Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Homeschool Hike: Grand Canyon Edition

The Grand Canyon looms large on many a bucket-list. We’ve scratched it off now, but felt like we almost kicked the bucket while doing it!

The Grand Canyon
As a family, we like to travel and our flexible homeschool schedule (and a generous mother-in-law) has helped us take many adventures. We have stood atop the Great Wall in China, climbed the gazillion stairs at St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican, and dipped our toes in Israel’s Jordan River. Each trip has had its challenges -- new types of adventures or language barriers -- but I knew right up-front that this newest one was going to be perhaps the most difficult of all. My husband the Eagle Scout spewed optimism; I had my doubts.

Our homeschool journey started pretty much the same way. My husband heard about it, thought it was a great idea, and never wavered. I read The How and Why of Homeschooling by Ray E. Ballmann, whole-heartedly agreeing with the “why” but overwhelmed by the “how.” I resisted. But, at Holly’s private-school kindergarten interview, God stabbed me in the heart with His plan and I gave in.

We left the Grand Canyon decision to the National Park system. I had read that 30,000 people apply annually for the mandatory back-country camping permit and only one-third gets in. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t get in. But, the park called my bluff, giving us an immediate acceptance. We went into over-drive trying to figure out all we needed to do to get ready in a short amount of time. A lot hinged on weather conditions which were surprisingly unpredictable. Before this, I always thought “desert” would be easy -- dry and hot. I learned a life lesson. I made sure the kids had both snow pants and swimsuits; we purchased hiking sticks and searched for the lightest tent, a lantern, and butane stoves. My husband researched and we came up with our itinerary. We flew out the last week of April.

Once we decided to homeschool, I did a lot of research. My daughter was attending kindergarten while I read The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling by Debra Bell and Homeschooling: A Patchwork of Days by Nancy Lande. Knowing how my daughter was enjoying school, we started on a public relations drive as well. We pulled Holly out at Christmas time and, thankfully, the school gave us all her leftover A Beka curriculum which turned out to be the perfect starting point for us.

Overview of Bright Angel Trail
The starting point for our Grand Canyon hike was a day at the South Rim trail on the bus loop. We didn’t know if it would snow that day, but we had prepared just in case. As the sun cleared the sky a bit, we were able to look down on the path we would be taking, noting how steep it would be and locating what seemed like a tiny oasis of trees that would be our camping spot. Our plan was to hike five miles down, camp at Indian Gardens, hike another ten miles to Phantom Ranch and back, camp again at Indian Garden, and then, on the third day, hike the last five miles out. Getting that overview was a great idea. We gained some confidence laced with a healthy dose of fear.

Reading books had given me some insight into the path ahead for homeschooling, but even better was talking with other moms who had gone down this road already. I am thankful even for those moms who were only a few steps ahead who gave great advice like:

Unexpectedly Heavy Snow at the Top
Wear your PJs, have fun, and take breaks when you want.
Do a lot of read-alouds.
Don’t try to do public school at home; treat homeschooling more like a tutoring situation.
Make your own decisions about what is important to teach.
Academics are less important than teaching God’s principles and showing love.
Do what is right for your family.

But, some parts of the path were hidden. We didn’t know our son, Elijah, would get in a Dyslexia Rut for a while and take longer to get back on track. We didn’t know the truth that not all curricula works for all kids; some work better than others and some would be better jettisoned over the side. Fear and worry are heavy like the tent and poles; we must get rid of them and keep marching.

Taking a load off at the Resthouse
Trust me, once we started hiking Bright Angel Trail, I would have loved to have thrown my backpack into the grand Grand Canyon and listen to it thud at the bottom! But, since that is probably a federal offense, we were obliged to carry them all the way down and all the way back out. They were so heavy! On the way down, they were somewhat troublesome, but gravity and the encouraging words of other hikers helped pull us along. A five mile walk in flatlander Florida would have been a hot and sweaty 2½ hours without any problems. We know because we trained that way. But, in Arizona, with almost a mile change in elevation, my legs got wobbly and I was glad for each stop. Rest-houses are available at the 1½ and 3 mile markers. No water was available at this time of year, but decent toilets and a shady spot to eat were very welcome. The wind blew our sweaty shirts dry in no time.

