Sunday, May 31, 2009

"He has a very small repertoire...

of insults."

Thus said my boy about a friend of his who dissed my kid's new quick-dry, zip-off-leg, built-in-sunscreen pants. The friend said they look like nurses' pants.

Once he said that I realized that because of their green color (somewhere between khaki and forest) they look a bit like scrubs. Yeah, like nurses wear - and doctors.

We got the pants for a Boy Scout canoe trip, and because they were on sale and I had a coupon (in other words, they were really cheap). He approved the color. And he still seems to like them, despite his friend's comment. He doesn't understand insulting comments about clothing, because he really doesn't care about clothing. Oh, he wouldn't wear pink pants, but pretty much as long as his clothes are comfortable and functional, who cares? And why would anyone else care what he is wearing?

Still, he was a little upset over that and other things that happened at a recent get-together. He hasn't had a lot of exposure to mean kids, or kids who are generally nice but under certain circumstances (like around bigger boys), make nasty comments. Last year he had a little trouble with a few guys in his Little League team, and once a few years ago at a summertime day camp when some boys didn't like our last name. Those were pretty isolated incidents. So he hasn't really developed the ability to take such insults in stride, or respond to them.

Now opponents of homeschooling might say well, this is your fault for keeping him out of school where he would have been exposed to this more and learned how to deal with it. Well, maybe so, maybe not. Maybe relentless exposure would have further demoralized him and made him withdraw into a shell (my own personal experience), or made him just as mean as the meanest boy around. Hard to tell. I'll go with this: having less exposure, not more, is the healthier option.

In any case, we talked about the stupidity of insulting someone for their clothes, and I tried to coach him on the proper response: why do my clothes bother you? It's hard to teach him the withering glance and disdainful tone of voice.

In the end, he shrugged it off with the comment about the boy's repertoire of insults. And we had to laugh.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Supreme silliness

The controversy over Supreme Court nominee Sotomayer's infamous comment is really getting on my nerves. It's getting really stupid and I don't know why our supersmart President and other politicians aren't handling this better.

So, just to repeat what you've already read or heard dozens of times, here is the statement:

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Now anyone with sense can see that that is a racist statement. Because all you have to do it switch the terms around and you know, yes you know without a shadow of doubt, that if a white man said he would reach a better conclusion than a Latina (or any other group), there would be much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and that man would disappear from public life in an instant.

Now President Obama is saying he's sure she would have restated that. But gives no reason for his belief. As far as I know, she hasn't said anything.

Look, it's so simple. These people who are rushing to defend her and talk about restating and context and all that should just say "yeah, it was a dumb, racist, insulting statement. You are right, no white man could get away with saying that. But here is why she is still the best person for the Supreme Court." And then they should go on with their reasons. Not excuses, reasons. Because, you know, I have no idea why she would make a good Supreme Court Justice other than that she is not a white male. Which to me isn't reason enough.

Judge Sotomayer should also make a statement about this, um, statement. Clear and precise and with acknowledgment that she got away with it only because she is not a white male. She could also enlighten us as to how Latina experience is so much richer and therefore superior to that of the white male.

Why don't they try just being straightforward and truthful? Oh, I forgot, it's politics.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Carnival of Homeschooling is up!

at The Common Room. I have a post there this week, about our year of therapy.

I haven't had a chance to peruse in detail yet; we've spent the day getting the place ready for houseguests (yea!). (Much-anticipated and desired houseguests, by the way.) So I'm saving it for later.

Here is a bonus benefit of homeschooling: I can call a day off, or even a week, anytime I like. So I'm not the only one who's been vacuuming and scrubbing toilets.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

No confidence

We're going through bookcases and boxes of books now, rearranging things and deciding what we can donate to the church garage/rummage/tag sale.

When we moved I had a goal of reducing our numbers of books. We have a lot, which means a lot of boxes to store and move. We don't have space to have all our books out of boxes in this house. Maybe we'll never have a house big enough. So I try to cull.

