to travel to the U.S. for treatment often pay out of pocket to do so rather than waiting in the ridiculously long government lines.

I should have kept my mouth shut about that British woman who was forced to give birth ON THE SIDEWALK because some bureaucrat refused to send an ambulance for her when she went into labor early (HT: "Fausta's Blog").

I should have just sat there listening to you in your designer clothes with your overpriced Bugaboo strollers blather on cluelessly ad nauseum about the evil Whole Foods executive who wants to deny Americans health insurance.

That would've been the polite thing to do.

But I just couldn't keep silent any longer...

Monday, August 10, 2009

New Study: Homeschoolers Average in the 86th Percentile on Standardized Tests

Interesting results out from the followup to the 1998 Rudner study on the standardized test scores of homeschooled students. Homeschoolers scored nearly 40 percentage points above their government-run school counterparts on the Reading subtest and 34 percentage points above on the math subtest. Results did not vary signficantly by gender, family income, amount of money spent on homeschooling curricula, whether the parent held a state teacher's credential, or the level of government regulation required by the particular state. The education level of the parents did affect the results; however even when neither parent had a college degree the kids still scored in the 83rd percentile, well above the comparable results for government-run school kids.

Our family did not participate in this particular study as we've not yet had my oldest take a standardized test (she's only 6).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted...

I'm off this afternoon to visit my folks back East. DH couldn't come because he just started his new job a month ago. My mother-in-law is gracious enough to fly back with me in August and then stay for a few days to visit. But on the way out it'll be just me and the three kids on the plane, yikes! Thank goodness it's a non-stop flight.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

An Inflection Point for Homeschooling?

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a fellow guest at a BBQ celebrating the engagement of one of DH's grad school buddies. This gentleman had a PhD. in Education from Stanford and is a past recipient of the prestigious Soros fellowship. He was on sabbatical from his job as an ed school professor to write a book about the persecution of his grandfather by Josef Stalin.

Anyways, the conversation turned to the subject of homeschooling and to my surprise, he was extremely in favor of the practice. He went on and on about the benefits of home education and the evils of compulsory schooling. Turns out he's a big fan of John Taylor Gatto. I had to leave partway through the conversation to deal with some issue with the kids but it made a big impression on my DH. My DH has heard most of the arguments before from me; however, I suspect it was more persuasive coming from someone with a doctorate and professorship in the field of education.

This conversation made me wonder if our society is at an "inflection point" in the acceptance of homeschooling. When somebody who is a professor of education starts approvingly quoting Gatto's work, that's a sign that home education has turned from being a fringe movement to a serious part of the discussion among the eduwonks.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Stop, it's Grammar Time!

To be frank, I've always felt that grammar instruction was akin to flossing one's teeth- something that it very important but not enjoyable.

I am grateful that back when I was going through, my school did still explicitly teach grammar. My youngest brother came of age during the "whole language" fad and did not receive much in the way of grammar instruction. I got a first-hand look at how his writing suffered when he asked me for feedback on his college honors thesis. While one would expect a certain number of errors in a draft, I was taken aback by how virtually every sentence needed one or more mistakes corrected, meanings clarified, and/or awkward phrasing revised. And this was a bright kid who'd received decent grades in honors English classes and a respectable score on the verbal portion of the SAT.

While I recognize the importance of teaching grammar, I've found the traditional method to be, well, rather tedious. I can absolutely understand why the "whole language" approach seemed so appealing on the surface. WL did throw the baby out with the bathwater, but critics of traditional grammar are correct when they call it boring.

Two years ago in her kindergarten year, Miss Scarlet did a highly compacted version of the 1st & 2nd grade book of Jessie Wise's First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind. She did not need as much repetition as FLL built into the lessons plus many of the topics we skipped entirely as she had learned them years earlier (days of the week, months of the year, etc). So we got through the whole book in 7 months.

I had heard raves about the old Catholic version of Voyages in English so I made the mistake of ordering the 3rd grade book sight unseen. When it arrived, I found it was too repetitive of the content in FLL for Miss Scarlet. I had originally planned on exchanging it for the 5th grade VIE book but I ended up deciding to keep it in case I wanted to use it with one or more of my other kids.

After shelving VIE, we planned on enrolling her in the Stanford EPGY Language Arts & Writing course, which has a grammar component. Unfortunately, we were unable to do so because of the crisis in the financial services industry and the near-collapse of my DH's then-employer. Needless to say, we could not afford pricey online classes with all the uncertainty surrounding his employment situation.

