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The greatest goal of a solid education is to give students the ability to think, reason, and discern. Learning various disciplines like algebra and writing are simply the tools for this. For instance, mathematics exposes a student to rudimentary logic, and writing is argument, stimulating development of the skills of analysis and reason. I recently attended a local forum on Common Core, hosted by our local newspaper, with representatives for both sides of the issue, and I was completely astonished to hear our Superintendent of Schools say, “I’m not sure learning long division is even all that necessary anymore. These kids will always have calculators.” Despite his title, his attitude is antithetical to the basic tenets of education.

The event was heavily attended – standing room only – by anti-Common Core activists, and there was a rowdy mood among the crowd. They felt betrayed by the unilateral implementation of the greatest overhaul of the country’s education system in, well, ever. Nobody voted on this, no parents were ever consulted, and even educators were mostly left out of the discussion. The Common Core was developed by bureaucrats – but why? And why did the states willingly adopt it, even before it was written?

The answer to that is as old as business: money. Of course, there are myriad reasons why money should not dictate our education methods, not the least of which is that nothing should dictate in a democracy.

Toward the end of forum, when they were cutting the question mics in the audience, a nervous blond woman standing in front of me walked up to the mic insisting on asking her question. The moderator tried to silence her, saying we had run out of time, but the audience encouraged him to allow her to speak – we weren’t in any hurry. “There is a video that shows Common Core implementation – telling children to choose between ‘Mommy asks me to clean my room,’ and ‘Mommy nags me to clean my room.’ The correct answer is ‘nags.’ Why are they bringing this kind of anti-parent teaching into our classrooms? And how can you assure us this won’t happen here?”

The Superintendent of Schools readily suggested we let the kids decide what seems appropriate. With horrible, telling gaffs like that, it’s no wonder the schools had not invited their parents to the forum, why most parents have never heard of CC.

When a state imposes a broad new curriculum in our schools without any input from educators or parents, no vote, no discussion, that is a totalitarian act, and parents and school boards that passively accept that infringement on their rights shouldn’t be surprised or upset when they are told their opinions are no longer necessary. The state just proved it.

As the forced implementation of this new curriculum already indicates, Common Core is the antithesis of traditional education: it aims to stifle individualism and restrict learning. Some call it behavior modification, some call it brainwashing.

Or, if you insist, “re-education.” Education, it is not.

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To home school your own kids is to invite insecurity as a constant companion.

You can never measure up to a governmental institution that has been practicing and perfecting the art and science of schooling children for over a century… Can you?

Over the recent decades, home schoolers have challenged that assumption, surprisingly successfully. In fact, many have surpassed the government standards, highlighting the general inadequacies of our learning institutions.

How did they do that? They obviously had principles they refused to compromise, but I think it also has something to do with understanding the limitations of any bureaucracy. Government simply cannot serve all children equally (they are all so unique) – that defies logic. They must adopt a “good enough” attitude (now known as “No Child Left Behind” or more recently, “Common Core”). In contrast, home schoolers can concentrate on the individual child and have much more exacting standards.

What I’ve discovered in the past year, when I enrolled my two boys (briefly) in a very qualified private school, was eye-opening, so I’ll share it here.

The school they attended used the Shurley Grammar curriculum I’ve written about. One of the issues I had with Shurley was its writing program, which is extremely repetitive and painfully intense for my active boys. The private school supplanted that program with another, less exacting plan from Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). Not only that, but they didn’t complete everything in the grammar portion, either. Imagine that! They didn’t finish every task in the book! This was absolutely (sadly) mind-blowing for my obsessive, exigent self. What if they missed something? I thought. And then I realized that missing a thing or two along the way could always be caught up later, during the inevitable repetition of subject matter.

In fact, teachers almost never cover textbooks in their entirety – not even the private schools, but certainly not in public schools. I recall my mother’s discovery that the biology class at our high school only covered 17 chapters of a 56 chapter science book, to her horror. Last year I discovered that was the norm, not the exception, so I did a little research. Most curricula are purposely over-written. They are designed so individual teachers can pick and choose, and they provide extra work to keep advanced children busy. Average or slower students will never see (and never need to see) the extra stuff – what I call “busy work.”

