Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Problem with the Girls' Department

If you have one or more daughters, you know how difficult it can be to find nice, age-appropriate clothes for them. So much of what's available today can only be described as trampy.

Mona Charen makes the point that both liberals and conservatives should agree that we must demand decent girls' clothing be made available in today's stores. Both sides do agree there's a problem in the girls' department, but liberals tend to blame business as the cause, while conservatives blame our culture. Regardless of where we place the blame, the important question is, what are we going to do about this problem? For starters:

Never buy a sexually suggestive piece of clothing for your daughter, no matter how great a deal it may be. Remember, our goal is to keep those clearance racks filled with trampy clothing.
Complain to store management about inappropriate girls' clothing. Let them know it offends you.
Frequent stores that sell age-appropriate girls' clothing, such as Lands' End and Hanna Andersson. Put your money where your mouth is.
When you find age-appropriate outfits, don't just buy them; alert all your friends who have daughters, so they can buy them, too. Businesses will sell whatever styles make money for them.
Learn to sew, and teach your daughters to sew. It's fun, it's creative, and it's a slap in the face to the clothing stores that sell sleazy styles for girls.
Check out thrift stores for good, basic clothes.
Teach your daughters that they are beautiful inside, where it counts. Raise girls who do not depend on a mirror or leering looks from the opposite sex for their self-esteem.

Monday, February 26, 2007

My Boys Keep Me Busy

Last night, ds21 was headed back to college from a weekend out-of-state visit to his fiancee when he lost control of the car he was driving (icy roads), did a 720 (two 360's) and landed in a ditch. The police officer who found him and the four other college students he was traveling with told them that God must have been looking out for them, because if they hadn't gone off the road where they did, they would surely have been involved in the big crash that took place just a little farther down the highway soon afterward. It's a good thing I pray for my kids! Anyway, since this happened only about an hour from our home, and the kids were pretty shaken up, they came here last night and slept over, then headed back the rest of the way to the college early this morning. Dd15 suggested that maybe our house hasn't sold yet because God knew we'd need it last night to put up five people at the last minute....with five bedrooms and an office, we had plenty of room for everyone.

Meanwhile, dsds13* decided this morning that he was Fred, the blond guy from the Scooby-Doo series. (On any given day, ds could be Spider-man, Superman, Batman, Santa Claus.....today he was Fred.) Feeling the need for a Fred costume, he took his white dress shirt and colored the collar with a blue crayon. Then he drew an orange ascot on the front of the shirt and colored it completely orange. He did not get the reaction he hoped from his dad, who found him busily working on this project. The shirt is now steeped in Shout gel and soaking in the washer. I needed something else to do...sigh.

*Dear Son with Down syndrome, age 13

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Homeschool Conference Update

Just finished up a busy week preparing for and enjoying the InHome Conference here in the Chicago suburbs. This is the fourth year I've been a vendor at this particular conference, and I enjoy it so much.

The people who run it do a top-notch job, and it just reinforces my belief that homeschool moms can handle almost anything. We arrived Thursday afternoon to set up our booth and found Susan, the vendor hall coordinator, facing a situation where she had been given a hall full of tables in the wrong sizes, and she had to reconfigure everything as vendors arrived looking to set up their booths. When someone pays for an 8-foot table, you can't just give them a 6-foot table. That's not what they paid for. Susan handled the ensuing confusion calmly and professionally; there's no way I could have dealt with it nearly as well.

I taught two workshops on Friday, "Preparing Your Teens for Life On Their Own" and "Blogging for Homeschool Moms." The first, based on my book Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers, went well, and I enjoyed meeting several of the attendees afterwards.
The second workshop was so much fun! It had been capped attendance-wise because of space limitations, but quite a few people must have come without signing up. It was a packed house, and everyone arrived ready to ask great questions and learn the basics of blogging (the why's, not the how's ---I'm no techie!) Based on the questions and comments at the workshop, I predict a new crop of talented homeschooling bloggers will burst on the scene before long.

Dd15 ran the booth on Friday while I did my workshops, so she got to enjoy the best thing about homeschool conferences--talking with the attendees. On Saturday, with no workshops left on my list of things to do, I ran the booth alone, so I had the entire day to enjoy visiting with everyone. Even though I'm pretty far along the homeschooling road, I continue to be impressed with the thoughtful intelligence of those who choose to homeschool their children. Some of these people face great odds in tackling this lifestyle (work schedules, money issues, disapproving relatives), but they persevere because they see the positive results of homeschooling in their kids' lives. Some of the people were those I've met at previous conferences: it's so much fun hearing news of their families each year.