There are rest stops in homeschooling too. Usually, each summer we stop and re-evaluate and then again over the winter break. Our support group and our state convention give us refreshment and encouragement. We think and we pray. Are we going to continue? What are our options? Why are we doing this in the first place? We are called back and calmed by the words of Jesus:
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
Setting up camp at Indian Gardens
As we strode into our campground, there was some relief knowing the walk was over for a bit. But, there was fear too. The first day was five miles, the next would be ten. I have to be honest, I had to make a hard decision. I decided not to do the second day’s hike. I stayed in camp while my husband and kids continued on. In one way, it felt like a failure. But, in another, I knew great peace that I had made the right decision. I needed to be at my best for the final hike out. As the park puts it: “Hiking in is optional, hiking out is mandatory.”

How can I relate that to homeschooling? Well, over the years, we’ve had to make lots of decisions. We’ve decided to stay in and not bail out, decided on starting or stopping curriculum, decided to listen to nay-sayers – or not. Our methods for teaching have changed. When my son wanted to study physics, I decided to “stay in camp” and my husband took him down that particular path – a path I had no desire to go down. Other times, we have relied on co-ops, or intensives, or self-study to keep the kids on track without dragging us parents down.

On the trail to Phantom Ranch -
at the bottom of the Grand Canyon!
Letting my kids go off without me – even though they are at or nearing adulthood, and even though their dad was with them – wasn’t easy. The Grand Canyon is a life or death situation. There are dangerous animals (not that we encountered any, by God’s grace) out there. There is also the danger of spraining an ankle or getting another injury that would make it harder or impossible to hike out. Seeing my crew hike back into camp, a prayerful eight hours later, filled me with great joy. My husband made it! My kids had successfully met the challenge!

This feeling comes and goes during different phases of homeschooling. It comes when you see your child acting more and more grown up, taking on new challenges like dance, Sea Cadets, a job, a CLEP exam or college courses. We moms fear, but we also rejoice!

The night before the hike out, it began to rain. In the tent, huddled and freezing even in long johns and sleeping bag, I worried about it. How could we pack and carry out wet things? But, as a native Floridian, I didn’t understand something about the desert. By the time we woke up, the ground was dry. D-R-Y. The tent dried easily with just a little poking to make the water run. Our camp packed up easily, if not lightly, and we started moving out of our comfort zone.

Few things take you out of your comfort zone more than kids starting their high school years. You have fear and doubt your abilities to teach “higher” subjects. But, we forget the nature of homeschooling when we do that. We forget that:

The kids have made it to high school! They can read and write and problem-solve. They should be able to do a lot of learning on their own and the parents become facilitators more than teachers.
You have been re-learning with your kids for a while now and you can do this too (if needed)!
And there are options like tutors, co-ops, and online programs that can come to your rescue.

I was looking for a rescue on that final hiking day, for sure. Even my intrepid husband urged, “If you see the Park Ranger, see if they can helicopter us out. We’ll pay!” But, the rule at the Grand Canyon is: you go out the way you came in. We were stuck. The steep change in elevation made me short of breath almost immediately. Remember, we were going back up almost a mile! My pack felt impossibly heavier than it had on the way down and the weight was not well-distributed. Eventually, the sleeping bag got unstrapped and my husband, then my son, and then my daughter lugged it up for me. My hiking pole helped me keep my balance on the uneven natural steps as we weaved around switchbacks, stepped over rocks, and avoided fresh mule poop. Hours stretched into forever. Then, at the 3-mile rest-house (going in reverse order now), the rain whooshed down. We huddled in the open-air shelter house with a dozen or so strangers. We felt God’s provision on the one hand as the rain didn’t last long and it came when we had cover. But, we also feared lest it start again or rain harder. We covered wet shirts with soggy sweaters and then ponchos which resulted in a sweltering sauna effect.