While I was debating what to use instead of EPGY, I had Miss Scarlet do copywork and narration exercises using Susan Wise Bauer's Writing With Ease program. She also finished up some of the various workbooks I'd used as supplements to FLL such as Language of God for Little Folks Level A from Catholic Heritage Curricula, No Boring Practice, Please! Sentence Structure from Scholastic, and Reading-Thinking Skills 4 for Young Catholics from Seton.

I looked at a number of different grammar programs- the 4th grade book of First Language Lessons, Primary Language Lessons, English for the Thoughtful Child, Queen Homeschool Language Lessons, Simply Grammar, Michael Clay Thompson's Grammar Island, etc. -but while these all seemed like solid options, they did not jump out at me as being what I really wanted.

Then last week, while reading the "Kitchen Table Math" blog, I came across a recommendation for a grammar series by Don Killgallon. I really liked the concept behind the books, which is teaching grammar by having students write sentences imitating ones from literary classics. For a review with a more detailed explanation of this, click here. This approach reminded me a bit of the description I'd read of the ancient Greek progymnasmata exercises. I'd considered using the Classical Writing Aesop book but that one had seemed like it would require too much in the way of writing for my DD's motor skills (always a concern when using an above-grade level program). The elementary level Killgallon book looked like there was much less printing and more underlining, matching, circling the correct answer, and so on. It was relatively inexpensive, so I decided to give it a try.

I have received the copy of Story Grammar I ordered and I'm really excited about it. My goal in teaching grammar is not for my kids to score well on standardized tests but rather to help them become good writers. I have high hopes that the Killgallon book will assist me in progressing towards that goal.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wise Words from a Serendipitous Book Find

One of the things I love about my library's on-line book catalog is how it allows me to discover interesting books that I might otherwise never know about. While looking up the record for The New Global Student by Maya Frost (an excellent title that I plan to blog about soon), I saw that it was tagged with the subject "experiential learning". As I'm a big fan of that practice, I decided to see what other books in the catalog were similarly tagged.

That's how I discovered Peripheral Visions: Learning Along the Way by Mary Catherine Bateson. I didn't realize it when I requested the book, but Dr. Bateson is the daughter of famed anthropologist Margaret Mead. I've only read the first two chapters of Dr. Bateson's book, but it's been excellent so far as she is quite a gifted storyteller (guess the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree).

I was particularly struck by the following passage:
"The quality of improvisation characterizes more and more lives today, lived in uncertainty, full of the inklings of alternatives. In a rapidly changing and interdependent world, single models are less likely to be viable and plans more likely to go awry....Adaptation comes out of encounters with novelty that may seem chaotic....The improvisatory artist cannot be sure whether a given improvisation will stand as a work of art or be rejected as an aberration....

This same ambiguity sets new tasks for parents and teachers. Instead of passing on hallowed certainties and maintaining the status quo, they must make childhood an open-ended introduction to a process of continual change in which self-observation can become the best of teachers. If we knew the future of a particular child, we might be able to prepare that child with all the necessary skills and attitudes, and we might say at a given moment that the preparation is completed and it is time for real life to commence. That situation, however, is long gone, if indeed it ever existed. Rarely is it possible to study all the instructions to a game before beginning to play, or to memorize the manual before turning on the computer. The excitement of improvisation lies not only in the risk involved but in the new ideas, as heady as the adrenaline of performance, that seem to come from nowhere. When the necessary tasks of learning cannot be completed in the portion of the life cycle set aside for them, they have to join life's other tasks and be done concurrently. We can carry on the process of learning in everything we do, like a mother balancing her child on one hip as she goes about her work with the other hand or uses it to open the doors of the unknown. Living and learning, we become ambidextrous."
A big goal of my homeschooling is to incorporate it into our family's life as Dr. Bateson talks about in the above passage. I discussed a bit about how I do that in this post.

I also agree with Dr. Bateson about the importance of flexibility and creative thinking. As Daniel Pink points out in his superb book A Whole New Mind:Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, my kids are going to need so-called "right brained" skills in order to compete in this globalized economy. They may work in jobs that don't even exist today- certainly I know folks who work in jobs that did not exist when I was a child. Change is something they're going to need to know how to deal with- if they cannot figure out a way to adapt to changing circumstances, they're going to get left behind.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

C'mon Google, Fix the Blogger "Scheduled Posts" Function Already!

