Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Truth About China

So China is starting to rethink its one child policy. In case you didn't know, for years China has used forced abortions to keep its population at one child per family in the city and two children per family in the country. Since boys are considered more valuable than girls there, baby girls are often found lying on the roadside, left to die, while parents try again for a boy before they reach the limit.

This quote from an article about the possible policy change has got to be the understatement of the year:

China says its policies have prevented several hundred million births and boosted prosperity....

"Prevented"? That's one way to say it.

So, the Chinese government is obviously ok with murdering several hundred million people in order to become more prosperous. Let's all think about that the next time we buy something made in China. We're supporting a murderous regime.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Homeschool vs. Public School

Every week I receive a free newsletter, “The Homeschool Minute,” from The Old Schoolhouse magazine. It’s a nice little email, and I recommend it, despite all the promotional emails they send you after you subscribe. (You can subscribe here.)

This week’s topic is “Comparing Yourself to the Public School—As In Don’t.” Great topic, and there are several interesting takes on it by the assorted columnists of THM.

However, I have to admit that I’ve compared our homeschool to public school many times. One of the reasons I’ve remained so committed to homeschooling, even when it gets tough, is that I remember my own years in public school, and never, not even on my worst homeschooling day, have I wanted to send my kids there.

To me, public school meant boredom, long hours watching a clock whose minute hand moved in super slow-motion. I remember staring out the window as the teacher droned on, feeling jealous of the birds that could fly freely.

Sometimes, public school meant fear. In grammar school, I was afraid of the boy who punched me in the stomach for no reason. In junior high, I dreaded the annual gymnastics unit in P.E., where I was forced to display, in front of the entire class, my inability to turn a cartwheel or do a backflip.

Later on, in high school, public school meant anger…my anger at the injustice of the situation. It wasn’t fair to be cooped up in classrooms when there were so many interesting things going on in the world. It was demeaning to be 16 and have to ask for a pass to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. It made me mad that the school staff insisted good grades were important yet gave all the attention and perks to the varsity football team.

Homeschooling meant my kids didn’t have to go through the boredom and the fear and the anger. It meant they had far more freedom as children than I ever had. Once we had completed our daily work, they could do what they wanted.

I remember watching my son lying on the foyer floor and thinking how happy he looked, deep in thought as he drew a very detailed picture of space creatures on a huge piece of drafting paper my husband had given him. Or my daughter, inhaling books as soon as she got them home from the public library and begging for more by that evening. And even today, my younger daughter, now a teen, sits knitting while I read her Economics book aloud. She says she can think more clearly when her hands are busy; she’s an auditory learner. I doubt most high school teachers would let her knit in class.

Then there’s my youngest, the one with Down syndrome. Unlike the disabled kids who went to school with me, my son has never been pushed or tripped in the hallway. He’s never been called the “R” word. He trusts people to love him, because he’s surrounded by love every day.

So yes, I’m afraid I’m guilty of comparing our homeschool to public school many times over the past twenty years. And every single time, homeschooling comes up smelling like a rose.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

This Week's Carnival of Homeschooling... now up over at SuperAngel's Blog. She has used the theme of "Political Parties of Our Government," and I was happy to see she put my post in a section I can live with (you'll have to go over there to see what I mean!)

Monday, February 25, 2008

The View When We Do School

We "do school" in the dining room, and this is our view from the table. On the left is a clock my husband made recently. (The bridge in the background of the clock face is the one here in town.) On the right is a frame he made, and it holds a glass mosaic made by dd24. They are planning to sell both his clocks and their framed mosaics this summer (we live in a tourist area called Door County).

In the middle is our sign of spring: the first of the five pots of bulbs I planted last fall. I love to force bulbs. You just plant a few pots of them in the fall, keep them some place dark and very cold over the winter (we used the garage cupboards), water them once a week or so, and come early spring, you have flowers! This particular pot is full of daffodil bulbs. My favorites, however, are hyacinths. They smell heavenly!

And in the background you see snow, lots of it. I love snow, but even I'm starting to tire of it. We've had a total of five feet of snow this winter thus far. Sigh.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Midlife Crises, or Enjoying Our Freedom?

