Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summer of Forts

There are a couple of things that always let me know that summer is here: oppressive heat (after all they don't call it Hot-lanta for nothing), miraculous popsicles that can produce a smile, no matter what the circumstances, injury or indignity and forts.  Fort building is a cherished pastime by my children.

Every summer, king-sized bedsheets are pulled out of the linen closet and every binder clip in the house is commandeered for fort building.  No more mere draping a sheet over a chair and crawling under.  No, we create tent cities that last for weeks.  My son especially likes to sleep in his fort creations. Last summer he slept on the floor of his room in his fort for over a month.

As the school year ended this year, things were in turmoil.  After all, we were embarking on a whole new endeavor...homeschooling.  Would we ever see these school friends again?  How were things going to work?  What is it going to be like to have Mom for a teacher?  (The kids seemed to be filled with equal parts of trepidation and excitement on that one.)

The moment school let out, I was in a frenzy trying to get all the kids uniforms cleaned and tagged for the school's Used Uniform Sale.  Camps started for the kids.  Everyone was up late.  "Ahh Mom, who needs a bedtime when it is summer?"  Things were starting out kind of chaotically, but in a good way.

The other morning, I was checking my email when my seven year old son came in and gathered all the pillows off my bed.  It is quite an amusing sight since a king-sized pillow is just about as big as he is.  My curiosity was piqued. "Where are you going with all our pillows?"  Silly me, I should have known the response.  "I'm building a fort in the living room Mommy."  Oh my, how could I have forgotten the siren call of fort building?

I ventured downstairs and found the living room completely blocked off by all of the dining room chairs.  He had dragged in barstools from the kitchen. Pillows were strewn about the whole room.  In each nook and cranny a stuffed animal could be found.  There were Gronkels, Deadly Nadders and of course a Night Fury lounging by the fireplace on those aforementioned pillows dragged from my bed.  (For those of you who missed How to Train Your Dragon, those are dragon stuffies from the movie.)  There were pillows, a sleeping bag, flashlight and the specially beloved stuffies laid out ready for sleeping.  There was a DS corner for electronics accompanied by stuffed chaperones. Everywhere you looked he had put one of his stuffed friends.

That night as I tucked him in downstairs in his entire living room fort, he decided it might be a bit too scary to sleep all alone with no one else on the ground floor.  So we moved him back upstairs with a few key stuffed friends and put him in his own bed with promises to make a fort in his room the next day.

So it is officially summer.  My living room is a fort and my son is sleeping on the floor of his room in another fort.  I think my heart will break a little when my little man is too old for forts.  Even though it is a little difficult (both physically and to one's personal dignity) to crawl in and out of the forts for goodnight kisses, there really isn't anything sweeter than to tuck him into his sleeping bag surrounded by a stuffy army.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Attacks on Georgia Charter Schools

Shocking Newsflash:  Our school systems nationwide need help.  Oh wait, that is not news.  There are many people trying to affect positive change in education.  We personally have decided to homeschool our children in our own particular attempt to address our children's individual educational needs. We are not alone by any stretch of the imagination.  Millions are taking the ultimate responsibility for their own children's education.  Others are attempting to affect positive change within the existing framework of schools. Charter schools have been popping up all over the country in the last two decades.

According to the US Charter Schools website,

"Nearly 3,000 new schools have been launched since state legislatures began passing charter legistlation in the 1990s.  Chartering is a radical educational innovation that is moving states beyond reforming existing schools to creating something entirely new.  Chartering is at the center of a growing movement to challenge traditional notions of what public education means."

According to the State of Georgia's Department of Education, there are 109 charter schools in Georgia. (The statistic does not include schools within a charter system.  Georgia has 8 charter systems comprised of 61 schools.) Georgia's charter schools are public schools of choice that operate under the terms of a contract. They receive public funding, cannot charge tuition, must be secular and are required to serve all student populations.  They have produced results-- real, measurable improvements over their traditional public school counterparts.

So when you have something that is new, different and actually working, what should you do?  Why attack it, of course!  Not only were they attacked in Georgia, but the statutes which authorized their creation have been declared UNCONSTITUTIONAL by the Georgia Supreme Court in  Gwinnett County School Dist. v. Cox.  On May 16, 2011, the majority issued a  twenty-four page opinion outlining why the Georgia Charter Schools Commission Act is  "clearly and palpably unconstitutional."  While the Court acknowledges in their own words that:

"the schools established thereunder represent the efforts of well-intentioned people, motivated by their genuine concern over the current condition of this State's general K-12 public education, to provide the children of this State with an alternative and, in some cases, a superior educational opportunity.  In holding the Act unconstitutional under the unique provisions of this State's Constitution, we do not in any manner denigrate the goals and aspirations that these efforts reflect.  The goals are laudable." (pp. 23-24.)