So if our revered institutions don’t complete the ‘prescribed’ work, why was I holding myself to such a high standard? Because I’m a perfectionist, which is unhealthy – for me and my kids. I decided that just because I have high standards does not mean I must follow and complete an entire curriculum to satisfy them.

Keep your eye on the ball. The learning is the goal, not the textbook.

This year, I’ve backed off a bit. I do most of the Shurley sentences for each lesson, and about a third of the writing assignments – there will always be time for my kids to do more writing the next year, because Shurley is nothing if not repetitive, and for good reason. Children learn best through repetition. They often cannot take in an entire concept at one sitting, but need multiple exposures to complicated ideas, like how to write a particular kind of essay. They also should not be subjected to tedious busy work as a way of drilling information that will be covered many times over in the future. I admit: it’s a fine line. But at the risk of losing my student to abject boredom or frustration, I err on the side of caution: everything in moderation. We cover the basics until I see my student “gets it,” confident that there will be review in the coming days. This way, my students, the loves of my life, are not burdened with my obsessive perfectionism, agonizing to complete tomes of structured learning. I prefer for us to concentrate on enjoying the process, instead.

As for my insecurity, which goes hand-in-hand with my perfectionism, I’ve learned to deal with it. Sometimes it’s quite challenging, but I’ve found a great balance between hard-core, staunch, fulfill every single demand of an over-written schoolbook and the broad strokes that our public schools paint with every year. As long as my kids excel, enjoy the process, and can show my husband how to diagram a sentence with an object compliment adjective, well, I guess that’s actually good enough for me.

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Welcome to a new year of homeschooling, Sorbo-style.

We started off the new school year one week ahead of our public school, mainly because we had all really lazed toward the end of the summer, and I knew we would need a ‘settling-in’ period to get back in the groove. By this I mean we did part-time school with old workbooks, just to review and get up to speed with our work. Meanwhile, I had ordered our new textbooks and was waiting with bated breath.

Now, if you’ve read previous blogs, you know how I tout the wonders of the Shurley Grammar curriculum. We are currently pursuing years 4 and 2 of that study. Biwa hates the writing component and yet he excels at it, so I make a point of noticing how quickly he finished, after he moans about how long it will take him to do both assignments (yes, two writing assignment on writing days!) Shane dislikes doing any work, yet revels in it once he’s begun. He adores learning.

For mathematics, Shane has the 3rd year Spectrum notebook and Biwa 4th year and they are both finding the books challenging but not overwhelming.

For history I still like The Story of the World series, but I’ll be honest, the workbooks are a little much for my kids for some reason. I don’t believe in forcing a child to do what I call busy work because they know what it is. Biwa never has patience for drawing or coloring; he lacks aptitude for it anyway, so why torture him? Shane, on the other hand, loves those kinds of things, as well as connect-the-dots and puzzles, so he is much more responsive to the coordinated workbook for history. I found him a connect-the-dots book specifically on Egypt and it’s all I can do to keep up with him.

As for science, it’s all around us. We have our lizard and the boys are expert lizard hunters. We are hatching a tomato hornworm into its moth. The tomato hornworm was found by Shane, after our first four up and died on us, and he eventually formed his chrysalis and buried himself in our terrarium. But not before absolutely devouring my tomato plants! That’s okay, because I made a garden this year, so the kids got to experience first hand growing some of the other vegetables they eschew. We also just attended the Science Night at our public school. I only remembed it at the last minute, after karate, and I innocently asked, so, did you still want to go to Science Night tonight? “Yes! I LOVE science!” was the resounding answer.

I’m having Biwa study French this year, and he has actually started pronouncing the “R” correctly, finally, but I am still researching a better Latin program for the future. The one I got for last year turned out to be only a single year program!

But there are even more important lessons to be learned at home and so I will share this story with you.

