Thursday, February 24, 2011

I Think We Have It Better

The Wall Street Journal conversation from my last post really intrigued me.  A writer named Tracy opined, “Homeschooling - I have no problem with homeschooling, but please don't compare that with my job. There are VERY FEW similarities.”  Is she correct?  Is teaching in a homeschool and teaching in public school so different that the two are beyond comparison?   They aren’t even remotely similar?  She probably means beyond the mundane aspects of education, such as pens, pencils, paper, books, subject matter, grades, discipline issues, and the fact that she lesson plans while the Boss and I simply consult our Ouija Board.    
I wonder…
Public school teachers take attendance at the beginning of each class and report the attendance to the main school office.  I pretty much assume that if my kids are breathing then they are in attendance, and having made that observation, I have simultaneously reported our school attendance to the principal and the superintendent.   So, that’s not similar.
A public school science teacher teaches science.  There may be variations in subject matter within the field of science, but it is still science.  I teach science, math, history, reading, language arts, religion, geography, spelling, and penmanship, at the grade school level.  Next year I will do that while adding a complete high school curriculum. So, that’s not similar, but it is pretty darn amazing!
Public school teachers teach a large assortment of students with a wide variety of educational abilities from a broad spectrum of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.  I teach three freckle-faced white kids who each possess a differing range of academic abilities and interests, but who unfortunately live at home with their happily married biological parents.  I know.  Homogeny sucks.  So, that’s only slightly similar.
Public school science teachers usually teach Darwin’s theory of evolution as fact.  Creationism is left to the churches.  I teach Darwin’s theory of evolution as just that, a theory, and cover Creationism in both science and religious studies.  Let’s face it, God created a wonderfully complex world that is fascinating to study.  It’s probably a good idea to acknowledge His handy work.  So, that’s not similar.
Public school teachers spend weeks planning, organizing, calculating the cost of and completing the paperwork for taking a field trip, if they are foolish brave enough to attempt such an endeavor.  If I wake up in the morning and decide, “Hey, let’s go here today,” we go.  Instantly, everything is arranged.   I suspect that we take more field trips than the average public school teacher.  So, that’s not similar.
Public school teachers teach for about 180 days a year.  My students are in attendance 365 days each year.  Thank God for week-long summer camps and vacation Bible schools.   It’s the only time my class size shrinks.  So, that’s not similar.
Public school teachers use district supplied curriculum, books, and supplies.  If they are lucky, they get to sit on a committee that chooses which textbook they will use for the next twenty years.   We study, select, and purchase curriculum each year.  We pay for it ourselves.  So, that’s not the same.
Public school teachers have been heard to say, “I love my students.”  It is phileo love.  I’ve sat in enough staff lounges to know that even the best teachers do not love all of their students equally or unconditionally.  They don’t love the truants and trouble makers.  Some teacher’s comments about students are the vilest, nastiest comments you can imagine. Thankfully, those teachers are in the minority, and I would never characterize the entire teaching profession by those select few.  I love my students with agape love.  It’s the unconditional love of a parent for a child. It’s the closest thing to God’s love for mankind with the exception of the fact that mankind always falls short of the glory of God.
What did I forget? 
Tracy may have a point.  Public school teaching and homeschooling are very different.  Homeschooling is a far more difficult challenge with greater rewards.
I think we have it better. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pinky, We're Going to Take Over the World!