Since I began attending this conference as a vendor, I've noticed a steady increase in the number of homeschooling parents who identify themselves as former public school teachers. I knew that a large percentage of public school teachers send their own children to private schools, but I've discovered that many are leaving the public schools altogether to homeschool. These people have been in the trenches---they know what's going on in public schools better than anyone, and they don't want their children there. Never having sent a child to school, I am often naive about what goes on there, but these former teachers are enlightening me. Some left teaching because of their own frustration with the public school system, others because of the dangers of teaching in today's schools. It certainly is a different world than when I was young. Teachers have desks thrown at them, knives pulled on them ....the list goes on. I am often critical of the public school system, and am grateful that I don't have to send my kids there. But I rarely think about what it must be like to work in such an environment. From what these former teachers are telling me, it's very hard to establish a learning environment there. They rightly believe their kids deserve better. I really admire them for what they're doing about it.

Back to the conference....it's fun to meet other vendors, particularly those I've heard of or corresponded with but never met in person. Alison McKee was there again this year...a neat lady whose unschooled kids are now adults and doing very well. I also got to meet Jim Hodges in person..his audiobooks booth was right across from mine. We both belong to an online group of Christian self-publishers, and it was nice to put a friendly face to the name I'd seen online. In the next booth was homeschool graduate Peter Groth, now a college graduate, private tutor and proprietor of Adventure French. It was interesting to hear his stories of working as a substitute teacher, coming as they were from someone who was homeschooled right up until college. Around the corner was Dale Bartlett, author of Have Kids-Will Travel, a book which details how his family of six enjoys world travel on a frugal budget.

Now that the conference is over, I will be able to get back to posting here. I've got lots of info to share.....keep checking back! And since homeschool conference season is just beginning, you might want to prepare by taking my free 4-day e-course, "Keys to a Successful Homeschool Convention Experience."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What Should They Know Before They Go?

I'm reviewing my notes for two workshops I'm giving at a homeschool conference this weekend. One is about blogging; basic and fun. The other is about preparing our teens for life on their own.

One of the hardest things about that subject is deciding what are the most important things they should know before they go?

The answer to that question is very subjective, of course. It depends on you and your life experiences, really---what you think is important, but also, what you wish you'd been prepared for back when you set out as an adult.

One thing I was prepared for, that helped me a lot, was knowing how to stretch a dollar when necessary. I passed that knowledge on to my dd23, who uses it a lot these days as a self-supporting young person living in an expensive city. One of her habits is to bring a home-packed lunch to work. She has found that doing so saves a lot of money, but reports that she is the only person who does so where she works. The others go out to lunch or pick it up and bring it back, spending at least $5-6 per person.

Most of her coworkers are young and have college degrees but were not able to find work in their field, so they ended up working retail. They complain about being poor, being hounded by credit card companies, not being able to afford their own place like dd can, etc. But do the math: they're spending at least $5 a day more on lunch than dd does. Five days per week times 50 weeks/year equals at least $1,250 they could save annually, just by bringing a lunch. (I won't even go into the health benefits of choosing homemade over fast food!) They should have been taught to stretch a dollar; it would make their lives a lot easier financially.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Regarding "The Homework Myth"

It always cracks me up when people ask me if I give my kids homework. When I say no, they often look alarmed, and I get the impression that they think I'm being a neglectful parent.

The fact is that while I don't assign homework, I have always worked toward the point (usually around 10th grade) where my kids are given assignments that are due in a few days or a week, and they are responsible for getting the work done on time. But since they have ample free time, being homeschoolers, it's never been a problem.

Still, they do not have nightly homework; apparently, an increasing number of formally schooled children have that in common with my children. In his book The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, Alfie Kohn suggests that an increasing number of parents and educators (and especially educators who are also parents) are realizing that there are many negatives to homework, and no evidence that homework is a good thing.

He quotes teachers who stop assigning homework and find that their students become more engaged in the classroom. One said now that he has stopped assigning homework to his students, "students come in all the time and hand me articles about something we talked about in class or tell me about a news report they saw. When intrigued by a good lesson and given freedom (from homework), they naturally seek out more knowledge."

Kohn acknowledges that many parents don't like forcing their children to do homework assignments, but are afraid to question the status quo at their children's schools. Meanwhile, other parents may see homework as something more valuable than other activities a child might spent time on after school. Kohn comments, "...let's confront our worst fears and consider the possibility that some children will simply goof off at least some of the time they're home. What if this is true? We need down time after work; why should kids have to be productive until they drop off to sleep? What if they want to hang out with their friends? What if they prefer to spend some time alone after being with other kids all day? The assumption that this is unacceptable should lead us to question the pitiless regimen of academic improvement to which so many people are so eager to subject them."

