Posts tagged " education "

Dragons in Bureaucratic Clothing

June 16th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 1 comment

Gazing at their newborns, most parents are ready to slay evil ogres and behead fire-breathing dragons to keep their precious new baby safe. Unfortunately, over the years, the perils facing their child will rarely appear in such easily recognizable forms.  Instead they will often be cloaked in commonly accepted norms and standard practices.

How many young mothers today shake their heads condescendingly at the memory of their own great-grandmothers meticulously preparing bottles of formula? Yet the prevailing notion of that day was that scientifically engineered nutrition was better than breastfeeding. The trick is not to feel superior but instead to ask what might be today’s equally foolish and unsupportable fallacies.

As one school year comes to a close and parents’ thoughts turn to the next one, it is worth examining a potential modern dragon. It seems that children with fall birthdays are substantially more likely to get diagnosed, incorrectly, with ADHD. This mis-diagnosis has extensive implications and often leads to the use of unnecessary and potentially harmful medication.

The fact that a perfectly normal condition – such as being born in November – can lead to a medical diagnosis should frighten all parents. A chasm separates a newborn from a year-old toddler. The gap between a three and four year old is massive. Does it take anything more than common sense to realize that a twelve month difference is still huge when talking about kindergarten age children? Yet the smooth running of a classroom can take priority over recognizing a natural growth and maturation process.

While it is human nature for mothers and fathers to feel proud (superior?) when their baby is an early walker or talker, no one feels the urge to send a still-crawling thirteen-month-old to remedial walking classes. That willingness to respect a child’s internal schedule dissipates rapidly. The more the child needs to fit in to a group, the less attention is paid to the child’s unique timetable.

Being a few months younger than one’s classmates isn’t a medical condition. Neither is having an internal clock that runs slightly differently from other children’s. Taking time this summer to look for dragons on the horizon can spare you and your child from future foes.

Differentiated What?

December 3rd, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 2 comments

When a friend of mine chose to homeschool her daughter, it greatly agitated her sister. This sibling didn’t raise the usual bugaboo about socialization. Rather, she was horrified at the idea that “just anyone” felt capable of teaching a little girl to read. 

Her consternation made more sense when my friend shared that this sister was a reading specialist, who had invested years and money in training. No wonder my friend’s confidence in her own abilities, despite a glaring lack of credentials, upset her sister.

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Let Anthropologie Run Local Schools

December 14th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

Our local government schools had a late starting time today due to inclement weather. There had to be at least an 1/8 of an inch on our lawn this morning! Here’s an idea. I have no clue what the most popular mall stores are with children and teens, but how about linking school closings to store closings? I’m not the only one who notices that malls are packed on days that schools cancel classes because of weather. If you can get to Nordstrom, you can get to class.

An Honest Man

September 13th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 16 comments

Sometimes, what I start out thinking I am going to write about and what I end up saying are entirely different. Last week was a case in point. I intended to write about the book I had just read, Will and Ariel Durant: A Dual Autobiography, but from an entirely different perspective than I ended up doing.

As I read, I was captivated by the honesty of Will Durant. Over the course of a long life, he often found his ideas tested by reality and he showed immense strength of character and depths of wisdom in a willingness to question some of his strongest convictions.

Relatively early in his career, his socialist leanings absorbed a harsh blow when he and his wife, Ariel, travelled to Russia during its Stalinist era. What they saw was far from the worker’s paradise in which they believed. Over the years, Mr. Durant developed an understanding of human nature that sought to merge his affection for the ideals of socialism with the reality of what actually motivates people to work hard.

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Too Sophisticated for Scandal

May 10th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 44 comments

When I was a teenager, I knew my friend Toby’s grandparents as gracious, attractive and generous pillars of the community. When Toby shared their story with me we both thought it highly romantic. It seems that Mrs. D. was engaged to a friend of Mr. D. At the engagement party, Mr. D. came to celebrate with his friend and meet the fiancée. Shortly thereafter my friend’s future grandmother called off her betrothal. In only a few weeks, she announced a new one—to Mr. D.

When one of their children repeated the story on the occasion of Mr. and Mrs. D.’s 50th anniversary, it was indeed a charming tale that brought smiles to their children and grandchildren’s faces. Only years later did I stop to think how upset and worried Mrs. D.’s parents must have been and how painful and embarrassing this was for the jilted groom and his family. The scandalous event probably animated neighborhood gossip for many months. Fifty years down the road revealed a happy end, but at the time it would have been perfectly plausible to see this as a catastrophic and immature infatuation.

