Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Intoxicated by the Freedom to Choose

We attended a homeschool conference this past week in Greenville, SC.  I still had a feeling of "shock and awe" to see the vast numbers of people who homeschool.  I guess we are still new enough to homeschooling that I feel a bit dumbfounded by seeing so many different people "bucking the system."  But unlike last year, we didn't attend seminar after seminar.  This year, we went to browse, peruse and explore all the different curricula choices from the plethora of vendors.

Like any good homeschool mom, I did a lot of research prior to going to the conference.  I had a four page Google document of different programs that I wanted to examine.  I don't use a set curriculum.  I hand tailor the best I can, to each child, their learning styles and strengths.  I would put them back into school if I wanted the "one size fits all approach."  There is such a thrill from choosing what your child will learn.

Who ever heard a teacher say, "I looked through the book.  It seems boring.  We're not going to use that."?  It is not something that occurs often in a traditional school.  It isn't that teachers don't care or like the dull and unimaginative text books.  (Yes, I know that there are some bad, nightmare teachers that don't care and do like dull.  But I believe that they are in the minority.) Traditional teachers are constrained by a system within which they must work.  I'm not.

It is intoxicating to look at a perfectly functional grammar program that is about as thrilling as watching paint dry and having the power to say, "No way!  Not for my kid!"  I want something that will keep my children (and me) awake and not bore us all to tears.  So like Dory the fish in Finding Nemo, "Just keep swimming."  Keep looking until you do find something that fits your family.  What a novel thought!  Demand more and keep looking until you find it.

So that is exactly what we did.  We brought home a trunk load of books that we felt fit our kids and covered what we decided they should learn this upcoming year.  It makes me giddy with anticipation.  I am eagerly awaiting the rest of our books to come from Amazon.  (Yes, they will take over the world because they have everything!)

It is intoxicating the control and the freedom.  Just as alcohol could be dangerous and lead to abuse if not handled responsibly, the control and freedom to choose what your child learns needs to be handled responsibly.  It is not a perfect world, I am sure that there are a few crazies out there who want their children to study "The Fascinating World of Navel Lint" or "Competitive Underwater Basket-Weaving for Elementary Students." However, my children won't be joining them.

I have tried to design a rigorous, challenging curriculum that will still be (INSERT "gasp" here) fun.  Hopefully I will have succeeded.  If not, I also have the intoxicating freedom to toss something that is not working for us into the trash and try something brand new.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Becoming Socialized to Socialism

What in the world is happening to our country?  The trend of governmental control creeping into all areas of our lives is more than a bit terrifying.  "Big Brother is watching you." This is more than a line in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, but rather it is becoming our reality.  I am going to stay out of the political hornet's nest of Car Czars, Obamacare etc.  I will leave those areas to the pundits to fight about with each other.  There is more than enough encroachment of Big Brother in just the simplest of things of our everyday lives.  Hasn't anyone else exclaimed, "Are you kidding me?" when surfing the net?  Some of these things are down right pitiful!  I find myself making this exclamation with far too much frequency.

So the trigger to start this diatribe of mine came late last night.  My husband pointed out a CBS article to me about Mayor Bloomberg in New York City,  Food Donations Banned to the Homeless.  "What?" I exclaim.  Surely I couldn't have heard him correctly.  Nope!  I did.  No more donating food to homeless shelters because "they" (Big Brother) can't assess the salt, fat and fiber content of the food.  In the interests of becoming more socialized to socialism, clearly we can see the benefits of this plan.  How much better to starve to death in a healthy manner with a healthy heart and arteries than to stay alive on food which might have a questionable salt or fat content!  I am sure most people would prefer to go hungry rather than consume food which does not contain enough fiber.  If you are a person who would prefer otherwise, that is okay too.  Big Brother will do the thinking for you.  You are not responsible enough to make your own choices.  Let the government do it for you.

Now, now, clearly I am upset over an isolated incident.  Couldn't be a trend! Maybe it is just New York. Things are always different in New York.  What about less cosmopolitan areas of America?
Take Raeford, NC for example.  (Yes, I had to look it up on a map.  Raeford, NC has not been a vacation destination of ours before, nor is it likely to become one.)  Big Brother need not lurk in only the largest cities of America.  Let's search school lunches packed by families for their children.  Why give a parent the right to decide what their own children should eat?  Clearly Uncle Sam is better suited for the job.  Turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, chips and apple juice did not pass inspection as being "healthy enough" for a 4 year old preschooler to eat.  Instead, she ate chicken nuggets from the school cafeteria.  This is not an isolated incident.  A turkey and salami sandwich did not "cut the mustard" either.  At least at the NC schools, Big Brother only inspects the home made lunches.  In some places, they are banned altogether.  No lunches from home are allowed in a Chicago school.

I could have a huge diatribe alone on the questionable health of school lunches.  Especially when you consider the seven million pounds of Pink Slime that winds up in school lunches.  Ewww!  Big Brother says Pink Slime is okay for your child's school lunch.  I am so glad that "THEY" know so much more than the parent of an individual child.  Here I just thought that Beef Trimmings were only fit for a dog, instead of a growing child.  But, I digress.

These things just keep happening and happening all over.  We are supposed to go about our daily lives losing more and more control over how we live our lives and raise our children.  I find this thoroughly frightening.  Our nation as a whole is sliding down the slippery slope of socialism.  I think that maybe our slide down the slippery slope is so vast that we don't even notice it anymore.  At the equator, the Earth spins about 1,669 mph every day, yet we don't feel a thing.  Our slide into socialism is gaining momentum, but we are so "socialized" to the encroachment of governmental control that we no longer notice the effects.

