Archive for March 2008

Pet Peeve #3: Over-Protective or Just Rational?

March 24, 2008

I get really annoyed whenever I see that cell phone commercial where the dad is at “make-out mountain” and he is apologizing to his daughter for knocking on car windows in search of her because due to his bad cell phone service he missed her text message saying that she was staying at her friend’s house. I mean, where do you even start to pick apart everything that is culturally wrong with that commercial?

The first thing that comes to mind is that the daughter is allowed to sleep at a friend’s house without actually talking to one of her parents and asking their permission. Maybe we’re a little over-protective but our girls have never even been left in the care of a non-family member. And I guarantee that when they think they are ready for their first sleepover it will only be allowed if we have met the parents. I’m tempted to even go to the “No sleepovers” rule of many conservative parents because sleepovers usually involve girls waiting around to torture the first person to fall asleep. It doesn’t matter if the girl fell asleep due to a high dose of allergy medicine because she was allergic to all of the cats and hamsters at the house. But enough about me…

Secondly, if your daughter is missing and your first instinct is to look at the local teenage necking spot rather than checking with her friends first, you’ve got a big problem. Maybe it stems from the fact that you let your daughter dictate where she will sleep at night via a text message!!! And if you truly believe that is the most likely spot for your teenage daughter to be found, then why in the world are you apologizing for ruining her dating life???

The sad part is that there are probably a lot of parents out there who do not think that commercial is so far-fetched. It amazes me how many parents just entrust the care of their kids to total strangers and shirk parental responsibilities because they don’t want to be labeled “over-protective” or make their kids “uncool” at school. (According to Gavin de Becker’s book Protecting the Gift, accusing a parent of being over-protective is a tactic of predators because then parents are more likely to do dumb stuff to prove they are not over-protective.)

I don’t think I can or should shield my kid from every bad thing in the world, and I don’t want them growing up to be scared of the world beyond their own front door. But I see nothing wrong with being cautious and aware and teaching my children to do the same and keeping very close tabs on their location. In this age of cell phones, it should be even easier to do so. And when the time comes to give my daughter more room to spread her wings away from me and her father, I hope that if a miscommunication occurs my first thought is not that she is probably making out with some guy in a car at an over-look. My girls are going to have to be very creative in order to become a negative teenage statistic. Just call me over-protective; I really don’t care.

Go Big Red!!!

March 21, 2008

I am a proud alum of Western Kentucky University (Class of ’99, B.A. Religious Studies).  While I am not a big sports fan in general and I could normally care less about March Madness, I did try to keep track of what was going on in the WKU/Drake game while I prepared our house for our new stove and refrigerator to be delivered.  I could pretty much follow the course of the game through the cheers and groans coming from my husband’s home office where he had the game on.  But  I did manage to catch the the final few seconds of the game and see that amazing three-point shot at the buzzer that led WKU to victory.

Our five-year-old was excited to watch the first part of the game, but then she decided she’d rather watch Sponge Bob.  For some reason, she didn’t appreciate me breaking into the WKU Fight Song while I scrubbed the kitchen counters.  I will have you know, though, that both of our kids are well aware of who Big Red is thanks to two dolls and a wooden puzzle of him that we own.  And the two-year-old likes to practice her letter recognition on my WKU hooded sweatshirt that I live in during the winter; did you think it was a coincidence that the first letter she learned was “W”?

Congratulations to the boys in red as they advance through the tournament.  Go Big Red!!

Proof That God Has a Sense of Humor?

March 21, 2008

My senior year of college I was sitting in a dormitory lobby. A girl had finished drinking the bulk of her Icee and had proceeded to use her straw to blow bubbles in the cup very loudly. She thought she was being cute about the whole thing, but I found it rather annoying since she continued to do this for several minutes. Suddenly she accidentally sucked when she meant to blow and she started gagging and coughing. I turned to my fiancee (now husband) and described the incident as further proof that God has a sense of humor.

Some of you may have heard that on February 28th a California Court of Appeal judge declared that homeschooling is illegal unless the parent is a certified teacher. That is technically the law in California, but it has never been really enforced. There was a huge panic among the national homeschooling community with people signing petitions and national homeschooling legal groups leading the charge to discredit this ruling. On a most basic level, the legal groups are trying to keep this ruling from being used as a precedent in other cases while working to change California homeschooling laws.

