The Upside Down World

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Since that last picture only took about 5 minutes to load . . .

I'll share this sweet photo of little Sophia. Don't ya just want to eat her up? :)

And no, I don't ever put clothing on my children - we just let them run around naked like monkeys. It's part of our homeschooling cult religion, you know! ;p J/K

One more for "momhood" . . .

You're glad you know how to type because your toddler pried off half the keys on the laptop keyboard and you're typing by touch on rubber nubs until the new keypad gets in. I love you, Michaela Rose!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Education and conservatives

If you are a conservative interested in education, you need to read this excellent column by Neal McClusky on conservatives embrace of big government education muddling on National Review Online. Mr McClusky starts of with this:
For decades, conservatives stood against big-government intrusions into American education. They defended local control of schooling, championed parental choice, and pushed to abolish the federal Department of Education. But then, tragedy struck: Republicans took power in Washington, and conservatives suddenly learned to love big government. Indeed, some are now so enamored of it that they are proposing what was once unthinkable: having the federal government set curricular standards for every public school in America.
As you may be aware, over the weekend former secretaries of education Bill Bennet and Rod Paige had a column in the Washington Post advocating for the creation of a national test for education. Because the solution to something government meddling has already badly screwed up is . . . even more government meddling.
This flies in the face of what we have learned from the few government programs which have had some success in reform; states, when given the freedom are excellent incubators and laboratories for innovative approaches to entrenched problems. Welfare reform and Medicare reform are two excellent examples. I am also willing to bet that in 20 years we will be looking at state experiments like what is going on in Minnesota and Massachusetts as the beginning of healthcare reform.
The idea that education can be improved by giving more power and influence to Washington politicians is laughable. In fact, I would argue that the growing influence and involvement of national politics in the education issue have served to thwart any meaningful movement in improving education. There are, in my opinion, 3 things which need to happen in order for meaningful education reform to happen: teachers must be treated as professionals and have control over the conduct and content of their teaching, parents must be free to make educational choices for their children including enrolling their children in their schools of choice and the influence of large national teacher's unions must be diminished. The nationalization of education works against all 3 of these changes. More and more teachers are being treated like trained monkeys who are expected to jump and hop according to what bureaucrats demand rather than using their brains, experience and skills to meet their student's needs. A national agenda for education makes it very easy for powerful, out of touch national education unions to influence any education reforms which are enacted (one big target is much easier to handle than tens of thousands of smaller, local targets which are less likely to be influenced by lobbying efforts). In contrast, parents find it very difficult to get the attention of national politicians as opposed to local school board members and administrators who might be willing to respond to their concerns (if their hands weren't actively being tied by national politicians and teacher's unions). Not to mention that as long as the national teachers union has a strong influence in the political arena, parent's are unlikely to be given much leeway in determining where their children will attend school.
Although nationalized testing and curriculum are taking on an air of inevitability, we must resist the temptation to short-cut our way into further disaster by giving the federal government even more say over what goes on in the classroom. As Mr. McClusky points out in his NRO piece:
no matter how much conservatives wish it weren't so, decades of monopolistic public schooling have proven that government will never provide desirable standards. Indeed, the numerous inherent problems of government are among the many reasons that the framers of the Constitution gave Washington no authority over education. . . As Congress moves inexorably closer to next year's scheduled reauthorization of NCLB, conservatives must reject calls for federal standards and tests, and remember the principles that they once held dear. Politically compromised, big-government policies will simply never provide the education our children need and deserve. Only pulling government out of education, and empowering parents and families with school choice, will do that.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Why we're losing the cultural war

I just read an essay in The American Conservative by Claes G. Ryn which I found rather insightful:
Modern American conservatism has been enthralled by politics. It should be obvious to all by now that this has been a debilitating preoccupation. Society's long-term direction is not set mainly by politicians. It is set by those who capture a people's mind and imagination. Conservative politicians and policy wonks have failed to reverse any of the main deleterious social trends of the last half-century not because they have lacked financial resources but because efforts like theirs have limited efficacy in the first place. . . To recover, American conservatism would have to reorder its priorities and most especially put politics in its place. America's crisis is at bottom moral-spiritual and cultural. . . The problem, simply put, was lack of sophistication - an inability to understand what most deeply shapes the outlook and conduct of human beings. Persons move according to their innermost beliefs, hopes, and fears. These are affected much less by politicians than by philosophers, novelists, religious visionaries, movie makers, playwrights, composers, painters, and the like, though truly great works of this kind reach most minds and imaginations only in diminished, popular form.
Yet the conservative movement did not direct its main efforts toward a revitalization of the mind, imagination, and moral-spiritual life.