I have some very ugly outdoor lights. They are purple, and hang very low, giving them a strange vibe. I had recently realized that I could maybe rehang them upside down, and they probably would look a lot better, so I asked a painter to give me a quote to paint them a more palatable color, but I never heard back. Finally, I decided to take matters into my own hands and I offered the job to Biwa, for a lot more money than he deserved. Part of my thinking was that by over-rewarding him I would somehow engender a greater sense of responsibility and he might ‘rise’ to the occasion. That was misguided, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Biwa stepped up gamely enough, taking the lanterns I removed from the walls, scrubbing and washing them, and then taping them to my satisfaction before starting to paint them with a primer-paint spray we had picked up.

Then his sister made a great big mud puddle with the hose. Shane joined her and that proved too much temptation for Biwa. Mud is fun!

Biwa came to tell me the paint can needed a rest, and he was going to join his siblings in the mud bath. Well, push apparently came to shove, and Biwa ended up spray-painting his younger brother’s arm. Livid, I explained that this was completely irresponsible of him (he could have blinded Shane!) and I cut his promised wages in half.

But let’s face it. He is only ten. I reconsidered my rush to judgment while Biwa was rinsing off upstairs. When he came downstairs after showering I told him I felt that perhaps I had overreacted. I would only dock his pay by 20% (thus forcing him to do some math work as well).

He looked at me with a sly smile. “That’s good, Mom, ’cause in the shower I was thinking that I could just refuse to do it at all, and then you’d have to get a guy in to paint and that would cost you a lot of money – more than me.” He knew already that no painter had returned my calls.

Well paint me proud, though a little miffed at his cockiness. His barely suppressed glee at having bested me in this negotiation was too obvious to overlook.

After duly absorbing his surprising grasp of basic supply and demand economics, the next day I decided I had to take him down a few pegs.

I started with, “Biwa, things have changed a bit again.” Then I launched into my own cunning analysis in a very matter-of-fact tone. “After I began applying your own logic to my situation, I’ve decided that you are going to do the job I gave you for half price. You see I know that there is nowhere else that you can earn the money I will pay you, even just this half we are talking about. So you will finish the paint job, and you will be happy to collect your pay for it. And if it isn’t done today, then I will do it myself, and that money is off the table for good. And for next time, I hope you’ve also learned it’s best to keep quiet when you are ahead, although I am very proud of you for thinking the way you did in the shower yesterday – you know that. You are very, very smart!”

Of course he tried to argue with me, but I had the upper hand (though how long this will last is a testy subject for me). There really is nowhere else for him to earn that kind of money, and I know him – he loves money! He eventually agreed, and even put on a smile when I insisted. I do admit to enlisting friends to commend his fine job and also remark on how well paid he was – not letting on they knew it was only half of our original figure.

This entire experience involved a couple of tremendously valuable lessons in the art of negotiation and supply and demand – none of which would have been taught in this way had my son been enrolled in our local school. (I could never have given him this chore with all the homework he would be bringing home on a daily basis.) And of course the lesson I learned is also invaluable: a child may rise to the occasion you craft for them, but they are only so tall.

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A friend just emailed me that she had enjoyed a nice winter school holiday but was dreading the whole morning rush back to school.  I don’t experience that particular phenomenon, although I did wonder how it would go for my kids and me, getting back in school mode after our long break.  We took three weeks vacation over Christmas – the first week with no school requirements, and the second two with only minimal reading I’ll explain later.

Here’s how we re-assimilated…

We arrive back home from our trip on Monday morning at 7:30, after a night’s flight.  I am way too exhausted, and so are the kids, to do any homework today, so I give them the day off, in exchange for their promise to push everything by a day – meaning schoolwork on Saturday.

Tuesday, I’m still strung out from the lack of sleep and jet-lag or whatever, but I am sitting at my computer first thing in the morning and Biwa waltzes in and starts his Latin. “Mom, please print out the assignment sheet, so I can cross things off as I go.”

Then he goes right into math, and after that, spelling.  Finally, he says, “Mom, let’s get the grammar done now.”  Who am I to say “no” to that?  Frankly, I’ll admit that I am way too tired to enforce some sort of work ethic today, but if he’s asking me to do grammar, I’m gonna (by golly) do grammar with him!  He finishes off with history.  I’ve decided to start him on a different, more comprehensive history curriculum, but, unfortunately, I quickly discover I don’t have all the materials, so I get over to the computer and order them.

