Monday, January 31, 2011

Has it come to this?

A high school student attending Dallas’ North Mesquite High School was given a ticket for $340 for disorderly conduct/abusive language after she swore in a classroom.  The news article did not cite the offending word verbatim, but it appears to be the word “shit.”  High school teacher Michelle Lene overheard the comment and was offended.  The student was sent to the principal’s office and given a lunch detention.  One day later the school’s resource officer issued a citation.  The fine skyrocketed to $637 after the teen failed to appear at a court hearing concerning the matter. 
$340 dollars is a huge fine for anyone, let alone a high school student.  That is almost my family food budget for two weeks, and I could not afford to give it to the state of Kansas if one of my children spoke inappropriately in a classroom.  It’s not a good idea for the government to issue fines for poor language.   It further chips away at that pesky notion that our government will not abridge our freedom of speech, salty or otherwise.  I would rather have a student drop the “F bomb” in class than lose my first amendment right. 
I am surprised at the weenie factor of the high school teacher who was offended by the excrementous reference.  I heard priests drop the “F bomb” while I attended Quigley North High School in Chicago, as well as teachers swearing at Cicero’s Morton East High School where I graduated.  This is something that my wife finds appalling, but for me was simply a fact of life. Students swear, and while teaching I did try to limit the instances of swearing in school, I developed a thick skin very quickly.   There are better methods for dealing with students than kicking them out of the classroom, giving them detentions, and large financial penalties.  Many students would react to that teacher so negatively that they would simply shut down in that room and all learning would cease.  Classroom control is a big issue that affects learning.  It is also a skill that is both hard to master and at the same time critical to master quickly.
If the imposition of fines becomes a regular occurrence in our nation’s high schools, what do we do with students and families who cannot or will not pay the fine?  Do we withhold grades and/or a diploma over the payment of these fines?  Some legislator somewhere will come up with the idea to withhold a driver’s license over unpaid fines, especially since many people learn to drive in a driver’s education course while in high school.  What sort of financial cost will be incurred by the state for the collection of fines?  What extra burdens will be placed on an already over-burden court system if this practice becomes a regular occurrence?   How much will schools pay in legal fees once the ACLU starts suing?
Can we legislate proper behavior in this country?  Should we try?
I’m also willing to bet that the young woman who took on a waitressing job to pay off the fine will be very careful about what she says in school in the future.   For some students, a financial penalty might be a deterrent to giving in to the temptation to utter a coarse phrase.  The near doubling of the fine for missing a court hearing also taught her that when a citizen is ordered to appear before a judge, they probably should appear.  It was a good lesson.  The offended teacher probably won’t have a swearing problem in her classroom in the future. 
So, do we fine students in our classrooms or not?  What do you say?

Friday, January 28, 2011

More Food for Thought: Sir Ken on Homeschooling

Spurred on by some of the questions Arby raised in response to the "Changing Education Paradigms" video posted earlier this week, I've been reading more about school reform activist, Sir Ken Robinson. Some time ago, Sir Ken invited his followers to "tweet" him their questions. The video below (posted today) is the response to the following question:

"What are your thoughts on home education and how that model can be applied to schools?"

"What all this points to to me is a key principle for the future of education as a whole which is diversity: diversity of provision, diversity of teaching style, and diversity of curricula. And those principles stand, at the moment, in contrast to the ones that have dominated public education, which is standardization and conformity. So I think there's an opportunity here for a much more open conversation about how multiple approaches to education, in the home or in school, can help to inform and benefit each other.
- Sir Ken Robertson

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Too Religious to Homeschool?

Is this really a legal challenge to homeschooling? Or is it a custody issue? What are your thoughts?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Is This Why We Should Send Our Children To Public Schools?

