Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Coming Clean About My Personal Issues With School

(Things get real in this post. It's personal.)

Ok, ok, you've got me. I'll admit it. Here's the real reason I homeschool: It's because I hated school when I was a kid. Public school and private. Well, maybe not the whole time. Kindergarten was actually pretty great, and I loved the three months I was in Mrs. Thomas's second grade classroom in Idaho Falls in 1990. There aren't many positive things to say after that until my senior year of high school. And even then, the best praise I have to offer is, "it wasn't entirely horrible."

I know, intellectually, that it is not likely that the schools where I currently live would tolerate the kind of twisted Lord-of-the-Flies behavior that passed for "socialization" in New York in the early 90s. I am told that for the first six months of 6th grade, when my mom started homeschooling me, I required several hours each day to process through the trauma that was 5th grade via hysterical fits of crying.

I don't feel that this constitutes overreacting. Here's why: I scored much higher than most of the other children in my class on the standardized tests. I was the first fifth-grader ever in the history of the school to be recognized for passing some high-falutin' language arts exam thingy. I was literally smarter than all of them. But they were so effective at telling me that I was "stupid," "retarded," "corroded," and "dense," that I came to believe it, and it did not take me very long. That kind of emotional abuse takes an unimaginable toll.

When Columbine happened, I found I was able to sympathize with the shooters. I know what it is to be so sick of being called names all day long that you want to literally kill someone. I can't say for sure whether any of my teachers knew the extent of what was going on. Whether they did or not is irrelevant. I don't feel it is possible for one adult to be fully in control of what goes on in a classroom full of children.

Tenth grade, in particular, was a disaster. A lot of things went on (like my main bully also being my chemistry teacher. I am pretty sure she's going to Hell.) that should have bothered me enough to make me want to do something about it: being demoted to last chair cellist in the Orchestra, regularly holding a C in English, etc etc. But I was just in survival mode. I knew all these things were happening but I felt powerless to do anything about it, so I chose not to care.

So yes, maybe the schools where I live now are better. But I can't guarantee to my child that they absolutely are. I don't see school as a place of education. It is a place of torture. The animosity I have for it runs so deep that I cannot imagine a situation that would compel me to send my kid there. Maybe it woudln't be quite so horrible for my own children, but it's not a risk I am willing to take.

I know I've been more guarded here on my blog in the past about how I talk about school; it's because I didn't want to offend anyone. Well...here it is. The truth. If anything, I've held back a little.

I could also cite the intrinsic problems of the school system, like trying to educate thirty kids at one time at the same pace. Or the issue of "grading" children. Those things have been discussed at length elsewhere. I am just glad that, as a homeschooling mom, they don't really apply to me.

Here's the worst-kept secret about homeschooling: it is so stinking fun! The Squeaker asks for history and science lessons in the morning, and sometimes we do school on weekends, too. We're learning about Ancient China and jet engines. Today we went to the library and picked up a coffee table book on the Curiosity mission to Mars. We also got a book about everything that's in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The Squeaker can recognize by sight The Spirit of St. Louis, the Curtis P-40 Warhawk, and capsules used in the Mercury and Gemini programs. How many other kindergarteners can do that?

I like having the freedom to choose my curriculum based on what we find interesting. I very much enjoy the luxury of not giving a fig for what the State Department of Education thinks we have to study this year. What I love the most is that we can actually learn, without having to spend our energy on extraneous social drama.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why I homeschool.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Jet Fighters Homeschooling Unit

In the last six weeks, for the Squeaker's science curriculum, we did a lot of work learning about the space program. I expected that the natural continuation of that would be to learn about actual space (like the planets and quasars and the oort cloud), but no, he said he wanted to do Jet Fighters next.

Jet Fighters? Ha. That's not usually found in your basic kindergarten curriculum. How in the blazes am I supposed to find anything for kids about the science of Jet Fighters?

Well, thank goodness for the internet.

I was actually able to find a few resources, and I thought I'd round 'em up here in case there are any other kids who want to learn about this stuff, either for school or for fun. There's enough information here for about a week or so.

