Monday, January 15, 2018

Preparing Sons for Single Income: Chapter Three

The title of this chapter is "What is his REAL earning potential?" - but an equally valid title is "Find out what Steven Maxwell REALLY thought about his co-workers - and how greatly God favors him!"

The gist of the chapter is that a son's earning potential is mainly affected by his view of work, his character, his willingness to learn, God's Blessing and God's Discipline.  A hard-working, ethical, eager man will make more money than a lazy, cheating, dullard will - unless the eager beaver is being punished by God.

Since three sentences do not make a chapter, the rest of the section is fattened out with anecdotes about co-workers Steven Maxwell disliked and vignettes from his life.  To keep readers' eyes on the final prize - and shove some more humble-brag down their throats - the chapter begins with a reminder of how great Nathan is:

Who would have ever believed that a young home school graduate might make as much money as his college degreed father? Who might guess that the same son would be paid to write an instructor's manual for college professors teaching computer security? This is exactly what happened in our family! (pg. 29)

Nathan has had a remarkable career trajectory, but we don't need to be reminded of it every chapter.  Nathan did successfully write a book about computer security - but that was a one-shot deal.

I've noticed an interesting paradox in the Maxwell Family writings.  Steven Maxwell is extremely against college education for his children - but he brings up his college degree frequently and brags about Nathan making money by writing a college textbook.  No matter how far he's turned away from advanced degrees for his offspring, he continues to use the prestige of colleges to showcase his family's achievements.

The next anecdote is where Mr. Maxwell shares his dislike of a former co-worker named "Jerry".  Hopefully, that's a pseudonym.

When I worked for Boeing, Jerry was on my team. He was close to 60 years old and held a four-year engineering degree. Jerry was a genius. Unfortunately, no one wanted him on their team, as the man would not complete a task. Normal, mundane work was an incredible bore to him because he had a multitude of side interest that were always more important than his work. As a result of his poor work habits, Jerry only received token wage increases. He viewed work as a necessary evil to be put up with in order to receive a paycheck. His check was a ticket to the toys that made his life worth living.

At one point, it sounded like Jerry was going to be fired. However, as a last-ditch effort, Boeing transferred him to a job that involves solving problems for production lines. Finally, they found a job that interest Jerry enough to keep him motivated. As a result, Jerry and everyone around him were happier. If Jerry had viewed work is a gift from God and something to be greatly prized, he wouldn't have come so close to being fired. Plus, he would have been receiving pay increases through the years like others. (pg. 30)

How close did Jerry really come to being fired?  If he was as completely useless as Mr. Maxwell portrays him, I highly doubt he would have been employed for Boeing for any period of time.  I'm also curious how Mr. Maxwell knows all this information about Jerry.  Was Jerry a coworker on equal footing - and the gossip mill kept everyone up-to-date - or was Jerry Mr. Maxwell's subordinate?  The fact that Mr. Maxwell knows that Jerry received "only token" raises is a bit strange if they are coworkers.  How embarrassing would it be professionally if a worker who has been branded as unenthusiastic and problematic under Maxwell turned into a shining star in a different department?

Most likely, though, Steve Maxwell and Jerry were coworkers.  In that case, Jerry's biggest sin in the eyes of Maxwell is that he had the audacity to have enjoyable hobbies outside of work.  On page 44, Jerry's hobby purchases include "rifles, pistols, cameras, metal working machines and amateur radio equipment".   Later in the book, Mr. Maxwell discusses some of the hobbies that he's renounced over the years and at least one is more expensive than any of the items that Jerry bought.   On a side note, a skilled metal worker with engineering background may well have a side career making specialized parts for custom orders.  Which makes me wonder again - is Jerry's sin sloth - or making money in an enjoyable fashion without "God's Blessing"?

Men who are diligent, honest, resourceful, dependable, and responsible workers will do well. These days there are so few such people in our society that employers are hungry for them. From talking with several employers, I have learned that character is often more important than skills and qualifications. Employers are willing to train a person who has good character as long as certification and degrees aren't a mandatory requirement for the job (for example, an engineering job). (pg. 31)

I love that qualifier of "excluding jobs that require degrees and certifications" attached at the end of an ode to the importance of character.  Let's see, that caveat includes all but the lowest levels of medicine, education, law, engineering, social work, most professional ministry positions,  and science/technology jobs.  Jobs that do fit that criteria include food service, hospitality, entry agricultural jobs, customer service jobs, and janitorial work.   For men who are planning to be a single-income breadwinner for a large family, the careers that require degrees or certifications have a larger income as well as more constant availability of jobs. 