Our Apathy, Kansas, school board president has a bit of a legal problem. She is seeking a “Diversion” in court for her DUI arrest.  She was arrested in September of last year on the way home from an Apathy Educational Foundation Gala fundraising event.   If the request for a Diversion is granted, the case might be dismissed if “certain conditions” are met.   I don’t know what the conditions are.  I am hoping that she will be required to give a presentation to Apathy high school students on the dangers of alcohol and driving.  Her actions undermine the credibility of any teacher who warns against drinking and driving.  It’s a do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do situation.  I'm certain the students know of her situation.
As if that wasn’t enough local trouble, a former Apathy police officer and school board member was arrested last month in Kansas City for attempting to meet a fourteen year old boy for a sexual liaison.  This man was a DARE officer.  Ironically, he was also the coordinator of the Safe Kids program.  He was our town’s Officer of the Year in 2008. This man only resigned from the police department and the school board last November.   Blessedly, the fourteen year old boy was really a police officer.   No one was hurt.  So far, no children have come forward to say that they were molested by this man.   This guy successfully did what every pedophile wants to do.  He gained the trust of children, parents, and school administrators, as well as access to children.   
In Oak Park, Illinois, a high school student is in trouble for starting a Facebook page where he rated Oak Park-River Forest high school girls on their physical appearance and level of promiscuity, while a former Fresno, California, high school wrestler is facing criminal charges for performing a “butt drag” on a fellow wrestler.  The former student, now expelled from high school, claims that he was performing a legitimate wrestling move where one wrestler grabs his opponent by a buttock and drags him across the mat.   The “draggee” claims that it was a sexual assault, since two of the dragger’s fingers allegedly penetrated the young lad’s anus.   I cannot imagine any former high school classmate ever being willing to stick his hand in the crack of another students rear end for any reason.  I am also curious as to what the boys were wearing that would allow such penetration to occur.  Standard wrestling gear should prevent such an occurrence.  This will be an interesting court case to follow.
People wonder why homeschoolers opt out of participating in public schooling.  I think these stories answer their questions.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Math: Grrrr.....

I've been working on what I hope is going to be a very interesting post, but a nasty cold and math keep getting in the way!  Yes, math....the easiest math you could ever imagine.  Well at least it should be the easiest.  Let's just say that my 7-year old son is NOT a math genius.

I'm pulling my hair out.  And it's only first grade. 

So while I work on math (and NOT an interesting post) here's something else that's been neglected lately....Cristina's comics!!!  Sometimes it just helps to laugh.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Foot in Two Camps

My daughter, Captain Chaos, needs occupational and speech therapy services, both of which are provided by therapists at our local elementary school.    Five days each week I take her to school.  She receives 30 minutes of therapy, and then hangs out with a kindergarten class in “specials”: computer, art, music, and gym classes.  She has two “specials” classes per day.  They meet on alternating days.   Our homeschool is her primary school.  We teach the core classes.   I have one foot planted firmly in each camp, a homeschool and a public school.  It has proven interesting.
Near the end of last November, I received an e-mail from the Captain’s music teacher.  He was busy preparing a school-wide Christmas assembly and found our daughter to be creating a disturbance in his classroom.  He wrote, “[She] is having a very difficult time focusing on the work we’re doing and ends up wandering around the room which then interrupts our instruction time.  I try to redirect her and it usually works for a only few minutes. If you have any questions/suggestions I would be open to hearing them.”    I replied to him that it might be easiest for him if we kept our daughter out of his music class until the assembly preparations were over.  She wouldn’t be participating in the assembly and definitely wouldn’t be sitting still for him in the classroom.   I asked him to tell me when it would be best for her to return to his class.  I did not hear back from him.   I did hear from one of the Captain’s special education teachers that he received the message and thought it best that my daughter return to his classroom after Christmas break. As far as he was concerned, the situation was settled. 
It wasn’t for me.  I wrote to him:
“I have not heard back from you concerning our decision to temporarily remove our daughter from your classroom.  Since she remained with Mrs. X during music class last Wednesday, I can only assume that our plan was acceptable to you.  Effective communication can only take place when both parties participate equally.  In the future, the courtesy of a reply will be appreciated.
Good luck with your Christmas program,”
The Music Man didn’t appreciate my note.  He replied:
“I spoke with Mrs. X last week after receiving your email and told her that it would be best for [Captain Chaos] to return to music after the New Year had begun. Did she relay this information to you?  I did not respond to your email partially for this reason.  Also, please consider, that every two days I teach approximately 500 students.  We have been extremely busy lately putting on programs and we are preparing for several more before the end of the year.  We try to communicate effectively with all parents but sometimes it takes a little time to get back with everyone. Your patience will be appreciated in the future.”
My wife described his response perfectly.  It was the “I’m too busy doing my job to do my job” response. He was so busy teaching that he was too busy to reply to a parent about that parent’s child, even after he initiated the conversation.  There is something seriously wrong with public school teachers when they attempt to isolate parents from the education process.  This is not the first time a teacher in this school district has done this.  How patient was I supposed to be?  He clearly had no intention of responding to me since he considered the matter closed once he spoke with Mrs. X!   A simple one line reply would have sufficed.  Am I expected to believe that he was so busy that couldn’t spend 30 seconds to reply to email? 
When I was teaching, my administrators would never have allowed me to treat a parent so disrespectfully.  I think this teacher’s view of education is skewed.  He’s forgotten that teaching other people’s children is a privilege.  Unfortunately, too many educators believe that compulsory education places them in the driver’s seat.  Music Man may have this view.  As long as one of my children attends that school, I will remind them otherwise.   