Well, it’s almost time to begin the new day.  In a few minutes I will gather my hand-picked students, chosen for their unique gifts and abilities, and start them on their daily lessons.   That is the position of Tracy, a teacher writing on a Wall Street Journal community forum.  In her post, Tracy wrote:
Homeschooling - I have no problem with homeschooling, but please don't compare that with my job. There are VERY FEW similarities. If I had only 3-4 self-selected students to educate in the comfort of my own home with any bathroom/food/physical activity/food break and could set my own hours and discipline appropriately, etc. etc. etc ------ I could get even better results than those parents. If you don't believe me, then please fund that study and I will be happy to participate. I will even take 10 students.
She discovered our secret.  Homeschoolers self-select only the best students.  This self-selection process skews the results of home education unnaturally higher than those of our public school counter-parts.  Tracy is such an incredibly talented teacher that if she would do the same, her homeschooling performance would be better than the rest of us teacher-wannabes.   I’m stepping up today to raise my hand and admit, “Guilty as charged!”
I self-selected only the best students for my homeschool.  I did not simply accept the children that God gave me.  I self-selected a girl with a congenital heart defect.  She’s a stroke victim with learning delays that caused us to hold her back one year in school to better prepare her to complete the first grade.   It gave us time to help her gain the ability to hold and manipulate a pencil.  Nothing screams “academic success” like repeating kindergarten!  I self-selected OCD Boy.  He’s the child that must ask the same question three times in a row before hesitantly accepting the same answer given three times in a row and gingerly moving forward through his exercises.   If he had his way, I would be holding his hand through every question on every task that he completes.  His ability is high.  His self-confidence is low.  I even self-selected Walter Mitty, my teenager whose hold on reality is tenuous on his best days.  I wanted him to possess a genuine talent for mathematics coupled with a genuine loathing for the subject that allows him to stretch even the simplest math assignment into a five hour marathon.  
I’m a bit of a sadist that way.
I’m fairly certain that if I asked my homeschooling friend Daniel, he’d admit that he self-selected autism for his oldest boy.  Teaching a non-autistic child would be so…mundane.  I’m quite certain that most of the thousands of the parents who homeschool their special needs children would agree.  And those homeschooling parents who chose “normal” students?  Selfish buggers.  All of ‘em.  They could have self-selected special needs children, but nope, they opted for normal.  And we all know that normal homeschooling children never act up, disobey, sass, fail to complete their work, fail subjects, miss deadlines, lose assignments, daydream, lollygag or repeatedly make the same mistake that their parent-teachers have explained to them over and over and over again until they are banging their heads on the refrigerator in frustration.  It never happens because those traits have been self-selected out of normal homeschooled children.   
It’s time to let the world in on a little secret.  Homeschoolers hold all the secrets to manipulating DNA in order to produce only the best possible students.  Pinky, we’re going to take over the world! 
Or maybe…just possibly…Tracy has no idea what she is writing about. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sit Your Skinny Little Butt Down!

As Wisconsin teachers demonstrate that their jobs are not all about the kids, but all about union negotiated pay and benefits packages (go ahead, Linda, and post that union article you wrote), the Anaheim Union School district in sunny southern California is using GPS tracking technology to help teach chronically truant students to get to school on time.  The entire program costs $18,000, and appears to be covered by a state grant.*  A California state grant.  California.  The state that is 26.6 BILLION dollars in the red is handing out grants for GPS technology to help kids get to school. I don't use technology to get my homeschooled children to school.  My system is really simple.  I wake them up.  Walla!  Perfect attendance!  

I must admit that sometimes it is difficult to get the little heathens situated and working on a lesson, but I have several techniques to address that issue.  I might look at my eight-year-old son and say something like,
“Get your skinny little butt on a chair at the kitchen table and start conjugating your verbs!”
If that doesn’t work, I might try,
“Don’t make me interrupt writing this blog post to help you calculate 9 + 7.  You know what 9 + 7 equals!”
Sometimes I have to get forceful by calling out,
“You’d best have that paramecium drawn by the time I come in there to top off my cup of coffee or there will be hell to pay!”

My father always said that there’d be hell to pay.  I never did figure out how much money that was, but it sounds good when you say it, and usually makes Major Havoc’s eyes bulge out before he breaks into the giggles. 

"Oh, dad, you're joking!  Right?"
All I have to do to get my teenager to school on time is to send his little sister into his room to jump on him until he climbs out of bed.  Once in awhile I have to pull out the big guns and tell him that he won’t go camping with his Boy Scout Troop if his schoolwork isn’t completed.  That’s usually sufficient motivation.  At least it has been since the last time he missed a campout because his math wasn’t finished.
The girl?  Well, she’s six.  And a squirt.  I just throw her over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes, carry her to the kitchen and plunk her onto a chair.  If she squirms I use duct tape.
It sure would be swell if the state of Kansas gave me an $18,000 grant to get my children to school on time.  Unfortunately for me, I’m quite adept at getting my children to school.  It’s called parenting.  And guess what?  It’s free!

*It was brought to my attention that I erroneously reported the program to have cost $18,000 per pupil.  It appears to have cost $18,000 in total.  I still stand by all my points concerning California’s budget and the silliness of spending taxpayer money on something that is a parent’s responsibility. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Suggested Revision to Illinois SB 136

I spend a lot of time each day sitting in the main office at Apathy Elementary School, waiting for Captain Chaos to complete her therapy services. This gives me the opportunity to observe parents as they arrive at school to pick-up a child and take them to doctors appointments, dentist appointments, the hair salon, and to their non-custodial parent’s house. I have been shocked by the number of parents who cannot tell the receptionist the name of their child’s teacher, their room number, and in a few instances, their child’s grade level. In the interest of fairness, and passing legislation that might make a difference, I suggest that Illinois Senator Edward “I’m full of boloney” Maloney submit the following bill for consideration:


State of Illinois

2011 and 2012SB0136

Suggested to be Introduced by Sen. Edward D. Maloney


105 ILCS 5/2-3.25o

105 ILCS 5/26-1 from Ch. 122, par. 26-1

Amends the School Code. Requires the parents or legal guardians of children attending public schools, a defined term, to demonstrate that they know what in blazes is going in their children’s lives.