A YouTube Video tour of the cockpit of a CF-18 Hornet

This is actually an article about jet fighters of the future, but since it is still science and jets, I found it germane to the conversation.

How F-15s work. This is actually written for a much older audience, but my 5 1/2 year old enjoyed the pictures. We were able to lightly skim the text for bits of encyclopedic information that he found very interesting.

Wikipedia article on fighter aircraft with lots of pictures.

Nasa's animated gif on how jet engines work.

This book: Modern Fighter Planes To Color, Cut out, And Fly. The models here are pretty complicated, but my kid was able to figure it out with a tiny bit of help.

I imagine this reveals a lot about my approach to teaching. My kids really hate stuff that is dumbed down to be "just for kids." They know they are being talked down to, and refuse to tolerate it. Kindergarten-level songs and dances just don't have enough detail for them, so I give them more. I know they won't retain everything that I throw at them, but they retain just enough for it to be worth the effort. And it's also more fun.

If I were one of those cool "everything homeschooling" sites, I would include a cute little graphic here or at least a picture of the model of an F-16 that the Squeaker put together. But I'm not one of those cutsie kind of websites, so I won't. If you want the information, here it is, but I'm not trying to impress anyone here on my little private blog.

Friday, February 20, 2015

X-Men: Thoughts on that Jean Grey/ Cyclops/ Wolverine Love Triangle

I wouldn't call myself a die-hard fan of the X-men, but I do kind of like the franchise. I've seen all the movies and cartoons, but there is that whole world of actual comic books that I haven't even touched.

My very first encounter with the X-men was in the 90s when Pizza Hut, as part of their reading program for elementary schoolers, gave out VHS tapes of episodes from the cartoon series.

Later, in High School, I used to beg my mom to tape reruns of the show while I was at school. She missed a couple, and that was disappointing. When we were first married, The Husband tracked down every episode for me to watch. That, people, is true love.

Recently we watched "Days of Future Past," and then for fun we watched the original movie that came out in 2000, and now we're watching the cartoons again. It's good times.

If you're at all familiar with the X-Men, you know that there's this weird love triangle going on between Jean Grey, Cyclops, and Wolverine. Basically, both guys are totally in love with the girl. She is in a relationship with Cyclops, but seems strangely attracted to Wolverine.

I think she could do better than both of them. Wolverine is the more interesting character, but he is a real wild card, his list of issues is about a mile long, and he's unlikely to commit to a long-term relationship. Cyclops is more stable and "goody-two-shoes," but he's also a) boring and b) slightly arrogant. Not very attractive.

You know what I think? She should dump Cyclops and go for Beast. Sure, he's blue and hairy, but he's got a lot of life figured out. He'd be a good dad, if you don't mind having blue and hairy children. And really, in a world where there's a whole population of weirdo mutants, being blue and hairy is probably going to be the least of your problems. He's the kind of guy who would not only take you out to classical music concerts and Shakespeare plays, but also off hiking, fishing, and possibly Karate tournaments. (I think there was one episode in the cartoon series where he was practicing Karate and had a black belt.) Sounds like my kind of guy. Jean should be so lucky.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

My Kid's New Blog

In case anyone was curious,all three of my children are geniuses. The Squeaker in particular, has a real gift for translating ideas in his head into real life. His preferred medium is construction paper and packing tape, although he is also a dab hand with a pencil on paper.

So I made him his very own blog to document all these crazy things he's been making.
The Fighter-Fighter Jet With Two Fighters In It
I wouldn't be surprised if he hears from Lockheed-Martin in the near future about job opportunities.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

More on Korihor

This making the rounds now:
"What if Nehor and Korihor Had a Blog?" Published 11 February 2015

From my own blog, January 16 2015:
"Precedents from the Book of Mormon."

You read it here first. :-)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Four Reasons Why You Absolutely Have To Teach Math

Within the homeschooling community there is something of a debate as to whether teaching math is strictly necessary. Here is a popular article that has been circulating for some time now. Basically the argument goes something like, "In fifteen years since my calculus class, I've never had to use it. So I bet my kid won't need it, either." If I, who haven't even taken calculus, see this argument for what it is (specifically, "bogus,"), then you should, too.