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mr. Arby, Meet Your Son

Last week, I made a 36-hour visit to Chicago’s western suburbs to spend time with my father.  It was wonderful.  Mentally, dad was more alert than I’ve seen him in years.  It only took him seven attempts to correctly remember that Saturday was Saturday and not Sunday.   The victory there was that it didn’t take eight.   I arrived on a Thursday night and drove home the following Saturday afternoon.  Along the way, I saw both of my brothers and their families, rang in the New Year with my mom and her younger sister (my favorite aunt), and conversed for hours with a man I dearly love and miss each day.    It was a blessing.
Along the way I drove within a stone’s throw of my blogging partner’s house without stopping to call.  She is a delightfully kind and patient woman who has tolerated my absence from a homeschool blog that I started, recruited her to join, and from which I took a short break.    One of these days we’ll meet. 
The drive from my Kansas home to my father’s hospital room was a nine hour drive.  As much as I wanted to see my dad, I dreaded the trip.  There is nothing new or exciting to see on either Interstate 80 through Iowa or highway 36 through Missouri.  Illinois is flat and boring, too.   To help pass the time, I took along my fourteen year old son.  His job was to keep me company on the ride, spend time with his aunts, uncles, and cousins in Chicago, and keep me company on the ride home.   I barely saw him while I was in town.  He had fun.  I enjoyed myself.  The extended family enjoyed his company. 
Along the way, I entertained my son with stories about my time onboard a submarine in the 80’s.  I told him the story of how I reported on board, jumping from a tugboat to the sub’s fairwater planes while the two vessels steamed down the Thames River in Connecticut.  I told him about the time Senator Barry Goldwater toured the boat, and the build-up to the dog-and-pony show that marked his visit.  I told him about the great popcorn versus nuts debate between the X.O. and Captain, and how much trouble I got into after I cut sponges into triangles instead of squares.    We laughed.  We listened to 70’s rock on the radio.  I even told him a couple of dirty jokes.
Do you know what we didn’t do?
We didn’t fight.  We didn’t discuss anything.  There was nothing educational about the trip and there were no teachable moments.  At least none that I capitalized upon.  I recently read that when children are young, parents should grab every teachable moment they can, but when they hit the teen years we should let most of those teachable moments go.  A very wise pastor friend of mine told me last year that my son is at the age where he is going to stop listening to me and start listening to other adults.  The trick is to surround him with like-minded adults who share my beliefs. I’ve been working towards that end.
You know what happened?  We had fun.  We had more fun on that trip than we have had together in years.  We laughed ourselves silly.  There were several moments where I had him laughing so hard I thought he’d wet himself.   I was even amused when he opened the car window to pour mandarin orange juice out of a can and managed to blow the juice back into the car at 70 miles per hour.  What a mess!  And I didn’t have to say a word about that teachable moment.  He learned that lesson on his own, thankyouverymuch.
Somewhere throughout the years the little boy I knew and loved so much grew up and changed.  During the process of teaching him day-in and day-out, of living life and working part-time, of dealing with personal issues and tending to my daughter’s health needs, I lost track of who he was.  It was like teaching a stranger – a stranger with whom I did not get along.  On this trip, I was reintroduced to the delightful young man who is my son.  He really is a neat kid.  He trusted me enough to show me.   
My wife teaches him more than I do right now.  If I didn’t take a break from homeschooling him, he’d have ended up back in  a public school, something none of us want, and our relationship would have become one gigantic, messy battle, another thing that none of us want.    This arrangement isn’t easy, since she works full time and I am home teaching our three children.  It won’t last forever.  But it gave me the opportunity to meet a fine young man who otherwise might have slipped through the system. 
Mr. Arby, meet your son.    He’s a really a neat kid. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Do Homeschoolers WANT a Tax Break?

An article in the New York Times Opinion Pages has supporters and critics of homeschooling debating the idea of giving homeschoolers tax credits.  While having a few extra dollars in our pockets might seem like a great idea, a tax break that comes with "strings attached" could mean more trouble than the money is worth.

It's likely that tax credits for homeschoolers would not be offered without strings.  Our puppet legislators, and the lobbyists who pull their strings, are not in the business of doing favors for homeschoolers.  Money isn't free. And it's what comes with the money that would have many homeschoolers questioning whether or not they want to check the credit box on their tax return. 

So is there Room for Debate...Do Homeschoolers Deserve a Tax Break?  Read the debate and decide for yourself.

UPDATED:  Find some additional commentary on this debate on Spunky HomeSchool's blog HERE!

(Come back and let us know what YOU think!)