Tuesday, December 18, 2007

For homeschoolers (or wannabes) only

Recently I received the following article in a local homeschool e-list that I subscribe to. I thought it an excellent article and chuckled through much of it. I realized that I am still prone to worrying about the "gaps" too so I needed this.

I remember the gaps I felt moving from Maryland to Utah. Comparing my husband's education to mine has been, um, both entertaining and sobering. (He went to school part of the time in Germany. One of our differences was my strength in American history and his in European history. I'm catching up to him now thanks to homeschooling my children! They know a fair amount of both.)

I have included all of what I was emailed below, hence the very long post. With no quotation marks. I got rid of all the forwarded marks though! :-)

Do you worry sometimes about your kids having gaps in their education? Maybe this article will help allay your fears.

The Link Homeschool Newspaper
Mind The Gap: Watching For "Holes" in Your Child's Education By Diane Flynn Keith

A few years ago my family took a field trip to England. I didn't say "vacation." We didn't take a single vacation in all the years we homeschooled - but we took lots of "educational field trips." Calling it that helped to justify the cost.

One thing my sons found particularly amusing in London was the sign "Mind The Gap." It is somewhat synonymous with "Watch Your Step" in the U.S. You see it most often in subway stations when you must step from the train onto the station platform. You have to step across a gap or a divide, a hole or a space -hence, "Mind The Gap." Not only is the warning posted, you hear it in recorded messages announced through loudspeakers inside the trains and the station, "Mind The Gap."

The slogan has inspired those who see and hear it. Songs and video games contain references to "Mind the Gap." T-shirts are imprinted with "Mind the Gap" - and it's not just the tourists who wear them.

There was a movie made called "Mind The Gap" in 2004. I've never seen it, but the Internet Movie Data Base describes it this way, "Five seemingly unrelated people decide to take huge risks in their personal lives in an effort to find happiness." Hey! That description could apply to just about any group of homeschoolers I know.

Yet, happiness is elusive, and taking risks by rejecting conventional schooling can make one fearful. How many times have you heard homeschool parents, who have recently decided to step off the linear school train, anxiously say with a straight face, "I want to make sure there aren't any gaps in my child's education?"

Fear of gaps causes them to slavishly and unhappily adhere to a school model, scope-and-sequence curriculum that satisfies "national standards." They think it will ensure their children won't have any "holes" in their education. Or, they sign up with a charter school home study program believing that reporting to a teacher-facilitator every 20 days or so will guarantee their child has a "complete" education. They may have begun to get off the school train, but they are trapped in suspension over the gap, too fearful to land firmly at the homeschool station where educational freedom awaits.

Can following a curriculum guarantee there won't be gaps in a child's schooling? Is a transcript from a public charter school proof that there aren't any cracks in a child's education?

No! And if you think so, you're delusional! No one has a complete education. No one ever has, and no one ever will. You can learn some of the curriculum all of the time, and all of the curriculum some of the time, but you can't learn all of the curriculum all of the time!

You can't learn everything there is to know. And I certainly don't mean to imply that any "curriculum" is even worth knowing. As Albert Einstein said, "Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school."

I've noticed that the parents who are fixated on minding the gap in their child's education are usually relatively new to homeschooling.

Those that have been around a while seem reconciled to the fact that there are gaps in everyone's education. Compare your own education to anyone else's and you'll see that it's true.

Did you know that if you went to school in one state and your spouse went to school in another state, you didn't have the same history lessons? One of you has a "gap" in their education. It's true! I was conducting a workshop on homeschool resources at a Link Homeschool Conference and mentioned that fourth graders in California public schools study California history. Students learn about the California Missions and, for some reason, build sugar-cube facsimiles.

One mom interrupted and said, "I'm from Pennsylvania, and we studied Pennsylvania history and built sugar-cube steel mills." A dad spoke up, "I'm from Alaska and we built sugar-cube igloos." Someone else said, "We didn't study Missions either, we studied Egypt and made sugar-cube pyramids."

As you can see, it isn't studying history that matters, it's building something with sugar cubes that seems to be of universal importance across national curriculum standards for fourth graders.

If you keep thinking along these lines, you can see that the gaps in education from one person to the next are a social engineer's nightmare. If the majority of the population isn't indoctrinated with the same agenda and curriculum, it is difficult to predict and manage their behavior.

Let's imagine, for a moment, that a presidential proclamation decreed that every student must build a Mission out of sugar-cubes in the 4th grade. Now let's suppose those fourth-graders are all grown up. If you were to hand those adults a box of sugar cubes and ask them what they could do with it, what do you suppose would be their first answer? Duh, build a Mission? Would any of them first suggest adding a few drops of methyl salicylate to the cube and then hammering it in a darkened room to demonstrate triboluminescence? Heck, would any of them suggest using a sugar cube to sweeten their coffee or tea?

The point of standardized curriculum is to standardize people. They are much easier to manage and control if they think and act alike.

