No Habla Español

greekNow, don’t go getting your hackles up. This isn’t some diatribe about illegal immigration. It’s about my inadequacies in teaching Spanish to Morgan.

Even though I’m confident Morgan will pass the semester, I’m not sure he’ll come away with alotta useful, conversational Spanish. Several of the tech programs at the local community college include Spanish in the Workplace classes. Funny, when I saw that curriculum in the Non-Credit Courses Catalogue, I felt a little less racist by having suggested he learn a little Español for future job situations.

Trying to learn another language feels like decoding a cipher. Because when we look at the written words, it’s easier to see the English connections that give you clues about the word, phrase or at least the meaning of the sentence. But when we watch El Gordo y La Flaca on the Spanish cable station or even Dora the Explorer on Nick Jr., it’s Greek to me.

Spanish is also the only academic class in which I ever got a D, consistently. Ah, si, Señor Carríon, the former bullfighter that would pull up his shirt to show you his nasty gore scars. All those verb tenses and pronoun plurals and masculine and feminine forms just did not translate in my brain. And my ability to “sound out” a written Spanish word was worse than the way I’d butcher English.

Déjà vu’, I’m reading a Spanish paragraph to M and I’m stumbling through it as best I can and I hit a word with a sequence of letters that stops me in my tracks. I’m speechless. I can’t even make phonetic “sounds.” So I look at it again, take a running start and get through it.

I can still hear my father yelling, “Read what’s there!” after I’d insert mystery vowels and extra syllables into words (of any language) as I’d tried to read my homework aloud. And now, Morgan hears the same rant from me.

It’s not a disorder. It’s in our DNA.

The Beauty of Bowling

bowling ballsSeriously. Hear me out.

And yes, I mean that twinkle-toed Fred Flintstone throwing the ball down the alley and knocking down the ten pins kind of bowling. Because it is, indeed, the perfect activity for homeschoolers. Here’s why:

1. It’s a cheap date. Go during a weekday afternoon when it’s dead. If you bowl more than a few times a year, it’s worth investing in your own bowling shoes. (Mine are two-tone sparkly purple that I wear with my lucky Hello Kitty anklets.) If you like the game, buy a bowling ball that’s weighted and drilled to your specs. (Mine is a ten-pound Shrek Princesses Viz-A-Ball.)

2. Anybody older than an infant can do it. Most lanes offer bumpers that cover the gutters and a bowling ball ramp for people who can’t hold a bowling ball. Look– I’ve watched a guy with no legs bowl and bowl very well (without using bumpers or a ramp.) So don’t tell me you “can’t bowl.”

3. Using bumpers or a ball ramp opens up the whole math/angles/trajectory conversation/experimentation. If you really wanna make a lesson plan out of it, throw in some history, starting with the fact from the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame that a British anthropologist, Sir Flinders Petrie, discovered in the 1930’s a collection of objects in a child’s grave in Egypt that appeared to him to be used for a crude form of bowling.

4. It’s social. You can sit, talk and eat with no assigned seating or being shushed.

5. The game has a simple structure, order and etiquette that even the most feral homeschooler can understand and the most relaxed parent can enforce. (If they don’t, the management or other bowlers will.)

6. Scorekeeping, once done via overhead projectors with acetate sheets and wax pencils, is now automated. So nobody gets bogged down with the math. But the kids can still follow along with the overhead computer screen. And it gives hints!

7. As long as you don’t cross a lane or the foul line, how you get your ball down the lane is your business. A bowler’s approach, release, spin, and curve – all free form and fluid.

8. You have ten frames to learn from, improve or repeat your mistakes. And it’s all on you, baby. Because a little pressure, however self-induced—is good for the spirit.

9. Kids (and their parents) do experience a certain degree of competition, if only with themselves. Trust me, there have been tears. But not for long. Everybody cheers for everybody.

10. And we all go home winners.

My Son, The Republican

Bush cropTo begin with, Morgan doesn’t understand why George W. just can’t keep on being President. He realizes the guy couldn’t win in a general election. But M does think we should give him four more years. What’s wrong with that?