According to a March 14th article in the San Francisco Chronicle more than 10,100 teachers in California will be layed off at the end of this school year due to the state’s budget crisis. Most people would argue that most schools have too high of a teacher to student ratio, and that ratio is about to be raised even more at a time when California homeschooling parents are being led to believe that they might have to put their children into the school system. I can’t decided if this is just sadly ironic or further proof that God has a sense of humor.

I would like to applaud Ann Zeise of the homeschooling website A to Z Home’s Cool for her positive take of this situation. Ann offers suggestions for California homeschooling groups to adopt an unemployed teacher. Not only might this give the teacher a little bit of income through consulting and tutoring fees, but it might also secure your group, and homeschooling in general, a future ally. Ann also has an article to help unemployed teachers approach the homeschooling community for jobs. It would be nice to see something positive come out of all this negative.

You Can Lead a Horse to Water…

March 21, 2008

Today a member of my homeschooling group posted a link to an article about unschooling from a Denver newspaper. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term “unschooling” it describes a somewhat controversial form of homeschooling in which learning is based on the interests of the child, not on set curriculum with a standard scope and sequence. It was actually a very favorable article, but as usual there were the uninformed anti-homeschooling comments attached, the usual variations of “Homeschooled kids are socially inept weirdos who will never be able to function in the workplace or society, and unschooled kids are especially spoiled.”

When I read comments like that the first instinct is to pull out every homeschooling book, accessing the National Home Education Research Institute website (http://www.nheri.org/), and start refuting all of the mis-information. I’ve come to realize, though, that if I do that every time I come across anti-homeschooling comments on the internet I’m going to drive myself crazy, give myself carpal-tunnel syndrome, and basically waste a large portion of my life. Some people are not going to listen to me no matter how correct I am, so why waste my time?

I am better off sharing my information with people who have not already completely made up their minds. I am better off looking at all of the homeschooling success stories for inspiration. I am better off being “that mom who homeschools” who can maybe inspire curiosity and offer information to others. I am better off raising and educating my kids in the way I think is best and letting the proof be in the pudding.

From now on I solemnly swear that I will only post comments on blogs and newspaper websites if they relate directly to the article at hand, not to other people’s comments at those sites. This decision extends beyond homeschooling to other issues, too, such as politics. I’ve realized that responding to other people’s comments is basically a way of torturing yourself.

And now have I shared my great wisdom with you. And you should listen to me because as this pregnancy nears its end I am starting to look more and more like Buddha. Of course, I never understood why all the Buddha statues are fat when Buddha is known for his excessive fasting. Hmmmm…..I may just have see what I can find out. (That’s what you call unschooling yourself.)

Update: Apparently the fat statues known as “The Laughing Buddha” are not supposed to be based on Siddhartha Gautama Buddha. According to Wikipedia, they represent a Buddha that was forseen to succeed the original Buddha. The statue is based on a Chinese Chan monk who lived in the sixth century. The statues represent contentment and abundance, which I assume is to be the reward for following Buddhist teachings. Just thought I would pass on the information.

More Thoughts on Mathematician’s Lament

March 20, 2008

At some point in 1993 before the movie was released in theaters, I read Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. At the time, it inspired me so much that I used it as the basis of a college entrance essay; I also signed up to meet the Mathematician at my school’s career day (yes, I was and am a total nerd). I really think Jurassic Park is one of the most profound works of science fiction. Reading A Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart brought the book to my mind once again.

My favorite character in the book was mathematician Ian Malcolm (even though he wasn’t quite as sexy as Jeff Goldblum). Malcolm knew that Jurassic Park would fail because he studied the predictable unpredictability of mathematics (chaos theory). He knew that mathematics is not something set in stone as we are taught to believe; it is a living thing which, like the bio-engineered dinosaurs, can not always be kept in neat little boxes. And throughout the book Malcolm can tell just by looking at the numbers and graphs that the park is going awry. No one will believe him, though, until all hell starts breaking loose. (Perhaps, I always liked Malcolm because Cassandra has always been my favorite character in Greek mythology.)

I always thought it kind of odd that it was the mathematician who understood the human ignorance and arrogance that would make Jurassic Park such a disaster. As Lockhart laments, I was raised to think of mathematics as cold and logical formulas to be used as tools, not intuitive and innovative ways of looking at life. And as I read the Lockhart’s essay, I thought about my initial introduction to fractals through Michael Crichton’s book. For those of you who are unfamiliar with fractals, I strongly recommend looking them up on Wikipedia. And if you needed any further proof of the connection between mathematics and art, fractal patterns have even been found in the seemingly random paint flinging of Jackson Pollock.