Because of Biwa’s enthusiasm, the other children follow suit, so in answer to whether it is difficult to get back to schoolwork after an extended holiday, I give a resounding (and somewhat surprised,) “No!”  Wednesday, we are getting back into the swing of things, and by the end of the week, Saturday, we finish our week’s worth of work.

The only challenge is that next week, we leave again on Wednesday! The kids will be skiing, so I don’t want to burden them with too much schoolwork while we are there. It’s no fun struggling to learn when you are tired. Review is better for this trip, so I’ve decided bring other stuff instead of 5-day-Shurley. Plus, that approach lightens my load. We’ll take our math books instead, and lots of reading – the most important element in schooling!

I will say that although we didn’t do ‘formal’ school over our long vacation, I had Biwa reading over an hour each day. We also explored the local historical buildings.

For Shane, whose reading is challenged, I took my teaching book for reading and we did two lessons each day, only about 30-45 minutes. That actually provided a nice break from the whole doing-nothing-because-you’re-on-vacation routine. I also did a few pages in the same book – earlier chapters – with Tavie each day. My goal was that by the end of our trip, Shane would be reading.

I proudly report it worked! When we got back, I took out a level 2 “I can read” book, (a book he never could have attempted before my accelerated reading program,) and he read it, haltingly. When it comes to reading, Shane has an issue with confidence. Remember, he excels in math, so I guess it’s a bit of a trade-off.  But now, he’s totally reading! Another wonderful result is that Tavie is now also reading, three-letter-words only, with lots of help. But her approach is so fearless, she’ll say anything – just take a stab at the word, even a bold-faced guess – whereas Shane is intimidated into silence by the fear of being wrong, it seems. No worries. A little cajoling and a bit of encouragement, and he’ll read better and better.

Today, after a long bit of concentration on my cereal box, he asked me, “Mom, does that say ‘peanut butter granola’ on that box?”  He was right!

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“I could never home-school. I would probably kill my kid by Wednesday, if I had to spend the entire day with him, every day!”

Typical fare for the teenager-parent relationship? Unfortunately, yes. But ironically, the individuals making these pronouncements are often the ideal candidates for home schooling. Possibly the worst thing frustrated parents can do is send their aloof, argumentative children away (to school.) In any other setting, dropping them off somewhere, for someone else to deal with, would be deemed giving up on the relationship. (This is the way children likely perceive the slight as well – they aren’t stupid, you know.)

If the parents cannot stand to spend time with their own child, how will he ever feel loved? But parents are so blinded by school’s beacon; they shield their eyes and shove the child into the wolves’ den. (It is no wonder he returns home behaving like a wild animal.)

What children learn in school…

Parents wonder where their relationship with their teen went wrong. Answer: Their influence was all but eclipsed the moment the child crossed the school threshold. It’s that simple. Each day a young child goes to school, he learns (way too early,) that his parents don’t know everything. School reinforces this point by teaching the little ones to instruct their parents. “Tell Mommy not to pack plastic sandwich bags in your lunch – that kills the dolphins!” Mommy kills dolphins! He makes friends with other kids whose parents also slaughter innocent animals. He joins his peers, learns to challenge authority, then comes home and asserts himself. The parent thinks, “Well, that’s probably a good thing, because he is learning to be self-confident and capable.”

But a good parent has a sneaking suspicion that it isn’t quite right.

Troubled Teens

A few years later, still on the school treadmill, the youngster becomes a surly judgmental teen and the fights get too big to try to win anymore. The parent throws his hands up and sighs. “Teenagers!” It’s inevitable: the independence, the ego, his disdain for Mom’s outdated values and his resentment that Dad somehow has maintained control of the Wii remote or his access to the car.

The experts, school authorities, say they see this type of thing every day and advise the parents to weather the storm. Other parents agree: the teen years are the pits – but completely normal and acceptable. (Shrugs and chuckles!)

By “normal” they mean that most children go through this, but most children are enrolled in school. By “acceptable” they mean it simply must be endured; it is unavoidable. Wrong. “I’m too lazy to take on home schooling. It’s all I can do to keep up with their homework.” “I can’t teach my kids. What would I do when they got to algebra or calculus? I don’t remember any of that stuff.” If first grade learning is too hard, by all means, start him in school now. But let’s not fool ourselves: homework is home school (just with more pressure, later in the day, when everyone’s tired, hungry and grouchy.)