Eddie had worked with Tommy for about a year. Eddie was aware that Tommy fraudulently recorded his time on the job, and later Eddie had to confront Tommy on some other ethical issues. Eddie naturally assume that Tommy would have some hard feelings towards him after the confrontation. Tommy ended up leaving the company and going to work somewhere else. Months later, Eddie was totally amazed to receive a job offer from the new company for which Tommy was working. Even more surprising was the story behind the offer. Tommy's new boss asked him to recommend a person who the boss to be able to trust explicitly. The job would involves sensitive computer security, and ethics were a great concern. Tommy told the boss that he could wholeheartedly recommend Eddie as that person! (pg. 31)

I'm willing to bet one Whopper Junior that "Eddie" is actually Nathan Maxwell - and that the actual situation was completely different than reported here. 

My assumption that Eddie is Nathan Maxwell is based on the fact that Eddie's career revolves around computer security. 

For the rest of the story - none of it matches good business principles.  Eddie's not describe directly as Tommy's boss so I don't understand why Eddie would have to confront Tommy about ethical issues; generally, co-workers report job performance issues or crime including time fraud to their supervisors.  Confronting a co-worker about ethical lapses is treading on thin ice; that's moving close to harassment if the accusing person is wrong and shows questionable judgement in failing to report the issue to an actual manger if the accused person is doing something actionable.  Tommy heads off to a different company and offers up Eddie's name as a good hire for someone who is highly ethical.  I suppose that is possible - few things are truly impossible - but that doesn't mean it is prudent for Eddie to take that job.  In this situation, Tommy is BAD NEWS.  He's shown previously that he's okay with time fraud and some other workplace issues - and now Eddie is connected with him because Tommy recommended him for a job.   All of this is assuming that Tommy is acting in somewhat good faith - Eddie might be being set up as a fall guy for the next scheme that Tommy's running. 

I'm often skeptical as hell - but I bounced this story off of a lot of friends and colleagues; there was universal agreement that Eddie should run away from that job offer as fast as possible.

This next section was memorable for me because Steven Maxwell was trying to make his new home business sound like a major risk:

After 20 years of corporate engineering work, I came home to start a family business. It was an agonizing decision because I wanted to be certain it was God's will. As much as I desired to work from our home, I was scared to do it if it wasn't God's explicit will for my life. When I was confident it was His will, I came home. At first I only had a vague idea of what I might do. I felt God was leading me to sell printing and computer forms. Christopher, who was 18 at the time, was going to work with me.

We knew absolutely nothing about selling computer forms and printed materials, yet God led and blessed us as we went. The Lord provided a friend in the same line of work who is living in another city and was willing to give us some ideas about starting a print brokering business. He also provided us with a list of companies that did wholesale printing for him, something of great value to us. Then we were on our own and probably should have failed miserably. We have no training, no experience, and no skill, but God blessed mightily by bringing work. We have now been in business four years. There have been many changes since we began. We experience times without abundance, but our God has met every need. What a wonderful testimony to God's faithfulness! Yet, if we believe his word, it should not be surprising at all. (pg. 33)

Starting a new business takes guts - but not all new businesses are equally risky.  Steven Maxwell did plenty of good preparatory work by talking with someone in the same field who wasn't a direct competitor.  He also had a deep network of contacts from his years of corporate work and could tap into Nathan's budding contact network as well.   The fact that the company that employed him had reduced its workforce by 75% in two years could potentially be beneficial to the new business as well since the movement of coworkers to different companies would increase the number of companies that he had contacts in.

I find his attempts to argue that they were untrained, inexperienced and unskilled disingenuous.  He was not a Daisy Scout selling cookies for the first time; he was a mature, experienced businessman with previous job experience in marketing, sales, and engineering.  That doesn't guarantee that the business will succeed - but it reduces the risk of failure greatly.  He also had a huge benefit in that he had a young adult son who was willing and able to work with him as well as Sarah who was scheduled time to do projects for his company as she got older.

