The Upside Down World

Friday, February 24, 2006

Hurricane Katrina Heroes

Stephan Barr at the Washington Post has a column on those who were heroes during Hurricane Katrina last fall. As cynical as we all are and as easy as it is to get all worked up over all that goes wrong in this world, I think it's very important to take time to remember that there are good people doing good things as well. Take a look.

Anti-family government policies

I mentioned the Crunchy Conservatives blog/book club going on at National Review Online based on the new book by the same name in a previous post. I wanted to share part of a post put up there yesterday which made me think, "somebody gets it!" A guy named Bruce Frohen writes:
"this is a good time to point out how radically unnatural, anti-family and anti-community many of our public policies are today. In defending permanent things, and families and communities in particular, I'm not saying that people should be forced to live my way. But I am saying that societies and governments are definitely not neutral. For example, our current tax structure punishes families for having children and for making the choice of relying on a single income, along with a stay at home mom. And I do mean punishes. The tax structure assumes that all of us are atomistic individuals who may happen to choose consumption items, like children, for which we will give them some tax relief, because we claim to like kids. A system based on the family as a fundamental, natural basis of society would start from the presumption that the family is the unit taxed. That means income splitting (lowering taxes for single income families) and far more generous dependent deductions. This would show concern for and valuation of families, make it easier for more people to make family-friendly choices, and encourage employers, neighbors, and others to show more respect for families."
I completely agree with this. As a society, we often view having children as a consumerist choice. We talk about having a kids as being a privilege or a right. Does anyone else realize how completely and utterly insane such notions would have seemed to our ancestors? How about children as a way to ensure the continuance of a society and culture and parenting as a service to the world?
A couple months back The Weekly Standard ran an article called "The Party of Sam's Club" which talked about ways the Republican party could work to really support families. Some of it's specific policy suggestions were the sort of nonsense they do in Europe. However, this excerpt got me thinking:
"Yet the decision to raise children continues to be treated as something akin to the decision to buy an expensive automobile--a perfectly fine thing to do, but don't expect any sympathy or support when you can't afford a tune-up or an oil change. Having a large family used to be a sign that you had faith in the future. Today, outside the family-friendly exurbs that played a crucial role in reelecting President Bush, it's become a form of conspicuous consumption--or, for the poor, a mark of irresponsibility.
Crafting pro-family policies that stand against this trend is not a question of turning back the clock to some lost Ozzie-and-Harriet golden age, as critics of social conservatism often assert. Quite the opposite: Precisely because the world has changed, with the demise of lifetime employment and increasing returns to education, strong families are growing ever more important, and policies that encourage people to form them and keep them together are ever more necessary."
As I said elsewhere in this blog, I do not think it is the job of government to make be people be virtuous, but I do think that the government should create a situation where it is easy to choose to be virtuous (or at the very least not do things which make being virtuous any more difficult than it has to be). So, how would our government policies change if we were to make family formation and maintenance a priority? I've been thinking about this for a while and have some ideas which I may share later. If you have any, please post them in the comments section.
Of course, the real question is why an at-home mom in Western Wisconsin is thinking about these things while the boneheads we elect to run our government (including the so-called "family values" ones) really don't give a hoot about them?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Going Overboard

Just overheard:
My 6 year old says to his 10 year old brother, "I think Mom went overboard with Michaela."
(Michaela's my 1 year old daughter.)
"Because she's just so super cute!"
I don't know how much it has to do with me, but I agree she is super cute!