Getting ready for the final hike OUT!
With 30+ pounds on my back, each step was an accomplishment. Sometimes, there were only a few minutes between breaks. We had to sit and take the loads off. Why did we bring so much stuff? The wonder of it all was how the family pulled together as a team. Elijah, reminded me to sing praise songs to God to keep my mind off the hard labor. He repeatedly helped us all pull off or put back on loaded backpacks. Holly kept marching, offering help wherever needed and dragging my sleeping bag with her. Neither complained or whined. We all knew that this was something that HAD to be done. We had to GET OUT and best by nightfall.

Those last five miles took TEN hours! On the way, we not only got rain but momentary tastes of hail, sleet, and snow flurries. We heard rumors of a blizzard at the top of the trail. The track became slippery with mud – just what you want as you climb up a sheer precipice. We feared the coming darkness. But, we kept going. One more step, one more switchback, one more rest.

We made it!
On our homeschool trek, I’ve thought about stopping once or twice. But, I know, for us, we had a mandate from God to “train up our children.” There really was no stopping halfway. So, even when it was tough, seemingly impossible, we plodded on. Twelve and a half years later, my daughter graduated with honors. One more year and my son will join her on the other side. Our journey will be over. We’ll look back at the grand vista that was the homeschool years and be glad that we did it. And we’ll be pleased by how we became a team. And we’ll be amazed at what God has accomplished.

After all that, my family has decided that our best words of advice about the Grand Canyon are: “Rim Trail!” You can see all you need to see from the top! But, our advice for homeschooling? Take it all the way!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The *Updated* New Year

A New Year Cometh

This article originally appeared in the Pitter Patter newsletter of my MOPS group in January 2000. We were facing a new year, a new decade, a new millennium. A few things have changed over the the last 11 years, so I have updated a few spots in [brackets] and in color{Oh boy, now it is 2015 - and times - they are a-changin' again.  I'll note the newest additions in other other {brackets} and another new color.}

It is strange to think that not only were we raised in a different century from our children, but a different millennium. And certainly this is a different “age.” {My kids told me this weekend that they are striving to reach the ages of 104 and 102 so that they can live in 3 different centuries. I think maybe Jesus will come to get us before then, but otherwise, I hope they do it!}

The age of technology is upon us. My three year old has already mastered her “preschool” computer program. She can click her way through the screens as well as mom. Mom never touched a computer before junior high and then it was the one computer in the whole school for “kid use” – a TRS-80. It worked off of cassette tapes somehow. Sounds like ancient history.  [Okay, so this really is ancient history, my now-teenagers are playing games over the internet with friends in other neighborhoods, took their driving test online, use Google instead of a dictionary or an encyclopedia, and rapidly assimilate new physics apps on the iPad.]  {Sometimes I wish we had never introduced the computer, my son has to fight the addiction and, probably, so do I. We've got iPads and smartphones and Kindle and GPS and all that jazz. In our plans for heading to the Grand Canyon, my husband said we could bring the iPad so we can identify the stars. I say, "No way! No electronic devices in the canyon! Let's enjoy God's creation the way He intended!" I really hope I get my way!}