Finally, the relative risk of the times where the business wasn't making money isn't the same for all families.  Maxwell had been working in the corporate world for 20 years and as an electrical engineer should have been making above average yearly salary.  Yes, raising eight kids is expensive - but I've had extended family who raised larger families on much smaller incomes.  By the time Maxwell started his first business, he most likely owned a home, owned one or more cars, and had most of the clothing/home goods as well as home schooling materials for his family.  Compare that with a CP/QF couple who are in their mid-20's with two small children and a third on the way;  a time where the business fails to support the family is much, much harder.

In 1985, we moved to Washington so I could become a salesman for my company. My previous job had been at the company's headquarters doing marketing, but I wanted a sales position because the money was far better. However, after a year of hard work, everything that could go wrong had! I began calling out to the Lord to show me what was wrong. Out of the blue, a vivid memory popped into my mind. It was of the test I took to qualify for the sales position. This test was designed to compare my personality with the profile of the company's top salesmen. I recalled asking myself, as I completed that test, how the ace salesman would answer each question. Then I would write that answer down. It never occurred to me that I was being dishonest and, in effect, cheating.

My heart sank at the realization that I, as a child of God, had lied on a test. I felt awful and ask the Lord to forgive me. I knew that I needed to resign, because I had obtained the job deceitfully. Immediately I began looking for another job, but God soon convinced me that I needed to quit my sales position first. I definitely did not like the idea of being without a job but knew that I had to obey and told my manager that I had to quit. It brings tears to my eyes as I remember her looking at me and saying I could take two full weeks with pay to look for a job. I didn't even need to come into work! I was flooded with such incredible joy and knew in my heart that I was back under God's provision. Within a short time, I was employed by Boeing and again experiencing God's blessing in my vocation. (pgs. 34-35)

Well, I guess blaming "God's punishment" for lying is one view of the story.  My view is slightly different.  Lying on a personality test is a bad idea; the company thinks that certain personality traits make good salespeople and apparently Maxwell didn't have those traits naturally.  Having said that, Maxwell was going into the new position with his eyes open; the company gave him a test that laid out what skills make conventionally good salesmen.   The net outcome was that Steven Maxwell was a poor salesman - regardless of how God felt about the situation.  To me, blaming God for the natural consequence of a series of poor career choices is immature and childish.

Likewise, "God's blessing" of his manager allowing him two weeks of paid time to look for another position reads a bit differently for me.  The details of his position are missing, but most sales positions have a combination of salary and commissions as income.  For a skilled salesperson, the ability to earn commissions greatly increases their income; for an average to middling salesperson, the total income is around average for a person of their educational level.  A poor salesperson has little income - and is a financial burden to their company if they are not making enough sales to cover their salary.  Presumably, his manager was under pressure to keep sales up and costs down.  If a weak salesperson came to her and offered to quit, covering two weeks salary to encourage them to find another job is a winning proposition for the company.

The last oddity that I've noticed about the Maxwell family is that many of their financial and in-kind benefactors over the years have not been described as saved Christians.  The simple fact that his manager was a woman contradicts CP/QF teachings that all women should live at home under their parents until marriage and then raise a flock of little ones at home.  With the exception of Titus 2 Ministries and portions of Christopher Maxwell's photography business, the Maxwells work in secular industries.  One foray into online technology education that was geared toward helping home schooled, Christian students study for technology certifications failed miserably; combining test prep with an exhortation of how exactly to be saved would send most potential clients running. 

Economics is one of the structural issues that I am not sure how CP/QF society is going to manage.  Adherents are asked to separate themselves from non-believers except for when they are converting them so that leads to businesses that serve other CP/QF members.  The problem is that CP/QF theology rejects most advanced forms of education while advocating very large families which greatly limits the amount of money available for commerce.  I don't see how that's going to work out - but human creativity is endless.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Homeschooling Badly: We don't give grades in our school!

Sorry I'm running a bit late this week.  The baby is working on erupting two or three top incisors, the wild swings in temperature/pressure are wreaking havoc with my migraines and I keep breaking out in eczema patches.  Plus, it's January so the wonderful break I had for nearly of month of no doctor's visits for the baby is over.