Kohn ends his book by quoting educator and mother Katharine Samway, who decided her child's family life and his emotional health was being hurt by an overload of homework: ""There have been too many evenings when I have allowed teacher-imposed obligations to supersede our family needs and interests." She found herself thinking, 'You have our children for six hours, five days a week. Can't we have some time with them to do whatever we choose?" And so she resolved to say to her son, "'No, you can't do your homework until we have returned from the show/returned from the bike ride/finished the ball playing/read the book, the chapter, or the poem." If the school's priorities were askew, that didn't mean she had to accept them. Family comes first, she decided. Children come first. Real learning comes first."

It's nice to see others come around to our way of thinking, isn't it? :)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Recognizing Quality

Thanks to the current glut of imported goods, we now live in a disposable society, Most of the goods we buy are made cheaply; we use something up and throw it out and buy another when necessary. After all, today these goods are at bargain prices, so why not?

Take hand mixers, for example. At one time, a good hand mixer cost $40-50. If it broke, you had it repaired because you had put a lot of money into the purchase of it and you wanted it to last. But now, thanks to technological advances (and mass production in countries with a much lower standard of living and therefore lower rate of pay than ours), you can buy a hand mixer for $8-10. With such a minimal investment, when it breaks (and it will), you can just buy another. It’s not worth putting money into repairing it. You can try buying a more expensive model (I have done so several times), but even if you spend $50 on a new hand mixer, it will break. You might as well buy the $10 model and plan to replace it on a regular basis.

For those of us who care about being good stewards, this is a tough call. It makes no sense to have something that inexpensive repaired at a cost equal to or greater than its worth. On the other hand, to keep replacing these poorly made hand mixers seems wasteful. We’re not being good stewards when we put more money into something than it’s worth, yet we’re not being good stewards by tossing electronic equipment into landfills on a regular basis.

This conundrum will be solved eventually, as the countries where such products are manufactured so cheaply get a tiny taste of the affluence their new-found income brings, and want more. Writing about the new affluence of former third-world countries in Fortune magazine, Justin Fox reports:

"Indian call-center workers may make a lot less money than Americans (salaries start at about $2,000 a year), but they make a lot more money than fresh-out-of-college Indians who aren’t computer geniuses have ever made before."

Fox goes on to describe the lifestyle one Indian call-center employee, Anshul Pathak, age 23, now has thanks to his new job:

"Along with his Maruti Suzuki 800 subcompact, he has a Bajaj Pulsar motorcycle. His mobile phone is a Sony Ericsson T610 with a built-in camera. He banks with Citibank. On nights off he hangs out with friends in bars where he favors the local beer, Kingfisher, but others go for foreign concoctions like Bacardi mixed with Sprite. Or they go to Starbucks-like coffee shops where a cappuccino costs $1---an absurdly large sum to older Indians. Pathak watches American movies, That ‘70s Show, MTV. He brushes his teeth with Colgate. He owns a pair of Nikes and a pair of Reeboks."

As more jobs go to the people in such countries as India, their standard of living will rise. As we’ve seen in the United States, the increased affluence will lead those people to expect higher wages to finance an ever-increasing standard of living, which will bring up the price of the products they produce and sell to us. The more we pay for those products, the less we will be inclined to pitch and replace them as soon as they stop working properly. We’ll be more likely to have them repaired.

Or not. Some people get into that pitch-and-replace groove, and it becomes the natural thing to do. But that is an expensive way to live. For those of us who try to keep a lid on our expenses for whatever reason (to live on one income, to survive on a modest income, to be a good steward), it is not even an option.

But there is another option, one that allows us to be good stewards of what we are given. If we learn to recognize quality in the items we buy, we can slow the rate of speed at which we fill the landfills. We can give things we no longer need to others for their use. We can make our money last longer because we won’t need to replace things so often.

What is this option? It’s the recognition of and insistence on quality. Once you educate yourself about quality, you can make wise decisions and not have to replace things so often, thus keeping down expenses while increasing your satisfaction with what you have.

That’s the practical advantage of quality. But there’s another advantage, one that can’t be measured, and that’s the pleasure that something of high quality can give us. The aesthetic value of a beautifully made set of oak bookshelves cannot be measured in mere dollars, and can’t be replicated by an assemble-it-yourself fiberboard set of bookshelves. The set of oak bookshelves will look better and hold together much longer, so that not only will you not have to replace it, but you’ll be able to hand it down to your children.

Of course, in order to appreciate oak bookshelves (so said shelves don’t end up in the garage holding paint cans someday), our children should be taught to recognize and appreciate quality. That ability is becoming rarer these days, but it will be necessary for our children, because as we become more inundated by cheaply made goods from other countries, it is very likely there will be a backlash that will cause people to want quality goods again.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Homeschoolbuzz.com reviews Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers

"Life Prep covers a multitude of practical and essential skills. Whether your teen has a few years left at home, or is on the verge of graduation, you will find this curriculum a great help in preparing your child for life. Highly recommended!"