We hear a lot from politicians about closing educational achievement gaps. Depending on which
special interest group they are addressing, you'll hear rhetoric about closing the gender gap, racial gap, economic gap, and opportunity gap as they all (we are told) negatively impact the goal of public education. Lately, the government tells us that closing all of those gaps begins with preschool.

Our government isn't the first to suggest it. Political regimes (the Nazis and Communists, for example), have come and gone knowing the meaning of Proverbs 22:6: "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." The absorbent minds of young children are highly susceptible to government control.

Indoctrinate babies with the state pablum of social and political philosophy wrapped up in standardized curriculum and they will be loyal to their Government Nanny forever.

So, why are you minding the gap? What is it EXACTLY that you are afraid your child will miss? Reading? Writing? Arithmetic? Building Missions with sugar cubes? Face your fear. Give it a name. Make a list. Then really look at that list and determine what is most important in order to give your child the educational foundation that will allow him or her to become an autonomous, self-directed learner.

If that is your goal, following a curriculum and agenda created by the state (or anyone else) is counter-intuitive.

We'd probably all agree that learning to read is important. John Taylor Gatto, the author of "Dumbing Us Down," who taught in New York schools for 30 years, reports that it only takes 100 contact hours to teach a child to read. If that's true, is it necessary to have "reading" as a required subject for an hour a day, for 180 school days each year, for fourteen years, from preschool through high school? If not, why would you insist upon it in your homeschool?

We'd also concur that writing is an important skill to learn. In our society you must have the skill to communicate your thoughts legibly to someone else, in writing. The debate rages about what to teach first - printing or cursive. In 2003, I contacted Dr. Steve Graham of the University of Maryland, who has conducted research studies on handwriting, and he said there isn't any conclusive evidence that shows one style is preferable over the other, in terms of legibility and speed. If that's true, why do some homeschoolers -- who can opt out of school agenda -- insist on teaching both? Rather than learning two ways to write, it may be more productive to learn one way to write along with typing. Keyboarding will be a more useful secondary skill, overall. Your child is more likely to learn it quickly if you don't turn the activity into drudgery with compulsory, schoolish lessons.

In fact, take a page from Nicholas Negroponte's book. A former director of the MIT Media Library, he founded the non-profit organization, One Laptop Per Child (www.laptop.org). Their goal is to provide every child in the third world with the XO Laptop computer for free. Acknowledging that traditional schooling is too slow and ineffective, their mission statement
includes this:

"Any nation's most precious natural resource is its children. We believe the emerging world must leverage this resource by tapping into the children's innate capacities to learn, share, and create on their own. Our answer to that challenge is the XO laptop, a children's machine designed for 'learning learning.'"

In a recent interview on the 20/20 television program, Negroponte reported that children in emerging nations learn to use the computer with very little instruction. They aren't required to take endless lessons in computer classes. They are simply provided with a computer (the XO Laptop) and intuitively figure it out, or are mentored by friends who quickly show them how to use it. Negroponte claims it opens their world to unlimited knowledge while expanding their creative and problem-solving potential. The reporter who interviewed him double-checked with a professor who insisted hours of instruction and supervision should be given. I guess he's afraid of the potential this project has for informational gaps among the laptop learners.

Nevertheless, Negroponte says that children in the most remote regions of the world are being "given the opportunity to tap into their own potential, to be exposed to a whole world of ideas, and to contribute to a more productive and saner world community." If this free-style method of learning works so well for third-world children, perhaps more homeschoolers should try it. Abandon the school model.

Quit worrying about gaps and get on with the joy and adventure of learning.

As for arithmetic, the majority of people need to understand enough consumer math not to be cheated, fooled, or kept perpetually impoverished in a credit-card world. [PULL QUOTE BEGIN] In a consumer culture it's interesting that we don't think kids need lessons in how to spend money. It's mystifying (and oh-so-telling) that we don't give them lessons in how to manage money either. [PULL QUOTE END]

Once your child understands elementary math processes, then teach your kids to review and balance bank statements. Show them how to decipher financial statements. Learn to calculate compounded interest on credit card balances and loans. Show them how to invest their money. Take Robert Kiyosaki's advice. He's the author of "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" and encourages parents to give their children a financial education. Help them understand that it is far better to have your money work for you, then to have to work forever for money.

Next up, what would happen if your son or daughter never built a sugar-cube Mission or anything at all from sugar cubes? Would their lives and ability to learn be stunted? Of course not, that's ridiculous. Let go of your fear and quit minding the gap.

Homeschoolers have embraced the idea that school is not the only place where one can learn socialization skills. Perhaps more should question whether following schoolish curriculum is the only way to get a "complete" education.

As you disembark the linear school train, don't spend all of your time minding the gap. You may miss the wonderful sights, sounds, and learning opportunities that abound in the liberated and
abundant landscape of your homeschool destination.

Copyright, 2007, by Diane Flynn Keith. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Christmas Meme

I enjoyed this meme from Mrs. Darling at Dishpan Dribble so I'm doing it too!