I've been upfront about the fact that I am a traditionally schooled pre K - 12 graduate who jumped into a traditional college and then went back to the trenches of 9-12 education as a teacher.  From that perspective, I'm going to lay out why parent-teachers need to figure out a way to give coherent and comprehensive grades to their students by the end of elementary school at the latest.

I'm going to expound on two reasons that home-schooling parents opt-out of grading their kids for conscious or unconscious reasons.   Grading is a tricky task that requires a lot of practice.  Teachers have to create grading criteria - and that's not as simple as it seems.   The easiest set-up I can think of would be a text-book based system like the Maxwell Family uses.  Even there, the parent-teacher has to make some choices.  Do the classwork assignments count toward the final grade?  How about quizzes?  Are different categories of assignments weighted differently?  Grading independent study or project-based learning courses is even harder.   What does an "A" assignment look like in creative writing or paleontology or mandolin lessons compared to a "B" or a "C"?

The first issue can be overcome when parent-teachers learn how to pre-determine what each grade category looks like for each course.  I don't have a good solution for the second issue because grading your own child accurately is so much harder than grading a random student.  When I taught, I felt bad when a student failed my class - but I also had at least 80 other students who had passed that exact same class so student failures didn't feel like a personal reflection on my teaching. By comparison, when my son has a slight delay in his gross motor, fine motor or speech skills, I feel like I've failed somehow as a parent.  The feeling passes quickly - but the feeling alone is an intense enough experience that I know that Jack's better off having an unrelated professional determine his "Ages and Stages" skill level.  Even with my teaching experience, I would be tempted to justify passing him in skills - mainly by giving him points for other skills - to avoid feeling bad.

Why do we grade students?  Grading students describes their performance against an age-appropriate standard, helps students learn how much procrastination they can get away with, and gives students practice with managing emotional responses to negative outcomes.

In a traditional school, students are surrounded by peers within a few years of age of them.  Students generally get a feel for how they compare to their peers within each subject simply by comparing how much effort it takes and by seeing what grades other students get.  When a student transferred into our school from another district, students were pretty accurate in their personal assessment of their skills in language arts, science, math and social studies.  Students who transferred in from home schooling were a more mixed bag.  Some students were very aware of which areas they had received little or no instruction in; other students believed that they were above average in a subject - but after testing and placement in a class it became clear that the student was working at markedly below grade level.    Why is this important?  Throughout life, people need to be able to assess their strengths and weaknesses compared to other people in their lives.  As a teacher, I was middling-to-average at dealing with chronically angry students while above average in working with severely anxious students.  When I had a chronically angry student, I would get support and tips from the teacher across the hall who was great with that student group - and I'd give her support and tips when dealing with anxious students.

Grading helps students learn time-management skills.  For traditionally schooled students, the number of subjects they take in a day increases markedly from early elementary through junior high.  As the number of classes scale upward, the students learn how to deal with conflicts like a project due the day after a math exam.  Students learn the benefits of planning ahead and working at a pace that works for them.  On the flip side, students learn about the drawbacks of finishing a paper at 2AM and being exhausted the next day.  Chronic procrastination makes it much more difficult for students to earn "A" grades; few students can complete a high-school level project at the level of required difficulty if they don't start the project until the night before.

Finally, grading helps students learn how to manage the disappointment that comes from a poor grade - which I'll define as any grade lower than the one they wanted to get.   That feeling of disappointment is intense and students learn how to release that emotion and continue moving towards a goal.  After all, the vast majority of jobs involve periodic reviews by supervisors and some reviews include times where the supervisor gives the person a lower review than the person thought they were going to get.  That sucks - but knowing how to manage negative feelings helps the person to move away from the feelings and into planning on how to improve their performance.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Maidens of Virtue: Chapter Eight

I found this chapter contained some of the most repugnant views of the whole book.  Mrs. McDonald makes her inability to separate physical issues from spiritual issues abundantly clear for the whole world to see.

The chapter is titled "The Bath" and is superficially about how much Stacy McDonald loves a good bath - complete with lots of scented lotions, perfumes and bath soaps.   Personally, the descriptions make me itch vicariously since I have dry skin that is highly reactive to most scented products, but I don't begrudge anyone a bubble bath if they enjoy it.

