Tuesday, July 29, 2014

July Homeschooling Update

Holy Cow, has it really been six weeks since my last blog entry? Blah. I've been kind of overwhelmed with a lot of little things in life, and I guess the blog was the first on the chopping block. We've been taking a lot of time off from school as well. Since it is, in fact, July, I suppose that is acceptable, since most kids are taking time off from school during this time of year.

Despite our time of, things are going pretty well with the Squeaker's "private tutoring." We finished his kindergarten Singapore Math curriculum and started Primary Math 1A, which is also part of the Singapore approach. I cannot guarantee that The Squeaker would get a perfect score on a state test if he were to take it today, but I am confident that he would pass by a decent margin.
For a reason unknown to me, the Squeaker has taken an interest in Ancient Egypt. So I pulled out one of my old college textbooks and we are looking at all the pictures together. I'll call it "history." When we finish going through the whole book, we'll get out a "make your own Papyrus" kit that I purchased last Christmas.

I've been working on "School" with the Cookie, too. This usually involves setting him down on my lap. I place a crayon or marker in his hand and move his hand to trace and color in a coloring book. I discovered that he knows a lot more letters than I thought he did

I don't have formal education in Educational Theory, but I do read a lot about the subject, enough to know that public schools are designed to implement very little of what is scientifically known about child development (as I stated in my analysis of Common Core standards). The research is crystal clear that children do best when they have "down time" to process the world through imaginative play, ideally in a setting that includes trees and grass and mud. Finland doesn't have a problem with this, so I don't understand why the US thinks it's such a bad idea for kids to have fun. There is not a positive correlation between a child's success and the amount of homework he or she is required to complete, so it makes sense that kids in the US are assigned hours and hours more than their international counterparts, right?

I think back to my own year I spent in Kindergarten, and a lot of it was just playing, anyway. That was pretty much the only year I really enjoyed school. The rest of my elementary school experience was an exercise in the pointlessness and futility of the human condition and the cruelty and indifference of the Establishment.

I sometimes feel a bit nervous about the fact that I will have to tell people this fall that the Squeaker is not going to a conventional kindergarten. I am confident that this is the right educational decision for my child, but I worry that not everyone will see it that way. At this point, I feel that it's too late for the Squeaker to attend conventional kindergarten even if he wanted to, because he already knows too much math to be remotely contented with moving along with the rest of the class. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Five Signs That You Might Be A Karate Parent

None of my kids are taking Martial Arts classes of their own (yet) but Karate does seem to have permeated a lot of our lives. Do these things happen to other people, or is it just me?

1) When your children play with their foam swords, they bow first, and strike poses that look remarkably like parts of your own form.

2) During a discussion about the meaning of names, your son asks why your Karate instructor's mom named him "Sensei."

3) Any time a belt is seen anywhere in real life, your kids want to know if it is a black belt, or some other color.

4) All your varnished wooden weapons have scratches on them from when the kids played with them outside.

5) When you see your kids play-fighting imaginary pirates and ninjas, you have to stop yourself from correcting things like targets, stances, and other aspects of proper technique. ("That is not how you form your hand for a punch. No son of mine is going to punch like that in public!")

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Oppressive Patriarchy

I take issue with the charge that the Mormon Church is an oppressive patriarchy. Oppressive patriarchy is when women are actively discouraged from learning science and math because it is considered too taxing for their delicate brains. Oppressive patriarchy is when a father mourns the birth of his daughter (when he allows her to be born at all). Oppressive patriarchy is when a woman can't own property or do anything for herself without the permission of a male relative.

So basically, when people use the term "Oppressive Patriarchy" when citing the all-male Mormon Priesthood, they are equating Mormon gender roles with honor killings. We do believe in gendered ministry, and I don't think we should have to apologize for it.

Every single time I was treated poorly by a male, it was because he was either a) not Mormon at all, or b) acting in a way contrary to what is taught by the Mormon Church. The overwhelming majority of men in my life are sympathetic, caring, and supportive of all my kooky projects.

Some of my most cherished childhood memories are of my dad talking to me about science. When I was in school he did a lot to support me in my myriad of aspirations, from medical school to oceanographer to ambassador with the United States State Department. He never once indicated that I should study something "light" because I was "just going to be a mom, anyway." When I wanted to quit Tae Kwon Do when I was twelve, he did a lot to talk me out of it. After I graduated my BA and married, both parents encouraged me to pursue graduate school (which I chose not to do for reasons completely unrelated to religion.)

The Husband doesn't like it when I talk about him on my blog, even when it is to sing his praises. I'll just say that he's been really great and I'm glad I married him and leave it at that.

I remember with particular fondness one Arnold Palmer, who was my bishop when I was in my early teens. I did not know him well, but every single time I interacted with him, he radiated warmth and love. I just knew that he cared about me a lot. He came to my wedding reception when I grew up.