Thoughts on multi-culturalism, immigration & vouchers

Last night my husband and I were having a conversation about why immigrant communities have not successfully integrated into the European countries they have settled in. (Yes, we actually talk about these sort of things - we're well matched dorks.) Aside from the riots in France last year there is the incredible news that 40% of British Muslims want the government to impose sharia law in parts of the country. For all it's problems, particularly with its African-American population, America just doesn't seem to have these sort of problems with our legal immigrants. We identified two problems: lack of opportunity and a strange version of multi-culturalism. If you'll bear with me I want to bring this back to a question it raises about our education system and vouchers.
The first problem is one of opportunity. If a legal immigrant plays by the rules here, gets an education, works hard, etc., they have a reasonably high degree of confidence that they will be largely accepted and have access to the opportunities America offers. This provides a strong incentive for new immigrants to assimilate rather than seeking to transplant their old country to America. In many places in Europe, it seems that immigrants just don't see the pay-off for giving up their old ways. In many places even legal immigrants are treated differently than their native peers when it comes to employment and access to education. To make things even worse, in some countries like France, an immigrant's child is not guaranteed citizenship and all it's benefits even if born on French soil. When opportunity is blocked, so is incentive to buy into a country's culture and participate.
The second problem is a version of multi-culturalism. This is one you hear a lot about from right leaning thinkers and politicians. Most European cultures have a history of colonialism which has left them very wary of doing anything which might be seen as imposing their culture on another. Britains in particular seem to have a strong allergic reaction to doing or saying anything which would remotely imply that their culture has something to offer that another culture does not. This has lead to a version of multi-culturalism where it is seen as improper to expect that an immigrant would modify their views or practices, even when in conflict with British norms and morals. An extreme example of this has been official's reluctance to get involved in "honor killings" which have taken place in minority communities. Another result is that the government provides funding for Muslim schools in Britain. Unfortunately, one of the results of having duel school systems in place for Muslim and non-Muslim children seems to have been that Muslims who have not bought into British values can insulate themselves from pressure to do so or for their children to do so. Now, perhaps this is simply a reflection of the lack of opportunity I mentioned above, ie if there was an obtainable advantage to buying into the British sensibility keeping one's children insulated from such would not seem so appealing. However, it's hard to argue with the simple fact that faced with no pressure to give up old ideas and ways of doing things, people don't. That said, perhaps you can begin to see the problem this raises for me in my thinking about schools and vouchers.
Anyone who has read John Taylor Gatto knows that one of his arguments is that prior to government schools, people who sent their kids to school sent them to schools which taught values they themselves had. There were Quaker schools and Baptist schools and so on. This reduced conflict between people with different beliefs because if that crazy Quaker down the road wanted his child to be taught crazy Quaker ideas that didn't matter to you because he wasn't trying to teach such notions to your child. People didn't feel threatened by other people's beliefs, as they often do today, because they weren't trying to impose them on your family. So why hasn't this worked in places like Britain? I think it's a lack of opportunity for minority communities as well as what happens when a great culture like the British doesn't see their own worth because of their failings and become easy targets for another culture which is convinced of it's own superiority (such as militant Islam).
I support vouchers for many reasons, not the least of which is because it would allow a dynamic such as the one Gatto identifies prior to government schools being forced on parents. Hillary Clinton gave a particularly ridiculous speech on vouchers the other day, but I agree that I certainly would hate to see a situation where our differences became more rather than less threatening and divisive.
However, perhaps Europe's experience isn't particularly informative in regards to our conversation on vouchers here in the US. I think our economic opportunities and national pride would act as counter-weights against a desire to hold too strongly to ideas and traditions which are in conflict with our own - even if all parents were free to send their children to schools that reflected their own values. After all, many of us in the homeschool community homeschool precisely so we can protect our kids from being taught things we find immoral or wrong - yet our kids seem to be integrating into society quite well once we're done with them. It seems to me that we would do well to think about these things so that when some demagogue like Hillary tries to use the divisions which have been perpetuated in part by religiously separated school systems in Europe to try and smack down vouchers here in America, we have a good answer.
OK, there's my dork post for the day. I'll try to keep these to a minimum!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

John Stossel's "Stupid in America"

I mention it below, but if you don't click on any other link I ever provide, you have got to read John Stossel's report on failing American government schools and the lack of competition which is driving this failure. I had only glanced through it when I linked earlier, but I just finished reading the whole thing. You need to read this and forward it to people you know. We simply cannot afford to keep participating in this broken system. Ok, I'm done for now.

