No Good Deed Part Deux

wooden boy readingSo I’m volunteering again on the last day of the library Book Sale. Same deal: a dollar a bag, get a second bag free. This time, pickings were really down to the dregs: Nora Roberts paperback romances and movies on VHS.

In walks a Mom – late 20-something with a row of ear piercings and her generation’s version of a Metacilla black t-shirt. With her is a six-year-old child with hair as short and face as round as Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon. Plus two post earrings. Boy? Girl? You tell me…

Almost immediately, the child is itchy to leave. What starts as alotta “What’s this?” questions, soon turns to “When are we going?” By the voice, I’m thinking a boy. (Later, when I bait him with a Barbie DVD, he balks.) “Soon,” is the mom’s innocuous reply.

Even when she pawns off the best of the worse remaining children’s picture books on her kid, she keeps wandering the aisles. Frustrated, she takes her child by the arm, pushes him up onto an office chair, tells him to “look at your book,” and continues her browsing. I can bear it no longer. I take a pregnant pause and a deep breath and ask the child, who has now been identified as Ripley, if he would like for me to read his book to him.

Turns out the book is entitled Finding the Titanic published in 1993. I tell Ripley about how the ship was considered “unsinkable,” but on its first trip, “Guess what happened? IT SUNK!” The kid looks amazed. I equate the unseen iceberg to ice cubes in his soda glass. He insists he sees a skull in some of the black-and-white photos of the wreckage.

I’m figuring when I finish reading to Ripley, his mother will take the hint and finish her shopping. But no such luck. What in God’s Green Earth could be taking her soooo long? So I get her six-year-old to help me pack up paperbacks. But by about the fourth cardboard box, we both had had it. He went back to bugging his mother and I didn’t try to stop him. Finally, after a few sincere “Thanks,” they give me a dollar and go.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I can ignore my kid with the best of them. But for an hour-and-a-half, all that poor little boy wanted was his mother to pay attention to him. And all that meant was stopping what you’re doing, looking your kid in the eyes and fuckin’ listening to what he has to say. Several times, Ripley had asked his mom when was he gonna learn to read. Given his mother’s pat answer “Soon”, let’s hope he’s NOT homeschooled.

Snow vs. School

illecillewaet_-_el_boggoMarylanders are notorious for panicking whenever there’s a forecast of snow. Even the threat of a few inches, creates a run on groceries stores to hoard the White Trinity: bread, milk and toilet paper. But last night, we had what forecasters can honestly call a “weather event.” About two feet, deeper in drifts. And the cable’s out. Plus tomorrow’s Super Bowl Sunday. So even without a dog in the race, Balti-morons are taking gas.

And not just because they might miss The Big Game. But because there’s a good chance that schools will be closed for at least part of next week. Not to mention the possible insult to injury a la another snowfall on Tuesday into Wednesday. But, hey, what me worry? Because although, as home educators, we are legally obligated to document 180 days of “school” over the course of a year, that’s never been an issue because we never stop “schooling.”

Come on; is education something you should simply pull the plug on once you hit that almost-half-a-year benchmark? Recently there’s been national concerns voiced that U.S. students are “falling behind” other nations in the fields of math and science, measured of course by test scores. And, in some circles, this unacceptable fall from being BMOC is blamed on our kids not going to school long enough – both in terms of hours per day and days per year.

Good fucking luck with changing that long-standing academic schedule/teachers’ union contract/families’ Summer Vacation mindset. Never gonna happen. Even now, with most counties on-the-verge-of, if not already out of “snow days,” the MSDE is in a tizzy. School closings cost Marylanders money.

And apparently a fraction of a percentage point in math test scores, too. This just goes to prove that public school kids are being taught-to-test, not being educated in a process. Because if only a few missed days in that 180-day forced march to the SATs is gonna cause a measurable decline in statewide test scores, then students can’t actually be learning for the long haul, just memorizing and retaining facts long enough to regurgitate soon after ingesting.

Kinda like the way wolves gourd themselves on a carcass, then puke it up for their pups back in the den.

The Elastic Waistband of Relaxed Homeschooling

kevinrosseel_032008_052As I sit here all snuggly in my Just My Size “relaxed fit” cotton pants (Translation? Fat girl sweats), I can certainly appreciate the comfort of an elastic waistband. But I’d never wear’em out in public. Because even though the pants are stain- and pill-free, they’re not particularly flattering. And I can pretty much say the same thing about “relaxed” homeschooling.

“Relax” is something you do after the work is done. And if you consider home educating your kid a vacation, then it’s time to vote yourself off the island. Because while I can certainly agree that home education shouldn’t be years of yelling over an over-scheduled manifesto, you’ve gotta plan your work and work your plan.

