Posts by slapin

Why did you pick Sonlight?

August 10th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 2 comments

Dear Susan,

I really appreciate you breaking out the parenting musings from the past into a separate webpage. Every time you mention homeschooling on AJW  (the Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show), I’m all ears.

I know you said you’d discuss curriculum later, but I’m curious as to what part of Sonlight you used. It’s hard for me to justify paying so much for the history packages which seem to be full of trinity theology, but my husband prefers that I find a curriculum package this year. Any thoughts on curricula that come close to being Torah centered would really help. I tried Homeschooling Torah for a while, but found myself having to constantly correct and alter the material. I spent more time prepping than teaching. I only have seven or eight years left with my daughter as a homeschooler. I want it to be a more gratifying experience for both of us!


Hi Suzanne,

One of my dream jobs would be as a curriculum and resource evaluator of educational material. However, that in no way fits into my life right now. I can’t speak in an intelligent fashion about what is currently on the market  because my youngest homeschooler graduated over a decade ago. I sometimes hear about resources from my daughters who are teaching their own children or from friends, but I am pretty much out of the loop.

Having said that, I can tell you why I loved some of the things I used. It could be that they still have the features I enjoyed, there could be others doing the same thing much better and/or they can have changed tremendously since I knew them. For example, one of my friends has used Calvert very successfully for seventeen years but found them changing in the recent past and is trying something new this fall. One of the thrills of homeschooling versus, say being a classroom teacher, is that you don’t have to use things that don’t thrill you or don’t match you or your child’s learning styles. The flip side of that is that you need to do your footwork though it is easy to connect with like-minded people today and compare notes. Do you have people with whom you can share the journey? 

I used Sonlight for two years. I only found them late in my homeschooling career. Their philosophy included a skepticism about workbooks, a love of literature, natural learning, a love of literature, an emphasis on teaching thinking, a love of literature, etc. You get the picture. I loved their catalogue just for the reading lists it included.

I believe that both years we used Sonlight we did American history and I can’t say that I ran into any theology issues. I chose not to do some of the years where the focus might have been more on Christianity, like in European history. Sonlight does come from a Christian perspective – just look at their name, but other than replacing one or two books, I don’t remember it being a concern. There was a support chat group known as “Secular Sonlight,” but I didn’t find it very helpful because I was coming from a religious perspective, even if it was a different one than the program had.

However, it seems that enough people loved Sonlight but wanted less focus on missionaries and Protestant religious figures, especially in world history, that they have made a spin-off called BookShark. I haven’t seen it, but it definitely might be worth a look for you.

The years I used Sonlight, I was preparing material for one child vs. other years when we were a full house. That allowed me to spend time enjoying the literature with my daughter. It gave us a base that seemed a good compromise between completely structured (like Calvert) and creating a curriculum from scratch, which I did do some years.

I have to tell you one anecdote. My husband was speaking at an economic conference when one of the participants came over to introduce himself. The name on his badge looked familiar and I soon realized why. It was John Holzmann who along with his wife, Sarita founded Sonlight. I think I acted a little star-struck and immediately called my daughter (now in her mid-twenties) whose reaction couldn’t have been more excited than if I told her I was chatting with her favorite music star. We both remember those years of learning with great joy.

If Sonlight isn’t going to do that for you, then you aren’t a match. I will follow this with a post on integrating Torah studies into whatever you are using. One of the reasons I liked having a base course of study is that I could spend more of my time focused on preparing the Torah and Hebrew studies.

Hope this was helpful,

Susan Lapin

Why Discriminate?

August 9th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 17 comments

Have you ever played the game Taboo? The goal is to get your teammate to guess a hidden word by giving them clues, but there are certain words you mustn’t use in guiding them. So, if the mystery word is “lemon,” the words “tea” and “car” might be taboo – if you say either of those your turn ends.

Our society has started resembling a game of Taboo. I thought of this when I read about the recently reported scandal at  Japan’s Tokyo Medical University. Entrance scores were rigged to penalize women so that they had to score much higher than men in order to get into the medical school. I’m not a fan of cheating, but I admit to feeling sympathy for those who are trying to run schools, businesses or organizations in the real world while hampered by high-sounding, unrealistic pronouncements unrelated to actual life and which are intended to signal virtue.

While we lived in Los Angeles, there was a period when newspapers were banned from stating that an apartment had a scenic view. The elite powers-that-be decided that this was a hidden form of discrimination against the handicapped, discouraging those who were blind from renting. Foolish as that sounds, the absurdities of anti-discrimination laws has only abounded.