In the “good old days” my brother and I spent Saturday mornings glued to the TV set with such questionable fare as Bugs Bunny, Road Runner and Pepe LePew. They [child psychologists and parents] worried at the time about us not understanding why the coyote did not get hurt when he fell into the canyon. My children are not allowed to watch Saturday morning cartoons due to violence, bad language, bad attitudes, poor adult role models, and new age doctrines that are not hidden, but openly displayed. And forget regular daytime/ nighttime TV too. The coarse humor, overt sexual relations, and the “selling” of the homosexual lifestyle have made this hobby a thing of the past for my family. [The main TV show my children have grown up with is Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition which is now about to go off the air!  We were pretty good about keeping TV limited to that one hour a week, with "safe" videos thrown in here and there.  With some new digital TV stations, this year my kids have branched out to Batman (Adam West), Get Smart and Hogan's Heroes.  It has been fun watching them get a kick out of all the oldie goldies.]  {TV is only getting worse, and we don't even own cable! I'm seeing commercials for explicit homosexual movies, cursing is at an all-time high and many things are just not safe. I am so glad that TV has always been restricted in our house! There is only one TV and it is plain view. We sometimes enjoy the new movies when the newness has worn off and we can stream them through VidAngel which bleeps out curse words, gore and even (at times) immodesty. But, even at ages 19 and 17, our kids still love the oldies and I'm grateful!}

School was a safe place for children to go and learn when I was growing up. Our children will find that a laughable statement. A teacher could hug you and love you like a surrogate parent. Now they are afraid to brush against a child for fear of lawsuits.  [This year alone, I have heard of 8 kids hit by cars at their bus stops, 2 bus drivers who went to battle with students on their buses, a bus driver that wouldn't let a parent board, teachers and principal who fell into the pits of pornography, sexual abuse, and cheating with and for their students.  Bullying continues to sky-rocket even with all this "tolerance training."  We opted instead for the last 10 years to homeschool.  Our homeschool isn't perfect:  we are behind in some things.  But, my children know the Lord, they tend toward kind and respectful, and we know each other.]  {The last two years have seen the rise of Common Core in the classroom, as well as indoctrination into Islam, many more teachers-turned-criminals, and more removal of God, even from football games. In the meantime, our homeschool has churned out its first graduate; Holly walked across the stage with honors at the 2015 FPEA ceremony. She has collected 27 college credits and is working on 6 more without leaving the house, saving us about a ton of money. Elijah is starting to receive his first wave of college letters (thanks PSAT)!  Homeschool continues to be a blessing. Strange to think it will be ending so soon -- graduation seemed so far away when I originally wrote this article.}

[I wrote this article BEFORE the events of 9/11...just think of how that one event affected our lives. Airport security; field trip tours to the dairy, the newspaper, and other interesting places; bag checks at theme parks, and so much more!]  {Now, ISIS is threatening lives right here in America and the presidential race (Trump v. them all) is the most heated I've known. The economy changes up and down.}  

Doctors used to know you and your family and your history. [Uh, let me know if you can find one of those near me.] {Oh my, my oldest is now an adult and needs to find an "adult" doctor soon. Thankfully, we're all pretty healthy and haven't had to worry about it. My son recently visited the asthma doctor and we were chastised for not coming in for 2 1/2 years. But, he has been symptom free for over 3 years! He only went because we want a "just in case" rescue inhaler for the Grand Canyon trip.} Restaurant and grocery store employees used to be friendly and competent.  [Not to be rude, but if the power goes out, nobody knows what to do.  There is no way for a cashier to tally up your groceries (they are not visibly marked anymore) even if she is able to do the math.  I have noticed with the recent recession that workers are tending to be happier in having a job and working harder to keep them.] {I've seen a pleasant upswing here. I think employees are more friendly. I think the economy downturn has made people more grateful just to have a job and their service is better because of it.}

This new society begs the question, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” The answer, however old-fashioned, is still “By keeping it according to Thy word.” (Psalm 119:9)

{I've been teaching 5th to 8th grade Sunday school classes off and on since I was 17 years old. The last 2 years, I have seen a huge swing downward in the number of kids who know their Bible. The noteable exceptions are usually homeschoolers. Kids who go to public school often have no idea what I'm talking about or only have a little bit of knowledge in this area. They are kept so busy that they feel too tied up or stressed to even read for pleasure, let alone read God's Word. This is a sad state of affairs. If they way to keep pure is keeping it according to God's Word, and they don't know the Word...}

How can we best help our children in the New Millennium? By teaching them God’s Word from the Bible and giving them God’s standards for living. Maybe they won’t fit in with their generation. I pray they will not.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Just Say No

One of the greatest gifts a man can give his wife is the freedom to say, "No." I probably don't mean what you think I mean!  