I had many male friends in college (BYU) and I was always safe with all of them. Every time. When a boyfriend started pinching my rear end, I mentioned it to one of these friends. His eyes widened in disbelief and said, "He's doing WHAT?!" He then indicated that he would have no qualms over beating the offender to a pulp. To me, the memorable part of that incident is not the unacceptable chauvinist behavior (bum-pinching) but the speed at which others desired to come to my rescue.

Mormons living in an oppressive patriarchy? Not in my experience.

Unfortunately, in some circles, the fact that I am saying this has no merit, because apparently I've been brainwashed into believing that I'm happy. (Makes sense, right?) I run into this a lot in discussions of the hijab with Muslim women. Even if they stand up and scream, "For Heaven's sake! I have a Ph.D in neuroscience! I am NOT OPPRESSED!!" no one takes them seriously because they have their hair covered.

There are many who think staying home to raise kids qualifies as "being oppressed." To them I say: This is my legitimate choice. And before I did this, I got a BA and was a world traveler. I could be doing lots of things deemed "cool and exciting," but this life of diapers and small runny noses and breastfeeding is what I have chosen. And when you tell me that I am making the "lesser" choice, it is you  who are saying that my life and my children have no meaning. It is you who are oppressing me, not my husband or my father or my bishop.
Maybe some women feel oppressed, and I can't speak for them. But don't say ALL Mormon women are oppressed when clearly we are not. Those who claim to speak for women should give more credibility to actual women's voices.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

How Happy is your Engagement? A Quiz

A good friend of mine just announced her engagement. It made me think back to when I was engaged. I've actually been engaged to be married twice. So I think I really know what it is to "be engaged." (Luckily, I only got married once. We're going to hit nine (9) years in October, so I'd like to think that we have been successful thus far.)

Allie, this post is for you.

So you're engaged. That can be kind of a scary state of being for a girl. You are about to entwine your life with someone else's. If things work out, marital bliss will abound. But if your husband-to-be turns out to be a big ol' jerkface, life will be quite a lot more difficult.

But how to tell if you've picked the right one? Here's a little quiz I wrote just for you:

1) Your parents. They:
a) Love your fiance. Possibly they love him more than they love you.
b) Call him "Dinglefritz" when he isn't around.

2) Your roommates. They:
a) Think you guys are perfect together. They plan to buy you some pyrex dishes for your wedding.
b) Knit their brows together in concern and complain to their co-workers that you are marrying such a weird guy.

3) When you go to your Fiance expressing feelings of nervousness about the nuptials, he:
a) Holds your hand and says, "Yeah, me, too."
b) Suggests that your anxiety is not the spirit of discernment, but the whisperings of Satan. Goes on to say that if you feel more anxious after speaking with your mother, then she might also be an agent of The Devil.

4) When you know that you're going to be seeing him in about five minutes, you:
a) Feel genuinely happy. Perhaps even calm, at peace, and can't stop smiling.
b) Have an anxiety attack and start chewing on the inside of your lip until it bleeds.

5) You have just done something really embarrassing in front of your beloved. You:
a) Giggle a little bit and move on with your life. 
b) Blush so deeply that your ears turn purple. 

6) When you imagine the wedding night, you:
a) Feel pretty confident that you may possibly actually enjoy yourself.
b) Feel that it will be more or less a reenactment of WWII, with you playing the part of Poland.

Now to score it!
Mostly A's: You're on the right path to a long and happy marriage together.
Mostly B's: This is not a happy relationship. Get out now while you still can.

How did you do?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Common Core: My Analysis

Common Core educational standards have become the subject of intense political battles. I've heard all kinds of arguments from both sides, ranging from the belief that it will save the United States and create a truly educated populace, to the claim that Lucifer, the prince of darkness himself, wrote the curriculum. But no one is talking about the biggest issue in conventional school: that no one educational approach, regardless of style or implementation, is going to turn all children into geniuses.

For example, I read this article from the New York Times about one child's experience with it. If you have any opinions about Common Core at all I encourage you to take the time to read it. The article is basically about a kid who had good grades in kindergarten and first grade, but he is really struggling with Common Core and narrowly escaped flunking. His triplet brother is also struggling, but his triplet sister has excelled. The author of the article uses the example of this boy, who is named Chrispin, to show how rigorous the new standards are. But in my view, he misses the real point entirely. Chrispin's problem isn't rigorous standards. It's that this particular educational approach is not developmentally appropriate for his unique learning style.

Common Core has been praised and reviled for its emphasis on critical thinking. However, Jessie Wise, the author of The Well-Trained Mind, argues that you cannot get creativity or analysis out of a child's mind until you have put in a reasonable amount of information first. Her view is that the first four grades be devoted to what she calls the Grammar Stage. Furthermore, she believes that the Rhetoric stage, emphasizing the critical thinking and analysis-heavy education that the Common Core folks so love, should not begin until 9th grade. Wise's reasons for this are based on what is known about child development.

