Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Freedom to Learn

We think of learning as a basic freedom.  We are free to learn, learning is free, and learning gives us freedom. 

So, why are so many schools constructed like prisons?  Often large imposing buildings, sometimes windowless, usually institutional.

And why are students sentenced like prisoners?  They are incarcerated for six to eight hours a day, five days a week, from the ages of five to sixteen as a minimum sentence.  Parents often add one to five pre-k years and colleges -- a.k.a. "the big house" -- , in general, require an additional two.

The meals at prisons and schools, so I hear, are sometimes comparable.  And there is always a time limit on lunch.  However good or bad the food is:  choke it down fast!  Students and prisoners alike are told how they can dress, how they can fix their hair, and their seats/beds are assigned.  Bullying occurs in both the prison yard and the school yard, students sometimes the meaner combatants.

Schools, like prisons, can be locked down in emergency situations, no one in or out.  Security checks are ritual, the search of book bags and lockers not unusual.  Physical contact is limited.  No fraternization with the guards/teachers is allowed.  Policemen wander both sets of halls.  Both students and inmates long to get outside, to stretch, to roam free.

And what freedom does a child have to learn in this environment?  He is told when and where and what to read, when and how to hold a pencil, what to think, and when to start and stop learning.  He learns about math for 38 minutes, no more, no less.  He spends a similar amount on English grammar.  The art class he longs for comes once a week and the music he learns is scripted at best.

I appreciate the freedom of homeschooling.  To vacation when we please.  To stop and review at the moment of need.  To wear pajamas when we want.  To think for ourselves.  To not learn today, but to soak in yesterday.  To take field trips that apply to our learning.  To hug and to love my children all day long.

But, I must be careful to preserve those freedoms.  To not get caught up in "schooling" and "what the state wants" and "what colleges want" so much that I turn my own home into a prison, where we are held against our wills for six to eight hours or more a day.  It isn't easy to stay free.  When will I learn?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

GOOD Christian Writing? By TEENAGERS? Yep!

Aletheia Logo - Blue BorderReturning home from a long vacation, I found Aletheia Writing Magazine:  Creativity for Christian Teens just waiting in my mailbox.  I had not heard of Aletheia before, but the artwork on the front was intriguing: a man sinking down deep in the water, ever-nearing the shadowy outline of a whale.  Immediately, I wanted to sink into my bathtub (my favorite reading spot) and dive into the rest!  Inside the front cover, I discovered what Aletheia is all about:

"...we are excited about our contributors and the articulation of their Christian faith and experiences in writing.  This magazine is geared toward youth ages 13 to 19..."

A magazine for Christian youth written mostly by Christian youth.  Neat concept.  What followed was page after page of good writing!  I often lament the writing that is done in the Christian fiction realm as too mushy, too pedantic, or too boring -- and those are the adults!  These teens, on the other hand, have done their best to "unveil" little bits of truth through imagery, syntax and style.  And their best is very good -- I was an English major, so you can take my word for it.  "Aletheia," by the way, is the Greek word for "truth," in the sense of "unveiling the truth." 

This quarterly magazine accepts fiction, non-fiction, artwork, photographs, and book reviews.  They do a great job of outlining submission rules and answering FAQs here.  I really appreciated that the writing tips listed on the website included "pray about it."  Getting published in this magazine would boost any teen's enthusiasm for writing.  According to testimonials on the website, the editors will work with the teen to help them be more publishable.

There was a nice variety amongst the works published in both issues I was privileged to read -- some more serious, others more humorous; some more realistic, others more fantastic.  There were short stories, odes, and poems written by Christian teens matched with illustrations produced by other Christian teens.  The look of the magazine was clean and simple, just the way I like them.  The longest story submission was 8 1/2 pages of text while the shortest was only 5 paragraphs -- but they were good paragraphs.  None of the submissions were examples of immature writing.

In one issue, there was an engaging article called "Into the Artist's Studio with Joe Goode."  Joe Goode is an artist/illustrator of the graphic-novel-type (you can see his work here).  He describes here how he became an artist and gives suggestions for young illustrators (and writers) in using their talents to glorify God.

Scattered amongst the writings, are a few edifying quotes from famous authors and little known facts about their publishing process.  There are also "writing challenges" to get your students thinking and writing.  If you want more of that sort of thing, check out their website here for a place where your teen can submit "blog-like" entries expressing their Christian faith and values in response to questions or ideas posted.