SB0136 LRB097 02721 NHT 42742 b

1. An act concerning education.

Be it enacted by the People of the State of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly:

A Demonstration of a basic awareness of WTF is going on in their children’s lives.

(a) Findings. The General Assembly finds and declares that frequently parents of children attending public schools lack a basic knowledge of where their children go and what they do each day, such as the name of their child’s teacher or the classroom number where their child spends six hours each weekday.

Parents should be able to answer basic questions such as:

1. How old is your child?

2. What is the name of your child’s school?

3. Where is it located?

4. What is your child’s grade level?

5. What is your child’s teacher’s name?

6. Can your child add?

7. Correctly?

8. Can your child subtract?

9. See question #7

10. Question #7 comes before question #8 and after question #6.

11. The “#” symbol means “number.”

12. What is your child’s cell phone number?

13. How many naked pictures has your daughter taken of herself and texted to her boyfriend’s cell phone?

14. Any other questions as deemed appropriate by the Department of Education, a competent government agency, the average six-year-old homeschooled child.

(b) Homeschooling families, by definition, know the answers to the questions enumerated above, as well as Latin, the theory of relativity, and how to make some really excellent apple pies with some pretty darn flakey crusts, and are exempt from the requirements of this bill.

This should give Truant Officer Bill Reynolds something to knock on doors and talk about. He can assume that parents of public school students who do not wish to answer his questions are in violation of the law, criminally stupid, or just plain clueless, and take appropriate action as he sees fit.

Feel free to add your thoughts to this bill.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Illinois SB136: Pointless Regulation for Illinois Homeschoolers (UPDATED)

Here in Illinois, we're currently involved in a battle to retain our rights to homeschool our children without interference from the state.  True to form, an Illinois politician is proposing a law to solve a problem that may not even be a problem to begin with.  If passed, this law would require all homeschoolers to register with local authorities and/or the state board of education.  The original proposal was withdrawn because it also included language which required all non-public students to be registered.  According to Illinois Review, Illinois Senator Ed Maloney (sponsor of SB 136) stated last week that "...we're not going for the private school students, we're going to change that [in the proposal].  What we want to know is where the homeschoolers are.  It's as simple as that.

Evidently, Mr. Maloney, which ironically rhymes with bologne, is concerned with the lack of regulation of homeschoolers in Illinois.  Though he doesn't seem to have much evidence that a  widespread problem exists, he  still believes his proposed law holds the key to ensuring that Illinois' homeschooled children receive a quality education.    In an outstanding editorial, "Homeschoolers Not the Problem," the SouthTown Star, quotes Mr. Maloney,
There are virtually no regulations on homeschools. No curriculum, no periodic checks on their progress.  We want more accountability.”  (emphasis mine)
As the SouthTown Star article effectively points out, Mr. Maloney seems to forget that large numbers of students currently receiving a regulated, state-administered education are not doing all that well. 

In an interview this morning with Cisco Cotto on a popular Chicago radio station (transcript available here,) Senator Maloney displayed both his ignorance and his bias.  When questioned about his financial ties to the Unions, he also displayed a propensity toward bending the truth as this record clearly indicates.  But what else would you expect from a liberal, big-government politician from Chicago? 

Illinois has been a holdout in terms of homeschool regulation. Laws currently on the books here in Illinois place standards and requirements on homeschoolers, with the burden of proof being placed on the homeschooler to prove his compliance if challenged. This law would be a huge, and ominous change for homeschoolers in Illinois. Give the government an inch and they'll end up taking a mile.. 

: From ICHE:
"The hearing is over and Senator Maloney is not planning to withdraw SB 136. Looks like it may be a long battle. Even though the Education Committee chairman kept referring back to registration, things like testing and curriculum approval and, and, and, . . kept coming up. One truant officer said that if they knew where we all were they could check on us and "help" us. Hmmm. . . ."
We will continue to fight.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The S-Word Rears its Ugly Head

I'm beginning to think that it's not humanly possible for anyone who does not homeschool (particularly educators and journalists) to have a discussion (or write an article) about homeschooling without raising the issue of....yeah, you guessed it...socialization.  And frankly, as anyone who has read my blogs already knows, nothing gets me going more than the illogical conclusions often drawn when the "experts" discuss homeschooling and socialization. I've written a few posts over the years that express my views on the S-word and its place in the homeschool conversation.  (If you're bored and have nothing better to do, you can read some of my thoughts on socialization HERE, HERE and HERE.)