1.What is your favorite Christmas carol? Silent Night

2.What is your favorite secular Christmas song? Jingle Bells, the Dashing Through the Snow version

3.What is your favorite Christmas movie? It's a Wonderful Life

4.What is your favorite Christmas memory growing up? Going caroling. We'd invite friends over to our home, head off to sing carols at various people's homes from our congregation, generally stay a few minutes in their homes eating their treats, gather them up to go with us to the next home, and eventually wind up back at our house for more treats and hot apple cider. My mother went all out on hot cider and some of our traditional Christmas goodies, and our friends brought a plate of their Christmas favorite treats to share.

5.Do you shop early or are you a late shopper? Both. Mostly late meaning after November 1. I can't keep a secret that long. Besides, the kids are usually with me! :-)

6.Is your tree real or artificial? Artificial but I'm getting itchy for a real tree again. I miss the smell, not the watering.

7.Do you still put tinsel on your tree? Not on the artificial one. We used to before the artificial tree.

8.Do you read the Christmas story every year on Christmas day? We generally read it and act it out on Christmas Eve.

9.Would you consider yourself to be a Grinch? No, but I wish I had a whole lot more money to spend!!!

10.Are you more like Scrooge or Father Christmas? Probably somewhere in between. I try very hard to get just the "right" thing. I try to buy things that will help my children develop themselves in some way. This year, I have banned anything noisy, i.e., guns of any sort. Why get something that will push all my buttons at once?! I believe Christmas gifts should invite the spirit of Christ into the home, not contention.

11.Do you make homemade gifts for friends and family? Not anymore.

12.What was the worst Christmas present you ever received? An R-rated DVD.

13.What was your favorite Christmas present ever? An engagement ring although I actually received it about a week before Christmas.

14.On the average how many presents do you buy for each of your kids? This varies according to cost, wishes, and what is needed/wanted and what seems most beneficial. There is usually one "big" thing. I don't really remember other years for sure, but it's probably somewhere around 3 gifts per child.

If you're reading this, I tag you! Leave a message so I can read yours!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Don't forget donations!

Today I nearly completed my annual task. Organizing and putting clothing and other things in bags to take to the Goodwill. Actually, I try to do it throughout the year, but it seems there is always more in December. Maybe that's because that's my last desperate attempt to make space and get a tax write off at the same time.

I know many other women have blogged about the benefits of donating items you have been collecting around the house. Here's another one. I seem to be into lists, so I will list why I like to donate goods to charitable organizations.

1) When my boys were little (like 1-2 years), all of their toys that we bought came from Goodwill. I still bless the person who donated Buzz Lightyear and Woody!

2) Shopping at Goodwill is really easy. When I pay such a small sum, I don't agonize over my choice. If my kids want something, it's no big deal to buy it.

3) Tax write off. There is almost nothing that pays off as much or as easily as charitable donations. It is totally amazing to me how much charities credit things we can't/don't use or want anymore. Forget garage sales. We had one of those once. Made about $75. Later, we gathered everything together and dropped off what they said was worth about $450. And I got rid of stuff I didn't know what to do with.

4) The warm fuzzy feeling that comes knowing I'm doing something good for others. Now to get the last bunch boxed up and sent over . . . .

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Christmas tidings

Are you ready for Christmas?

I never know the answer to that until it's over. Did I get the right gifts, was the food delicious, do my friends know I love them? Will it be okay that I didn't spend a thousand dollars on each child? Or even what I will spend? Will the gifts be practical or will they be laid aside soon (especially if I spent a lot for it?) Will the gifts help my children develop their talents and be enjoyable too?

This is the part of Christmas that I hate. Really hate. The worrying. The stewing. The fretting.

If the pressure wasn't on, if Santa Claus didn't exist. . . . No, I'm not a scrooge. Just a worry wart.

It's not about the money because I worried about getting just the right gift for my nephews long before I had any debts or house payments or such. I think it's that perfectionist streak getting the best of me. The thought that, "I can't do it right, so I'll have to do it perfectly." Unless my gift was the one shouted about from the housetops, it wasn't good enough.

That's where my real problem lies. Are my children underprivileged? Not on your life! They aren't spoiled either, tis true, but they get "enough". It's just that Christmastime is the only time we're expected to provide masterful gifts to everyone on the list, all at once.

So for this year, I'm going to imagine that it is enough. That they will be delighted with their gifts and that they will carry far more out of this season than what can be wrapped up in fancy paper. That's what I want most. That they learn a little more about "peace on earth, good will toward men." That they speak more kindly and help each other more. That they love life and learning. That they know we love them more than they can know but sense it anyway.

I've read a few more books

I've read a few more books. My latest is Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara. Since it is late and I'm itching to get to bed, I'm going to refer you to the review at Amazon.

This was really an excellent read! If you are at all interested in the Civil War and/or saw the movie Gettysburg, you must read this book! As usual, IMO it is much better than the movie. They really try to present it all in the movie, but that is impossible. There is a lot of probing and private thinking in the book that just doesn't all work in dialogue. Truly fascinating!

On the child front: I'm reading the Magic Tree House books aloud to my kids. Invariably, my older two are grabbing some to read on their own because I'm not going through them fast enough. Hooray!