While the majority may not want to denigrate any goals or aspirations, they have instead, utterly destroyed the efforts, achievements and hopes of Georgia's charter schools.  While reading the majority's opinion, I did not find their reasoning to result in a "clear and palpable" understanding of the Act's unconstitutionality.  In fact, the majority appears to go to great lengths to distort the meanings of a "special school" in order to achieve the result of unconstitutionality.  Hmm...

A cynic (oh goody, I am one) might think that there is something else afoot here.  Charter schools are different from traditional public schools here in Georgia in that they have autonomy and flexibility.  They are not governed by a local board of education, but by an autonomous non-profit board of directors.  Might this have a bit more to do with money???  Money that the local school boards don't get to control.  Money that the local school boards lose when each child who attends a charter school is not registered in one of their own schools... Hmm...

Since the Georgia Charter Schools Commission Act is "clearly and palpably unconstitutional," the majority's logic and arguments must be irrefutable if their finding is so "palpable."  NOT!!!  Actually the more clear and compelling arguments are found in the dissenting opinions.  In Justice Melton's dissent, he concludes that there is something more here than a simple constitutional analysis:

"The Legislature, whom we must presume intended to act in a constitutional manner, created a law to provide for special charter schools to enhance our educational system, and it included evidence on the face of the statute supporting such a constitutional intent.  Nevertheless, the majority looks beyond this basic principle to reach a result that simply cannot be explained in the context of the applicable law and the undisputed facts." (p. 3 of Melton's dissent)

If the majority's reasoning "cannot be explained in the context of the applicable law and the undisputed facts," then what is the majority doing?  A cynic might suggest that they are playing politics which is clearly outside of their purview.  Ah yes, I am a cynic indeed!  For I believe that the majority was in fact playing at politics.  Justice Nahmias has quite a bit to say about why the majority is wrong in its conclusion.  His 75 page dissent is joined by Presiding Justice Carley and Justice Melton.  Perhaps things aren't as "clear and palpable" as the majority would like for us to believe.

"But the policy debate and the political process no longer matter.  The majority of this Court has announced the new policy and removed the issue from the political process, unless the General Assembly and the people of our State bear the delay and enormous burden required to correct the Court's error through a constitutional amendment."  (p. 74 of Nahmias' dissent)

Is it any wonder that the homeschool movement is growing at an exponential rate?  When people try to change the system from within,  Georgia has a very chilling message for them.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Alice Cooper and Homeschooling?!?!?

It is official.  School is out.  My children are no longer enrolled in an accredited school, nor are they going to be.  We are now on our own.

As you can imagine, the final day of school was quite emotional.  My daughter had been at her private school for five years.  She said on the way home this afternoon that her whole life is changing.  It is true.  No wonder she has such mixed feelings and is emotional.  It is a huge upheaval.  Then out of the mouth of babes... "It's no big deal for you Mom, you're not going anywhere new."  My calm response was a shouted, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  (Deep Breath-- followed by a much calmer response) I may not be "going" anywhere, but I am taking on a HUGE new responsibility.  There is nothing more important to your Daddy and I than your education."

[Gulp!]  At least my brain filter was working well enough not to speak my next thoughts aloud... "Oh *#@&, what have I gotten my self into now?"  Just about every parent at the class parties asked if I was ready for my "new adventure." My joking response was that I should have stopped by the liquor store yesterday and stocked up before the kids got out of school.  We all laughed at the idea of homeschooling via Margaritaville.

I can honestly say that the parents of my children's classmates, their teachers and the principal have been remarkably supportive and encouraging.  I do, however, feel quite confident in my telepathic abilities on reading quite a few of the parents.  Their thoughts came through loud and clear... "Better you than me, Sister!" Maybe so...

What kid hasn't sung "No more pencils, No more books, No more teacher's dirty looks" on the last day of school?  It is a ritual to mark the end of each school year. This year, however, Alice Cooper and I have a bit more in common with homeschooling in our future.  That is about as frightening as a picture of Alice Cooper! Brrr!  Never thought I would have much in common with Alice Cooper...  (In all honesty, I probably still don't but the lyrics of the song "School's Out" are quite telling.)

School's out for summer
School's out forever
School's been blown to pieces

No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher's dirty looks

Out for summer
Out till fall
We might not go back at all

Indeed our family might not go back at all... Who knows what homeschooling will be like for us?  Hopefully it will not be a Grand Failed Experiment.  Only time will tell.

But when my daughter also asked in the car this afternoon, "Mommy can we make a baking soda volcano this summer?"  You must know what my answer was, "You Bet!"  I will just need to do some research so that I can learn how to build a baking soda volcano.  This might be our first homeschooling project.  We can all learn together.  God Bless the internet because I would be lost without it. This homeschooling thing might turn out to be a lot of fun.  If I don't wind up in the psych ward first that is...