The outcry at Tokyo Medical University’s manipulation of applicants’ data seems to be less at the dishonesty than at reviling the premise that led to the action. In apologizing for what the school did, managing director Tetsuo Yukioka, said,  “I suspect that there was a lack of sensitivity to the rules of modern society, in which women should not be treated differently because of their gender.”

Similarly, we are constantly being told that government-mandated parental leave and day-care is needed so that women can pursue careers without being penalized for having children. Diversity is flung about as a conversation-ender. Once that word has been uttered words such a freedom, experience, competence or profit are taboo.

Discrimination is real. It is not automatically without basis. When we were emptying out our flooded storage room last week we discriminated against one of our granddaughters who wanted to help. This was both on account of her age and gender. We favored her older brothers because we thought they could do the work better and more quickly. Fortunately, she did not complain to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

There is a very real fact that, on average, female doctors work fewer hours than male doctors. This is one of the reasons the Japanese medical school preferred the latter. Providing more maternity leave, legally mandating that jobs must be held for mothers when they want to return to work, raising taxes so that elderly parents have non-family care, instituting split shifts and other proposals aimed at making life easier for female physicians don’t change that original fact.

We accept that experience and time on the job make a difference for virtuoso violinists. If equal talent is a given, the musician who practices more is going to excel. If one violinist has a second passion for scuba diving and spends two months a year doing that, we do not insist that Carnegie Hall not be allowed to discriminate against his less developed violin skills. Why then is it wrong to ask if society is served more by a doctor who has seen 5,000 patients than 2,000?

In many fields, including medicine, more hours generally equate with greater competency and expertise. Author Malcolm Gladwell famously described how once a professional has reached 10,000 hours of experience, they become qualitatively more competent. Female doctors, as an aggregate, work fewer hours over the course of a lifetime. Changing that will mean forcing women to work even when they don’t choose to. Indeed, in some European countries with maternity policies that make American women drool, staying home with children beyond the mandated leave time is discouraged and made terribly difficult. Women are forced to go back to work against their will by the taxation that pays for these leaves and other policies.

We don’t want to move to a dystopian society that makes childbirth a restricted occupation. Nor do we want to prohibit people from choosing to spend time with family. Only draconian laws will force men and women to choose to allot equal time to those endeavors. Not allowing this to be discussed doesn’t change the facts.

Experience is not the only factor in choosing doctors, of course. Many patients, especially women, choose female doctors (discriminating against male doctors in the process) because they are more comfortable with a female or they equate women with more compassion. Individual doctors develop reputations which make patients want to see them. There are women doctors who excel at what they do and on a level playing field shine far above almost all their male counterparts.

However, it valid to ask what the goal of a medical school is. Is it to make money by providing a service for which tuition is paid? Is it to equip people to provide a service to their community and country? Is it to allow intelligent people with an interest in medicine to pursue that interest regardless of whether they will then use those skills? Is it to enable diversity even if the end result is less qualified or fewer available doctors? All I know is that those questions are taboo.

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In Defense of Wolves

August 6th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

As part of the Practical Parenting column, I am re-running Susan’s Musings that had to do with parents and children. The “Little Yosef” of this column is now a fifteen-year-old young man who spent the last two weeks hauling water-sodden loads out of our flooded basement. 

Little Yosef, age 6, is busy writing stories about fending off wolves and building log cabins. The Little House on the Prairie series and other books depicting the same period have stimulated his imagination.

His mother tells me that he is particularly taken with the idea that children not that much older than he is now might be left alone to do a daunting job and expected to cope with all contingencies that arose.

While I don’t believe his parents are even close to handing him a rifle and instructing him to protect the homestead, Yosef’s fascination with the concept of responsibility is a positive one. As the eldest of four children, he already has been initiated into the club of those who know that what they do matters to the family. If anything his mother, as an eldest sibling herself, is sensitive to not putting too great a load on his young shoulders.

Nevertheless, hearing this made me realize that it is not always easy to give boys the soul satisfaction they need for healthy growth, especially as they approach and live through their teen years. While it is not healthy for either boys or girls to feel that they are takers rather than givers, in other words, to be solely occupied with their own happiness, concerns, education, and friendships, I do think it is harder for boys to move beyond that. At the risk of provoking a firestorm, a girl who takes care of younger siblings and helps with meals and laundry while recognizing that these are not made up chores for her but actually are needed for the house to function, can feel rightly valued. A boy who takes care of the baby and chores is indeed making a needed contribution, but I don’t think it fills a psychic need. Boys need to face physical challenge and slay dragons.  Just watch them seek danger and risk.