Acquaintances of mine went to a home schooling convention early on in their children’s lives and met families with polite, loving teenagers. They quickly decided, “That’s how we want our kids to behave when they are that age.” Now they successfully home school their respectful and caring teens.

Academics?

On December 6th, President Obama addressed a report that US teens continue to sink in world education rankings, calling for another “Sputnik moment.” It took only 18 years to bring our space program up to par, but we were already running second in the race. According to the Programme for International Student Assessment, in a recent study of 65 countries, US education scored lower than fourteenth on the list, well behind Japan and South Korea. Is a mediocre education worth risking the parent-child relationship?

Not when home-schooled children typically out-perform their public school counterparts by 30-37 percentile points across the board. Socializing all day (for that is truly what school has become,) is apparently not the most sensible way to nurture or instruct a child. With so little to recommend a public education, the decision to send a child to school must be a product of societal conditioning. Responsible parents owe it to themselves and their families to investigate home schooling options.

As distressing as they are, the parents’ mundane declarations in this article articulate tremendous loss: the death tolls of those parent-child relationships. They indicate great naïveté, and yes, selfishness. Tragically, these parents have speciously placed their hope and trust in an institutionalized “education” system that gradually but resoundingly destroys the very fabric of their family life and, consequently, the future role of family in our nation.

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Yesterday I went to an orientation event for a local home school ‘network.’  This is a school, organized by a mom several years ago, which offers classes, outings, and social events for children who are home schooled.  The mom spoke about her two disparate children: a daughter who learned to read at 2 and a half and graduated from college at 22 with four degrees (including a law degree,) and a son who didn’t read until the ripe old age of ten.  Probably neither of her children would have thrived in a traditional school setting, but they are both well-adjusted, successful individuals today.  I found her story very intriguing and also encouraging.

The seminar was held at a local church, in an informal setting.  The speaker addressed many questions from the audience. I am very interested in this school, which provides a “bona fide” diploma and transcript for every graduating student, but only because of the teaching opportunities it offers.  When the topic for questions finally turned toward the paperwork, I left.

That is not to say I am unconcerned with paperwork.  The school takes pride in being very disciplined with record keeping, and they insist on parents attending a two-day seminar regarding school records.  This is probably a good thing, given the current policies and regulations our “free” society lives under.  For the school, they must comply with federal and state laws, and for the parents, this gives them a sense of security regarding the validity of the school.

But many parents are overly concerned about the paperwork.  This is understandable, though, because we are brainwashed to expect a good public education and assume it will lead to even better things.  The paperwork proves value!  Although now, everyone knows, grade inflation has caused diplomas to be worth, well, not even the paper they are written on.  A diploma barely may get you into college, these days.  Why is that?  Because of the breakdown in our educational system.

This speaks to an entire world/life view.  General studies colleges mainly teach how to be a good employee.  The most successful people I know did not graduate from college. Think of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Richard Branson.  They are entrepreneurs, people who think out of the box.  Like my friends, they are not employees, people who depend on an individual employer, a large corporation, or the government, for a paycheck and a retirement account.  College is certainly useful if you want to be a lawyer, a doctor, or an engineer, perhaps, but beyond that, college does little to prepare young students for the real world, except to teach them to seek out a boss, somewhere.  That attitude trickles down to the lower schools as well.

Education should be a life-long endeavor.  People who stop growing their brains stop using their brains, and then the brain starts to atrophy.  If we, as a society, allow the focus to be entirely on college – and then getting a good job – the message is that education stops where real life begins.

Is this too subtle?  I don’t think so, but you may disagree.  I like the home schooling method, because it brings education into the every day lifestyle.  It is no longer “go to school to learn, come home to regrettably do home work, then have the rest of your time unencumbered.”  Our school happens full time.  It is a way of life.  I want my kids to go to college, but only on their own terms, with an end-goal and a plan – not as another step to avoiding reality.  How many kids do you know who are still trying to find themselves while spending copious amounts of money to be educated?  Then they graduate, but cannot find the job they imagined.  How could they?  What do they know of real jobs, to conjure up a realistic one, after they’ve been virtually sequestered inside school walls their entire lives?