I handed the fall issue to my 14 year old daughter to get her views.  As I suspected, she liked some stories better than others, and she wasn't too keen on the poetry.  But, that is her style.  She likes a couple of genres and she stagnates there.  I think if she continued to read the magazine she might gain a broader appreciation of other types of work.  And I felt she was totally safe delving into the clean and uplifting material -- unlike much of what we find at our local library or bookstore.

In the fall issue, there were a few Catholic references, but the majority was mainstream Christian thought.  Also, one story did include some wizardry and fantasy a la Tolkien.  In the summer issue, there was a romance story that followed a courtship-type formula (first kiss at the altar).  If those types of things bother you, you may want to pre-read the issue for your younger teens, but I did not find any objectionable material.  Subscriptions sell for $26 annually, that's for four colorful issues/40 pages each.

Aletheia Spring 2011 Magazine Cover
Spring 2011 Issue
Life imitates art.  When we read good writing, we tend to write better.  When we read good Christian writing, we hopefully tend to live better.  This magazine would be great inspiration for your budding writer, teens who enjoy writing or those who just enjoy reading good writing!   Oh, and for me, while I'm in the tub!

As part of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew, I received this item free of charge in exchange for an honest review.  You can find more TOS Reviews of this product here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Where do they go?

At times, during the day, while driving or shopping or cooking or mopping, I'll have these really deep thoughts.  I'll have spiritual thoughts about God's grand creation or great redemption.  Or I'll have earth-bound thoughts about how to save the world from one dire problem or another.  Or I'll think of funny stories or examples about parenting or housewifery.  I come up with brilliant layouts of photos and clever wording to go with them.

But, then I go upstairs to my computer when I actually have time to make it physical, to create a blog or an e-mail or a letter.  And it is all gone.  I draw a total blank.  I can think of nothing.  Is that the result of being a mom with too much on her plate?  Is it old age?  Is it reality vs. fantasy -- my ideas weren't as great as I thought they were?  Is it all of the above? 

Whatever the reason, whatever the cause, the result is, I have nothing to say today.

What about you?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

How do I keep my middle-schooler going and not fight me ALL THE TIME about doing school work?

This question was posted on Christian Homeschoolers Taking a Stand.  I had to laugh.  I'm not always that successful on this one.  From age 10 or 11, each of my children took a slightly more adversarial stance about everything.  I've tried, first of all, not to take it personally.  I believe it is a phase, but one that has to be worked through.  My oldest is almost 15 and we are seeing light at the end of a long tunnel.  Here are some of the ways we have tried over the years:

1.  We remind them of Ephesians 6:1-3.  The first day of homeschooling, we undertook to memorize this verse.  It was the first thing we did and they know it, they know it, they know it.  They know that what we as parents require is "for their own good" and that if they want to "do well and live long," they will obey us, pure and simple.  So, sometimes, a simple reminder with a smile will do.

2.  At other times, we have instituted incentive programs.  At the end of the last school year, I had one that worked well.  We were getting ready for a big vacation to Alaska.  I tacked an envelope to the wall with the monetary figure $20.00 written on it.  I let them know that they would be getting that promised amount IF they discontinued "the stall" which had become such a part of our daily lives.  But, every time I caught them using a stall tactic (including arguing about why they needed to do this), I would deduct fifty cents from their total.  Unfortunately, I hestitated over the first few times and gave too much mercy.  But, one day, I did it.  I walked over and slashed the $20.00 and wrote $19.50.  That was it.  That was the last stall that we faced for several months.

The things to remember about incentive programs is that they must pay off and the pay off shouldn't be too distant.  A year is generally to long to wait, but 9 weeks isn't too bad.  And it doesn't have to be money, it could be any privelege.  We used to give tickets for the amount of schoolwork done each day in order to have time on the computer.  No tickee -- no playee.  We have rewarded certain numbers of books read with outings or new books. 

3.  Sometimes, I've had to take a step back and say, "Why is this child fighting so much?"  Is there something else going on?  And sometimes there was.  Sometimes there was unforgiveness in a heart that needed changing.  Sometimes there was sleep deprivation.  Sometimes there was anger that one sibling's work was more/less than the other.  And sometimes they just needed a break. 

We, as adults, don't think too much about working all day and then some more.  But, kids need fresh air, they need change of pace, and they need rest in order for their brains to keep working.  At different times, we've had to adjust the break levels and add in snacks.  When they plaintively ask, "Can't we take a break now?"  I don't ignore that.  Our school day generally runs something like this:

8:00 AM - Breakfast/Bible/Read Alouds/Morning Chores
8:30 AM - School Work (schedule varies, but math is always during this slot)
10:00 AM - SNACK BREAK -- for my kids -- this is the most important meal of the day!!!
10:15 AM - Return to School Work
12:00 N - Lunch (We sometimes do work over lunch, sometimes not)
After lunch, we finish up school between 1:30-3:00 PM depending on what's on the list.
2:00 PM - Another light snack

They have a list of things to do each day and they can generally order their day, with the exception of math which I insist upon being done early.  In the olden days, math could drag for hours if it was left to a less brain ready time of day.