The problem comes when it becomes clear that Stacy McDonald assumes that physical cleanliness is a sign of spiritual health - and that poor hygiene is due primarily to sin.

My husband and I once attended church with a man who had a truly offensive body odor. He came to church and filthy clothes, greasy hair, and he smelled... bad. You could see the pained expression on the faces of the poor souls who are stuck sitting beside him during service.

We knew him personally, and he was neither handicapped nor poor (though soap and water are fairly cheap). In fact, other than his grooming habits, he seem to be a fairly strong Christian. Unfortunately, he earned a reputation for not being very pleasant to be around, simply because of his apparent refusal to take care of his physical body. I always wondered what it would have been like to see him with a decent haircut, clean clothes, and without the fog of two-week-old perspiration engulfing his body. (pg. 80)

The difference in morality between how I was raised and how CP/QF doyennes live boggles my mind.  My parents expected a certain level of rebellion in us kids; moaning and groaning about being dragged to church at an ungodly hour of the morning irritated my parents - but it wasn't the end of the world.  Having a "pained expression" because of the body odor of an unfortunate soul at church would have brought an immediate reprimand to "stop that now!" followed by a scolding about not being rude to people who are struggling.   A major theme in my family's morality is "Don't kick someone when they are down.  People deserve respect - and people who are struggling or oppressed deserve more respect, not less."  We learned to control our facial expressions and urges to stare as children and pre-teens; pulling that kind of shit as a teenager or an adult was unconscionable.

Stacy McDonald - who is currently a pastor's wife - apparently couldn't take the step of behaving like a Christian.  She knew he needed a haircut, clean clothes and hygiene products.  Maybe he struggled with depression.  Maybe he wasn't as well-off as she thought.  Perhaps he had a mild cognitive impairment or a physical issue that interfered with his ability to care for himself.  I have to speculate on what he was struggling with because Mrs. McDonald couldn't be bothered to ask him herself in a spirit of helping another human being. 

I have also known married women who attend church or social gatherings with dirty, unkempt hair, a disheveled appearance, and no apparent attempt to look or smell nice for their husbands. They most likely developed poor grooming habits as young maidens and failed to honor their family or others by paying attention to their outward appearance. (pg. 80)

I have no idea what percentage of women at my church have messy hair.  My parents would have killed me if I had been spending time at Mass judging the appearance of other people.  To be clear, my parents could care less if I had day-dreamed my way through a Mass - but they would have been horrified if they raised a child who sat around judging people at church. 

On an unrelated note, the fact that Stacy McDonald knows -and judges - how other women smell is creepy as hell.   Judging people's looks is catty, childish, and unchristian,  but at least it can be done from a safe distance.  Was she wandering around sniffing people during church or at the social afterwards?  Either way - gross.

James 2:1-4 warns us of our sinful tendency towards partiality of those who are richer, dress nicer, are more beautiful, smarter, or have higher rank in society. We are not to be respecters of persons. Scripture teaches us to treat others the way we wish to be treated, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to prefer others over ourselves (Romans 12:10). Grooming ourselves, cleansing our bodies, and presenting ourselves to others in a comely way, is all part of loving your neighbor as well as glorifying God (pg. 81)


Look, proper gas-lighting requires some preparatory work or at least a coherent transition; when an author half-asses it, it all falls apart.   

James 2:1-4 states that Christians shouldn't favor rich, well-clothed people over poor people in dirty clothes.  It's the best rebuttal to the previous quote that I've ever seen.  Romans 12:10 is about how Christians should strive to show love and honor to others; it's the polar opposite of how her church reacted to her "friend" who was struggling.   The sentence that begins "Grooming ourselves, ...." is a non-sequitur that reflects Stacy McDonald's personal obsession with hygiene as a sign of Christianity.   

Can't have a CP/QF book without some humble-brag:

For as long as I can remember, my mother enjoyed taking hot baths in the evenings. I have tried to follow her example and take some time in the evening for quiet retreat with scented bubbles or bath salts. Sometimes I simply use a few drops of various essential oils. As my precious husband and children bless me on birthdays and Mother's Day with special gifts, I indulge the use of scented bath powders and light perfumes.