NEA having conniptions

Apparently the NEA is having another conniption fit. And this time it's actually over something remotely related to how teachers do their jobs rather than supporting abortion, anti-war movements, radical feminism and all those other things so critical to making sure the nation's teachers have what they need to do their jobs well. Apparently John Stossel from 20/20 did a piece called "Stupid in America" that was critical of our government schools, the amount of money being pumped into them with no corresponding results and the monopoly the government has over schooling and funding. So now the NEA is taking off from the important work they do bilking members and supporting left-of-Stalin causes to protest John Stossel. How dare he use facts and logic to criticize a monopoly they've worked so hard to secure! Isn't there some way to bring these people down? This union is a self-contained argument for never putting your child in a government school!
Dad's Corner has a post about why homeschoolers should care about this nonsense here. Warning: it's filled with the sort of quotes and information which makes homeschoolers and those who support their right to do what they're doing want to buy a shotgun, move off the grid and start making their own soap out of animal fat (not that there's anything wrong with that!).
Thanks to this week's Carnival of Homeschooling being hosted by HE&OS for directing me to this one.

Ancient Hebrews and Creation

I don't know how many of you are interested in this sort of thing, but since I spent some time on it this morning and found some interesting stuff, I thought I'd share. Everyone is aware of the conflicts in our country over evolution vs creationism vs ID. Religious folks who reject evolution usually point to the bible as back-up for their POV. Such people will surely agree that the bible is unchanging. However, they forget/do not know/ignore the fact that the words they read are first translations, second often mean something very different to the modern reader than they did to the people to whom the text was originally given. If the bible truly doesn't change, it can not have been meant to convey one meaning to those to whom it was originally given and something entirely different to us today. We must not impose our own views, cultural prejudices and assumptions onto scriptures. Instead, we must strive to understand the original intent of the text and the way it was understood to the people it was originally speaking to. Not that one cannot be a Christian if one doesn't know all the background details, but one is likely to be a Christian with a whole bunch of erroneous ideas.
What this has to do with the evolution debate is that when one looks at the original text of Genesis (ie in the original language) and what it meant to the people to whom it was originally given, we find that much of the thinking which underpins today's objections to evolution would not have made any sense at all to the ancient Hebrews. Their understanding of their text hardly allowed, much less required what we in our modern thought process view as a literal understanding of the creation story.
Like I said, I don't know if any of you are interested in such things, but here are a couple of articles on the subject which I found interesting (warning rather scholarly, language examination and dense stuff, but worth fishing through, I think):

The Bible Idea of Time: How Archaic Hebrew Thought Is Constructed Differently than Our Thought Today
Genesis, Cosmology, and Ancient Semitic Thought

There ya go. If you're a huge dork like me who reads scholarly papers in your spare time, you're in hog-heaven. If not, please continue on with your regularly scheduled non-dorky day!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Newest Homeschooling Critic's Meme

When people first started homeschooling, critics often said that simple parents couldn't possibly do as good a job educating their children as trained professionals. Of course, that argument has fallen apart as homeschool kids began getting higher scores on standardized tests than their institutionalized peers and began making strong showings in spelling bees, geography bees and science contests.
So they moved on to socialization. Anyone who has homeschooled in the last 10 years has heard this one so often it's become it's own punchline. Now that homeschooled kids are growing up and studies have found that they're well adjusted, happy, successful and involved in their communities, that one's dying down. I don't hear it as often today as I did just 3 years ago when we began homeschooling.
Not to be defeated, homeschool's critics have hit on a new meme; children need to be exposed to something other than just their parent's point of view. This argument is ludicrous on its face, of course. The fact that a parent has the right to raise their own child as they see fit, short of abuse, is even open to questioning simply shows how unbelievably screwed up our society is. And of course, the assumption that homeschool parents never allow their kids to know what other people think about things is farcical at best. If this was actually what was happening, we wouldn't even allow books into our homes!
However, my biggest laugh over this particular line of attack is the assumption that public schools are places where children are exposed to a wide variety of ideas rather than places where they are hostage to, at best, one teacher and one textbook per subject, learning a pre-approved curriculum designed to meet the approval of politicians and special interest groups. Now we have evidence that schools, far from being interested in exposing kids to a wide variety of ideas, are actively trying to insure that they will be indoctrinated with the "right" ideas: "evaluations of dispositions" for education majors in order to be allowed to teach. Not content with strangling curriculums and the freedom of teachers to meet the needs of their students, the education police are now targeting teaching candidates to make sure they subscribe to the right ideas before they are allowed to teach our kids. So if you send your kids to school, you can rest assured that your child's teacher will have sworn fealty to a politically correct worldview, thereby ensuring that rather than a wide range of ideas, your child will only be exposed to ideas you probably don't agree with! And we're worried about homeschool kids not getting enough exposure to different points of view? Now, there's a punchline in need of a joke!