They've known about the issue for weeks, and a fix was promised by yesterday. I've got a couple of posts in limbo land and it's too big a pain to rewrite them into new posts.

Homeschooling for My Mr. Mechanical

Do you ever get visions where you can vividly imagine just what your child will be like several years in the future?

I can just see my Rusty as a skinny red-headed 'tween going nuts building stuff here:

and here.

Not to mention First Lego League, Destination Imagination, The Tech Museum Challenge, and the Odyssey of the Mind.

If the curators were to permit it, I have this feeling that he'd be absolutely over the moon to help restore the historic military equipment at the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation.

He is only 3 1/2 so it'll be a while before he's old enough to do any of this. But I just know that he's the type of kid who'd enjoy tinkering with whatever machines he could get his hands upon.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Amen to That, Sister!

I've been skimming through the 14 pages of comments to the "Scaling Back Career for Baby" post on Lisa Belkin's "Motherlode" blog at the New York Times website. Most of them have fallen into the predictable two camps of pro- and anti-SAHM. Yawn.

But then on comment #255, I came across this gem from a commenter named "Gail":
"The true crisis in this country is the waste of intellectual capital due to the difficulty women have in re-entering the work force after raising children. Our investment in the next generations growth and development is to be applauded, but once that job is done, the women and men who stepped off the career ladder should be able to again contribute. The U.S. is missing out on the productivity of (mostly) women, many with advanced degrees and high skills, due to the difficulty of reentry."

This is so true! There are so many moms (and some dads too) who have so much to offer a potential employer but get looked down upon because of their decision to sequence their career in order to raise a family. It's very discouraging that this is still the case three decades after feminism was supposed to free women to make their own individual life decisions.

There's a fabulous article over at the "Your On Ramp" website called "5 Reasons Why Moms Returning to the Workforce Make the Best Employees". Too bad the author is preaching to the choir because it's a message that hiring managers need to hear!

Planning for the Upcoming School Year

We homeschool year-round so the division between one school year and the next is an arbitrary one. I usually pick the Monday after return from our annual trek back East to visit relatives.

As Rusty will be turning 4, I've decided it's time to start some gentle preschool work with him. I'm not planning to do kindergarten until 2011 because his birthday is November and I think he could probably benefit from the "redshirting". Also that way both kids would be on the same part of the cycle for history & science.

With Rusty, I've decided to try the first activity book of the Core Knowledge preschool sequence. I feel that given his speech & language delay it would probably be a good idea to follow a formal preschool curriculum even though I did not use one with Miss Scarlet. As his speech therapist puts it, some kids just need explicit instruction for stuff that most kids pick up on their own. I liked the look of the CK preschool book and the price was certainly reasonable. Miss Scarlet decided to play teacher when the book arrived and did a few of the activities with Rusty. Some were too easy for him but others were on the challenging side. So overall, I think it's the right level.

Miss Scarlet will be "officially" in second grade but she's all over the map in terms of what she's doing. It's tricky trying to figure out what will be challenging but not too frustrating.

For religion, she's going to be finishing up the 2nd grade Faith and Life book (we had to shelve it around Christmastime in order to ensure we completed the parish CCD book We Believe by Sadlier prior to her 1st Communion). Once we're done with that, we'll continue on with the 3rd grade F&L volume.

For math, we're currently in the middle of the Level C book in Right Start. I'm trying to decide whether to continue on in that program when we finish or switch to Singapore. I really liked Level B of RS but am less happy with C. I had her take the Singapore placement tests to see where she would be in that program. She got everything right on the 1B test except for the two subtraction word problems. She could solve subtraction equations but got stumped by the word problem aspect. Right Start is a bit weak on word problems so even if I don't switch programs entirely I'm going to have her work through the Singapore Challenging Word Problems books. On the Singapore 2A test, she had trouble with the word problems again and also the multiplication & division equations. So my other math goal for the year is to have her memorize the multiplication table.

For science, we're going to be studying chemistry, and I think we're going to try The Elements by Ellen McHenry. I did not use a formal curriculum with science in the past but I'm less confident about my ability to properly teach chemistry. I did take chemistry in both high school and college; however, I don't feel like it's a subject that lends itself as easily to "winging it" with library resources as biology, geology, and astronomy did.