1) Just think, for a moment, about the last time someone said to you, "There is a real push right now for kids to major in Humanities." or, "I can only hope that the next generation will be able to rectify the serious philosopher shortage we've been having." What kind of people does America need in the future? The short answer is overwhelmingly, "People in STEM fields." Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

2) Not teaching your kid math when they are young is doing them a fundamental disservice and takes away their options. I read about a kid just recently who, at age sixteen, wanted to become an engineer. Problem was, his mom had opted not to teach him any math past basic arithmetic. Most high school juniors looking at an engineering major are probably somewhere in pre-calculus. That poor boy hadn't even had algebra yet, and now had to scramble to get up to level. You can still write the Great American Novel with calculus under your belt, but you can't be a rocket scientist without it.

3) While your brain can be trained and exercised in many ways, math does this in a unique way. I took seven semesters of Arabic in college, but I absolutely know I am missing something because I never took calculus. It's not the same. Maybe if I had been more "mathy" I would have been better able to figure out some of that passive voice stuff.

4) The more you have, the more you can give to the world. Maybe in 1890 women could cope with motherhood without having much of an education, but in the modern world, even being a stay-at-home mom requires it. For example, let me introduce you to this lady:

This is my mom. (Hi, Mom!) Her nuclear physicist father basically gave her a graduate-level seminar in math when he was helping her with her homework, which she considers his greatest gift to her. For most of the years we have been calling her, "Mom," she has been a stay-at-home homeschooling mom.  She has, at one time or another, tutored all three of her children in math, including calculus, and has tutored half the kids in the neighborhood as well. Where would we be if my mom hadn't had any math?!

I require that my kindergartener does at least some math every school day. Even if we don't do anything else, we do math. We started kindergarten-level math when he was four, and today he is legitimately working out of a first-grade workbook. He really loves all kinds of science and also art, so I will be very surprised if he doesn't become an architect or some kind of engineer. But even if he makes a career out of making airplane models out of construction paper and tape, I know that he cannot go wrong if he has math.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Feeling Useful. And also Homeschooling Is Awesome.

Today I had an opportunity to speak Arabic with someone who did not understand English. The last time I had to rely solely on my Arabic to communicate was in 2004. I know I used horrible grammar, but it was nice to use my education for something constructive, anyway. Ten points to me!

The last couple of weeks I feel like I'm hit a brick wall in terms of Karate, but tonight I got to teach a couple of beginners some of the basics, and I didn't totally screw it up. Plus another ten points!

I feel like I'm finally hitting my homeschooling stride. We've done a solid month now, doing school every single day, every subject. Both boys are having a ball (The Shieldmaiden is too young to understand what is going on), and I can tell that they are really learning. I used to really second-guess my decision to keep The Squeaker home, but now that he is reading with more confidence and making paper models (of his own design!) of WWII era aircraft, I feel confident that this really is the right path for him.

Today we learned about Lt. Col. Grissom and the Liberty Bell 7. And when I say "we," I mean, me, too! Yesterday I knew nothing about it. The Liberty Bell 7 sank to the bottom of the ocean following Lt. Col. Grissom's spaceflight in 1961 (but not with him in it,) and in 1999 they were able to retrieve it from the ocean floor. Cool, no? The Squeaker internalized this history-cum-science lesson by re-enacting the whole thing with his legos. Tomorrow we will discover more about John Glenn.

In fact, we've been doing a lot with airplanes and spaceflight as part of our homeschool. I'm really glad that my kids like it, because I really like it, too. I used to want to live on Mars as an astronaut, although I didn't know nearly as much about the space program as I do now. Homeschooling the Squeaker has provided an opportunity for me to expand my horizons and learn more about something I enjoy.

There maybe a few people who look at my lack of career in my field and my rusty Arabic and see someone who limited herself to have kids. Particularly within the last year, I have begun to see it the opposite way. Having my kids has been enriching and exciting. I love being able to explore this, "I don't know, but let's find out all about it," environment that we're creating in our home.

Homeschooling is awesome. If more people knew what an awesome time we are having, I think everyone would want to do it.


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