What does this have to do with the recent French election?

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Should we homeschool?

June 2nd, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 1 comment

Question:

“How do you feel about home schooling? My wife and I are thinking of doing this to finish educating our two daughters who are now in 4th and 6th grades.”

∼ Heath N.

Answer:

Dear Heath,

This question is like telling the late Steve Jobs that you are thinking of switching from Microsoft to Apple and asking what he thinks about that. In total, we homeschooled for about sixteen years. One of our children was home for only one year, most spent some time in high school and for some, college was their first entry into the organized educational system.

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Stop Waiting for Superman

March 1st, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

What will it take to turn lower income parents into single issue voters? In his book, Leave us Alone, the head of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, suggests that while the average voter cares about a number of topics, for many of us, one concern dominates. Politicians, both on the right and the left, may line up on many issues, but you do occasionally see an independent streak. When that happens the logical thing would be for people to say, “Well, I disagree with Candidate X in one area, but agree with him on nine others. He has my vote.” That isn’t always how it works. Frequently there is a ‘deal breaker’. There are those who will never vote for a politician who supports abortion rights, no matter if that person shares their views on gun control and taxation. Other voters will punish a legislator who opposes gay marriage, even though her thoughts on every other topic align with their own. Few of us feel that way about obscure regulation. Generally, there are limited hot button issues which decide us one way or another. These are also the matters that get us to speak to our neighbors, write letters to the editor and even show up for demonstrations.

I was thinking of this as I was brought to tears by Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, Waiting for Superman. The film draws you into the lives of a few children, showing how the teachers’ unions and educational bureaucracy cruelly condemn children to failure. We meet parents sacrificing and struggling to get their children a good education, and cringe as they are thwarted by ‘the system’. Towards the end of the film, we observe auditoriums filled with families holding their breath to see if they win a lottery – not one that will pay out with cash, but rather one that pays out hope. Will or won’t their children be picked to fill the limited number of places available in a charter school?

Watching the documentary, I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if these parents and the thousands like them who want the opportunity to choose their children’s school, recognized the political clout they have.  What would happen if they and their allies told each and every politician running for office, “Before you get my vote I need a solemn, public commitment that you will support any and every bill to expand charter schools and resist any and every effort to regulate, constrict or limit them. I don’t want to hear speeches about your vote or explanations or hemming and hawing. I simply want your promise and I will hold you to that commitment.” If these same parents and those who support them were vocal about school choice being their one defining issue and voted in that manner, I think they could achieve what years of tears and prayers have not. The teachers’ unions may control politicians through monetary clout, but I do believe that passionate parents can overcome that edge if they realized, believed in, and actualized their own power.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Fireflies; Fewer Computers- Originally posted Feb. 19, 2009

January 23rd, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

One Shabbat, when our five older children ranged in age from five to ten, we had the privilege of hosting a prominent business leader for Friday night dinner. As table conversation extended the meal, our children asked to be excused and promptly curled up or splayed out on living room couches with lots of reading material.

Our guest, who had long-ago emigrated from Jamaica to the States, looked wistfully at the children, each one engrossed in a book. He recalled how he grew up in intense poverty in a shack without electricity on the hills above Kingston.  Every night, his mother made the rounds of bars and lounges collecting stubs of candles. When her supply of candles was low she would take a jar and collect fireflies. All this effort, after a back breaking day of work, was that so he could study, become educated and aim for a better life than she had.

Her efforts paid off magnificently. Her faith in him and in education stayed at his side as he came to America, dedicated himself to his studies and then to diligent work. But his wistful expression while looking at our children wasn’t due to nostalgia or any tinge of resentment that our children’s path was so easy compared to his. He commented, in an incredibly sad and slightly angry tone, how heartsick it made him to see children in his community who had access to free libraries and schooling, wastefully scorn those opportunities.  I still remember his exact words—“Your people’s children read books while ours snap their fingers to obscene lyrics.”

This story came to mind as I read about the vast sums of money the “stimulus plan” will allocate to education. In the years that have passed since that night, the fascination with obscene lyrics has spread to all communities, and the feeling that education is a legal right rather than an incredible privilege has spread as well. I certainly wouldn’t suggest spending taxpayer money for firefly collection. But if we could manage to convey, to both parents and teachers, some of this gentleman’s mother’s passion for education, a reverence she shared with Abraham Lincoln’s stepmother and thousands of other poverty stricken and immigrant parents, we would be further along the path to producing successful future generations than any amount of technology or infrastructure improvement could possibly grant us.