The depth of my son’s conviction is so clear (and verbal) that a friend brought M an 8×10 color photo he took of Bush at the 2006 NAACP Convention. It’s framed and still proudly displayed in M’s bedroom. Seriously, don’t bad mouth George in front of my kid.

So how did this Libertarian, once a “bleeding-heart, do-gooder Democrat,” raise a Republican? Believe me, I ask myself that question every time I have to click off Keith Olbermann’s commentary when Morgan’s in the room. We’re both yelling at the TV, for different reasons. But Morgan wants me to be clear, he is NOT a Republican, he just likes Bush.

Okay, come on, cut the kid some slack. He’s only 13. His first real “political” memory is watching a Boeing 767 slam through the World Trade Center. Over and over again. And although the human tragedy of that day and all the days that followed still doesn’t really register, the consequences and repercussions of the event certainly has: The War in Iraq.

And in that regard, George W. is like any other boy playing Army. Never quit. Never surrender. Only difference is Bush can be a bully and get away with it. Gotta love that.

So it’s been with Morgan’s somewhat disinterest that I’ve tried to give him a last minute, 25-words-or-less overview of the Iowa caucuses. Truth was, a few months ago, even a few weeks ago, it seemed a non-issue. And now look.

Morgan will be happy to hear Hillary (ABC) lost. But he’s gonna shit when I tell him that Huckabee was a Baptist preacher! And Chuck Norris won’t help his case, either.

Function Over Form

frame10It was suppose to be an Assyrian Cherub.

No, not one of those chubby babies with wings and the Betty Boop lips. Instead, in the ancient land a thousand miles east of Egypt, a cherub was a mythical creature with the body of a lion or bull, a man’s head and eagle’s wings. The animal was sculpted with five legs so that when you looked at it from the front, you saw two legs, standing still. But when viewed from the side, you’d see the four-legged creature walking. Pretty clever, huh?

Morgan’s sculpture studies are straightforward and two-fold. First an art history lesson, followed by a relevant hands-on project. So we looked at a Mid-eastern map, read a few pages about Assyrian cherubs and their kings then compared photos of Assyrians’ depiction of humans to Egyptian art: muscular and manly vs. sleek and sexless. At this point, Morgan pulls out his self-made gray Play-Doh to form his own low relief sculpture of a cherub—the five-legged kind. We review: bull, beard, wings, five legs. Got it.

I’ll spare us all the recounting of watching my talented-in-other-ways, 13-year-old son spend close to an hour laboring over a creation that I can only describe as a pile of cat shit. I mean that’s what it looked like. And it was pretty bad, too.

Yet does that matter? Morgan’s sculpture had all its required features, even if I couldn’t really see them until he pointed them out. But once I realized that pencil hole was the eye, I could orientate the sculpture, turn it right side up and it all came together. I’d date it to The Cubist Period. Good job. Class over.

Now this exercise may strike you as one of those useless Jeopardy Trivia facts I’ve railed about. But the truth is, understanding and appreciating another culture’s creative expressions is probably one of the best ways to understand and appreciate your world, culture and yourself.

Besides, the Assyrians’ five-legged cherub concept—come on, how trippy is that?

Christianity to Ca$h Crops

PA090038We’re working our way through American history. Right now we’ve migrated south from the North Eastern colonies to Maryland through Georgia. M read about the religious freedom that sent the Puritans sailing across The Pond. When we got to the first Thanksgiving, I made sure to mention the smallpox blankets.

In the south, the motivation of religious freedom had fallen by the wayside. It was all about the big three cash crop exports—corn, tobacco and indigo. And since it turned out American Indians made lousy slaves, the Europeans imported Africans.

Even though the History book concedes the annihilation of the natives and the enslavement of a people, it presents those facts without judgment. If anything, it kinda makes excuses for the white guys. Oh sorry, it’s just the nature of the beast: If we wanted something, we took it. Gosh, some things never change.

Home educating Morgan allowed him to not just learn about the pilgrims’ progress, but to freely express his disdain. Not just for the blankets, but for their Bibles, too. I’m not sure how much contempt you’re allowed to show for any religion in public school… Besides, are you even allowed to say “Christian” in the classroom?