That's how the good folks at homeschoolbuzz.com ended their just-posted review of my book, Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers. Click here for the full review. We'll have to add that quote to the list of other review quotes on the Life Prep page :)

(Click here for a free project from the book!)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

My Tax Dollars Hard at Work

Where I live now, corn fields morph into subdivisions very quickly. One large subdivision has gotten permission to have a charter school. I received a mailing about it. The new school will include:

"..five classroom buildings, an administrative building with specialty classrooms, and a Gathering Hall with a performance center, two cafes, four adult-learning classrooms, a learning resource center and more. Innovative techology (including wireless access, web-based reporting, and more) will be used.....(it) will offer School's Out--an after-school and summer fun program to enhance learning..."

It will also have a preschool serving 3- and 4-year-olds (full and half days).

Sounds to me like this is a set-up for Mom and Dad to park the kids at the school even after school is over (after school and summers) so they can chill with the other parents at the cafe while they check their email and take some fun adult classes, and all at taxpayer expense.

Nowhere in the mailing does it say what this will all cost, but I'm guessing yet another tax increase will solve that problem.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Virtual Public Schools Aren't Doing Too Well

HSLDA reports that in Idaho, students in "virtual public schools" tested lower than homeschooled students, and for the second year in a row, even tested lower than students attending public school every day.
What can we infer from this? HSLDA suggests these results indicate that "No government program is better than the "mom and dad" program—where loving parents have full control and responsibility for their own child’s education." I couldn't have said it better myself.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Irritation in the Sunday paper

My Sunday paper gave me lots to lament over. First there was the Target ad: for only $249.99, the modern mom can have a "Pump in Style" breast pump complete with a black shoulder bag: "Portable convenience offers discreet pumping anywhere." There's even a special spot for a picture of the little person whose dinner you are pumping---it's the next best thing to being there...not.

How sad this is! Babies should be nursed at their mother's breast, not long distance. Feminists were in such a hurry to get moms out of their homes and into offices...for what? So that they can spend their lunch hour pumping milk for a caregiver (or an out-of-work daddy) to feed their babies?

What's with these mothers who won't give up their careers to be real moms? And in the case of those who must work to put food on the table, we can thank our never-satisfied state and federal governments, taxing us at an overall rate of about 40% (according to Scott Burns) and forcing some women away from their babies so they can work to help pay the bills.

In another section of my Sunday paper comes the news that office romances have become the norm now that people are devoting their lives to their jobs. The reporter quotes Dennis Powers, author of The Office Romance, as estimating that about a third of romances begin at the office. I'm old enough to remember when romance was something you pursued outside of work, while you were living your life. Don't they allow that anymore?

Enough griping. Now you know why my hubby keeps threatening to cancel our newspaper.

British Schools Must Teach Everything

Apparently a third of British citizens are a bit confused about how a woman gets pregnant. I suppose that (along with an appalling 20% abortion rate) explains why England's birth rate is so low. What gets me is that they blame this ignorance on not being taught enough about sex in school:

Most blamed their ignorance on a lack of sex education at school, with 18 per cent of the 18 to 65-year-olds questioned saying they never had any such lessons.

"None of us is born with the facts about sex and reproduction - we are taught them," Weyman added. "If this doesn't happen, myths start getting into circulation and people end up not being able to tell fact from fiction."

Have we finally sunk to the point where we believe learning only takes place in schools? And as long as I'm asking questions, how on earth did previous generations reproduce without schools teaching them to do so?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Raising Stars

The announcement that, according to a recent Pew telephone survey, over 80% of today’s American young people consider being rich and famous one of their top life goals garnered a lot of attention. This particular article about the survey results suggests that one cause of young people’s desire for stardom is the “omnipresence” of their parents’ video cameras while they were growing up.

I can’t speak to the cause, but I know where this concept of stardom is being perpetuated, and that’s in the classroom. I recently received the latest edition of our local school district’s P.R. piece, er…magazine, which describes one local school where “learning about health and well-being is fun.” A program called “Staying Well” is the second grade science and health curriculum there, and it includes songs for the kids to sing, including this one (note: I’m sharing it just the way it’s printed in the mailing, sans punctuation.):

I am the star of my body,
The star of my mind
I am the star of my life yeah
I’m doin’ just fine
I take good care of myself
‘Cause I know that I should
I’m feelin’ good
good good good good
Feelin’ good

OK, so not every lyricist is the next Ira Gershwin. But my point is that kids in my town are taught that the key to well-being is reminding yourself of your stardom. You won’t find that kind of nonsense in our homeschooling house. Anybody who starts claiming stardom around here will find themselves the star of a new reality series called “Extra Chores.”

Monday, February 5, 2007

Still Homeschooling Imperfectly

This is the future home of Barbara Frank's blog. I am in the process of switching over from HomeschoolBlogger.com because of the technical difficulties involved in posting there these days.
Watch this spot for progress as I construct my new blogging home!