Aqua Teachable Moment

Universal_019I was watching Shepard Smith on Fox News recap Wednesday’s Boston bomb scare fiasco and I’m thinking this will be a great opportunity for one of those teachable moments with Morgan. He knows all the players and certainly understands America’s War on Terror. He also watches Adult Swim, including Aqua Teen Hunger Force, on Cartoon Network. It’s an acquired taste but I gotta admit that little meatball guy can be pretty funny.

M had seen the news story play out as I flipped from Fox to MSNBC to CNN and back. He asked what was going on and at that point there were three or four “devices” that were turning questionable but had nevertheless closed down Metropolitan traffic and the fucking river. I didn’t put it quite that way, but I did give the situation a somewhat skeptical spin.

So yesterday, now that we got the rest of the story, and it became much ado about nothing (except in Beantown), I wanted to hear M’s opinion. Morgan loves George W. and I figured he might be a little hard on an ill-conceived, left-wing advertising ploy gone awry. You know, that whole Republican “tough on terrorists” mindset. WWGWD?

So I asked him if he thought the two 20-something goof-balls who were hired to place the devices around the city were at fault and should get in trouble.

“No, absolutely not,” said Morgan.

“Even though they scared alotta people and caused the city to shut down?” I asked.

“That’s not their problem,” said Morgan. “That was Boston’s stupid fault.”

End of story.

Like Herding Cats

100_6837I swear, trying to organize a group of home educators is like herding cats. Just when you think you’ve got’em going in the same direction, they dart off to do their own thing. But I suppose it’s that independent spirit that contributed to our homeschooling choice. Unfortunately, when everyone is doing their own Thing, rarely does that coincide with anybody else’s Thing. Can you dig it?

In public school, a classroom of 30 seventh graders are studying the same subject, let’s say The War of 1812. So when the permission slip for a field trip to Fort McHenry goes home, it’s not really up for debate. The tour location, theme, date and time have already been determined, thank you very much. Everybody comes to school, piles on a bus with their packed lunch, rides to Fort McHenry, takes the tour, eats their lunch and gets back to school in time to catch the bus home. Take it or leave it. Your kid can always spend his day in study hall.

By contrast, in a homeschool group of 30, you’ll have kids from toddlers to teens. Plus parents. Odds are only you, the trip organizer, is currently studying The War of 1812. But everybody else figures they’ll get to it sooner or later, so they sign up on your database. (We don’t need no stinkin’ permission slips!) If given a choice of time, that generally comes up for a debate and eventual vote. Can you find a tour that’s gonna be of interest to a six-year-old and a sixth grader? Probably not, but you’ve gotta ask.

As coordinator, you also have to provide driving directions, rainout protocol, secure a lunching location, calculate and collect the tour fees. Then you have to hope everybody shows up to qualify for the group discount you negotiated. But don’t bank on it.

So you see, to get a group of homeschoolers to agree upon, sign up and show up for what is traditionally a one-step field trip, you gotta have patience, stick-to-it-tive-ness and a pretty smelly tin of sardines.

Too Square to Unschool

kevinrosseel_0324808_019Man, I wish I was hip enough to unschool. As much as I would like to cast my bread on the waters of total child-directed learning, I know me and my son well enough to know that if left to his own devices, we would wind up watching TV and playing Xbox all day.

The unschooling concept is when a kid is interested in, needs or want to do something, he’ll learn how. So if Morgan couldn’t read but he wanted to figure out a video game cheat code, that desire would be what motivates him. Maybe. Sounds good on paper, doesn’t it?

I spent our first homeschooling year re-teaching my 7-year-old how to read phonically. In our county, reading is taught using the Whole Language method. Meaning, when Morgan sees an unknown word he looks at the pictures, considers the rest of the story or lesson and uses what he already know to “guess” what that word might be. Easier said than done. And to suggest “sound it out” was taboo!