This brings to mind a recent discussion I saw which pointed out that the most politically conservative parts of the country have the greatest problems with divorce, out of wedlock birth, crime and other modern social ills. If conservative politics was reallpanaceancea for what ails our country, wouldn't that be just the opposite? I think Mr. Ryn is correct in his assessment of the problem. We have been looking for shortcuts - elect the right person, enact the right laws, structure the social programs correctly and then we can recover from the mess liberals have created. In the meantime, traditional minded people have lost the culture wars. We've made some progress in recent years in reducing teen pregnancies and abortions, but overall we're losing the war. I don't think many of us even expect to have a shot at reversing the trend anymore. Our entertainment becomes crasser and more obscene all the time, yet it keeps making money. Who's buying this stuff? I doubt that it's only (or even mainly) liberals. I also doubt that liberals are the primary ones getting abortions, std's or having babies before getting married. We've been looking to politics to solve our problems for too long. While those on the left spent their time crafting ideas and promoting them vigorously in media, education and the arts, we've given the world Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.
I have thought for a long time that the only thing a traditional minded person can do in today's world is withdraw, regroup and set about getting their own little world in order. Whatever change is going to happen is going to come from the bottom up. Then again, as Mr. Ryn says, it is the "philosophers, novelists, religious visionaries, movie makers, playwrights, composers, painters" who change hearts and minds. What can we do to become those who inspire people to change? How do we take on this task? Ideas?

Monday, September 18, 2006

You know you've achieved full "Momhood" when . . .

- You go to the bathroom while holding a baby (bonus points if you were breastfeeding at the time).

- You find yourself saying odd combinations of words like "don't lick yogurt off the window".

- It occurs to you that if you kick your oldest child really, really hard you could have everyone in the house crying at the same time.

- You yell at the kids for not being dressed even though it's 1 in the afternoon and you're still in your bathrobe.

- Your toddler follows you into the bathroom and helpfully tries to wipe your bottom.

- You allow your child to draw all over themselves with marker simply so they will stay occupied long enough for you to finish making their lunch.

- You share a couple of cookies with the kids just so when your husband gets home and finds the empty package you can say, "well, the kids ate some too."

- You give your children cookies with their breakfast so that you won't eat them all yourself.

- You can carry on a 10 minute conversation with your child about Pokemon without him catching on to the fact that you haven't heard a word he said. (Trick: repeat the last 2 words of every second or third sentence and it seems like you're actually listening - my husband's been doing it to me for years.)

- When your 2 year old proudly says the f-word you encouragingly respond: "that's right, Sweetheart - truck!"

- You see your toddler tearing up an artificial flower arrangement and figure, "it can be re-assembled" so you don't bother stopping him.

- You insist on being the one to get the mail because you need your daily exercise.

- You plan all of your trips out of the house to minimize the number of times a child will have to be removed from a car seat.

- You know that trip planning has nothing to do with buying plane tickets and everything to do with grocery shopping.

- Your version of a cost-benefit analysis involves weighing whether cutting out a round of getting kids in and out of car seats is worth paying 50% more for diapers at the grocery store.

- You respond to a kid's "why?" with "because I'm mean and I don't like you very much."

- You know that one day your child will tell his own child, "because I'm mean and I don't like you very much" after being asked "why?" for the 5th time.

- You think other people are jealously admiring you and your attractive, smart, fun kids when really they're just watching you so they can go home and start a conversation with, "I saw this poor woman while I was out today . . ."

- Even when all of your kids are crying at once - except for the oldest who wandered off to look at Pokemon cards and is now having you paged over the store intercom system because he didn't see you when he looked up to ask if you'd buy him a pack of cards, you never think of yourself as "this poor woman". You're too busy enjoying your attractive, smart, fun kids.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Talking with our kids about 9/11

Ack! It's been a while since I posted, but we've been very busy and I just haven't had time. I still don't really have time, but since today is the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I thought I'd share a conversation I had over the weekend with my 7 year old about the attacks on the World Trade Center. We were watching something on TV about the attacks. Afterwards Collin asked several times why the terrorists had done it. How do you explain to a 7 year old why people would deliberately kill themselves and so many others for no real discernible purpose? I'm not sure how much he understood, but here's what I told him:

There are things which are right and wrong. Sometimes there are things which are so wrong we make laws against them like killing someone else. Sometimes there are things which are wrong, but which are choices people must make for themselves - like watching trash on TV. There are some people who think that no one should be allowed to make choices which they think are wrong. Here in America we believe that people should do the right things, but that they must be free to make their own choices even if that means that they will choose to do the wrong things. Here in America, you can do whatever you want even if it's a crazy thing to do because we believe that each person must make their own choices. This is even how God works - he wants us to do good things, but he allows us to choose to do the wrong things. The people who attacked the WTC aren't like that. They want to force everyone to dress, act, speak, think and live only in the ways they think are right. They hate that we don't do that. They hate that whenever people around the world see how much freedom we have to decide how to live, they want that same freedom for themselves. They don't think anyone should be able to do that. That is why they hate us and would like to see us become less powerful. They would like it if instead of seeing our freedom and wanting it for themselves, other people around the world would start hating us just like they hate us.
So they attacked us to show the world how strong they were and how weak America is. They hope that we won't stand up for ourselves and will try to do things to make them happy. They want to make the rest of the world think we are the bad guys if we don't do what they want us to do. They say, "see? People are being hurt because America won't just do what we want. It is because America is allowing people to be hurt like this that we must keep fighting against them" - even though they are the ones who are causing all the problems. But the fact of the matter is that even if we do things to try to make them happy, they will keep trying to attack us because what they really want is to be the ones in charge, deciding what choices people get to make about their lives. If one person fights and the other person just runs away, it is the one who is fighting who will win. So they think if they just keep fighting and get other people to hate us, we will give up and then they will win. Then people will have to live how they want them to live.
The other thing which is different about America and the people who attacked us is that we value individual people. These people killed themselves because to them individual people don't matter as much as gaining power to control others does. They will even kill their own people because they think that no person matters as much as what they are trying to accomplish. We believe that each person is very valuable and precious. We would never say, "there's this really good thing we want to get done and you are not as important as that thing, so we'll kill you if we think it will help us reach our goal." Americans are the sort of people who say, "even my own life is worth giving up to protect another person. There is nothing more important than any individual person's life."
[As an example I told him the story of flight 93 and how the passengers fought back to stop the terrorists because they would rather die than allow the terrorists to kill more people.]
The terrorists kill themselves in order to hurt other people. Americans will allow themselves to be killed in order to keep other people from being hurt. It's hard to fight people who don't care about hurting other people. We see them hurting other people and want it to stop. Since we don't want other people to be hurt, it's hard for us to fight back because when we do people will be hurt. However, we cannot afford not to stand up for ourselves and the other people these terrorists would like to have power over. Because even if they got what they wanted and were able to force people to do what they think is right, they wouldn't stop hurting people - they don't think people are important and don't feel bad at all about hurting other people. There will always be some reason in their mind why it's OK to kill even people who are doing nothing wrong. We hate it that people get hurt when we fight back, but at least at the end when we win people will be safe. Once the fighting is done, we will die in order to keep people safe, because people are precious. Unlike the terrorists we do not think we have the right to take away a person's life or their freedom to choose how to live.
That's why we can be proud of being Americans. We aren't perfect and too many people in America do use their freedom to choose to do things which are stupid or wrong. I wish more people made better choices about how to live, but that doesn't mean I think I should be able to do something even God doesn't do and take away their freedom.

I happen to think that this administration has made and continues to make terrible errors in trying to fight the ideology of Islamic fascism, so I'm not saying these things as a way of defending a particular course of action. However, our kids may well be fighting this battle when they are adults and I think it's important for them to know that as much as America gets wrong, there are some very important things we get right. If we won't stand up and defend those things, we will lose. It's just that simple. If there's anything in here which you find useful, please share it with your own kids and pass it around.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Right now on the kitchen counter next to me is a small, smashed, sun-dried snake that my 11 year old found. What is wrong with boys? Yeesh!

Friday, September 01, 2006

5 year old boys and "A Well Trained Mind"