When my two children were preschool age, beyond caring for them, I was coordinating our very active local MOPS group and writing curriculum for our church's preschool Sunday school. But, I still wasn't as busy as a particular friend of mine. Her husband took an amazing stance that I will never forget. He declared the "year of the no." He let his wife know that if she signed up for one more thing during that year, he would personally call whoever was in charge and disentangle her. That would have been embarrassing, to say the least. But, it was just what my friend needed to hear!

He wasn't trying to deny her a "fulfilling life" and she was grateful, not resentful. His position made it easy for her to do what she really wanted to do. He was trying to preserve her sanity -- and his own, I'm sure! She was able to do the minimum of "outside" things that year. In exchange, she got her home and family back in order. In a later season, she was back "out there" again, but she had been rejuvenated by then. His firm words afforded her the "permission" she needed to say "no" and focus on her own children, her own husband, her own home, and even her own needs.

Stay-at-home moms often feel compelled to help out because nobody else can. They jump in to run vacation Bible schools, or fund-raisers for the PTA, or homeschool co-ops, or every other event that comes along. That is all fine and commendable, as long as your own home isn't falling apart in the meantime.  

Look around you. How does your house look? Not just today (which may be an "off day") but on a regular basis? Is it warm and inviting? Can you have friends over and be hospitable? How well are your children behaved? Do they need a few "talking-to's?" Do they need training for chores? Have they had your undivided attention much lately? You can't give them guidance if you are running here and there and everywhere doing for everyone else.

It has often been said that our first ministry begins at home. That's why 1 Timothy 3:4-5 requires of church leaders, among other things, that they be "one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)." God wants us to work from the inside out. Take care of our spouse and children, then comes our extended family and neighbors. Of course, part of training our children will be to show them how we take care of those others, but first they must also be cared for.

It wasn't so long ago that, whenever I baked cookies or bought goodies, my children would mutter, "Don't get excited, they aren't for us." They just knew they would be for my Sunday school class, or a friend that just had a baby, or some gathering of moms. It had become a habit in our home that I was always doing for "others." It took me a while to "get that," but I finally did. I've been able to say, "I made these just for you."  

Titus 2:4-5 says that we should "admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed." [bolding, mine]

How can we be homemakers if we are never home? I'm not judging single moms or those who must work to make a paycheck. But, for those of us who actually chosen homemaking, are we doing it? And, if we aren't, is is because we have over-committed ourselves outside the home?

I was talking with a good friend yesterday who has four children, one of them only four months old. She was wondering aloud how she was going to accomplish a huge fund-raising task for a wonderful organization. I said something to the effect of, "Just say no." Her response? "Can I do that?"  

YES! There are seasons for everything. Young mom, there will come a day when you have more time and energy at your disposal. It is okay, and even recommended, that you be home, be with your children, spend time with your husband. Get your foundations firm. Do those things that God calls you to do and let the rest fall away until a better time comes along.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Red Alert!

Battle Stations. That is what my 7th grade girls' class is studying this month. We've been talking about the wiles of the devil and how he tries to influence us for evil. We've talked a bit about temptations and how to fight them off -- just submit to God and resist the devil and he must flee! (James 4:7) We've talked about how we fight in a spiritual battle rather than a physical one.  But, just like a physical battle, we don't go in without armor or weapons. God has given us everything we need to defeat the enemy and the end comes in the book of Revelation/our future!

I'm grateful to have been able to team up with one of the boys' Ranger commanders who is teaching the girls about archery as our unit project.  He asked us this week to find a verse in the Bible that has to do with archery or bows and arrows.  I found mine easily as it happens to be one of my favorite sets of verses:

Psalm 127

Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman stays awake in vain.