 

 

Remember the Titanic – originally posted May 28, 2009

January 16th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

Have you noticed that among the obituaries that newspapers publish of famous or influential people, ordinary folk also get mentioned if they were the last of their kind? So, we were informed when the last Civil War soldier’s widow passed away a few years ago as we will hear when the last survivor of the Titanic dies. Note is taken of regular people who through a quirk of fate become our last link with an extraordinary time or event.

Now the above mentioned widow, Maudie Celia Hopkins, had no recollections of the Civil War; she was the nineteen year old bride of an eighty-six year old veteran. The sole survivor of the Titanic doesn’t have any first hand remembrances to share; she was nine weeks old when the ship went down. Yet, for some reason, their physical presence in the world matters.

I am surely not the only parent shocked when something that I have vivid recollections about, such as the Kennedy assassination, lives in my children’s mind only as history. While the day that President Reagan was shot is etched in my memory since it coincided with going into labor with my eldest child, I can’t reasonably expect her, let alone her younger siblings, to recall that day.

Our educational system has a tendency to suck the oxygen out of vibrant, multi-faceted events that impacted millions of lives, instead, presenting them in history books as dull, insipid lists of names and dates. In a relatively recent attempt to liven the subject up, textbooks sometimes highlight one individual or group, but the bottom line is that human history is so complex and intertwined that the simple fact of putting it down on a finite amount of paper automatically limits and distorts it.

Could our fascination with those who were even somewhat tied to a historical event be an acknowledgment that history is not an academic subject but the building block of our lives today? Do we clutch at those connected to the past in a vain attempt to realize that the impact of the past flows unceasingly into the future? Does knowledge of the Civil War veteran’s widow’s death make us realize that we are not as distant or as immune as we would like to believe from the type of cataclysmic upheaval that overturned the lives of Americans in the 19th century? If our absorption with otherwise obscure individuals serves these purposes, that indeed makes it worthwhile.

 

 

Lifetime Learning

April 1st, 2010 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 2 comments

After our friend, Mike, served multiple military tours overseas and was back in civilian life, he explained to me that one is never an ex-Marine. You may not be on active service, but you are still a Marine. I hope he and his comrades won’t find this offensive, but I feel somewhat the same way about being a homeschooling mom.

Although I have no children left in my homeschool, a large part of my identity was forged by those years, and I have no desire to leave it behind. One of the most important lessons I learned, and I hope that my children did as well, is that learning is not confined to a particular time or place. Learning takes place as long as one is alive and isn’t necessarily related to sitting for a certain number of hours in a specific location during designated months. You certainly can learn in a classroom setting; you just as certainly can accomplish no more than logging wasted time. Worse, you can be indoctrinated with the idea that once school is over, so is learning.

God created us with a natural desire to learn and to communicate with others. It is enchanting to watch a baby manipulate an object until he understands its properties.  As he bangs it, chews on it, and throws it, he is learning to discern textures, shapes and size. A toddler’s frustration as he yearns to get an idea across before he actually has the language skills to do so may result in furious tears and make him difficult to handle, but it is a sign of growth.

Over the years that wonder diminishes. There is a natural attrition as we become competent enough to navigate through life and less curious about what there still is to explore. Too often our love of learning is actively squelched, often sadly by the very institutions that are officially dedicated to advancing it. Homeschooling parents aren’t immune from this malady either. Well-intentioned parents and teachers all need to actively work to nurture the joy that can be found in hard work and intellectual inquiry.

For me, one great benefit of being a homeschooling mom was an opportunity to expand my own knowledge. There were subjects that I did not enjoy when I was in school, like ninth grade algebra, that I not only began to understand but actually began to have fun with when I covered it for the second, third and fourth time as a homeschooling mom. I had the opportunity to spend Wednesday mornings for an eight week period sitting in on a series of fascinating World War I history classes at our local library.

I no longer have time for activities like that. Since I am no longer technically homeschooling it is hard to justify spending hours reading biographies or trying some really fun kitchen science experiments as a valid part of working hours.

My children may not (yet) enjoy algebra, might confuse Woodrow Wilson with country singer Gretchen Wilson and most likely don’t remember what all the abbreviations on the periodic table stand for.  The one thing that I do hope they acquired and internalized is a love of learning and the realization that it can and should be pursued at all times and through limitless paths. I believe that my children benefited from our homeschooling adventure. I, for one, miss it.

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