But as I look at my kids' books, I find I can't part with them. Not because they have such sentimental value, though we did enjoy them; there's not a loser in the bunch. And they are mostly all available at the local library, now. But I no longer have confidence that my as-yet-hypothetical grandchildren will be able to find books like Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, or The Railway Children, or Half Magic or - God forbid - Swallows and Amazons. Because they're old, and well-written... and old, well-written books aren't very popular anymore.

It's not just kids' books. Every now and then I go through the boxes of Sophocles, Homer, Aeschylus, all that old Western Civ stuff, and I think, my kids won't need these! There will be new editions by the time they are ready to read this. Why keep these old books? But now, as Western Civ declines - is scorned - who knows how much these books will be valued in the future?

I just don't have confidence that public libraries as we understand them now will exist in 20 years. Or if they do, if such books will have been determined to be archaic, dispensable, and... not available. And I don't mean not available in old-fashioned paper book form. I mean, gone. I don't have confidence in our government not to decide that certain books that espouse certain old-fashioned values might be better off... disappearing. I don't have confidence in a culture that despises hard work and study and idolizes mindless leisure and entertainment. The people that don't read good books today will be running the libraries and the government and soon.

So I'm not getting rid of any of our good books. Actually, I'll probably be buying more.

Do you think I'm wrong?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Unschooling, sometimes

We have been babysitting a little toddler for the past few weeks. It has been fun, if exhausting. He's little, yet, and can't communicate well, but we can see the delight in his eyes when he pets our dog, or when he sees a bird outside. He wants to touch and see everything he can. Soon, he'll be talking and asking lots of questions and generally being a very curious kid.

All kids are curious when they are little, and some stay that way all their lives. Some don't, though. Some become passive consumers of entertainment. Some just don't find the world very interesting. It is a bit depressing to me to meet incurious kids; worse when I meet adults with no real curiosity or interests.

But what does this have to do with unschooling?

Curious kids are natural candidates for "unschooling." Unschooling is a philosophy of education that is widely misunderstood, probably because its proponents don't always use the same definition. In my experience, most people who don't know anything about homeschooling at all equate unschooling with neglect. They figure it means kids are left free to roam the neighborhood breaking into people's houses, or at least playing video games all day. I guess it could mean that to some people, but to most I've come across, it just means allowing children to learn the things they want or need to learn at their own pace and in their own way. One unschooling family I know has tons of books, dvds, cds, science kits, etc., around, and their kids are free to explore with them. The parents act as facilitators as the kids educate themselves. The kids are bright, articulate, well-educated, and very, very curious.

We aren't really unschoolers, except in a few areas where it works well for us.

My girl is always trying out new crafts, using library books and materials we provide for her. She does things I can't even dream of getting my clumsy fingers to do. She's never had a class, but she is learning a lot. It's the same with drawing. She may take classes at some time, but for now she's doing it on her own, with the help of the library and local craft shops.

She has also participated in some casual writing workshops and learned a lot about writing. She's written a small picture book and occasionally writes a journal as a young girl in early-20th century England. She reads a lot of historical fiction. I also toss some writing instructional materials her way now and then, but she works with them on her own. I look things over and offer help and ideas. But, she's really doing it.

My boy has always had an interest in planes. Before he could read he pored over picture books about planes and asked me to read bits to him. Once he could read there was no stopping him learning. He also, occasionally, watched dvds or tv shows about planes; once in a while we'd point him to an interesting website. We went to museums and stood around bored while he examined planes. (OK, just my girl and I got bored.) We've never held a "class" on planes.

A few years ago we went to a family reunion and he, among a few others (also homeschooled), sat and talked with an uncle who'd been a pilot in a semi-recent war. I wasn't close enough to hear them, but the conversation was obviously quite animated.