Crunchy Conservatism

Perhaps you have heard about it by now (there appears to be a well co-ordinated publicity machine at work), but there's a new book out by Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News called "Crunchy Conservatism". The National Review Online even has a blog/book group discussion about the book going on here. (The discussion right now seems a bit esoteric, but there are some definite gems as well.) My husband and I had a chance to read the first two chapters of it prior to publication and while we're not sure Mr. Dreher makes the strongest argument possible for his POV, the fact is that he's talking about people like us. People who are conservative in bent but who no longer see either our culture or even the Republican Party as allies in raising sound families in a just society. People who care about the environment, homeschool their kids and while appreciative of a strong economy and prosperity do not view such as the be all and end all of life.
It is Mr. Dreher's contention that while Democrats often act as the "Party of Lust", acting as if any restriction - be it practical or moral - on sexual behavior is the source of all evil, Republicans often act as the "Party of Greed". In the view of the party, it seems, any restriction - be it practical or moral - on business and the acquisition of wealth is the source of all evil. Of course both lust and greed are traditionally members of the 7 deadly sins club.
My view is that just as the founding fathers believed that people of virtue were necessary for the success of a democratic government such as ours, people of virtue are necessary for the success of the sort of free market system we have. Unfortunately the people we have in office and in some corporate board rooms are very, very rarely people of virtue. And too often, even the idea of a free market system is put to lie in favor of already established big business by supposedly free market Republicans. (For a good example of this, look at this article about attempts to change federal law to protect milk monopolies against entrepreneurial competition.) I'm also willing to bet that in their quest to create favorable market conditions for favored businesses, how their actions are going to affect families, family formation and a family's ability to invest the time needed to raise their children never crosses their mind. For most politicians and many political thinkers, wealth creation and strong families are seen as interchangeable.
Not to harp on it, but the tax credit for child care is a perfect example. My family has made huge sacrifices for me to be home with our kids, but we're supposed to subsidize another family's decision to put their kids in day care? Obviously, more people in the work force is good for businesses but how is it good for families? Yet I don't see any Republicans protesting or trying to secure a comparable incentive for those of us who make do without putting the kids in daycare - and who probably have a greater economic need than many of the people whose tax credit we're subsidizing.
Anywho, as you might expect, I could go on and on and on about all this. However, I have children and a dirty bathroom which need attending to. Just thought you ought to know that they're talking about people like my family and maybe yours as well.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Kids serving the needs of the schools

While I know that there are individual teachers, and perhaps even administrators in the school systems who care deeply about the needs of the students they teach, I think it's pretty safe to say that the bureaucracy as a whole expect our children to fit their needs rather than the other way around. The examples are legion, but here's one more: high school kids eating lunch at 10:30 am or earlier. Researchers think this may *gasp in shock* lead to the formation of bad eating habits. Ya think? Of course everyone knows that making a kids eat lunch as much as 8 hours before they can expect to be fed dinner is a bad idea - but hey, schools are crowded, schedules are tight and heck, what are we suppose to do - turn ourselves inside out just so we can act in the best interest of the students? Yeesh!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Problem with comment button

For some reason, the comment button seems to be disappearing on a regular basis from my blog. I have contacted the code masters at blogspot for help with this, but haven't heard back from them yet. However, it appears that if you click on the comments link [ie 0 comments], there is a section where you can leave a comment. If you can't get this to work and want to respond to something I post here, go ahead and e-mail me at If it's something that would be interesting to others or which I want to respond to, I'll go ahead and put it up in a post.
Thanks for reading along, y'all!