To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;

For so He gives His beloved sleep.
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
So are the children of one’s youth.
They shall not be ashamed,
But shall speak with their enemies in the gate.

It is vain for you to rise up early,
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them...

These verses tell me that I don't have to be in control of the battle. This battle belongs to God. In fact, if I don't let Him be the builder and the guard, then all my efforts will be for nothing. I can't live this life in my own strength; I must depend on Him.  

These aren't easy words for me. I tend to be control-freaky. I like to make the decisions and carry out the plan. But, if it is my decision and my plan -- even if it all works out -- these verses tell me that it has no value in God's kingdom. Why? Because I didn't rely on Him, my faith wasn't strengthened, I have no testimony, and only my will was done.

All the things I try to do in my own strength are vain and useless. God can provide all I need even while I'm sleeping, these verses say. I can just sleep, and He can get the job done!

What a relief!

The last part compares children with arrows in the hand of a warrior. I have two arrows. I want them to be straight and not vary from the path that God has for them. But, sometimes, they (like me) are a bit crooked. In the spiritual realm, they have to be whittled, or stretched, or smoothed or whatever you might do to arrows. In the physical realm, they must be fed, and cared for, and talked to, and taught, and loved, and prepared. At times, they must be punished or rewarded.  

At times, we practice with these arrows. We put them in new situations to see how they fly. If they fall short of our target of expectations, we bring them back and sand them down and try again. We don't leave them in the quiver. Arrows are made to be sent out.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Investing in Your Children

As people become more and more disenchanted with the public school system, we find a new breed of homeschoolers bringing their children home.

Now, no disrespect to them, I heartily congratulate them on caring enough to remove their loved ones from the influences of evil government, amoral and anti-religious teaching, and dangers of all kinds. But, it just seems to me that some of the flavor has gone.

When I started out, the moms who surrounded me were really "into it." Some of them were using KONOS curriculum and it seemed that there were weekly dress-up parties and costume-making and acting out and adventures. Although I had a more traditional and laid-back approach to teaching, I feel like we were in full-tilt with four days a week of instruction and a fun field trip day with friends every Friday.

I was in homeschooling because I wanted to be near my kids. I wanted to be with them. I wanted them to know they were loved and cherished. I wanted them to be influenced for Christ and His kingdom, away from worldly distractions. So many reasons. Oh, and to be educated. That was certainly on the list somewhere.

But, as I run into new homeschooling moms today, there seems to be a "Yes, I really want my kids to have a good education and I don't think the school system can do that; but how can I do it without really getting involved?" They seek out only curriculum that is fully laid out and "easy." The ideal seems to be one where the kid plugs into something all day and doesn't have to ask mom any questions. Or he is dropped off to co-op classes all day, everyday of the week. (How is that different from school exactly?) And preferably, there is no grading involved or projects or anything that needs mom's time or energy.

Now, I'm lazy myself. And I like using a few things that are online (but never everything). And I've been part of co-ops (nothing wrong with them). And I must admit that I like "easy-to-use" ('cause who likes "hard-to-use"?). But, when those don't work out the way I want exactly, I do need to jump in and help, tutor, or make adjustments. For instance, I sometimes sit next to my son while he is doing math on ALEKS, and I have a whiteboard and a dry-erase marker and I demonstrate how to do problems as he goes along. Doing the program by himself just didn't work the way I hoped (because of him, not the program). When Logic of English taught a few things "backwards" (for our thinking), I had to restructure, re-teach, and pray for understanding.

I am almost always there, and mostly available, even though my kids are in high school.  They can do a lot on their own, but we still have discussions about things. I still read to them. I still want to be near them and see how they are doing.

In the school system, we'd say we don't want the child to "fall through the cracks." That can happen in homeschooling too. As educators of our own children, we have to step in when there is a question or a problem and not get freaked out that the child didn't learn the first time in the first way the material was presented.