Aside for my regular morning shower, I admit I don't always have time for more than a quick sponge bath and fluff of scented powder at night. But when it's possible, not only is a nice bath a relaxing treat for me, it is a blessing to my husband and children as well. When my husband retires for the night, he is greeted with the smell of lavender, rose, sandalwood, or ylang ylang! (pg. 82)

*sings*  "Money, money, mon-ney!  Money! Money, money mon-ney!  Money!" *stops singing*

"Soap and water" might be cheap - but essential oils, scented bubble bath, scented bath salts, scented bath powders and perfumes add up quickly.

If I followed that regimen, my husband would be greeted by the scent of lavender, the sight of a wife attempting to claw off her own skin, and the sound of pitiful whining as I thrashed around on the bed trying to get the itching to stop.  Two deep soakings a day plus lathering myself with scented stuff would give me systematic eczema severe enough to require oral steroids in .... oh..... let's say  two weeks in the summer and one week during the winter.

But - you know - it's really a blessing for my husband and son to have a raw, oozing itchy wife and mother.

Just in case the girls who read this haven't been brainwashed enough yet, we have the "Share Your Heart Section"

Discuss ways that physical cleanliness can be an outward sign of inward purity. (pg. 83)

I think  Matthew 23:27  made the connection the most clear: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are fill of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth."   Amazing how many Gospel verses directly contradict CP/QF teachings, isn't it?  I know I always find it heartening.

What are some common sins that could cause someone's neglect habits of cleanliness or good grooming, including regular hair washing and brushing, dental hygiene, and the washing or maintenance of her clothing? (pg. 84)

Let's see. The main reasons I can think of that people neglect personal hygiene include severe illness, disabilities, poverty and depression - but none of those are sins.  Right, Mrs. McDonald? 

Side note: I wonder what she would have said about me if she had seen me the day my son was born.  I looked terrible - oily, disheveled hair, dark circles around my swollen eyes, no make-up, and a ratty cardigan thrown over a hospital gown.  I know I smelled odd if not outright bad; I hadn't been able to shower in 72 hours and had been sweating like a stuck pig.  I'm sure that all the deodorant in the world can't quite cover that.    Of course, most human beings would have realized that I was severely ill, recovering from surgery, attached to an IV, and visibly exhausted and felt some compassion for me.   It was all for the best that I was surrounded by caring professionals - rather than a severely judgmental pastor's wife.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Preparing Single Income Sons: Chapter Two

Chapter Two - "What is his earning potential?" - is where Steve walk adults who are home schooling children through the three characteristics that determine how much income a person will generate as an adult: vocation, education and skill level.

Frankly, I needed to pause and suspend my disbelief to finish the chapter.  This is not a book marketed for children or pre-teens.  This isn't a book for teenagers or even young adults.  This book is marketed for adults who are actively home schooling one or more child.  These people KNOW what leads to a well-paying job and what does not already.

The first characteristic that Steve leads off with is "vocation" - and his anecdotes give more insight into his mind than anything else.

A man's vocation is generally what we think determines how much money he makes. If you meet a visitor at church and find out he is a doctor or a lawyer, you will likely think, "Here is someone with few financial difficulties." On the other hand, when we think of firemen, pastors, policemen, and school teachers, we don't picture them making huge salaries. (pg. 21)

When someone tells me their job, I don't immediately think about the person's financial status - but Steven Maxwell does.   Truthfully, it's none of my damn business.   Plus, there's such a huge range in amount of educational debt, personal debt, personal financial obligations and amount of salary that a lawyer might be struggling financially while a pastor is doing fine.  My extended family has raised families of between 3-9 children on careers like nursing, fire fighting, teaching, social work, and engineering; it's more about planning and budgeting to use the money a household has.

Every family has that person who makes statements that sound deep - but the ideas are patently obvious to adults who can think for more than 10 seconds.  Steve Maxwell is in that class:

It seems like every son wants to be a fireman, policeman, or bulldozer operator at some point in his young life. Then as he matures, other jobs catch his interest. Just because a person is interested in a profession doesn't mean it is right for him. (pg. 21)

So deep! 

I planned to be a ballerina when I was in kindergarten. The fact that I couldn't put my heels down to the grounds due to severely tight calf muscles from cerebral palsy was (in my assessment) a benefit; I was already on my toes all the time.