In history, we're going to be continuing doing unit studies in a roughly chronological order. We're finishing up our study of ancient India right now. Future units include ancient Greece, ancient Rome, Islam, the Vikings, Mesoamerican civilizations, medieval times, feudal Japan, and so on.

For English, I'm going to continue working through the Writing With Ease workbook for copywork, dictation, and narration exercises. I'm also going to try Story Grammar for Elementary School by Don & Jenny Killgallon. Thanks to Catherine Johnson at the "Kitchen Table Math" blog for the recommendation! Finally, I'm going to have Miss Scarlet do the Seton Reading-Thinking Skills 5 for Young Catholics workbook. It's great for vocabulary building and she really seemed to enjoy the grade 4 book when we did that one.

For spelling, I'm going to continue using the lists from the Words Their Way book. I discovered this one at my local library and really like how the lists are organized. The lists aren't groups of random words to be memorized but rather grouped by some feature. For example, the most recent list Miss Scarlet did had words with an unaccented final syllable ending in -r (e.g. motor, farmer, similar and so on).

For music appreciation, we're going to be using How to Introduce Your Child to Classical Music in Fifty-Two Easy Lessons from Emmanuel Books. I already had most of the pieces either in my CD collection or on my "I should really get a copy of this" list (and here's my excuse to get off my duff and acquire them!) The rest I should hopefully be able to borrow from my library.

For art, I'm leaning towards enrolling her in the local parks & recreation drawing class. Plus we'll continue to take field trips to local art museums.

For home economics, we're going to finish up Level 1 of Pearables Home Economics for Homeschoolers and then start on the Future Christian Homemakers Handbook. I'm not wildly thrilled with the tone in both books that the traditional homemaker role is the only proper one to which Christian girls ought to aspire. Yes, it's a very valuable one- in most cases the ideal one when a woman's children are young. But I certainly consider it a season in my life. I was employed full-time in the past and plan to resume my career at least on a part-time basis when my children are older and more independent. I want my girls to know there's nothing wrong with wanting both a career and a family, it'll probably just take some sequencing of the former in order to give the latter its proper priority. Okay, I'll get down off my soapbox now :-p

Anyways, I do like the actual lessons contained in the home ec titles mentioned so we're using them. Miss Scarlet will also continue participating in 4-H. She wants to do the baking project again and also the sewing project. That one will take special permission since she'll be younger than 8. If I can get her skilled enough on the sewing machine by the fall I think they may let her.

I think I've covered everything I'm planning to do in our homeschool next year.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Proof It Really Is a Buyer's Market

We went to a party a couple weeks ago at the home of one of DH's grad school classmates, who lives in one of the towns where we're househunting. DH's friend bought the house one year ago this month. So when a listing came into my email for a home in the same neighborhood, I decided to check public records on the friend's home. I knew prices had come down quite a bit from last year, but it's really something to see it.

DH's friend paid $881.5k for a 3 BR/2.5 BA 1608 sq ft home with a pool, or roughly $550/sq ft.

This current listing is for $725k for a 4 BR/2 BA 2012 sq ft home with a pool, or roughly $360/sq ft. Now I've not actually seen the inside of this house in person, but the photos look similar to the one owned by DH's friend.

Unfortunately, we've had to postpone our purchase due to difficulty finding attractive financing. Although we've got excellent credit and a good, stable income, all the lenders we've talked to won't touch us because we have <20% to put down. A couple of the lenders we talked to want 30% and one even said 35%. So we're staying in our current rental townhouse as cramped as it is and trying to save up a larger downpayment.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

An Experience is Worth 1,000 Textbook Pages

Remember how I had mentioned about a month ago that I had never been to the Northwest? Well, I can now say that I've been to Oregon, Washington state, and British Columbia. DH had 3 weeks in between when he left his old position and when he begins his new one. So we decided to road trip up to Vancouver. Along the way, we saw Redwoods Natl. Park in Northern CA, Crater Lake in OR, Seattle, and Mt. Rainier Natl. Park.

Miss Scarlet checking out animal tracks on the banks of the Rogue River in OR.

Crater Lake, OR
The Science Fiction Museum in Seattle, WA designed by Frank Gehry.