This morning my husband sent me a link to an article on homeschooling from Fox News. In Educating our Children: The Evolution of Homeschooling, Maggie Kerkman offers a nothing-new look at homeschooling that at once manages to be both complimentary and disparaging. Ms. Kerkman offers a few statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics, as well as the opinion of assumed "expert," David Chard, Dean of the School of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University who had this to say:
"We've become more experimental about the way we offer education to children. Many parents are able to provide strong educational opportunity for kids."
Experimental?  Really?  Is that what you think homeschooling is for me and my children, David?  An experiment?

Is it me just being defensive, or do you read something akin to this in his statement?  
Surprisingly, many parents are able to provide their children with an education that doesn't actually do them any harm, and could actually come close to rivaling the education they would receive in a traditional (non-experimental) school setting.
David Chard doesn't have a clue. Homeschool parents are doing far more than just providing "strong educational opportunities" for kids. 

Ms. Kerkman continues by reminding us that "’s not all about reading, writing and arithmetic."

Silly me. I thought education WAS about reading, writing and arithmetic. But according to Chard, it's also about...yep, right again...socialization. The author writes that Chard "worries home schooled students may be lacking in less tangible subjects, things like developing social or coping skills."

(Wait....what?  Developing social and coping skills is a subject now?)

This constant harping on the imagined problem of socialization is really getting on my nerves.  Has a study ever been published which gives credence to this concern?  Has anyone ever attempted to provide evidence to support the claim that homeschooled children lack social and/or coping skills at a statistically higher rate than their publicly-schooled counterparts?  And in throwing around these concerns as if they are based in a measurable reality, did it ever occur to one of these experts to take an honest look at the social skills of the children being schooled within the system they extol?  Because if they did, they would be forced to admit that socialization is a far greater problem within the walls of public schools than it is for homeschoolers.

I am further irked by the assumption made by the author that the existence of homeschool groups and co-ops has greatly improved homeschooling by offering much needed socialization opportunities to homeschooled children. Mind you, I don't believe that co-ops and homeschool groups are a bad thing.  They aren't.  They offer lots of benefits to homeschoolers.  In fact, the opportunity to socialize with other homeschoolers is just one of the many benefits.

But Ms. Kerkman seems to believe that there's a problem that is being solved as the homeschool movement evolves to include opportunities for socialization. In response to Mr. Chard's concerns about socialization, Ms. Kerkman states "Programs have sprung up over the years to help with that."  Inherent in that statement is the assumption that "developing social and coping skills" is something that homeschoolers needed help with.  I contend that there has never been a need for help in this area.  Homeschoolers do not need co-ops and homeschool groups to provide a high quality education OR to instill strong social and coping skills into their children.  Hundreds of thousands of  children homeschooled over the last three decades (my own three adult children included) have managed to become responsible, productive, and socially successful members of society without ever having had the advantage of being involved in a homeschool group or co-op.

I wonder how long it will be before the critics finally become convinced that their questions and concerns about homeschoolers and socialization are completely without basis.  The existence of socially successful (and famous) homeschoolers like Tim Tebow, Teresa Scanlan, and even The Jonas Brothers hasn't seemed to make a difference.

Maybe when a homeschooler becomes President they'll finally get it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Two Great Math and Science Resources

One of the major concerns that parents have about homeschooling is the thought of teaching math and science through high school.  We aren't all math and/or science geniuses and for most of us, it's been a LONG time since high school Algebra.  So what's a parent to do?

When I reached this homeschool hurdle, I determined to become the teacher that my children needed.  I became a student.  I relearned what I couldn't remember.  But I needed resources.  My children needed resources.  I search and found what we needed to successfully complete their high school coursework.

I only wish that THESE resources had been available when my daughters were still in high school!

The first is, in my opinion, the BEST math and science resource available. Sal Khan is an educator who has a desire to see that all students, regardless of their level of cultural or economic advantage, have equal access to the best educational resources. To that end, he created The Khan Academy, "a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) with the mission of providing a world-class education to anyone, everywhere." Currently a collection of more than 2000 top-rated instructional videos in the areas of math, science, humanities, and test prep, this amazing resource provides kids (and parents) with videos that can provide complete coursework, supplemental and/or remedial assistance, and more. And all for free. No wonder Sal Khan is Bill Gates' Favorite Teacher!!

The next resource is equally amazing AND a ton of fun! The Periodic Table of Videos is just exactly what the name implies.
"Tables charting the chemical elements have been around since the 19th century - but this modern version has a short video about each one. The Periodic Table of Videos is a series of videos about all the elements on the periodic table, plus other videos about chemistry. We perform experiments, tell you amazing stories and go on road-trips to places which are important in the world of chemistry. Our mission? To show you that chemistry is more interesting than you thought!"

Very cool. Even I might enjoy learning chemistry with these guys!