I’m not eager to see thirteen-year-olds return to the coal mine or fifteen-year-olds hauling cement rather than going to school. But with the implementation of child labor laws and the fear of litigation hovering over employees, in addition to urbanization, we have removed from teenage boys many opportunities to test themselves and their courage, strength, tenacity and resilience. Playing football may be hard work, but it cannot compare with knowing that the family is eating because of crops you harvested or a salary you earned doing construction work. Today’s rare prodigy is making big money creating a new iPhone app, but somehow I don’t see masses of boys doing so, and I doubt if the industry is being spurred by a realization of the family’s economic need.

As our society and schools become increasingly geared towards feminine predilections, encouraging Yosef and his fellow males to grow into healthy men becomes a more difficult and less easily resolved task. How do boys discover manliness with nary a wolf in sight, and too frequently not even a father or role model, to be seen?

Since I wrote this, I think the culture has moved even more to portraying boys as either bullies or feminized. If I was raising boys today, I would actively seek out older boys’ adventure stories. In general, I’m a fan of older books (though there are some excellent new ones as well).

If you have boys, I suggest taking a look at Farmer Boy in the Little House on the Prairie series. Check out Little Britches by Ralph Moody and if it goes over well, it is the first in a series of books. Girls will enjoy these books too, but it seems to me that there are more books available where girls are the protagonists and it is worth making the effort to find books that highlight boys. The recommended reading age for these books is 7 or 8-12, but you need to know your child. Especially when you are reading aloud to a child, which I heartily recommend, most younger children will enjoy books above their independent reading level.

What Homeschooling Resources Do You Recommend?

August 3rd, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 3 comments

That is a bit like asking me for the secret of successful marriage or how to build a multi-million dollar business. In the final analysis, while there are many useful home-schooling resources and taking advantage of the hard work done by others is a no-brainer, as human beings each of us has to independently sift through available material or chart our own path.

Each parent and each child is an individual. What appeals to and is effective for one person will repel or bore another person to tears. The same material introduced at a different stage of life may well get an entirely different result. I remember when Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage was assigned as mandatory reading for one of my college courses. I found it the most boring book imaginable. Years later, the Sonlight (o.k., I guess I did mention one resource.  I will speak more about it at another time.) curriculum I was using with my twelve-year-old daughter included that very book, which elicited an unarticulated groan from me.

Little did I know that the book, which we did as a read-aloud and followed up by going to see a dramatization presented by our local youth theater, would have both my daughter and me completely enraptured. Boring? Not in the slightest. At the right time and presented in the right way for the people we each were at that stage of our lives, it was riveting.

Whether we are talking about educating ourselves or facilitating the education of our children, there is no magical path that lets us just “buy this” or “enroll in this” to guarantee success. If I had to isolate one characteristic that separates successful education from its opposite, whether is it in or out of the classroom, it would be a passion for learning. If you can stoke that passion, you are on your way to success.

A Nation of Immigrants

August 2nd, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 29 comments

This week I read a number of disparate articles and books from a variety of different sources.  As so often happens, they all turned out to be interconnected. Each one provided me with perspective on the great immigration debate raging not only in the United States, but in Europe as well.

Looking for something to read online one night, I logged onto my library account and scrolled through the “available now for download” book section. With apologies to Lidia Bastianich, I had never heard of the Italian chef, but the title of her book, My American Dream, caught my eye. The book, especially the story of her childhood, did not disappoint.

Ms. Bastianich’s family lived in an area of Italy that after World War II came under the control of Yugoslavia. As Communist rule expanded her parents made the decision to abandon their comfortable life and large extended family, and become refugees. While the mother and two children, including nine-year-old Lidia, went by train ostensibly for a short visit to relatives in Italy proper, the father escaped via a dangerous, harrowing trek, evading the regime’s police.

My American Dream describes the family’s spartan and uncomfortable life in the refugee camp in Italy, the grueling process they went through to be admitted to the United States and the years of struggle to rebuild their lives in a country whose language and culture they needed to learn. Their support system was Catholic Charities, neighbors and relatives. Ms. Bastianich’s recognition of her parents’ sacrifice so that she and her brother could have a better life and her honest portrayal of how difficult their path was is honest and moving.