I may not be able to remember why I came into a room sometimes, but being sentimental, I can always remember dates and anniversaries that have been important to me. That’s why I know that six months ago today we closed on the sale of our house.

No big deal to most people. Supposedly the average American moves every five years. Well, not us. We owned only two houses since 1981, and we moved to the second one in 1988. We ordered it from the builder several months before they broke ground, and we watched it go up by driving to the building site every few days until we moved in with our two little kids. We had two more kids while we lived there. It was the scene of many wonderful memories. We loved it a lot.

But last summer we had to sell it. My husband’s business of 12 years died as a result of all the offshoring of his industry to China, and it soon became obvious that either we both had to find jobs (thus no more homeschooling) or we had to move somewhere cheaper. And that’s how we ended up closing on the sale of our house after ten long months on the market, during a week that is now considered to be the beginning of the current credit crunch. We were fortunate to have sold at all. As they say, God is never late but rarely early. No kidding.

I think the part that feels the strangest to me is that we’re now renters after having been homeowners since we were 22. Where I grew up, renters were considered transients. Owning a home was one of those big lifetime milestones from which you didn’t retreat until they carried you out to the retirement home (or the funeral home).

But it’s funny how freeing it can be to rent. Maybe it’s because we became homeowners at such a young age, or maybe we’re having joint midlife crises, but this is fun! As much as I loved fixing up our house and buying things for it, I’m enjoying the amount of time not doing those things has freed up. This is a nice house, but there are no beautiful wood floors or new carpeting as we had in the old house, so I don’t worry about something spilling on or scraping up the floor. I’m not crazy about some of the window treatments, but so what? We’re not going to be here forever, so I can live with them. If the appliances conk out, we just call the property manager. Today the garage door opener went into seizure mode. The guys came and fixed it, and we didn’t get a bill. Nice!

Our rental agreement includes lawn service and snow-plowing. At first, dh had a hard time staying in the house while Lawn Boy did his thing outside. It made him feel lazy. But we’re paying for it in our rent, I kept reminding him. It’ll be interesting to see if he still feels that way this spring when the grass starts growing again.

I especially love not having to watch our property taxes rise every year. A few months ago the new assessment notification for our old house was forwarded to us in the mail. Yes, it went up again…..but it’s not our problem!

I read a lot about how house prices are dropping, and I can imagine that is scary for a lot of people. But it doesn’t affect us, except that someday, we’ll hopefully get a good deal. We thought we would buy again this summer, but now we’re not so sure. We’re praying about it, but neither of us is in much of a hurry to be homeowners again. Unless God puts something irresistible in front of us (or the rent skyrockets), I’m thinking we’ll be here for a while.

There was a time when I would not have been able to handle the uncertainty of where we’re going next. We used to say we liked staying in our rut, it was comfortable there. Now I can see the wisdom of the saying that the difference between a rut and a grave is a few feet. It’s been invigorating to learn about a new place, meet new people and see new sights as we go about our daily lives. Having to sell our house and move to another state was pretty traumatic at the time, no question, but we’re finding this to be an adventure, and looking forward to the future, whether God keeps us here or sends us somewhere else.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ignorance in Academia

I'm sure glad we're not paying overpriced tuition at UNC-Chapel Hill to finance the salary of a biology professor like Albert Harris. He's the guy who recently told his biology class that babies with Down syndrome should be aborted.

Some of his students had no problem with him sharing that opinion, but others did, including a young woman who has a brother with Down syndrome. Hearing her professor say that made her physically ill, she says.

I completely empathize with her. People who don't have a loved one with special needs are often completely clueless as to what it's like for us to hear other people says cruel things about them.

Several years back, dd24 was working at a cash register when she overheard a customer say about a customer ahead of him who had Down syndrome, "They shouldn't let people like that out in public." My daughter got so mad she had to leave the area (otherwise, I probably would have had to bail her out on an assault charge).