And, most importantly, if we are going to influence our children for Christ, they must see us and hear from us. We can't manage from the other room, with a phone curved over our ear, our eyes on the TV, and our hands in the dish soap at all hours. How can we use their academic education as a spring-board to learning about God and His creation if we have no idea what they've been "learning" all day?

Homeschooling requires a commitment. If you aren't committed to spending some quality and quantity time with your child, then when the first road-bump hits, you'll be tempted to literally throw him back on the bus. Invest your time and energy, and I think you will more likely to be willing to stay true to the path you have chosen or to which you have been called.

Now, the irony of this article will be that the moms who aren't super-involved probably won't read it and those that are will feel guilt and condemnation although they are already doing all they should. So, don't do that to yourself. Prayerfully consider whether you are investing the proper amount of time with your child and let the Holy Spirit's response be your final answer.
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.  Galatians 6:9

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Conspiracy Theory 451

So, it started because I was looking for a book at the library and couldn't find it. I wasn't even sure I wanted to re-read the thing, something that was required reading when I was in school (lo, these many years ago). But, the fact that it wasn't there, wasn't available at the library, was an irony too huge to be missed.

Now, I have lamented the waning book sections at our library for years. I'm pretty sure there are more video shelves and computer space available than there is room for good ol' fashioned books. And they seem to sell off a lot of "important" books and keep a lot of nonsense. But, not to have THIS book? The ultimate irony.

The book, of course, is Fahrenheit 451. This book is about censorship. It is about books and how a future culture will do away with books. In fact, it will be socially unacceptable and even illegal to read books. The fact that I couldn't find it seemed like a conspiracy was taking place.

Now, it is always smart to check on conspiracy theories and, as it turns out, mine was completely fabricated by my own incompetence. I had spelled "fahrenheit" without the first "h" and thereby missed finding it by "that much." My public library is exonerated -- I can get a copy of the book quite easily. So much for irony. The real irony is that a fake conspiracy got me reading.

But, I didn't know that, so I bought the book from a used bookseller and began a frenzied read to find out what I was being kept from reading. What was embedded in this book that my younger self rolled her eyes over and probably didn't notice or understand? I found a few things that were truly intriguing for me and possibly for all those in the homeschool arena.

First, author Ray Bradbury did a masterful job of describing his future/our present-day life. From his 1950's college library, he predicted that everyone would be walking around with ear buds, shutting out the world around them. That TV would be prevalent everywhere (think most restaurants these days) and that their noise, color, violence and reality shows (and interactive reality shows!) would overwhelm any intelligent thought. That the people on TV would be the friends and "family" of those watching, more than people you shared a room, or even a bed with (think social media). He didn't foresee that there would be hand-held versions/smartphones, but the idea was purely there.

And then, it got really interesting. As the Fire Chief (who in this culture burns the books) tries to explain to our hero, Fireman Guy Montag, why the books can't be allowed to be read anymore; he states:
"...let's take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we?  Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don't step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did.  Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books so the [cursing] snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But, the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the 3-D sex magazines, of course. There you have it, Montag. It didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals." 
This is so obvious in our culture today, I probably don't need to say anything else. You can't criticize the President without being suspected of racism; you can't even think of not baking a cake for gay wedding; and standing up for life might lead to your death. Everyday, somebody is apologizing for something. Some comment that offended somebody. Because there are so many somebodies in this global world we live in. Maybe it was simpler once, when you were offensive in your small hometown, you could at least leave and start over somewhere else. Here and now, give a false or unliked tweet and you you may never have another moment free of regret or reaction. Forevermore, you will be the guy who said whatever it was you said (right or wrong).

Montag questions further as to why the firemen are necessary in this dystopic future -- basically, why did the government get involved? Fire Chief Beatty answers:
"What more easily explained and natural? With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word 'intellectual,' of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar. Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally 'bright,' did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn't it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it..."  [bolding, mine]
It becomes clear that books make us think. Later it is further clarified that our own reason will help us decide if the book is teaching us something worth knowing or not. And, if not, our reason will help us to sort it out and let it go. In the meantime, the mind can hold on to that which is good in that book, or in another. But, either way, the book lead us to think.