Socialism does not focus on our human nature and the role that incentives play in guiding our behavior.    We want to be rewarded for our efforts.   If our reward is the same irregardless of the amount of energy and work we put into any given task, then the urge to give something our "all" dissipates.  Most parents can intuitively understand why ultimately socialism will not sustain itself. 

Imagine a fall setting and a neighbor's large yard is covered in leaves.  Neighborhood children are playing outside.  Said neighbor offers to pay a group of children for raking and bagging leaves.  Eagerly they accept this offer.  As the work begins, one diligent darling works hard and makes a lot of progress while the other two are horsing around.  The neighbor brings out some lemonade to check on the progress.  "Gee, if you guys finish this by sunset, I'll give you each $10."  Well the lazy loafers think this is great.  They have done nothing and are going to get paid well for it.  Our tired, diligent darling wonders why he should keep working so hard when the others are going to get paid the same as he is for doing nothing.  As he runs over to complain to you, you know what he is going to say.  "Mom, no fair!  They aren't doing their fair share and they are gonna get $10! I'm the one doing all the work!"  Before you give any sage advice, you too know what will happen.  Diligent darling decides this is crazy and goes inside to play Wii.  No way he is going to work his butt off for the other two to get paid the same as him.  It is too big of a job.  Forget it!  Lazy loafers go home too,  the job will now require actual work from them.  Where's the fun in that?  They quit all pretense of working and go play elsewhere.  Meanwhile, the job never gets done.

Socialism is doomed to fail.  Any child can see the inherent problem when there is no reward commensurate with effort.  The cry of "No Fair!" resonates within the system.  However, that is where we are headed.  Big Brother is regulating our lives and socializing us so much that we don't even notice how far down the slope we have fallen. We had better wake-up because a new day is dawning, and it won't be a pretty spring one either.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Foreshadowing of Homeschooling

As I start to put together curricula choices for next year, I am a bit dumbfounded that we are homeschooling.  Me?  I am homeschooling.  I am homeschooling?  (Said in the same incredulous manner of "Bill" in "My Cousin Vinny" when he realizes they are accusing him of shooting the clerk.)  I thought for sure I would have had visits from child services or be in a psych ward if I ever attempted to homeschool.  Yet here I am, planning another academic year.

I am beginning to wonder though that maybe I shouldn't be so surprised.  Maybe we were destined to be a homeschool family but we just didn't realize it.  Perhaps we were so busy just doing what everyone else does in the chaos of daily life, that we forgot to read the signs.  They were there.  They foreshadowed our future.  We just had to stop spinning so fast and take a look around.  The funny thing about signs is that they are easy to miss.  There is a good reason for the old saying that, "Hindsight is 20/20."  Only distance and time allows for us to look back and see.

So, what exactly were some of the signs that foreshadowed our radical departure from the traditional educational system?  Our radical beliefs?  Our radical lifestyle?  Our radical career choices?  No, no and no.  Geez, there is nothing radical about a two lawyer family with two children living in the suburbs driving a minivan and owning a dog and some goldfish.  No visits from Super Nanny or Real Housewives of Atlanta.  We would make for snooze TV, definitely not a ratings grabber.  Perhaps then, what I view as "signs" are subtle.  Merely things that my husband and I should have picked up on over time.

One of our first signs was our extreme dissatisfaction with the local public schools.  We knew many families who were very happy with them, but our discontent was such that we knew it would not be the right choice for our family.  Private schools were our only choice because only nut jobs, weirdos and Little House on the Prairie types homeschooled.

(Now I freely admit to having all sorts of ill-informed, preconceived notions about homeschooling.  That is not, however, the reason for this parenthetical comment.  It is because I feel confident that my mom is just dying to scream into cyberspace that I certainly qualify under the "nut job" and "weirdo"  categories.  Point well taken, mom.  To be fair, she is probably right too.)

 Our eldest started her traditional educational career of kindergarten at a Catholic International Baccalaureate school.  It is a school that we still highly regard, but it is no longer a good fit for our family.  A clear sign, which was missed by us, came on a "sick day" when she was in first grade.  Did we spend our time watching Dora the Explorer reruns?  No.  We researched totem poles and then she created her own totem pole out of an old wrapping paper roll.  Quick email to the teacher and she took it to school and gave the class a presentation on totem poles and the native people who created them.  Neither my daughter nor I can remember now what sparked the interest, but whatever it was, we followed it.   Now that is a definite homeschooling type activity.

The above-described incident wasn't an aberration.  Our research and explore modus operandi spilled over into all areas of our lives; family trips especially.  When our youngest was a first grader at the same private school we took a family trip to the Western North Carolina Nature Center.  Great place to wander and see animals native to the region.  It has always been a family favorite.  However, we gave our son pencil and paper and asked him to sketch the animals he saw.  Mom took pictures and put together a power point presentation on all the animals for his class.

Family trips are spurred on by our interests or topics about which people are learning.  "Night at the Museum 2" was a video my daughter really wanted for Christmas one year.  So our Spring Break trip was naturally a family trip to the Smithsonian.
Another sign was our family's grand finale whenever we head to Orlando for a theme park adventure.  We have taken the kids on two Disney Trips and one Universal/Sea World adventure.  All three trips culminate in a trip to Book Warehouse.  Please don't get me wrong, we do go to Downtown Disney for souvenirs and the Lego store.  But our very last stop, which is eagerly awaited, is always the Book Warehouse.  We spend hours piling up books for each member of the family.  Having just left there two days ago with a mountain of new books (55 in all, photo is just some of the kids' books) is what triggered all these thoughts of "signs" that we were destined for homeschooling.

Significance of the signs?  Not too much other than I should stop being so surprised that we are now homeschooling.  Guess it is time to relax and enjoy the adventures in learning together.