Now what will I do with this revelation about mathematics, besides use them as a focal point for two blog entries that very few people will probably ever read? I think this might have quite an influence on the way I homeschool my children in the area of mathematics, especially when we get to things like formal Algebra and Geometry. I have never had any intention of teaching my kids Calculus unless they asked for it, because most people have no need to learn Calculus and I believe that attempting to learn calculus in school ruined my basic math skills. Lockhart makes me now question how much of the normal Algebra and Geometry curriculum is really necessary.

Now I can kind of envision us mixing a little bit of basic Algebra and Geometry definition with reading books by mathematicians and throwing in some trial-and-error problem solving. It makes me wish that Lockhart would put together a book with examples of the mathematic puzzles that he gives his students to solve. I’ve also thought about teaching Algebra and Geometry based on an SAT prep book. Because even though Lockhart offers a vision of a utopian world in which mathematics is seen as the art that it is, my kids will still have to pass their college entrance exams that test on the same old empty definitions and theorems that Lockhart deplores.

On one last note, I tried looking up Paul Lockhart’s essay on Wickipedia and came across A Mathematician’s Apology by mathematician G.H. Hardy. After reading a synopsis of Hardy’s essay, you can tell that Lockhart has obviously read and been influenced by Hardy. Since Hardy died in 1947, I would not be surprised if Lockhart holds him in great esteem as a pioneer of number theory. And I may have to add G.H. Hardy to my own reading list, if I have any brain cells left after I deliver this baby.

You Say You Want a Revolution…

March 18, 2008

I was recently reading A Mathematician’s Lament, an unpublished article by Paul Lockhart that was featured on the website of the Mathematical Association of America (http://www.maa.org/devlin/LockhartsLament.pdf). Dr. Lockhart’s story is very interesting as he left many years of studying and teaching college-level math at some of the nation’s top universities for a teaching position at a private K-12 school in Brooklyn. Homeschoolers have embraced his Lament as an insider’s view of how compulsory schooling has raped education and learning until all that is left is any empty shell.

The basic premise of A Mathematician’s Lament is that true mathematics is not taught in schools. Lockhart explains that true mathematics is a form of art, not a tool of science. True mathematics is about discovery and creation and trial and error; it’s not about “facts”. It is not a series of soulless definitions, theorems, and rote memorizations; it is about solving problems and pondering the universe.

These are truly revolutionary ideas for a teacher to express, but many homeschooling parents feel that this perversion of learning can be seen in all areas of schools, public or private. Many of us believe that schools have been inherently broken ever since they were made mandatory, because when they became mandatory that’s when they were turned into learning factories whose purpose was to create interchangeable cogs in the societal wheel. Before that most basic learning was done in the home, and school was an optional place to send children to gain extra knowledge. However, school was not seen as the only way that someone could become educated; there were apprenticeships, books to be read, and good old-fashioned trial and error. Education was something experienced not memorized.

Mr. Lockhart tries to allow his students to experience mathematics. He gives them a question and tells them to figure out the answer for themselves. However, the answer does not have to be a composition of limited definitions, theorems, and math facts that they have memorized from their text book. He compares what he does to allowing his students to create an original work of art rather than filling in a paint-by-numbers. And if he does need to use a definition, theorem, or math fact to get a point across he has his students explore where these things came from. How and why did Pythagorus come up with the theorem that bares his name? Is this definition correct? This approach offers relevance and meaning, as well as teaching critical thinking skills.

Lockhart further laments how sorry he feels for the majority of children who are forced to learn what passes for mathematics in schools. And he also feels sorry for the teachers who have to teach what passes for mathematics in schools because they just don’t know any better. The teachers themselves have been schooled into believing and passing on this lie. Most of them can repeat the definitions, theorems, and facts and plug them into exercises but most of them could not tell you what they really mean. Being accredited as a math teacher does not make one a mathematician.

Lockhart is trying to start a mathematics revolution through his teaching methods, but like most revolutionary (a.k.a. great) teachers he is lauded by parents and students and questioned by school administrators.  Critics of homeschooling complain that rather than pulling their kids out of school, homeschooling parents should use their time and resources to revolutionize schools for all children.  How do parents really stand a chance of changing schools for the better when teachers who really try are constantly slapped down and administrators treat parents who dare to question them as annoying gnats to be swatted?  Critics really expect parents to put their kids on the Titanic and help re-arrange the deck chairs more efficiently?