Mt. Rainier Natl. Park in WA

Saturday, June 6, 2009

On Overrated Rich Schools

Via the "Kitchen Table Math" blog, I came across an interesting debate about "nominally high performing" schools. That is, schools located in affluent neighborhoods that score reasonably well on standardized tests because of their demographics but in reality are actually mediocre. Like the one my own children are zoned to attend, which is ranked in the top 10% statewide but the bottom 20% when compared to other schools with similar demographic profiles. I was especially struck by the following:
"Parents and school boards in affluent communities may not want to hear that the teaching in their schools is mediocre. The accountability system does not call attention to the problems of instructional quality in these schools, nor does it reinforce efforts to solve them....Unlike low-performing schools, which may be galvanized by external pressure to improve, so-called high-performing schools must often swim against a tide of complacency to generate support for change."
I get so frustrated at the perception gap in my town. "We're a California Distinguished School!" the school boasts. "We moved here because of the good schools!" beams an acquaintance. I just smile politely but inside I want to scream, "wake up and smell the coffee, people! Things aren't as hunky-dory as you all seem to believe they are!"

Laura McKenna over at the "11D" blog takes a more blase view of the problem of underperforming affluent schools:
"First of all, you should not rely on your schools to educate your kids. I spend a lot of time with my kids teaching them random things. If Jonah's doing his homework, I will be there in the room using the homework as a jumping board for my own lesson. If he does sloppy work, I make him redo it. I reteach the math lessons. We'll go up to the computer to look up a country in Africa. No school does this."
If a parent has to "afterschool" in order to make up for the academic deficiencies of the school, then what's the point of enrolling the child in the first place? Why not just homeschool and free up the child's afternoons for enrichment activities and unstructured play?

Laura follows up with a post detailing a number of the things she dislikes about her kids' school:
"Jonah's teachers have been terrible about math. They don't do enough repetition of math facts, and they just explain things really badly.

They don't do handwriting anymore, because the teachers tell me that all work will happen on laptops in the future.

Their time in specials (art, library, computers, health) is a complete waste of time.

They don't do enough writing.

They are not preparing the kids for good colleges. In fact, the head administrators seem to think that college consists of kids working in groups on laptop computers. They aren't preparing the kids for big lecture halls and blue books.

They assign book reports that consist largely of art projects that the parents complete.

They assign stupid homework like word searches and crossword puzzles."

So again my question is- if the academics are so lacking, why bother sending her kids there in the first place?

Is it "socialization"? I discussed that issue a couple weeks ago. Also, just today I was reading the newsletter from my town mothers' club when I came across a humor piece in written by a woman whose oldest child is a kindergartner. Here is an excerpt from it:
"They say a parent's influence only makes a difference for about the first seven years of a child's life. Well, make that five years. As soon as they enter the stream of public education and co-mingle with the throngs, they soak up everything like a sponge: the latest YouTube videos, the trendiest fashion fads, the most in-vogue vernacular. Soon you'll find yourself made obsolete as the go-to source of all things hip and happenin' and you feel as redundant as yesterday's newspaper (wait, make that newspapers, period)."
Yeah, I think I'll take a pass on this kind of "socialization" of my kids.

Now, quite possibly Laura is employed outside the home and is looking to her kids' school to provide childcare while she is at her job. I don't know her situation so I'm not going to make a judgment about that one way or the other. But for me personally, I'm a full-time homemaker and (God willing) plan to stay that way for a while. So that's not a reason for me to put my kids in a subpar school. I'm only going to enroll them in a school that would do a better job educating them than I can do myself. And that's definitely not my local government-run school...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Are Homeschoolers Motivated by Racism? Pt, II

The demographics of homeschooling families has come under quite a bit of scrutiny recently, particularly the findings that an increasing percentage of them are white, college-educated, and have incomes >$50,000 than in 1998 (though it is unclear whether that particular number has been adjusted for inflation). These findings play into the belief among certain critics of homeschooling that racism/ethnophobia is a major factor driving families to choose homeschool.

I discussed this topic back last December. You can read the full post here, but the key part is this:
"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....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)."
The fact that homeschoolers are disproportionately white, college-educated, and higher income means absolutely nothing if the schools they are rejecting are filled with students of the same demographic. If critics want to make an argument that homeschoolers are motivated by racism, they need to provide some data to show homeschooling rates are higher for families zoned to attend a diverse school than for those zoned for a non-diverse school.