College funding hope in Colorado

While I thought that there was virtually no hope that government would ever look at funding college through vouchers rather than handing unearned money directly to the schools (see very long post below), it turns out that they are experimenting with doing just that in Colorado. I wonder if there's something different in the water out in Colorado which occasionally allows for clear thought on the part of politicians there. If we could find out what it was, I wonder if we could sneak some into the drinking fountains around the capital in DC.
Hat tip to John J. Miller on The Corner at the National Review Online.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

College, funding and accountability

Spunky Homeschool has a post up this morning about the education department's efforts to get involved in setting standards by which colleges can be evaluated in order to make them more effective. She's not a fan of testing, but I do agree that colleges need to have transparent measures of success that people can see what they can expect to get for their time and money. I'm thinking statistics like percentage of students attending who graduate, average time it takes to graduate, employment statistics and income for graduates for different programs, number of students needing remedial classes and such.
However, I think that the much larger issue is accessibility to a college education. This is a problem which starts in grade school and high school. Our education system is so disfunctional that a person can spend 13 years getting an education and be qualified to work for McDonalds. And we wonder why in some areas the drop out rate is so high. Somehow I doubt "spend 13 years locked in a classroom and you to can get a job flipping burgers!" is a real compelling message for many kids. Even if the kids do manage to get through school and cobble together funding to get to college, many of them find that after all the time they put into their education they aren't even prepared to do 100 level college work and must waste time and money re-learning things they should have mastered in high school. And then, even if they're able to make it through that rigmarole, odds are excellent that they will be unable to maintain the funding needed to pay for college and will drop out anyhow - probably with a bunch of student loans in tow. What a system!
Of course, these days a college degree is a prerequisite to success. However, despite no real increase in people's ability to fund a college education, more and more of the costs of obtaining one are being passed to students. But even this isn't being done in a way which leads to greater accountability for colleges and more careful actions by students. Most students today are funding a large portion of their education with student loans. I don't care what financial people say about them, student loans are horrible, evil things and I would rather see my children take 10 years to get a degree than take out a single dollar of student loans. It is so hard to get started in this world today - you must have a degree, you cannot possibly get a job paying enough to pay for one without a degree, housing costs take up twice as much disposable income for young people today as they did for their parents, many places won't even rent to you if you're under 23 without a co-signer, starting salaries have barely budged in the last 10 years while inflation has gone up almost 30% (it takes 30% longer for a young person today to buy what they need than it did 10 years ago) and on and on. Add on 20K in student loan debts and you see people putting off getting married, having children or even choosing to put the child in day care once it's born in large part because a young couple can easily start life with a combined 40K in student loan debt! I'm a bit of a crybaby on this issue, but I view it as one of the failures of the last 20-30 years that our society has made it so hard for young people to make good choices like getting a good education, starting a family and caring for one's own children. I once heard it said that it is not the government's job to force people to be good, but that it should work to create an environment where it is easy to choose to be good. Personally, I think that at both a societal and governmental level we have utter and completely failed to accomplish this simple goal.
What makes all this so bad is that not only are we not making college accessible, despite having made it essential, but none of this has resulted in more efficiency or accountability in college education. Most young people aren't actually paying for their educations. Heck, college is so expensive that it's not even realistic that they could. Mom and Dad chip in a bit, maybe they get some grants or some scholarship money and they take out student loans. Student loans are free money to someone 18-21. Let's face it, the ages 18-21 aren't exactly known for being years of wisdom, temperance and self-denial. Somewhere in their minds they know they have to pay the money back, but when you're 18 and have never had to take care of one's self financially, paying off such a large amount of money simple cannot be comprehended. And besides, financial people always say that student loans are "good debt". So they spend loan money with even less regard than they would show to their parent's money and colleges are still insulated from market effects.
All this has been a very long lead-up to a column I wanted to share which I think has a very good alternative to funding college which should make colleges more accessible, more affordable and more accountable. The basic idea is that rather than funding colleges directly, all money from government would go directly to students to spend as they see fit. In this way students will actually have an incentive to shop around since it is entirely feasible that they could pay for their entire education with their voucher money. (As it is, they know they can't pay for college, so many don't even try which is part of what makes student loans so insidious - there's often no real alternative.) If they know the government money will run out in four years, they are far more likely to buckle down and get the job done. Colleges, since they would no longer be propped up by easy, un-earned government money, would actively have to compete in ways they don't today, both in terms of cost and quality. And they'd have a much harder time justifying some of the more egregious excesses colleges sometimes engage in. If you could actually get students to think in terms of "this is going to push tuition past what my voucher will cover" rather than "wow - cool" that would be a great accomplishment.
Anyhow, this probably isn't one of my better written posts. This is a subject that bugs me. If you made it through the whole think - thanks. Now go write your congress person or something!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Scientists disproving ID by unlocking cell secrets