What did I want to be next?  I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, a teacher, a naturalist, and a microbiologist.  Oddly enough, I've worked as three out of the four of those (if I can count work in cellular biology as microbiology) and all four if I can count the hundreds of nature walks I took campers on as a "naturalist". 

Yeah, we all have crazy career ideas - but listening to the career interests of kids can help parents and teachers figure out what a kid wants in a career. Key points for me turned out to be "likes providing education", "deals with science", and "has relatively high daily autonomy within a structured organization".

Let's take a look at how Steve handles a vocational interest of one of his sons:

Christopher, my second oldest son, was near the point of making a commitment to a vocation. He was very interested in pursuing EMT credentials to become an emergency medical technician. I wondered if his engrossment was mostly do to an excitement factor connected with EMT work. In addition, Christopher has a very strong leading toward raising a family someday. Christopher and I discussed and prayed about his vocation decision. We also discussed the fact that EMTs have to work odd shifts, and it is very common for a man and woman to be paired up. Having to work alone with a woman all day or night can lead to unhealthy temptation. The odd shifts also bring added difficulty to a family and would disrupt a daily schedule. Over time, Christopher could see the raising a family and being an EMT might bring problems to his marriage and family that would be prudent to avoid. ... I was pleased the Christopher saw the wisdom of pursuing a different career, even though it might be less exciting.

Please don't misunderstand me. Through my illustration, I am not saying a Christian can't have an EMT type job. I am saying that it is wise to count cost beforehand. (pg.22)

An overarching theme in the Maxwell publications is that Steven Maxwell hates the idea of paying anyone else to educate his children - regardless of the outcome for the kids.   Although he doesn't state this theme here, I doubt he was excited about the idea of Christopher paying around $2,500 for classes, textbooks and exams to become an EMT.

Maxwell does make important points about the drawbacks of working as an EMT.  The shifts that a EMT works change drastically from week to week.   Christopher would be exposed to a working partner who was not a member of the Maxwell Family; I know Steve dresses the situation up as a potential source of "temptation" - but Christopher's world might be more upended by a Christian male colleague who just talks with him on a regular basis about life.

The "temptation" factor hides another tricky point: I'm not certain that Christopher Maxwell could keep up in an EMS class.    These classes are heavy on medical terminology and the Maxwell home school structure lacks advanced sciences like chemistry or human anatomy physiology.    He'd be under a much heavier academic load than he'd ever been before - and some people can't do it.

My last concern - and it's the least important one - is that EMTs do not make much money.  This isn't the end of the world; some take second jobs while others get advanced training to facilitate career moves from low-paying entry level jobs with private ambulance services to being employed by government entities or through hospital systems.   For the Maxwell Family, all of these options would be considered second-rate and a rejection of the ideal of owning a home-based business.

I included this last quote from the "vocation" section because I find the thesis hilarious
A child may also express interest in a career that Christians should not even consider such as owning a nightclub, movie rental store, abortion facility, or liquor store. It is possible his spiritual maturity is insufficient to realize something is wrong. That is where a parent can help him see God's will more clearly. Take him directly to Scripture to support your claims. The versus you use would make excellent Bible study topics for you and your son. (pg. 23)

If a family has strong feelings against alcohol, x-rated movies, or abortion and lives their lives to make those beliefs clear, why would one of their kids all of a sudden declare that they want to be a strip-club owner?  Steven Maxwell is categorically against movies, television, the vast majority of books, professional sports, participating in team sports, most precious jewelry and recreational vehicles.  How likely is it that one of his kids would seriously declare that they wanted to be an actor, a bookstore owner, or a scheduling manager for a local stadium?  I grew up in a family that was highly involved in the pro-life movement; none of my siblings or cousins ever spontaneously opined that they really, really wanted to do abortions when they grew up. 

The Bible isn't a great career study book.  It's solid enough for things like moral precepts - but your kid should be pretty clear on moral job choices LONG before their teenage years.