Later, after the kids went to bed and the adults were hanging out chatting, the uncle chuckled about his dinner conversation with those boys. "They sure knew a lot," he said. "Must have learned it in school."

I didn't have the opportunity to point out that they had not learned it in school. And while I don't know the other homeschooling family well enough to know for sure, I have a feeling they didn't have a "class" on planes either.

Of course the boys who did go to school may know just as much about planes, either from their own leisure-time reading or from classes at school. This isn't about the superiority of homeschooling. It's about learning and being curious enough to learn without being taught.

One of the goals we have for our kids is to retain their natural curiosity about life. They have different interests and we try to allow them time to pursue them.

Allowing my kids time to develop their own interests and learn on their own helps me too. It gives me more time in my day to learn the things I'm interested in. Because I haven't lost my curiosity about the world yet, either.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Year of Therapy

We had our homeschool evaluations done yesterday. That is the yearly event mandated by the state of Pennsylvania (the cradle of liberty) in which a nice state-certified lady comes to our house, looks over the kids' reading lists and work samples, chats with them about some of their work, and determines whether or not I have given my children an appropriate education.

If we pass (we did), she gives me a certificate to submit, along with the portfolio of work she just reviewed, to the school district so someone there can review it and also determine the appropriateness of my kids' education.

As I looked over last year's portfolios, I realized that this year we had done far less in terms of fun stuff: field trips to historic sites, science experiments involving vinegar and pennies, read-alouds of exciting books. We did enough, and the kids grew in their skills, knowledge, and understanding, but, from my perspective, this wasn't such a great year, compared to last.

Then I remembered that this was the Year of Therapy. We spent much of this academic year taking my boy to various appointments for various learning problems. We didn't have time for much fun stuff. We were fixing his brain. And, it seems to be working pretty well. He has improved in all of his troubling areas. We have seen a lot of progress. And some of the therapies are winding down now.

As I look back on this past year, I remember that sometimes it was very hard. It was frustrating, being unable to do so many things I wanted to do. I hated dragging my kids around, especially my girl who had to sit around a lot, waiting. (She got an enormous amount of reading and drawing done, though!) I hated not reading to them as much as I like. But, it was a season, and it seems to be almost over. And we saw results from it. It's good to remember that seasons come and go, and that every year will be different.

So, I'm going to call our next academic year the Year of Field Trips. Maybe we'll make it to Daniel Boone's birthplace, the National Canal Museum, even Betsy Ross's house and the Natural History Museum just downtown. (Thanks to Gladys, our GPS, we no longer fear driving in Philadelphia.) We'll try to go further afield and see Menlo Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. See more of the Pennsylvania countryside and rivers; view more art; listen to more music.

Sounds like a better school year to me. Even the planning will be more interesting!

Friday, May 15, 2009

The future of music

Tonight we went to a local symphony orchestra's "pops" concert. I don't know the exact definition of "pops" but it seems like orchestra light: music from a Broadway musical, some Sousa marches, stuff like that. Not my favorite music, but OK. We went because our church had a small group going.

The auditorium was a sea of gray - hair, that is. There was a small handful of children, maybe 1 or 2 teens/young adults, some middle-agers, and the rest, senior citizens. The orchestra itself, a small-town outfit, was not quite as gray, but close.

Of course it is Friday night and young people have better things to do. But I wondered...

Who is going to be playing this music in 10 years? Who will be listening to it?

Personally, I don't care if the music from Les Miz disappears. But John Philip Sousa?

My girl says she will do it. She loved the evening - was watching wide-eyed the whole time. I loved the look on her face when, as part of a medley, they played one of the songs she's learning on piano.

But she can't do it alone.

Do your kids listen to music other than what's currently popular for their age group? Do you take them to performances?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mother's Days

Sarah at Smallworld is inviting people to share "Monday Memories." So here is one of which I am quite fond.