In the "coulda seen that one coming" dept. there's a report in the Chicago Tribune today about how scientists are unraveling the secrets of the sorts of complex cell designs "intelligent Design" proponents often point to as evidence for their theory. The insistence of IDer's that some cells are just too complex to have come about through natural processes has always reminded me of the false, but funny story of the guy at the patent office who wanted to close shop in the mid 1800's because there was nothing more to invent. Just as the man in the story was doomed by his short-sightedness to be proven wrong by the next invention to come along, IDer's are doomed to be disproven by scientific discoveries. It's just never a good idea to base an idea on what we don't know rather than on what we do know.
I've never understood the supposed conflict between religion and evolution myself. I always want to know how God was supposed to explain the big bang and evolution to people who had no concept of DNA, germs, atoms and just barely understood how babies were made. Personally, I think he would say, "In the beginning . . ."
To get an idea of how totally ginned-up this "conflict" is, check out this column entitled "The War That Wasn't" which appeared in the Washington Post awhile back. It's just a shame that so many well-meaning Christians have bought into an idea which really just discredits our faith rather than strengthening it. What's really sad is that while I am certain that most people who are creationists are honest in their beliefs, the breath-taking dishonesty of those who produce "creation science" materials reveals them to be liars who are getting rich on this phony conflict. Given the poor state of science education in this country and the number of new discoveries made since most of us left school, it's very easy for them to present things which they know to be demonstrably false to people as facts without being challenged. Like I said, very sad.
Thankfully, most Christian colleges are honest enough to teach reality so there's hope for us all yet.
Ok, I have to make dinner now. I hate making dinner. One day, I'd like to be rich enough to eat out all the time or hire a cook or something. These kids just expect to be fed entirely too often :P

Websites about money management for kids

February's issue of Black Enterprise Magazine has a great list of websites about helping kids learn financial management that I thought I'd share: This Website offers business opportunities to parents and their children who are highly motivated and interested in learning about entrepreneurship. This Website helps young people across the country start youth-led organizations that achieve a lasting benefit for their schools and communities. This Website offers insightful information that introduces young people to the concept of investing. This website contains a wealth of knowledge to help parents teach their kids about money and investing. Helping our children take control of their financial future, this Website offers the basics in banking and credit unions, checking and savings accounts, insurance, credit and investments. This site's direct objective is to encourage curriculum enrichment to ensure that basic personal financial management skills are attained during grades K-12. This organization provides materials and programs to help schools across the country meet state academic standards in economics, personal finance, and social studies. This is a free online resource that helps kids in grades K-12 discover, explore and gain experience in the world of business. Junior achievement uses hands-on experiences to help young people understand the economics of life.
Source: Black Enterprise Magazine, February 2006.

BTW Black Enterprise Magazine is a WONDERFUL magazine which is directed towards African Americans but which does such a wonderful job of covering practical financial issues that I highly recommend it to anyone regardless of their race. I find it is especially helpful for anyone who may not have been taught how to build a solid financial foundation while growing up. It covers topics from very basic budgeting, use of credit, etc to starting a business, investing and estate planning. Not getting paid (wish I was), just wanted to pass it on!