Jesse Scaccia of the "Teacher Revised" blog asks in his post "The Case Against Homeschooling":
"How can a young person learn to appreciate other cultures if he or she doesn’t live among them?"
That is a fair question, but his proposed solution of enrolling in the government-run schools is no guarantee that a child will encounter a diverse set of classmates. The above quote from my previous post shows how faulty that assumption can be. And the school my kids are zoned to attend is hardly alone in its lack of diversity. Consider the demographics of the following government-run schools from across the country.

Located in Massachusetts, where the statewide numbers are 8% African-American, 13% Latino, and 29% low-income.
  • My alma mater: 2% African-American, 1% Latino. Less than 1% are low-income.
  • My dad's alma mater: 4% African-American (many of these are bused in from Boston through the METCO program rather than town residents), and 3% Latino (again many of these are METCO participants). 2% of the students are low-income (again most are METCO kids).
Located in Ohio, where the statewide numbers are 15% African-American, 3% Latino, and 36% low-income.
  • My mom's alma mater: Less than 1% African-American, 1% Latino. Less than 1% are low-income.
Located in California, where the statewide numbers are 7% African-American, 49% Latino, and 51% low-income.
  • The high school in one of the towns where we're considering buying a home: 1% African-American, 4% Latino. Less than 1% are low-income.
  • The high school in the second town where we're considering buying a home: Less than 1% African-American, 3% Latino. Less than 1% are low-income.
  • High school #1 in the third town where we're considering buying a home: 7% Latino, 4% African-American. 3% of the students are low-income.
  • High School #2 is: 8% Latino, 1% African-American. 3% are low-income.
Homeschooled children therefore are far from alone in having there be "probably only one race/background in the room" as Mr. Scaccia puts it. De facto segregation is still a real problem in the U.S. four decades after civil rights legislation put an end to de jure segregation. But regardless of how important a challenge it is for our society to overcome, it is not a homeschooling issue. So don't try to make it into one.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bureaucrats vs. Bible Study in San Diego

My mom and her church small group ministry should be glad they don't live in San Diego. Holding regular meetings in someone's home to discuss Scripture and other religious topics without paying thousands of dollars to obtain a "religious assembly" permit apparently violates county regulations there. Rev. David Jones' weekly Bible study typically attracts about 15 people, less than many ladies' bunco or guys' poker nights. But after a fender bender between vehicles belonging to one of the members of the Bible study group and a visitor to a neighbor of Jones, some busybody called county officials to complain. A code enforcement officer was sent to grill Rev. Jones about the gatherings, after which the county issued a formal citation.

Doesn't San Diego county have more important things to worry about- say the $244 million shortfall in the county budget? Or are the two things related? Christians seem to make easy shakedown targets for Californian bureaucrats these days. The city of San Francisco is trying to levy a $15 million tax on the city's Catholic archdiocese on properties transferred from one administrative arm of the archdiocese to another.

The First Amendment should protect religious groups in these types of cases, but unfortunately activist judges have been chipping away at that protection for decades. And with the election of Barack Obama, I don't foresee the situation improving in that regard any time soon in the Federal judicial system.

Let's pray that the San Diego bureaucrats stop persecuting Rev. Jones and his Bible study group!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hats off to Those Who Made the Ultimate Sacrifice for Freedom

Last year on Memorial Day I was in the midst of first trimester morning (noon, and night) sickness so I neglected to post a thank you on this blog to all those brave men and women who gave their lives so the rest of us could be free. My apologies for not feeling up to giving a more public display of gratitude!

This year, I've decided to share the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Concord Hymn as my Memorial Day post. Emerson was writing about the battle of Concord in the Revolutionary War but his beautiful poem is a fitting tribute to all those brave Americans who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood;
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps,
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream that seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We place with joy a votive stone,
That memory may their deeds redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

O Thou who made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free, --
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raised to them and Thee.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

6 Going on 16: Yet Another Reason to Homeschool

The other day I was walking through the park on our way home from the library with the kids when we passed two little girls who appeared to be practicing a cheerleading routine. They had bunches of flowers in their hands that they were waving around like pom-poms and they were doing high kicks, dance moves, and other cheerleader-type stuff. The two girls looked a bit younger than Miss Scarlet, who's 6 1/2. I would guess that they were 5ish. No parent/guardian was in the immediate vicinity.