I think many homeschooling parents are calling for the same revolution that Paul Lockhart is.  They realize, though, that an educational revolution is going to take time and will have to come from the top down and can not be done at the expense of their own children.  It may take ten or fifteen or twenty years but eventually politicians are going to have to realize that what is broken with the school system can not be fixed with more money, more testing, or more administrators.  I believe when they realize that schools need to be rebuilt from scratch, they will look towards the methods and success of homeschoolers as a guide for the rebuilding.  And maybe even former homeschoolers will be the very politicians leading the revolution…

Picture Day

March 13, 2008

Since we got our tax refund in, I decided that we were way overdue to get professional pictures made of our girls. The last time we had any made was when our younger daughter was slightly past age one; she’s now two and half. Needless to say, she has changed a lot in the past year and half. So, I made the appointment to get their pictures made, and prayed that we could keep their faces relatively scratch and bruise free leading up to the day. (We had a few close calls thanks to a few bonked-head incidents and stray finger nails.)

We have always been really bad about getting pictures made. We usually wait so long between visits to the picture studio because it is so stressful, time-consuming, and expensive. And of course it’s more stressful mentally, physically, and financially because we wait so long that we end up having lots of poses taken and buying lots of pictures. If only we could get in the habit of just a few shots every six months, it would probably be a bit better.

So, I managed to set back all of their picture clothes from being worn before the big day. That morning I gathered props and snacks to take with us. I managed to find the balance between feeding, bathing, and dressing time (you don’t want them getting food all over their clean bodies or clothes yet you don’t want them hungry and fussy when you get to the studio). It was a tightrope walk, though, especially when a last minute grab for fresher tights made me forget to bring the water bottle.

It doesn’t help that my older daughter, age five and a half, has always been extremely concerned and opinionated when it comes to her wardrobe. Picture day sends her into alternate fits of rapture and hysteria. In her mind “Picture Day” is a holiday and deserves an entirely new wardrobe. And so the battles began. We had a lot of negotiation over what she would wear, as I didn’t want her to completely clash with her sister and refused to buy her something new. Then she thought she had to use twice as much soap in her bath or she wouldn’t be clean and shiny enough. She decided that she wanted braided pigtails (she also chose her own hairstyle last year) but didn’t want to sit still while I put them up. We argued because I wouldn’t let her wear any of my lipstick. Then she got upset because she thought her dress made her neck look too long. And don’t even get me started on her shoes; I finally had to save that battle until we got to the picture studio so we could get there on time. She had also devised her own pose for the photographer.

Once we got there things ran pretty smoothly. Older daughter jabbered away to the photographer during her portion of the shoot while the younger daughter watched. The younger one was really co-operative when it was her turn. And they were so sweet together. My husband and I tried to stay out of the way while everything was going well; we did get a little teared up watching, though. We also got a few shots of the girls, me, and my big belly together.

We had to wait for about 20 minutes while the photographer processed everything, and that’s about how long it took for the girls to fall apart. They started getting thirsty for water. The younger one started getting tired and fussy.  If only I had not forgotten that stupid water bottle!!!  There were so many pictures it took us an hour and half to narrow it down and place our order while the kids grew increasingly whiny (which is probably why it took so long to begin with). We promised the kids that if they could just hold together for a little bit we would stop by the local ice cream parlor on the way home.

By the time we got home, we were all starving and exhausted…and in no hurry to do that again for a very long time. Part of me is tempted to try to go in when the new baby is six-months old and just get a few shots of the baby and a group shot of the three girls together. Something tells me, though, that we’ll end up waiting until the new little one is one and then we’ll feel like we need to catch up on pictures of everyone. And next time we’ll get to wrangle with three of them. Right now the thought of going through another day like yesterday stresses me out more than the thought of going into labor again.

Deep down I know it will all be worth it as our girls grow up to be able to look back and remember them the way they are today.  Or maybe in ninety years someone will show their great-grandchildren these pictures and those children will be awed to think that the person they always thought of as so old was once a little child like them, as happened today when my older daughter looked upon a childhood picture of my grandmother who just passed away.  Now if we can only get around to developing all those photos from the digital camera….