"Mostly I just get to play a lot"

Recently my grandfather passed away and we went down to Chicago for the wake and funeral and such. My mother reported to me that at the wake one of my uncles asked my six year old, Collin, what grade he was in. Collin promptly replied, "I'm in first grade, but I don't go to school. I homeschool."
"Oh you do!"
"Yeah, but most days we don't homeschool either."
My surprised uncle asked, "Well, what do you do?"
"Mostly I just get to play a lot."
Apparently my uncle didn't know how to respond to this. I'm sure my mother was wondering what in the blazes is going on in our house as well. The truth is that we sit down for what Collin would think of as "school work" pretty intermittently. It's happening more often as my 10 year old is getting older and approaching the age where he really needs to start creating output rather than just soaking everything up. However, while Collin seems to think he spends all his time playing (when Mom isn't making them perform slave labor), that hardly means he isn't being educated. Just that night on the hour car ride home from the wake we had a long conversation about what would happen if everything was free or only cost a dollar and the barter systems which existed before money. Then Collin asked why we couldn't feel the earth spinning around which lead to a long explanation of motion, acceleration, Newton's laws, force and the fluid in our inner ear which allows us to detect movement. How many 6 year olds get real lessons in macro-economics, physics and physiology in a typical day? Add in the poem he wrote for my sister on the way to the wake, the math we used to figure out time, speed, change and figuring out whether he had enough allowance money to afford the two toys he wanted and I think he probably had more learning in one day than most kids get in a week of school. Of course, if you asked him he would have told you that we didn't do school that day.
I know people who do "school at home" homeschooling and that's cool. However, after 3 years I've come to realize that it just doesn't work for us. I actually think that the times I have forced my oldest to sit down and follow my lesson plans have often been counter-productive and reduced his desire to explore things on his own. Not that there aren't times when my kids don't need to buckle down and get something specific done. I just don't see it as our primary means of educating. But it's hard. We've been so indoctrinated to think of school work and learning as synonymous that it's easy to think we're not doing enough. Then again, as anyone who homeschools knows, the education we're providing our kids is so much more than the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Our kids are learning character, how to run homes, critical thinking skills, how to get along with people of all different ages, start businesses, plan their day, take responsibility for themselves and so much more.
I once read a complaint about homeschooling from a principle in a state where parents were required to keep a log of their educational activities and turn it over to the school district. He said, "I'll get logs that say things like 'pet cat died. Buried it in the back yard with a little ceremony. Went inside and had lunch'. And there's nothing I can do about it! It's ridiculous!" I'm sure that this same principle wouldn't bat an eye if a teacher wanted have a little ceremony and talk a bit about death with his/her students when a classroom pet dies. He could probably even see the educational value of it. Yet when a homeschool family does the same thing, "it's ridiculous!" Apparently if it happends in the classroom it's educational, but if it happens in our homes, it doesn't count.
It just goes to show that people who oppose homeschooling because they think it's limiting for the kids just don't get it. My kids live in the real world, not a cinder block room in a school where they have to ask permission to empty their bowels.
I'm sure what we do isn't for everyone, but I'm sure glad it's for us!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Beware the dangers of French Kissing!

A study in Great Britain finds that teens who engaged in french kissing with multiple partners increased their risk of contracting spinal meningitis almost 4 fold.
This reminds me of a very funny story a friend of mine from college once told. When my friend was a freshman in college and his brother was a senior in high school, their dad decided it was time for "the talk". So he sat them down and handed out helpful advise like "if you keep one hand in your pants pocket at all times you can't get in too much trouble". Somewhere along the line he decided that what his sons really needed to know about were the great evils of french kissing. It was unsanitary, revved up the lust engines, gross and on and on. "The talk" mercifully ended when mom called them down to dinner.
Noticing how quiet everyone was at the dinner table their mother said, "Is everything alright? I hope you weren't too hard on them, honey."
"Oh, no. We just needed to have a little talk."
My friend's brother piped up, "Yeah, dad went on and on about french kissing."
To which his mother enthusiastically said, "Oh - your father is the best french kisser!"
Their dad tried to cut her off, but she took his discomfort to be embarrassment, "Oh no, honey you are. Remember when we were dating and we'd park the car and just french kiss for hours. You're still the best french kisser I've ever known."
At which point the boys were practically spewing milk out of their noses trying not to laugh and their dad excused himself from the table.
I thought it was pretty funny, but then again, maybe the guy had a point :P