Okay, okay – I know that sounds very “Corporate.” But isn’t part of what we’re trying to instill in our children is some sort of work ethic? Not to (necessarily) assume the position in a windowless cubicle to work for The Man their entire lives. But to come to grips with adhering to a schedule, showing up on time or at least keeping commitments to friends and family. Hey, I’m a firm believer in lolly-gagging and foot-dragging whenever I can get away with it. But my son’s educational and life experiences are not areas for slouching.

I’ve heard more than a fair share of “relaxed” parents admit that their laissez-faire format has had a way of slowing from a laid-back pace to a casual crawl to a dead-in-the-water stop. And what’s that we’re taught about Newton’s Law of Inertia? Oh, sorry, that’s right… you’re relaxing, maybe you haven’t gotten to that far in your physics lessons yet. But, paraphrased, it states that “An object in motion will stay in motion and an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an external force.”

Trust me, I’ve thrown enough “external forces” in our own home education path to stop a truck. And it’s hard to get rolling again, once you pull the brakes, especially uphill. So we’ve learned to be more like the tortoise then the hare. Slow and steady. And just like that lowly reptile, we won’t relax until this 12-year race is won.

Unit Studies? Too Much of a Good Thing

Set01Auto3imagesFrom_drk0093But hey, that’s just me. Actually that’s my son. About three years in to our home educating experience, I learned that my then-eight-year-old was not of the emersion-mindset. But, in a moment of weakness, I thought it was worth a try.

We’d used the Calvert Homeschool curriculum since leaving public school after first grade. Even though I’d twist their lesson plans to fit our worldview, its old-fashioned, book-learnin’ format was an easy transition for Morgan after his two years of classroom experience.

Every summer, our school-in-a-box would arrive on our doorstep. Aside from household materials for science experiments and some optional math manipulatives, everything we needed for an academic school year was in that box – down to the pink eraser. All the step-by-step lessons plans were there. I could schedule our life. I’d be giddy.

But was I cheating? Maybe, I thought, I should try a less “home-school-y” format. Granted, I wasn’t ready to make that Unschooling leap-O-faith. But this Unit Study thing sounded like a fun option for my son and an organizing opportunity for this OCD gal. Pick a topic in which your child has expressed an interest. Then run it into the ground.

Or at least that’s what happened with our Weather Unit. I can’t remember exactly what prompted that specific subject-selection. Maybe a severe thunderstorm or hurricane watch. But I announced that I was going to develop a Unit Study about Weather. (Because, you see, that’s what real home educators do – develop their child’s curriculum.)

So over the course of a week, I planned, plotted and shuffled 3×5 cards to schedule our saturation by the weather world. The four-week foray was to include alotta cloud watching, drawing and creating; a visit to a local weather station, the beach and the supermarket; natural disaster documentaries and the local meteorologist’s forecasts. Plus, what I considered, a lively reading of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs long before it was a movie.

Morgan was done with Weather halfway through Day Three of Twenty-eight. Shit, now what? Back to the box.

Ask Not What Your Government Can Do For You…

US Gov'tAsk what you can trust the Feds to do and not fuck it up.

I got to thinking about what each citizen of the U.S. can really expect from her federal government. I’d watched parents of teens lost in Haiti after the earthquake almost demanding “The United States of America” get down there and start digging for their daughters.

And while I can empathizes with that angry desperation of helplessness, I find it far-fetched to think that’s gonna happen. Even if it was a simple question of finding another missing high-schooler on another small island country (a la Natalee Holloway), parents shouldn’t depend on their tax dollars to fund out-of-country rescue missions or murder investigations.

Off the top of my head, I came up with the postal service and interstate highways as two things I ass-u-me the Feds are handling. Now, don’t complicate the system with Anthrax or ice storms, but for the most part, Big Brother can get your mail or your mini-van from sea to shining sea.

The CDC over-hyped the H1N1 pandemic. but under-delivered on its vaccine. Good thing it was only the Swine Flu and not the Bubonic Plague.

When Jimmy Carter created FEMA in 1979, its job was to prepare its people for disasters and respond effectively after those acts of natures occur. Since 2003, “terrorism damage mitigation” has become a key part of FEMA’s duties. But we can’t track hijackers and bombers on Doppler Radar for five days before they hit the coast, like we could with Hurricane Katrina. And remember, even with fair warning, what a catastrophe that turned into!

The government appears good at spreading its troops too thin; giving away our money and making a buncha promises it has no intension of keeping.

So if you think I’m gonna entrust the academic and moral education of my beloved child to a system that, when push comes to shove, is incapable of delivering the goods, then I’ve got a house trailer in New Orleans to sell you – cheap!