The first Mother's Day after I was married, my Grandmother-in-Law phoned me to wish me a happy one. I had no children at the time. She said "It's your first Mother's Day, and not a mother yet. Well, better luck next year!"

A rather odd comment, perhaps, but she did not mean it unkindly. She was just anxious for a great-grandchild.

The second Mother's Day after I was married, I was 7 1/2 months pregnant and the Great-Grandmother-to-be was gravely ill. I am sure I spoke with her in the days after my boy's birth but I don't remember. I do remember that my in-laws asked that we try to come visit as soon as we could. Traveling cross-country with an infant was a little daunting, but we got vaccinations done and the doctor's OK, and off we went when he was 8 weeks old.

We had a long plane flight and a long drive. But when we arrived at her house, she was awake and waiting for us. She sat up in bed and held out her arms for the baby. She looked at the baby and then at her grandson and said "Well, I guess you've got it all now, don't you?"

We had a few short visits with her and took some photos before we left a few days later. Shortly after we returned home, she died. We knew she had been waiting to see that baby, her great-grandchild.

We tell our kids that story every Mother's Day. I still have to smile every time I think of it.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Missng the toddler years - not

This past week we had the privilege of helping out some friends by babysitting their 15-month-old. He was with us 4 days this week, for 6 - 8 hours a day.

Since my youngest is 10 now, I thought I'd be awkward with diaper changes, feeding, all that baby stuff. But no, it all came back quite easily. Even the stupid falsetto voice for speaking to the baby, and the dippy songs. (But I still didn't talk baby talk, just like I didn't to my kids.) What also came back was the memory of how much I wanted those days to be over.

I always loved my kids but I sure did start to like them better when we could communicate with each other. And when they could eat on their own, dress themselves, and take care of their own bathroom needs.

My mother always told me (just like your mother told you, or will) not to wish away the baby years. Now I know the years fly by and one day I will wonder what happened to my little ones. But so far I haven't missed those semi-helpless days. It sure is fun watching this baby discover and try to figure out the dog, and try to say my kids' names, and laugh uproariously at peek-a-boo. We love having him around. But still, I'm glad he goes home at the end of the day.

Someone told me that after babysitting this child I would want another. Nope, not so far, anyway. It just confirmed my feelings that babies are great, but I'm really glad they grow up.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Who's getting swindled?


Stimulus-funded Florida bridge draws criticism.

A town in FL gets some stimulus money for a bridge but some folks don't want it:

"The president should know that this is a boondoggle, and he is getting swindled," said Odias Smith, who has been fighting the bridge for decades and is suing the state Department of Transportation to try to stop it.

Got that? The President is being swindled. Not the taxpayers.

Some folks are for it:

"Those of us in favor of the bridge can't believe that we became so fortuitous that in a time of a recession when jobs are down that we actually found the money and have the opportunity to build this bridge that we've been planning now for literally over 20 years and now it's a reality," Mortell said.

Finders keepers, losers weepers!

But is it shovel-ready?

"I'm flabbergasted, to tell you the truth, because my understanding of the stimulus money was it was supposed to be for shovel-ready projects that could be completed in three years. This is not shovel-ready," she said. "We haven't acquired the land necessary for right of way. We don't have plans for it."

The Florida DOT says it has purchased 33 of the 63 pieces of property it will need to complete the bridge, and it expects to have all of them acquired by February 2011. But Smith said some people might refuse to sell.

Well, they've acquired more than half the land they need, and can get the rest via legal land-grabbing - otherwise known as eminent domain - so what's the problem?

"[A county commissioner who is against the project] "probably misinterpreted what shovel-ready means," [the chairman of the planning commision] said. He said the bridge has already been designed and all federally required studies have been completed, so work on some parts of the project can begin right away.

And, hey, if it gets halfway done and we find out we can't finish, well... at least some folks got back to work for a while, right? I'm sure there'll be some stimulus money left over for unemployment compensation.

(I have no idea why this spacing is so weird.)