You see, we know what most of society does not: people with Down syndrome are people we love, and they deserve life. Even though their presence in our homes and families often makes life more difficult in some ways, it makes life better in other ways. I can honestly say that our lives are better for having dsds14 in them, and we consider him a gift of God, just like his siblings.

As for Professor Harris, I think he's full of it:

Harris says he wouldn't follow his own moral position.
If he thought his wife was going to have a child with Down syndrome, he would still want to have the baby.
And he faced that situation.
His wife, then 34, was pregnant with their third child when she suffered major bleeding. Doctors told the couple to prepare for the worst.
"If our child had been born with Down syndrome as we expected, we would have cherished her," Harris said.

Beans. There are a lot of situations that can cause the mother to bleed, but Down syndrome isn't one of them, as far as I know. The baby has an extra chromosome, not the power to cause hemorrhaging. The mother must have had some other problem.

And as for "prepare for the worst," some of us see the worst as the death of a baby, not the birth of one with Down syndrome. Geez.

BTW, if you'd like a great, honest read about how God can bless a family by sending a child with disabilities, try The Dance Goes On by Roberta Bandy. We know the Bandy family, and their story is inspiring.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

New Carnival of Homeschooling is Up

My husband's grandmother used to teach in a one-room schoolhouse, and her stories of that time were really interesting. Heather over at HomeschoolBlogAwards shares her grandmother's memories of attending a one-room schoolhouse and uses that as a framework for this week's Carnival of Homeschooling. Don't miss it! There are over 50 posts this week.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Gloomy Stats About College and Jobs

I was raised knowing I would go to college, and I did. My parents and I split the cost of it, and I worked throughout my college years to pay for my half. I graduated with no debt.

My dh was also told he would be going to college, and he paid for most of it himself, working summers and coming out of school owing a whopping $1000 or so, which we paid off in a couple of years at $30 a month.

Today, more kids are going to college than ever, but the price of a college education has risen so dramatically that it’s pretty much impossible for someone to work their way through school as we did. As a result, many kids are coming out of school owing tens of thousands of dollars in college loans, plus several thousand more in credit card debt.

If they were making big bucks once they graduated, this would be a problem with a short shelf-life. But wages are stagnating*, and we now have more college graduates than we need for the number of jobs available in this country that require a college degree.

Paul Barton writes about this in the current issue of Change Magazine:

The absolute demand for college graduates is also overstated when whatever percentage of the workforce that has gone to college is equated with the percentage of jobs that require college-level learning—or when the assumption is made that the knowledge gained in college is required to perform that job. For example, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), in a committee hearing in March 2007, said that when he graduated from school, just 15 percent of jobs needed some postsecondary training, but "today the number is over 60 percent and rising rapidly." But while over 60 percent of people in existing jobs have "some college" or a postsecondary credential, according to the BLS only about 3 in 10 jobs require a postsecondary certification of some sort.

Yikes! The BLS, of course, is the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the primary source of employment statistics in this country.

Pretty depressing stats, but let’s try being more optimistic: Is there a possibility that there will be more jobs in the future that require a college degree? Sorry, not according to the BLS. Barton includes BLS charts forecasting employment growth in his article, noting that

The jobs that require postsecondary education credentials total 29 percent for 2004 and will rise to 31 percent by 2014.

BTW, the term “postsecondary education” refers not only to four-year and Master’s degrees, but also to two-year degrees and even one-year certificates. So that seems to indicate that the lion’s share of jobs in the future will not require a four-year college degree.

Does this mean your child should not go to college? That depends on the child. Young people who excel in science and want to be neurosurgeons should definitely be encouraged to go to college. But those who don’t know what they want to do, who don’t want to go to college but are feeling pressured by society, or who want to major in a field that doesn’t pay much more than a job at Starbucks might want to head off in a non-college direction, unless you have a money tree in your backyard.

And all young people, whether they go to college or not, should be given a good education in personal finance, because with stagnating wages and rising food and gas prices**, the young people who know how to stretch a dollar will be the best prepared of all.

* the most recent government figures show a 0.1% increase in inflation-adjusted earnings from Nov. 2007 to Jan. 2007. That trend has not varied much over the past ten years.

