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

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Love or Laziness?

I hope this doesn't come off as too judgmental. What I intend is to chastise and encourage myself along with anyone else who reads this who has been likewise guilty. I am sure I have been on multiple occasions!

Let me start with my observations at the beach yesterday. It was a beautiful day, albeit a little too chilly to go in the water. My son was involved in Sea Cadet drills and had to make plenty of runs into the water and back to the sand and I did not envy him one bit. But, sitting on the beach was sweet.

The first "offense" that came in my line of sight was a girl and guy lazing out on their beach blanket together. After a while, the girl sat up and started fooling with her phone, as all young people must do every five minutes these days. I get it. When the young man sat up and started talking with her (for quite a long time period), her eyes never wavered from the screen. She responded with words a few times, but kept her focus intently on that electronic gizmo. I don't usually carry my phone and it really isn't a smart phone -- it doesn't do anything but bring phone calls to me, and that rarely. But, I started wondering. Have I treated my husband this way when I am reading or watching TV? The answer is, unfortunately, yes. Not always, but occasionally, I really want to do what I want to do. I am reminding myself here that my husband deserves my full attention. How humiliating to be given second place to an electronic device or a bunch of papers.   

The second offense was with these two sweet babies, maybe two years old. They were laughing and running in the little waves on the sand. They were having a blast. But, where was mom? She was a good 20 feet back. She looked at the kids from time to time; they did not have her full attention. If a wave had knocked her little ones over, that might have been it. Toddlers can easily drown in a few inches of water. I was thankful that they left shortly thereafter and I didn't have to keep worrying about them. The weekend before, we had been driving in a local neighborhood and saw a toddler playing in the street. Her parents were sitting in chairs in the driveway, probably 10 feet from the action. When they saw our car, they looked toward their toddler, hoping she would remove herself from the situation. Can you believe she didn't? And she also didn't listen to their whining, "get out of the road!" They actually had to slowly stand up and go to her and pick her up. We could tell this was a lot of trouble for them. But, thankfully, they did it. And, thankfully, we hadn't been speeding through and were able to stop for this adventure. Please, parents of little ones, watch your kids! In the water or in the parking lot, please hold their hands! Teach them not to play in the street! And don't be afraid to touch them, pick them up and move them ANYtime that you see their lives are in danger.  

The third offense was again at the beach. Three little girls, aged 3 to 6, I'd guess, were walking up the dunes to the bathroom. Their mom tells them not to go so fast because she must go with them. The girl in front is yelling, "I really have to go!" She is doing the dance. But, mom was impaired. She wasn't able to easily walk (certainly not run) up the little hill. She was handicapped by the phone in her hand. She was reading a text or texting or something equally important. She stopped stock-still in the sand while the little girls are pleading with her again, "Please, Mommy, I gotta go! I can't hold it!" The mom responded neither in word or deed. (I notice parents don't answer their children a lot these days, but that is a different rant.) Something very fascinating must have been on that phone. Possibly kittens dancing on youtube or something like that. I am reminding myself again here to not neglect my children, especially for mundane reasons, selfish desires, and sheer laziness. I remember finding myself talking on the phone a lot when my children were younger (pre-cell-phone days) and robbing them of my attention. I made a decision back then to let the answering machine pick up if I was involved with them. I am now nearly phone-phobic because of that, but it was worth it. Now, my kids are older and can take themselves to the bathroom. But, I do remember what it was like when I was responsible for everybody's else's bladders. I didn't enjoy that job. But, the bottom line is, you have to make up your mind to this, they come first. Answer them when they ask you things, get them to the bathroom, meet their physical needs as best you can. Lay the phone down and save it for when you are alone -- when the children are sleeping, if possible.

I am inherently lazy. It is part of my sin nature. So, I must remind myself all the time not to let my laziness influence my children's behavior (not to model too much of it) and not to allow it to affect our relationship. I will choose talking with them, listening to them, playing games with them, helping them, and caring for them as my first obligation and joy. It may not seem like a joy at the time, but the memories and character developed will be a joy later. I think I will go see what they are doing right now.