I am preparing my kids for life-long learning.  A diploma won’t speak to that.  It’s like a birthday card for a toddler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What is the probability that my son, Braeden, will finish his all of his schoolwork before 1:30 in the afternoon?

Very high, in actuality.  He is incentivized by the opportunity to play a half-hour of video games, if his work is finished before the clock chimes 1:30.

This week I finally succeeded in establishing a suitable assignment schedule for Braeden and Shane.  (The previous ones just weren’t the right format.)  This one has the week’s work on it.  It’s nothing fancy; it simply lists the various subjects and extracurricular (why are they considered extra, anyway?) activities, like karate, piano, or other lessons, for each day.  Braeden likes to cross off each subject when he’s done it for that day.  He is also further incentivized to finish because he won’t get karate or basketball if he hasn’t completed his assignments in time for us be on time for class, and those classes are later in the afternoon.  I have placed the power in their hands.

Shane still struggles with this.  (I think Shane is just to young for this approach, so I’m more hands-on with him.)  For Braeden, though, my plan seems to be a hit.  One day this week, he got up early, started his spelling at just after eight, and finished all of his work by 11:15.

This presents me with an interesting conundrum.  “Wow!  Good for him!” is accompanied by me doubting myself as a teacher.  It is great that he is enthusiastic enough to rush through his work, to attack it and complete it, and learn the sense of accomplishment of getting a job done.  My son is a consummate procrastinator.  Anything that teaches him the better choice is certainly what he needs, so I’m happy to see it working.  The more often he finishes early, the easier it becomes for him to do his work timely.

But my self-doubt still wheedles its way in, making me nervous.  Am I not giving him enough work? Is he doing a good enough job on it? Why don’t I just send him to school and let them agonize over whether he is being well educated or not?

The answer to the first two questions is easy enough.  Yes, and yes.  He is learning.  I check his papers daily (or at least every other day,) to make sure that he is actually doing the work, instead of rushing through it sloppily. And, I could always give him more, but as we were easing into this new paradigm, I didn’t want to overwhelm him too much.  I will start now putting a little more on his plate, so we’ll see how it goes.  In the meantime, he is performing well and improving, for certain, so I must content myself with that knowledge.

As for the third question, well, who’s to say that whoever he might be assigned for a teacher at our local school would be as concerned as I am with his education?  We hear almost daily about how teachers are over-taxed with too many students and not enough resources.  I’ve experienced both good teachers, mediocre, and bad, and I have decided not to spend my time helping them or fighting with them, or even volunteering at the bake sale.  I prefer to spend my time making absolutely certain that my boy receives an education we can both be proud of, even if it is at my hands.

That does not placate my fears of inadequacy, unfortunately.  What does calm my anxiety is seeing him blossom, watching his growth in language and writing, and experiencing an improved relationship with him.  (I also enjoy other’s positive comments about his behavior and attitude.  My friends have seen improvement, too.)

This year, I’ve started to insist my children employ “ma’am” and “sir.”  This seemed extreme to me, at first – after all, I don’t live in the South – but I was determined.  “Please” and “thank you” seemed so easily forgotten that I figured the kids needed some stronger language to make the rule stick.  I reasoned that if it became more of an issue, there was a better chance they would remember it.  It worked.

Now I simply wait an extra beat before answering their requests, until I get a quick “Please, Ma’am?” with a smile tacked onto the end.  Better than that, when we are out, I hear that politesse used with other people, who look at me and raise their eyebrows, impressed.  What’s the likelihood they will remember their manners now?  Very, very likely.

I’m playing this game of probabilities with schooling, too.  There was a chance that if I sent Braeden to public school this year he would have gotten a fantastic teacher and he would have learned a great deal more than I could ever teach him in third grade.  But that most likely wouldn’t have been the case.  I probably would be doing just as much work with him, during after-school hours.  And an 11:15 AM finish would be off the table for good.

It’s probably better this way.

 

 

 

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