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."