Morgan writes because I make him write—spelling words, science hypothesis, compare-and-contrast compositions. He has no desire to keep a journal, post on MySpace or even jot down a To Do list. It’s hard enough to get him to sign greeting cards. How would he learn penmanship, spelling, grammar without my prodding?

What type of situation would Morgan encounter where he’d use math skills? I don’t know, I don’t think a child encounters enough real-word math situations to make him proficient. So does that mean he doesn’t need to know how to divide or multiply? Or do I just buy him a calculator?

I wish I could rest assured that Morgan will independently learn all he needs to know to make his way in the world. But if he chose not to read, write, do math or communicate well where can he go? What kind of options would he have? It feels irresponsible to bet my son’s future on an educational concept that sounds so pure and ideal but is so against human nature. What’s that they say? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

American Idiot

Micro_h1.jpgOkay, shoot me. I watched most of American Idol on the night they were auditioning in Seattle. We were channel surfing, it popped up, and, well, it was so bad I couldn’t look away. And, yes, there were moments when I laughed.

But more often, I looked at people type casted right out of a John Waters movie and I kept wondering who let them get this far. Granted, most were of legal age to make their own bad decisions. But just like friends don’t let friends drive drunk, friends shouldn’t let friends who can’t sing audition for a national TV singing talent contest.

Maybe it’s harmless to cheer on a buzzed co-worker belting out Born in the USA on Karaoke Night at your local bar. But given the well-known formula of American Idol, how could anyone, especially a parent, encourage someone he/she loves to pursue an experience that is bound to end badly?

So what IS the responsibility of a parent to spare a child a ruffled feather, a bruised ego or a crushing blow? Sure, a baby has to fall to walk. But do you really let him burn his hand on the stove to learn it’s hot? You cringe but you cheer for him every time he strikes out in Little League. So should you encourage him to attempt something for which he is embarrassingly ill prepared?

Alotta parents seem to think having a bad experience is good for their kids. Perhaps as kids they were bullied or hurt or disappointed and now as adults they’re still trying to convince themselves it was a Martha Stewart “good thing?” I don’t know, public humiliation doesn’t seem like a good thing no matter how you spin it.

I can run interference for my son till the day I drop, but sooner or later something is gonna get pass me and take the wind out of his sails. I believe it will be his positive, empowering “I did it” experiences, not avoidable, bitter failures, that’ll add up to inspire him to tack into the wind and be under sail again.

The Blue Pig

If you only read one post, make it this one.

img-3302You only have to read Lord of the Flies or watch a few episodes of Lizzie McGuire to understand why we homeschool. But if there was The Straw that told me I needed to get my kid outta public school, it was the afternoon of The Blue Pig.

When Morgan was in first grade, I was the Room Mom who came up on Friday afternoons to help with Game Hour. I’d gotten there a little early and I’m not sure what the class had been doing, but whatever it was, just a few of the kids were still at it. Most, Morgan included, had moved on to some DIY craft—making paper farm animal headbands. Their teacher, Mrs. Shuler, was floating among her students, helping them finish up and put away their stuff.

For the life of me, I can’t remember what Morgan was coloring, if anything. Even then, he had a way of avoiding the bullshit busy work. But I remember Kole, one of M’s Reading Buddies, ask Mrs. Shuler to “Look!” Stapled to the pre-cut, pale yellow cardstock headband was a brilliant Sapphire Blue pig. He smiled.

“Kole,” said Mrs. Shuler, “I’m very disappointed that you would color your pig blue.” And with that, she spun on her heels and went about her business.

I liked Mrs. Shuler, but I was appalled. Playing the emotional guilt trip of Disappointment is reserved for parents. As Kole’s teacher, she could have said, “You didn’t color the pig realistically.” Or even pronounced it messy. Those are judgment calls. Kids learn to brush off that kinda shit. But head games, man, that’s deep.

So that tore it. I figured I couldn’t screw up my kid any worse than a teacher. After all, as his mom, I get first dibs.