Colossians 3:23-24
And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Are State School Rankings Reliable? Is Common Core for the Common Good?

I recently attended the opening of our state's Board of Education meeting.  There was a round of applause and a back-slapping session as they discussed the fact that our state has moved in the rankings from 40-something to 6th place.

Quite an achievement, right?

We should be pretty happy, right?

But, a few things struck me as off-kilter about it all.

1.  Part of the success was attributed to expanded voluntary pre-k training. Supposedly, this early training has given us a great boost. However, any research I have ever read on this topic says that early training makes for advanced kindergartners but, by 3rd grade, nobody can tell whether the child attended pre-k or not. It all evens out. Other studies have shown that starting a child in reading and writing later in life (age 8 or 9) will often work out just fine as well.  (And some who start very early, face burn out in their teens.) As long as education is delivered "line upon line, precept upon precept" (Isaiah 28:10), children will learn.

In other words, pre-k might help prepare a child for kindergarten, but that is about it. Kindergarten was initially started (as a voluntary program) to help children prepare for 1st grade.  On a scarier note, "voluntary" often turns quickly to "mandatory" once we get "used to it."  Neither of my parents attended kindergarten -- it didn't exist for them.  I went to the first "full-day" kindergarten at my school (about 40 years ago).  Now, it is hard to find a parent who doesn't believe that kindergarten really isn't "mandatory" (depending on the child's age).

One of the state board members said that she was so happy dropping her children off at "baby school." I couldn't help but cringe. Babies don't need school. They need love, attention, individual care, and happy home surroundings.

2.  Part of the success was attributed to the increase in attendance of Advanced Placement (AP) programs state-wide, and increase in honor roll for those attending those classes. I only have anecdotal support for this, but I have been told this by more than one teenage source:
"If I get a 'D' on an AP test in class, the teacher will count it as a 'C' because this is hard material.  If I make a 'C' in the class, the grade will be bumped to an 'A' on my report card because the school does not want to penalize anyone or ruin their GPA because they took a hard-level course.  They don't want to discourage anyone from taking the class."
Only students who really perform well in class are "permitted" to take the AP exam.  So, here I have a system set up where the student feels great. The majority are possibly given better grades than they deserve. The school looks great:  "Look how involved our kids are in 'higher level learning.'"  (I believe they also receive funding by how many kids are in AP as well.)  The state looks great because only the really "smart" kids take the exam, so their scores will always look good. A very clever tautology (circular reasoning).

At least one of these students that I know made an "A" in the AP class, but did not qualify to take the AP exam, let alone pass it. She could be on the AB-honor roll, but probably deserved a C or D in the class.

Does this philosophy produce students who are really prepared to take college courses?  That is the goal of AP courses, to prove to colleges that students are ready to handle college courses (see another view here). But, if they are not being strictly judged, isn't all the effort wasted?  And aren't all the statistics tainted?

3.  One of the main goals of the meeting was to approve a name change for the Common Core program. If our current standards and efforts raised us from 40th place to 6th place, shouldn't we keep on doing what we've been doing? Why would we adopt new, untried, and untested methods proposed by our federal government (who, by the way, has no constitutional right to have ANYTHING to do with education)?

One psychologist considers the Common Core: "psychological child abuse" (find more info here). But, nobody at the DOE is listening, that is for sure. We see time after time school board meetings (in various states) where parents and teachers are not given time to speak, are yelled at, are ignored. At a recent rally, where my children and I, along with 80+ others protested, the board continued on as though no objections were raised. They voted unanimously to follow their pre-conceived notions and disregard the parents and teachers who have raised issues.

According to sources, the standards our state held prior to Common Core were actually more rigorous than Common Core. If we have been successful at the local and state level, why in the world would we choose to willingly adopt the (known-for-red-tape) bureaucracy of the federal government? Part of the reason must be the federal bribe that comes with it. And maybe there is peer pressure from other states -- you know, the states that are ranked LOWER than we are.  There is no other reason I can think of.

As for the name change, if it bellows like a moose, let's call it a duck. Then, nobody will notice that it just doesn't fly.