What really bothered me about these two little girls was their provocative clothes and dance routine. I'm not a huge fan of midriff-baring spaghetti strap tanks and miniskirts even on teens but these were prepubescent children! And the sexualized routine just struck me as icky. Just because the Laker Girls dance like that does not mean kindergarten-age cheerleaders should, KWIM?

Miss Scarlet was fascinated, however. It struck me that if she were enrolled in a traditional school, this is what she might be learning at recess from her classmates.

I was reminded of this incident when I read a depressing article in the Rethinking Schools journal entitled "Six, Going on Sixteen". It was written by a veteran elementary schoolteacher who currently teaches a combined K/1 class. Here is what she describes happening in her classroom:

"I had 5-year-old girls vying for the attention of the 'coolest' 1st-grade boy. They would push to be near him at the sand table, and groan audibly if I didn't place them in his book group. Students in the class thought of each other as 'boyfriend' and 'girlfriend.' Freeze dance and soul train, which are usually a big hit and lots of fun, had a new dimension as students danced out the social scenarios they had seen in music videos. Performer Chris Brown was the ultimate favorite, though 50 Cent and others were also on the scene. My 5-, 6-, and 7-year-olds played out and talked about 'being in the club' and 'drinking Heineken.' They wrote about the music world in their journals and turned the block area into a radio station. Sometimes they used the hollow blocks to build a stage to perform on. Small cylindrical blocks were their microphones. This type of play was OK with me, except who was 'in' and who was 'out' was a constant social battle.

There was another aspect of this that negatively impacted our classroom community, and that was the idea of certain kids wearing the 'right' sneakers. This was among a group of boys, but the rest of the class was affected. It was something we had class meetings about, and tried to minimize the negative effects of, but it was a continuous struggle. One morning, as they walked up the stairs to our second-floor classroom, a kindergarten boy and a 1st-grade boy got in a pushing and hitting fight because the younger boy said he was wearing 'Carmelo Anthonys' and the older boy said, 'No, those are Jordans.' Another boy, whose mom refused to buy expensive sneakers, had repeated meltdowns (crying, throwing things, yelling) when other boys arrived at school with new sneakers, stylish shirts or outfits, or big plastic gold rings."

These types of narratives just reinforce our decision to homeschool. The homeschooled kids of my acquaintance don't exhibit this type of pseudosophistication. The little girls dress their age rather than looking like mini-streetwalkers. If there's dancing, it's typically something like the Hokey Pokey or ballet.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Things have been kind of crazy around here in the past couple of weeks. After a 7 month job search, DH was finally able to land a great new position. He loved his old one but his employer had gone through 7 rounds of layoffs with more rumored to be on the way. Not to mention that since the company had accepted TARP funds, they Are now bound by the Congressional rules limiting the size of his year-end bonus.

I understand anger over the AIG situation but what the average American doesn't understand is that in the financial industry, a bonus isn't really a "bonus" (i.e.. a one-time reward for unusually good performance that only a handful of folks at the company receive). It's actually more like a sales commission- an expected bit of deferred compensation to make up for the relatively low base salary. You hit or exceed your target numbers, you get your bonus. To put it into perspective, the base salary at DH's new job is more than twice what his current base is., though the total estimated comp is only somewhat more than his 2007 total comp. The only reason that Wall St. firms can get away with paying their employees a relatively low base salary is because of the bonuses. When Congress arbitrarily restricts bonuses to 1/3 of the base, anyone who can find another position is almost certainly going to leave. Those are typically the best performers, like my DH. He made his employer a ton of money last year and the first part of this one even with the bear market. He had absolutely *NOTHING* to do with the mortgage mess- why punish him for mistakes other people made?

Getting off my soapbox and back to my main point. Now that DH has accepted this new position, we've decided to take the plunge and buy our first home. It's kind of sad that it's taken us until the age of 33 (for DH) and 32 (for me) and over a decade of marriage to get to this point. My parents were only 27 and 23 & newlyweds when they bought their first place. Granted that was a teeny 2BR ~1000 sq ft starter home and we're looking at 4 to 5 BR homes that tend to be in the ~1800-2400 sq ft range. And the towns we're considering are nicer than Campbell, the suburb of San Jose where my parents first lived. But we're probably going to be spending triple or even quadruple the inflation-adjusted cost of my parents' first house. That's even with the recent declines in the housing market.