I also have had them use timers during math so they are aware of the time.  They are allotted an hour, but generally finish in much less time.  If the hour bell rings, they have to stop and do push ups, do something else on their list, then return to math later.

The good news is that in middle school, your child may be able to help you figure it all out.  Have a conversation with them.  First, get away from the situation, preferably alone with them.  Ask "What is bothering you about school?  Is it the material?  Is it too hard, too easy, too boring?  Is it my teaching method?  Are you upset about something?  Are you tired, unhappy, or overwhelmed?"  Let them try to voice their issue.  Sometimes that is all it takes.  To know you care.  And they may put out more effort for you afterwards.  Or, they may not.  But, your relationship will be stronger.

4.  As always, pray for God's wisdom.  He has it when we don't.  He knows how much structure you need.  You may need more.  You may need less.  Depends on what you have going on right now and both your and your child's personalities. 

Where was I on 9/11?

I was driving to church for a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) steering team meeting.  I was greeted by the nursery workers with the news that a plane had struck one of the towers in New York.  As Coordinator, I had a decision to make.  I decided we would pray for our nation and then leave things in God's hands.  After all, we had come together to get some work done and there was nothing else immediate we could do for these emergencies.  Somewhere in the middle of the meeting, we got news about another plane.

I really didn't understand what was going on.  We left the church and headed home to watch the news where, over and over again we were bombarded with images of fire and buildings falling.  Unsure of where other targets might be, we hunkered down and fed on the disaster.  We prayed.  I felt a sense of urgency in my spirit.  What if this is "the end times?"  Or the beginning of the end? 

We weren't all ready.  My son was only 2 1/2 years old, but I shared with him with good news of Jesus and asked him if he was ready to ask Jesus to live in his heart.  He happily agreed.  I don't feel too bad about using a bit of fear to lead him, because we are all driven by a measure of fear -- the end is real, the devil is real, hell is real.  And he has never regretted, nor changed his decision of that day. 

Every year we celebrate our spiritual birthdays.  Elijah is turning ten today on 9/11.  We will never forget.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Where's the Fruit?

I have a habit of buying bad fruit.  The honey dew melon I cracked open at lunch today looked really good on the outside, but it was still green and hard in the middle.  That is why I generally buy pre-cut-up melons.  They are more expensive, but I can see and feel what I am really getting.  The Lord is able to do that with us: 
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
The Lord can cut right through that outer show that we put on and see exactly what is in our hearts.  He knows our inner thoughts, our true desires, and our real motives.  Yikes.  Look away!  Look away!  I am not ripe!  How can I know if I am ripe?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23
If these things are showing up in more and more abundance in my life, then I am walking in the spirit.  I pray today for more fruit. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Proverbs 31 Woman - Part 12 (The End)

The Proverbs 31 woman FEARS THE LORD and is OF EXCEPTIONAL WORTH.

v. 30-31 says
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the Lord,
she shall be praised.
Give her the product of her hands,
And let her works praise her in the gates.

Today’s society wants us to believe that beauty is everything.  That you should nip it, tuck it, let it all hang out, or cover it, or remove it in order to achieve beauty.  This passage reveals that true beauty, the beauty that God has given us, IS achievable.  What must I do to be really beautiful?  Fear the Lord, work hard, and smile while I’m doing it.  If we do these things, we will “earn” our accomplishments or our products (our crafts, our well-taught children; our work will “pay-off”) AND we will be praised for it.

Martha Peace’s book, The Excellent Wife, describes in detail the attributes a woman should have in relationship to her husband.  Among other things, she stresses real submission and how to achieve a submissive heart and mind.  She writes:  “Many women have a desire to be the excellent wife of Proverbs 31.  They just don’t think it is possible, at least not for them.  These twenty traits, however, can characterize ANY Christian woman’s life.  These traits are given in Proverbs as general truths.  Any Christian woman who knows and obeys them can become a godly woman, an excellent wife!  Her ministry can grow under the nurturing hand of a faithful and loving God because:  “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. (2 Peter 1:3)”

So, when you find yourself standing in front of a pile of laundry, or dirty dishes, or whining kids, asking “What am I doing this for?”  Read this Psalm over again.  Let it remind you that you are working for something real and lasting and meaningful. And you CAN do it!