With some embarrassment, I  must admit to knowing little of Josip Tito, or the Yugoslavia/Italy connection before reading that book. But with Italy on my mind, an article in the Wall Street Journal about Italian-born race-car driver Mario Andretti (whose name I did recognize) caught my eye. He spoke of the same time and place in history, when his family lived for seven years – seven years! – in a refugee camp in Tuscany.  For four of those years they  shared a room with nine families while awaiting permission to immigrate to the United States. Mr. Andretti, like Ms. Bastianich, was full of gratitude to his parents and appreciation to the country that took them in.

The third story came from the NRA’s America’s 1st Freedom magazine. It had nothing to do with immigration, but told of a recent hero, Bryan Whittle of Oklahoma City. While driving, he saw a commotion on the side of the road. Thinking that he might be able to help he pulled over and quickly realized that a gunman was shooting at restaurant patrons. Mr. Whittle pulled his own gun, shouted at the gunman to put down his weapon, and when that didn’t happen shot at the murderer, saving the lives of the fleeing customers.

When the police arrived, they initially handcuffed Mr. Whittle and another good Samaritan on the scene who also had his gun out. Obviously, as the witnesses told the story both armed citizens were quickly released and celebrated. (Funny, isn’t it, how the story didn’t make it onto the front pages of national newspapers and into headline news online – yes, I’m being sarcastic.) Mr. Whittle was appreciative for the chance to help others and completely understood that the police needed to secure the area before they could take the time to evaluate the situation and understand that he was a good guy.

This story along with those of Ms. Bastianich and Mr. Andretti,  laid the background for the fourth story I read. On the surface, the article in a liberal magazine was about illegal immigration into the United States. I wouldn’t call it investigative reporting as much as propaganda. In my opinion, it was intended to engage my emotions, provoke me to despise President Trump, confirm that anyone who votes Republican is deplorable and motivate me to get to the polls in November and vote for the Democrats.

What paragraph in the story caught my eye? A young man was quoted who was seeking asylum in the United States because of fears that he would be put to death for homosexual behavior in his own country. After illegally entering this country, he made his claim for asylum. At that point he was handcuffed and separated from the other illegal immigrants to be processed differently. What was his reaction? Gratitude for reaching the United States and potentially being given a safe haven? No – it was embarrassment  and upset at being handcuffed, and presumably the reader is meant to be outraged at that treatment.

Are you kidding me? I don’t think that we must make refugees, potential immigrants or asylum seekers suffer just because people did in the past. But we need to be extremely careful that crossing the border illegally or declaring oneself a refugee or asylum seeker isn’t a way to short-circuit the legal immigration process. Those are drastic measures, not ways to evade the system. Each country has a right to choose immigrants who will help, not destroy or drain it. Humility, gratitude, respect for the laws of the land and a desire to serve one’s neighbors seem to be valid basic requirements to increase the chances having more successful immigration stories and heroes like Bryan Whittle among us.

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Dennis Prager on the importance of hobbies

August 1st, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

There is a lot of what I consider nonsense written about raising healthy children, so I would like to use this site to share useful and good things that I come across. To that effect, here is a link to a post by Dennis Prager that I think makes an excellent point.

In the Wall Street Journal today

August 1st, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind 2 comments

This morning’s Wall Street Journal (August 1, 2018) includes a letter from Rabbi Daniel Lapin on behalf of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians. His submission was slightly abridged, but you can read the original letter HERE

Everyone Homeschools – Even You

July 30th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 3 comments

Maybe your children go to school. Maybe you don’t have children or they are no longer little. If you have breath in your body, you need to think of yourself as a homeschooler. 

Learning is a lifetime occupation. Unless you want to be boring, bitter, unimaginative and stuck in a rut, keep learning. Whether you are ten or eighty, childless or parenting a houseful, and whether you or your children go off to a building called school or not, every vibrant person homeschools.

In English, people teach and people learn. Those words are not linguistically connected. In Hebrew, the act of teaching and learning are variants on the same root; L-M-D. To teach is le-LaMeD while to learn is li-LMoD.

D  M  L (L)
ל) ל מ ד)
(to) learn/ (to) teach

Similarly, if I say that I homeschool, it might mean that I teach others or it might mean that I am the one learning. Truthfully, there is no distinction. It is impossible to successfully teach without learning and when you truly learn something you actually continue to teach it to yourself and hopefully to others.

The antithesis of homeschooling is, “No more school, no more books. No more teachers’ dirty looks.” Instead, life is a school, books are a constant and true teachers comes in all forms and varieties, without any association with dirty looks.

In other words, if you are passionately alive, you are a homeschooler.

P.S. To reinforce the idea that learning doesn’t stop in the summer, this week we have FREE SHIPPING on all our resources in the U.S. with the coupon code SHIPFREE– including our Hebrew language ones! Check out our online store.