I'm finding the househunting process exciting but a bit overwhelming. Fortunately it's not the frenzy of a couple years ago. More properties seem to be coming on MLS than are going off and there are a LOT of reductions in the listing price.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Proof That I've Been on WAY Too Many Road Trips...

The next time I drive cross-country, I've got half a mind to take I-90/I-94 and hit the northwest & northern Great Plains states. I've done the I-80 and the I-70/I-15 routes in the past. DH did the I-40 route once but Miss Scarlet was a baby at the time so we decided it would be best for me & her to fly rather than go in the U-Haul.

I have visited 36 states (72%)
Create your own visited map of The United States

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Ban on Communion Wine: Prudent or Paranoid?

Today was a big day for our family as it was Miss Scarlet's First Communion and Princess P.'s baptism. We did both on the same day since most of our family does not live in the area. My parents, both of my brothers, DH's parents, and his sister came. The only one who was not able to make it was DH's brother, who is finishing up his last semester at college and scrambling to try to find a post-graduation job (it's a tough, tough market out there for this year's seniors!)

Anyways, at the First Communion Mass the priest read a letter from Archbishop Niederauer stating that because of the outbreak of the H1N1 swine flu in the archdiocese the parish was not to offer the Eucharist under the species of the Blood. Miss Scarlet was happy to hear that, as she'd tried the unconsecrated wine at the rehearsal & hadn't liked it. But it just struck me as a bit overly cautious given that the total number of probable cases our county has reported so far is two.

Our parish could've just given the kids receiving their First Communion the Blood and not the rest of those attending the Mass. The schools in our town are all open, and that IMHO is a more likely method of transmission than the Communion cup.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Cool Site to Check "Walkability" of Addresses

Now that we've had a 3rd child, the townhouse we're currently renting is getting a bit cramped. Also, the dip in home prices is making buying our own place a more attainable goal than it was a few years ago. So I was checking out the real estate section on SFGate.com to see what they had listed. I noticed the listings included a "walkability" score. Our current home is rated "somewhat walkable" with a score of 58 out of 100.

I love the concept, though I would quibble over the details of the algorithm. The biggest flaw IMHO is that it's missing one of the most important places to which I would ideally like to walk: church. When DH was in grad school and we lived in student housing we used to walk to church every Sunday. Unfortunately, our current parish is 2.6 mi away from our home, which is farther than I care to walk with the kids on a regular basis. I couldn't care less whether there's a bar within walking distance (one of the categories that *IS* listed) but it would be very nice not to have to drive to Mass every week.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

File This Under "D" for "Duh"

Last month, the elite media heavily publicized the finding by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life that 10% of Americans have left the Catholic Church after having been raised Catholic. Those ex-Catholics are fairly evenly split between those who are now Protestant and those who are now unaffiliated with any faith (only a small percentage have converted to non-Christian faiths). An article in today's Christian Science Monitor goes into detail about why survey participants reported leaving Catholicism:
"When asked to explain in their own words the main reason for leaving the Catholic Church, about half cite a disagreement with the church's religious or moral beliefs. For those now unaffiliated, about half were unhappy about birth control, 56 percent about teachings on abortion and homosexuality, and 40 percent about the treatment of women."
Yep, those are the 3 issues where Catholic doctrine most prominently differs from the "anything goes" mentality pushed by secular modern culture. While a number of the mainline Protestant denominations have chosen to abandon the traditional Biblical teachings on these issues in the name of "modernization", the Vatican has thus far resisted the pressure to do so.

As St. Paul preached to the Galatians almost 2,000 years ago:
"For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." (Galatians 1:10-12)
The CSM article mentions in passing the fact that most people who switch affiliation do so prior to the age of 24, but the Pew Forum website goes into more detail. Nearly half (48%) leave Catholicism prior to the age of 18. An additional 30% leave between 18 and 23.

To me, this statistic shows the failure of families, parish CCD programs, and Catholic schools to properly catechize Catholic youth as to the reasoning behind Catholic doctrine. I've discussed this issue at length here and here. If we want young Catholics to "follow the narrow way" and resist the siren song of moral relativism, we need to do more than simply tell them the rules. Catholics of whatever age are far more likely to obey if they understand *WHY* the Church teaches X, Y, or Z. It's far easier to dismiss simple appeals to clerical authority than it is to dismiss a reasoned argument in support of Church doctrine.