** current annual inflation rate is over 4% as seen here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Another Massacre on Valentine's Day

I had just finished writing my last blog post, which mentioned the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, when I heard on the radio that there was a mass shooting this afternoon at Northern Illinois University, which is not far from where we used to live. Last I heard, 18 kids had been shot.

We know many people who have attended NIU, and know someone who goes there now. She's my daughter's friend, who was also homeschooled; as soon as I heard the news, I let my daughter know. She checked on her friend and found out that she was ok, thank God. She was in the next lecture hall over when it happened; everyone in her class piled all sorts of stuff up against the door of their lecture hall and waited half an hour until the police told them it was safe to come out. The only way they learned what was going on was that a few of the kids got online and saw the reports of the shooting.

Right now, all over Chicagoland, terrified parents are trying to get through jammed cell phone lines to make sure their kids at NIU are ok. We're listening to a Chicago tv station over the Internet; they're telling parents how to text their kids at NIU in order to check on them, and they're telling the kids to send their technology-challenged parents a simple text message: I AM OK.

This is so sad. I won't get on my soapbox. All the parents and kids are in my prayers.

Nobody's Perfect

Billy Wilder is one of my favorite film directors. The last two words on his tombstone also happen to be the last two words in one of the best Wilder films, "Some Like It Hot."

I've written about our family's Valentine's Day tradition of a giant heart cookie (recipe here), but in recent years we've established another tradition. Each Valentine's Day, we watch "Some Like It Hot."

You might wonder what the connection is between the movie and the holiday. Well, the plot is put into motion by the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre, which took place in the city where I was born and which I lived in or near all my life until last summer: Chicago.

We're not the only ones who love this movie; it was voted #1 funniest film by the American Film Institute (AFI). However, I don't recommend it for children. Teens should be fine, though.

There's A First Time for Everything....

In 20 years of homeschooling, we've never had any issues with the authorities. So when the local sheriff pulled up in front of our house this morning, my very first thought was, "I'm pretty sure I have HSLDA's number near the phone."

It's an eerie feeling to think that after all these years, we could get in trouble for homeschooling. We are new to this state, but we've tried to follow all their rules. Back in Illinois, they didn't care what we did as long as we paid the enormous annual property tax bill that funded the schools. But here in Wisconsin, we had to send the state a letter saying we're homeschooling, and identifying ourselves and our kids by name. As far as I knew, that was all I had to do. Now I was wondering if I missed a deadline or something.

The sheriff rang the bell, then immediately began banging on the door. The kids and I were at the kitchen table working on schoolwork, and we stayed put. My husband answered the door while I held my breath.
"Is X here?"

Big sigh of relief. I recognized the name as that of the person who rented this house before us. My husband explained who we were, and that we occasionally got mail for that person, but had no forwarding address for them. The sheriff thanked him, then left.

I guess that's one way to break up the "school day."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Illiterate Teacher

The next time someone asks me why I homeschool my kids, I'm going to respond that I want to make sure they're taught by someone who knows how to read and write. Apparently, the public schools can't guarantee that.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Something New

Regular visitors will note something new on the graphics. They were given to me by dd16, who made them for her blog. She very graciously shared them with me.

Those homeschooled kids.... they are just so darn talented :)

An Exclusive Art School

Today might be the first time I've ever wished we lived in Mexico.

The Sunday paper included a story about an art school in Mexico City for adults with Down syndrome. Their artwork is now on tour in Europe.

I love the comments by the Swiss artist and pediatrician who displayed the paintings in a 10-day show in Switzerland:

"I was positively shocked by the beauty of the paintings. It was something like when I saw Klee's paintings for the first time....There's no intellectual filter between what they're expressing and what they're seeing."

She is so right: there is no filter. Dsds14's drawings are so imaginative, and I rarely see him stop to contemplate what he will draw as he works. He gets right down to it, and he knows exactly what he wants to draw.