What Is This Page?

July 26th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting 6 comments

On my husband’s live chat podcast a while back, one listener asked for homeschool resources. My husband suggested that he ask me by writing in an Ask the Rabbi question on the topic, which he (and others) did.

Rather than list resources in an Ask the Rabbi answer, I thought I might try something different. I plan to write one short piece each week and post it in this “Practical Parenting” column. While I am going to start by discussing some homeschooling ideas and resources, I hope to expand beyond that. I’ll explain why next week.

Along the way, I will look through past Musings that had to do with children and add them to this page. There are a few here to start with.

Please let me know what you think of this new page and how it can best serve you.



Watery Reminders

July 26th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

Our basement, like so many others in the Atlantic region, flooded during this week’s torrential rains. We are fortunate. Our damage was largely luggage, clothing, tools and other replaceable items. We stored very few pictures downstairs and after running the washing machine non-stop for a few days, clothing has been retrieved. Since—surprise, surprise—the flooding is not covered by our insurance, the flooding is going to be expensive in terms of replacement cost and the time it will take to clean up, but we are grateful it was not worse. The biggest loss has been books.

We are enormous fans of used bookstore. We don’t seek the latest best-seller at a discount. Instead, we search out old books, those that you can’t find anymore. Books that beam out wholesomeness and innocence. Books about healthy families and friendships with a noticeable absence of perversion and profanity. One sad victim of our flooding was a box labelled, “Teenage girl books,” that was waiting for our granddaughters to get a bit older.

After a tiring day of clean-up, I curled up in bed needing even more distraction than reading provided. A few weeks ago in a Musing I mentioned the 1960s TV show Family Affair and a search of Amazon Prime showed that it was available for viewing with a click of the mouse. I clicked.

The episode I picked was highly entertaining, not least because it went no longer than two minutes at any point from start to finish without triggering politically correct current thinking. For example, six-year-old Buffy, plays with her doll, Mrs. Beasley while her twin brother, Jody, dances an Indian war dance. This manages to both trample on Native American sensitivity and at the same time promote gender stereotypes.

But the most fascinating part, to me, was how six-year-old Jody was allowed to wander his Manhattan block unescorted, the only admonishment being that he should not cross any streets. Like many other shows of the day that featured children, the plot lines of Family Affair seemed perfectly plausible to me. While my home did not include an English butler or a bachelor uncle, neither of those scenarios were fanciful as, let’s say, the talking horse in Mr. Ed or the extraterrestrial visitor in My Favorite Martian. It certainly did not seem ridiculous to me at the time that a six-year-old would be trusted to go out and about needing only to be home for dinner. That was exactly how my friends and I lived.

We knew not to get into a car with strangers, but had no qualms about being around our friends’ fathers or older cousins or independently roaming the neighborhood. When, in the TV episode I watched, Jody brings a rather disheveled looking man (who naturally will turn out to be the business associate his uncle has been desperately trying to meet) back to his apartment for milk and cookies, it is treated as unconventional rather than sinister.

I know that terrible things did happen in the “good old days.” Predators are not a new phenomenon and there were children whose lives were shattered by perverts. But the assumption when I was growing up was that, unless otherwise indicated, relatives and neighbors were good and life was safe.

Older books, like older TV shows, sometimes do have stereotypes and language of which I disapprove. Many focused on a “normality” that wasn’t universal. There are also some areas in which I think our society has advanced and I have no problem pointing that out to a young reader. But it is important to be reminded that what we think of as normal today, isn’t necessarily so. Children being constantly scheduled, supervised and surrounded by dysfunction should not be taken as progress but rather as the deterioration it is. Children being suspicious and fearful of any stranger  they come across in their daily lives or who, Heaven forfend, smiles at them, isn’t an improvement. I will miss my water-logged, cherished books that presented a picture of safe and sane daily life rarely seen in newer volumes.

P.S. You may have noticed a new section titled “Practical Parenting” under the Susan’s Musings heading at the top of the web page. I’d love to hear what you think of it.

P.P.S. If your family, like ours, picks your video watching carefully, I (in a completely biased fashion) want to recommend our Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show DVD. My husband and I love taping these shows and have collected four favorites to make available. Volume 3 is on sale right now!

P.P.P.S. Much thanks to those of you who responded to our summer appeal for the American Association of Jews and Christians (AAJC). AAJC sponsors Thought Tools, Ask the Rabbi and many other of our activities. To read about AAJC, click here.