I saw some of this when I worked for Head Start before the Squeaker was born. We had some kids that didn't even know how to hold scissors, but we also had other kids who wanted to trace and do actual projects. We, the teachers, got in trouble with the adminstration for doing "projects" with the kids because it wasn't "creative enough." It was just bureaucracy that had nothing to do with the actual children.

Obviously there is a set of children that is doing quite well under Common Core. Ultimately, however, I see this as another educational experiment that will eventually die out. If we want real educational reform, here is what we should do:
  • Start paying teachers more! We pay teachers an immorally low salary. A high school Math teacher should not be able to qualify for WIC. 
  • The reason for paying teachers more is so we can attract smarter people to teaching. If you are smart enough to be an engineer who works for NASA, would you really want to spend your time teaching fractions to 5th graders? This will offend people, and I do apologize, but the fact is that I knew way too many el-ed majors in college with whom I was unable to carry on a meaningful conversation. I did meet some people who would be excellent teachers, as well. Sadly, my intelligent sister-in-law is in fact earning her Master's degree and will not be teaching actual school in her immediate future.
  • More teachers: Children need one-on-one instruction. More importantly, they need instruction that is geared toward their individual minds. Which leads me to:
  • Implement the science. We know a lot about child development and education. But for reasons that escape me (probably having to do with money) the science isn't being implemented. We know, for example, that no one approach will ever work for all kids. We know that children develop cognitively at different rates. We know that children learn the best through play. So how come we are cutting back on recess and art and music and everything else that makes school fun? How come we are cramming 30+ kids into classrooms, where there is no realistic hope of individualization?
I feel myself qualified to write about this subject because I have kids, plural. Not meaning to brag, but the Squeaker is excelling under the private tutelage I am providing for him. We do on a good day, 30 minutes of formal workbook instruction, but even that small amount is having an impact. He is operating at a first-grade level in some areas, late kindergarten in others, but he is not reading yet. I choose not to push reading because a) he's still kind of little and b) his resistance to reading leads me to believe that's he's not developmentally ready for it. I already know, however, that the same curricula I am using for the Squeaker will most likely not work for the Cookie, because he has different strengths and weaknesses. I will probably have to find a completely different set of workbooks for my second child; possibly he will learn the best with no workbooks at all. Every kid should have that level of individualization. And very few children will become as brilliant as the government wants them to be without it.

Private tutoring is a tried-and-true model that produces actual results. Thomas Edison and Teddy Roosevelt are prime examples. Pretty much any educated person before 1850 was privately tutored.

Money is always cited as a concern, right? Well...if America thinks it's so important to "invest in the future of our children," how come we spent all those billions to bail out companies and banks that had made poor financial decisions, but we can't seem to scrape together the funds to pay teachers more money?

And now a confession: more often than not, when I hear about the latest stupid thing going on in public education, I feel just a little schadenfreude because I know that, God willing, my family will be escaping that mess.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Shieldmaiden is One!

My baby turned ONE! I made cupcakes and allowed the Big Brothers to decorate them as they liked. 

We invited a couple of friends to come over and share our cupcakes, and that was the extent of our giant birthday bash. I have no intention of ever creating elaborate pintrest-themed birthday parties. Besides, we are quiet people who love quiet things. This was just about our speed.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Living Life

A cat recently adopted us. Her name is Tomspike (one kid wanted to name her Tom, the other wanted to name her Spike. Thus, Tomspike.). She started coming around, practically begging for the kids to pet her. Sometimes she would sit outside our door and meow until they came out to play. And on occasion she has found her way inside our house and made herself comfortable. When I have had to extract her, she has looked at me with an expression that says, "Don't worry about it. It's cool. I live here, now." However, as I am not exactly a cat person, The Husband and I are pretty insistent that Tomspike remain always an outdoor cat. Here's the kicker - Tomspike is pregnant, and she is looking for a place to have her kittens. We are not interested in the place being our basement.

We have also acquired a hummingbird feeder, and the boys think it's the best thing ever. Where once the phrase, "Oh, look! I hummingbird!" was rarely spoken, and the sighting of one of these creatures became something precious, now both are common occurrences. We have invited magic into our front yard.

Even though it's technically Summer, I've continued to tutor The Squeaker in his schoolwork. He's got like fifteen pages left in his kindergarten math curriculum. This makes me less nervous about keeping him home from conventional school, but I still find that I agonize over it a lot, because homeschooling is kind of a fringe option. I know it's going to be the best choice for him, but it doesn't make it an easy choice. The alternative would be to make him bored out of his skull on purpose. There is a school of thought that parents shouldn't teach kids too much before kindergarten, to prevent boredom, but I don't regret teaching him math. He was already bored; I wasn't going to hold him back just to satisfy other people's rules of child development that didn't fit my son. That was a little bit of a rant, I know.

Anyway, that's what we've been up to.


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