Earlier today I was reading the very good "Crunch Cons" blog over at beliefnet and the author, Rod Dreher was responding to a reader question about preparing to homeschool his daughter in a few years (the child in question was under 1 year). Mr. Dreher responded first by explaining that he and his wife were no longer homeschooling their son who is now six. Then he offered his wife's advice on what to do if you're planning on homeschooling. Now, before I get myself in trouble, I just want to say that I do not want to claim that I know what is best for the Dreher family or that they have made an error by putting their son in school. I am not privy to their lives and am willing to accept that this was the very best decision for them and their son. However, there were two red flags which I wanted to address, not in order to critique this family's actions, but because they remind me of problems I have seen played out in other families and a general error in our thinking about kids and education which is pretty prevalent. So, I am writing this not to address the Dreher's specific situation, but in order to make a couple of more generalized points.
The two red flags I saw were these: By way of brief (and I'm sure in no way complete) explanation Mr. Dreher says of putting his son in a private school: "we'd had so much trouble getting him to focus on his work at home". Further down in her recommendations, his wife says "If you really want to read something I'd take a look at Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer's books, which I found inspiring (and depressing because they made me more aware of the massive holes in my own education). She outlines a kindergarten curriculum that involves about 15 minutes of actual study per day."
(For those of you who don't know, Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer are authors of A Well Trained Mind which is a guide to using a classical approach to education at home.)
Here's the problem: a 5 year old who refuses to focus or co-operate with attempts to educate him/her is a perfectly normal child who will probably do very well with homeschooling. Too often we view a young kid who is not co-operative with learning as a sign that homeschooling isn't working. I think nothing is further from the truth and know many kids (including my younger son) who did pretty much nothing for kindergarten (or longer) yet did just fine as they got older. The idea that a 5 year old should be doing anything more rigorous than singing silly songs, reciting the alphabet and learning to count to 100 is actually pretty recent and often developmentally inappropriate. If a young child simply refuses to cooperate or focus, more than anything I think that means wither they aren't ready or the approach being used doesn't work for him/her. Yet I have known several families who have abandoned homeschooling after just a year or two because they thought the fact that their kid wasn't cooperating with attempts to educate him/her showed that they weren't cut out for homeschooling.
I think part of the problem is that while we may see that socially schools are unhealthy places for our kids and that the results are mediocre, we often accept the way and rate at which they do things as correct. We assume that homeschooling's magic isn't in using a completely different approach to learning and education but in the fact that we teach our kids one-on-one. So, we worry if our 5 year old won't sit still while we read a book or that our 6 year old won't work on phonetic lessons because everyone knows that this is how children learn to read. And heaven forbid if our 4th grader doesn't have their times tables down cold. However, none of these practices or time tables are based on any actual evidence that they are the "right" approach. It's probably the main reason schools don't work for so many kids - they insist on doing everything on some predetermined schedule in some predetermined way without regard to where the child is developmentally. Some 5 year olds will sit quietly while being read to, others will be practicing their cartwheels and not listen to a word you say. Allowed to learn on their own schedules, both will probably be independent readers by about age 8. Forced to work on someone else's time schedule one of them will probably struggle with reading disorders created by being forced to do something they weren't developmentally ready to do.
Which brings me to Jesse Wise and Susan Bauer Wise's books. Now, don't get me wrong. The Well Trained Mind is a great book in a lot of ways and the classical approach to education definitely has many appealing aspects to it. I actually use some of their ideas with my 11 year old. However, it is a very structured approach and I have never seen it work with a kid under the age of 9 or 10. I have, however, seen families become overwhemed, frustrated and demoralized trying to do it with their younger kids. What the Wise's do not say is that although their approach is in many ways very traditional, it is an approach which in the past did not start until age 8, 9 or later. Their book takes an approach meant for older kids, reduxes it and attempts to apply it to younger kids without regard to their developmental needs and abilities aside from using less time. Not only that, but at the younger ages, they rely heavily on usborne books, which in my experience, are too simplistic and only mildly engaging. I have never gotten one that my kids did anything other than glance at briefly. I can see how any parent who is uncomfortable not having much or any structure for their young child and then tries to use methods like the ones outline in the Wise's books will not succeed.
Which brings me back to why I wanted to post on this here, despite running the risk that it would look like I was trying to judge the Dreher family's particular situation: we have been so indoctrinated by many generations of institutionalized schooling that it takes an enormous amount of self-confidence and self-assurance to stand your ground when it's your kid who isn't fitting into the accepted framework. Even more so when everyone around you responds to every challenge you face by offering the structure of school as the solution. I want to challenge people to think differently about how we educate our kids (especially young boys) and offer re-assurance to those who are struggling to stand against the current. The magic of homeschooling is so much more than just one-on-one instruction or even a more demanding curriculum. The magic of homeschooling is really in freeing ourselves and our kids to learn in an entirely different way. I would go so far as to say that when we educate our kids according to their particular temperament and developmental readiness, even when it means letting a young child do little or no structured work, we are coming as close as we are able to helping them learn the way God designed them to learn. And despite what Sec. of Education Spellings might have us believe, God doesn't seem to intend for 5 year old boys to learn by sitting down and focusing on the work adults give them all that often.

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