If I suggest adding something, I'll usually be shot down, unless I catch him in one of his tender moments. But even then, his compliance usually means the end of the drawing, and he'll hand it to me fairly quickly. I know he's thinking, "It's yours now, not mine." Left to his own imagination, he will fill a page with a very detailed drawing. How he would love to go to an art school like the one in Mexico City!

I do know of one adult artist with Down syndrome who has done quite well for himself. His name is Michael Jurogue Johnson, and he has a Web site where he sells his work. I love going there.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Giant Heart Cookie...and Other Goodies for You

I just sent out the February issue of "The Imperfect Homeschooler" newsletter. It includes several goodies, including:

two new articles, "When Cloning Yourself is Not an Option" and
"Resources for Celebrating Presidents Lincoln and Washington,"
some links to great online tools for homeschooling,
"What Our Kids Are Missing Out On Dept."
and, since Valentine's Day is just around the corner,
the story behind our family's Giant Heart Cookie tradition, and the recipe for it, including a printable version.
If you're a subscriber, check your email. If you're not, you can always check out the current (and past) issues here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Who Cares About History?

Can you identify these three men? Can your kids identify them?

They are, from left, Soviet Premier Josef Stalin, U.S. President Harry Truman and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Potsdam Conference in Germany in 1945. They met to discuss how to deal with post-Nazi Germany in the aftermath of WWII.

As prime minister, Churchill inspired the Allied Forces to stay the course and fight the Nazis in a bloody war that left parts of England in shambles due to air attacks by the Germans. He was revered in Britain for his efforts.

But that was then. A new study finds that 20% of British teens do not believe Winston Churchill ever existed. Then again, nearly two-thirds of them think King Arthur was a real person. Guess we Americans aren't the only ones dealing with a dumbed-down culture.

Here's one historian's take on the study:

Historian Correlli Barnett said: "This suggests a complete lack of common sense and respect for our greatest heroes of the past."
"Churchill and Wellington were great men, but this suggests we no longer value people of great achievement.
"It's all about celebrities and popular culture. What it also tells us is what is going wrong in our school curriculums.
"Something must be completely lacking in our national education that people could be so ignorant as to think these people never actually existed.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Reliving History

What a great idea for a blog. A British man is posting all of his grandfather's letters, written while he was a soldier during World War I, exactly 90 years to the day since each was written. His grandfather's name was Harry Lamin.

The letters are posted without editing or spelling corrections. Just to give you some perspective, Harry's son, who was an infant when his dad went off to war, is now 90 and lives in a nursing home in England.

Keeping up with this blog would make a great history project for young homeschoolers.

Friday, February 1, 2008

You CAN Teach Your Children to Write

I’m amazed by the number of homeschooling moms I know who are intimidated by the thought of teaching their children to write. I think the long, dragged-out process of learning to write in grammar and high school gave them the idea that learning to write is a major endeavor.

But let’s face it; there are many school subjects that take way too long to learn in school, because school is nothing if not inefficient. One teacher trying to lead a group of children in a certain direction will tell you it can be a little like herding cats. Each child learns uniquely, has different interests and may or may not want to be there. That makes it pretty hard to tailor the instruction to fit all of their needs. So it takes a long time to teach a process like writing in school.

We homeschoolers don’t have that disadvantage. We have time with our kids, and we know them better than any teacher can know them. Given that we’re free of the restraints of school, teaching our kids to do something as basic as write in their native language should be easy, right?

Well, not according to those intimidated homeschooling moms I mentioned. They lack confidence in tackling the job of teaching their children to write. Some believe that they are not good writers themselves.

A quick trip around the homeschooler blogosphere will dispel that notion. There are many good writers out there! You all need to have more confidence in yourselves :)

However, even if you’re not the world’s greatest writer, you can still provide your children with the tools that will enable them to become good writers. You can also prepare yourselves to teach your kids to write.

We have a special report, “Teaching Your Children to Write,” that we usually sell at homeschool conventions. But we’ve run out of copies, and we’re taking this year off of the convention circuit anyway. So if you’d like to print out your own free copy of that report, just go here. I hope reading it will help you realize that you don’t have to fear teaching your children to write.