These comments made me think about our present-day schools. Are they turning out "examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators"?  I'm willing to bet that the kids who are turning out that way get additional encouragement at home or from books.

Common Core curriculum is doing its best to remove or change the classic literature choices for schools. Many books that were once considered classics are now frowned upon because they might offend (I'm thinking Huckleberry Finn, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and the Bible).

There is one young girl in Montag's town who seems to still think for herself. Clarisse McClellan challenges much of Montag's ideals, shakes him out of his passive, non-thinking life. How did she maintain this culture of thinking?  Beatty tells us:
"...Heredity and environment are funny things.  You can't rid yourselves of all the odd ducks in just a few years. The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school. That's why we've lowered the kindergarten age year after year until now we're almost snatching them from the cradle..." [bolding, mine]
As a homeschooler, I nearly jumped as I read this quote; did you? The world around is is trying to take our children earlier and earlier. Trying to have the most influence. Moms are encouraged to go back to work within weeks of having a baby, and preschool beckons with glittering force. Summer camps and even VBS are offered so that the little time parents do have with their kids is cut even shorter. Why? I love the acknowledgement that "the home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school."

This book made me think. If you haven't read it, or it has been a long while, you might want to read it (again). Encourage your high schoolers to read it too and discuss how it is like/not like our current culture.

Don't have a copy?  Ahem, you can probably find it at your local library.

[This book is definitely upper-level and PG for some old-fashioned cuss words.]

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Somebody Needs to Help Me

An incident occurred today -- one moment that will be very minor when I look back at my life, but felt major in the moment -- that took my mind hurtling back about 25 years. I was nearing graduation from college and, in fact, after reviewing my credits and things, thought I was ready to get my cap and gown.  

However, I had forgotten momentarily that my college was known by its initials, UCF, to be the place where "U Can't Finish." Even though I had begun the summer immediately after high school graduation, and taken classes consistently, even in the summers, somehow I was missing 1 credit. What? My adviser literally cursed me for being "self-advised."

I had met with my college adviser in 1985 when I was first choosing classes, learning where buildings were located, and fumbling with understanding credit hours. But, after that I thought that you should be able to take the college catalog and a list of the requirements for graduation and figure them out on your own. I was not raised to rely on others when I could (or should be able to) figure things out on my own. I made lists and checked off what I needed. UCF didn't make it easy. Especially back then, they were more of a "commuter school" and had a much smaller campus, so the course offerings did not come regularly or often. There was much joy and celebration if you actually got all the classes you wanted to sign up for.

So, after four and a half years and an almost complete college education, you'd think that an adult, over 21 years old for sure -- someone who is legally allowed to drink, smoke, and drive -- could work out the details. Apparently not. Out of the goodness of her heart, she let me help with some research she was doing and counted that as the credit I needed. I still have no idea what I researched or whether it was really helpful to her. But, that is what we did. And I graduated, with no cap or gown, at the end of the summer AFTER what should have been my graduating year.

Because I was "self-advised," she said.  

I've always wondered, why would they make it so complicated that you couldn't figure it out on your own? Does it make "them" feel somehow superior? Does it increase their likelihood of you spending more money? (Probably.) But, those are questions I can't really answer.

Today, the memory made me sad to think, how many more times have I fallen into this trap? How many more times have situations been bigger than I thought or harder than they needed to be? But, I walked into them because I was "self-advised."  

The Bible has remedies for me and other self-advisers. That is, if we can make ourselves look.

For by wise counsel you will wage your own war,
And in a multitude of counselors there is safety.

Proverbs 24:6

Listen to counsel and receive instruction,
That you may be wise in your latter days.

Proverbs 19:20

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, 
who gives generously to all without reproach, 
and it will be given him.
James 1:5