Hat tip to William Saletan's Human Nature blog on

A childcare guru in Britain comes to his senses

Perhaps some tides are changing. This article about a childcare guru in Great Britain changing his mind in favor of keeping young children in their parent's care is nice to see. Apparently the fact that babies need loving interaction with the same people who will see them through adulthood and the aggressiveness and behavior problems of those children deprived of such care finally got to him. Good for him!
BTW,Why is it that helping to get both parents into the workforce by relieving them of some of the burden of providing care for their children is seen as a perfectly reasonable thing for government to do? Yet doing anything to make it easier for a parent to stay home with the kids (tax credit for stay at home parents or encouraging more flexible work options that would allow parents to be home while still maintaining employment) are seen as not worth pursuing?
Hat tip to Iain Murray at The Corner on the National Review Online

Saturday, February 11, 2006

A prayer and (I hope) an answer for our world

The other day I was driving and thinking about how upside down our world seems to me. It's been said to the point of being cliche and meaningless words, but when even the idea of the desirability of family, marriage and faith is seen as questionable it's hard to see how this can be a good thing for us and our children. Even those who are making a living in politics, advocacy and such claiming to stand for "family values" wouldn't seriously consider radically changing the way things are done for the sake of our families if it meant upturning apple carts they're making money off of.
I asked God there in my car, "what do we do? I know you're in charge and have plan, but how do we change anything?"* The answer which came instantly to my mind is the one our family's been trying to live for some time and I do believe it is the hope we have: "turn away and inward". By this I mean simply refuse to take part in the culture and world around us and focus on the world you do influence: your spouse, children and close friends. Invest in them and leave the rest behind.
My friends have heard me talk about my bubble theory before; we're making a bubble for ourselves. We can see what's going on around us, but refuse to let most of it in. In turn we're teaching our children to do the same for themselves and their future families. Perhaps one day, enough people will be making their own bubbles that these safe places of family and life can connect and crowd out the darkness which seems to be taking over around us.
Of course, just quietly living quality lives and building functional families isn't quite as exciting as giving "wrong thinking people" (as my friend Kim likes to call them) the what-for. I am convinced, however, that it's the only way we'll really make a difference. How's your bubble going?

*Yes, I talk to God in my car. As a matter of fact, I take anxiety and worry as a sign to pray: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 And yes, I am a bible quoter - it's just the vocabulary I have for explaining what I think are universal truths. I don't mean to put anyone off by it.

To begin . . .

It will probably be a while before anyone actually reads this, but I suppose one must start somewhere. My reasons for starting this blog are several.
First, I just wanted someplace to dump things running through my brain. Like when a 6 year old little boy is pointlessly accused of sexual harassment, I can dump it here rather than wracking my brain to think of who I know who would want to listen to me pontificate over it for 10 minutes.
Secondly, sometimes I have ideas or experiences which I, in my very humble way, think might be worth sharing with other people. Like some of the very interesting conversations I have with my 6 year old about God. Or what I think is the only thing one can do in the face of this upside down world we are living in.
Finally, I am beginning work on what I hope will be a book about how to talk with and influence your children's thinking about sex and sexuality from preschool through adulthood. I am hoping that as I get this blog going, I might be able to receive feedback or address questions which other parents may have that I might not have thought about.
If you have somehow found this little corner of the blogosphere, I hope you'll return - even if you don't agree with everything I have to say. Hopefully this won't turn into something like the addiction I had for a while to message boards! I'd hate to see my children resort to scrounging for sustenance from under the fridge again :P Mostly I hope that this can be a productive space for me, someplace where you can find a different way of seeing things and where you can help me see things I might not see otherwise as well.

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