Steven's second characteristic for income is education.  The gist of the section is that only parents or students can be trusted to educate themselves.  Outside educational programs will lead students astray.  It's not a new idea and it's not terribly interesting so I'm going to skip the main section and move into the bits where he jumps completely off the rails:

Remember Steve, mentioned in Chapter One? That is me. If I had wanted a larger income, should I have pursued a master's degree? Yes, if I was to believe the commercials on the radio. However, that was not God's leading and not consistent with my abilities. Would I have made more money had I earned a master's? Only the Lord knows for sure, but with my limited math and science abilities, I doubt I would have justified the higher wages that a master's degree would have brought. As a result, I might have been discouraged, and the company employing me would not have felt they were getting their money's worth. (pg.24)

Oh, my goodness!  The Steve in the first chapter who is an electrical engineer whose eldest son out earned him is the author?  Who have thought it?  There are SO many electrical engineers who home school their kids then write a book about it.

Whether an advanced degree is useful depends on the discipline that the person works in,  the career path that are interested in, and the amount of experience the person has.  Right now, the average income for an electrical engineer in Michigan with a bachelor's degree is around $55,000 while a master's degree job averages $79,000 a year.  Generally, bachelor's degree science jobs have relatively little autonomy while master's degree jobs tend to expect more independent work.  Master's degrees are also the lowest expected degree for people who want to do managerial level work. 

I think Steve is trying to appeal to the anti-intellectual element of CP/QF life - but declaring that he's bad at math and science beggars belief.   The starting mathematics course for a bachelor's degree in engineering is calculus 1 - and progresses through calculus 2, calculus 3 and  differential equations.  Steve may not be the best math guy of the engineers he graduated with - but he's easily in the top 2-3% of all Americans.   

On a purely picky note - I've never heard a radio ad that promotes a Master's degree program in engineering.  That's a horrible way to attract potential candidates. 

Something else to consider is that those with higher degrees may experience difficulty in finding jobs. The workforce is like a pyramid and that the higher you climb the education ladder, the fewer jobs you'll find requiring those skills. That is why it is imperative that parents know God's direction for their child. Overconfidence may lead to disappointment when a degree does not bring the anticipated salary. In fact, I have heard people calling Christian radio talk shows complaining about how difficult it is to repay their student loan based on the amount of money they are currently making. They had expected a higher salary upon graduating with a degree. (pg. 24)

Steven is completely and totally backwards on how education affects the availability of jobs. 

My first job was as a utility worker at a grocery store.  This job was open to any person who was at least 16 years old and could legally work in the United States which means that about 73% of the US population could apply for that job.    Locally, it was in an area where many people didn't go to college so roughly 80% of locals could apply for that job.

When I graduated from college with a bachelor's degree, I could still apply and get the utility worker job - and I could also apply for jobs that require bachelor's degrees like a laboratory technician and a variety of teaching jobs.  Additional education credentials adds more jobs to a person's options.    The specific job of "high school teacher with a BA or BC certification" was much less frequent - but there were very few people who could apply for the job and even fewer who actually applied.  At the school I taught at, we were lucky to attract 20 applicants of which roughly 3-6 were interviewed.

Even his argument that the number of jobs that require a college degree are fewer is specious in certain locations.   In the county I grew up in, there are many, many more teaching jobs than there were utility worker jobs; school systems were the largest employer and "teacher" is the most common job within a school system while the number of jobs that are available to people with a high school diploma as their highest completed schooling is tiny.

People do need to be careful about how much money they take out in loans while attending college.  A good rule of thumb is that college students shouldn't take out more than they expect to earn during their first year out of college.  On the flip side, college graduates on average out-earn people without college degrees throughout their career - a basic fact that Steve ignores.

The last category is personal skill level.  That's a no-brainer - and thankfully, Steve restricts himself to a quick attack on a doctor he didn't like two decades ago:

When Joseph was a toddler, he developed a cough that wouldn't go away. We had just moved to Kansas, so we took him to a doctor we picked out of the telephone book. The physician was in his sixties and very personable. However, he had great difficulty looking in Joseph's throat as Joseph was not being very cooperative. After several attempts, he appeared to give up but said he'd seen enough to give us a prescription. Teri and I were confident he had not been successful in seeing Joseph's throat, and we felt he was guessing at a diagnosis. After a couple weeks with no improvement, we took Joseph to another doctor who promptly diagnosed and successfully treated him. Later we spoke with others who had tried the first doctor, and they too had opted for someone else.

Here was a doctor, with plenty of credentials and schooling, who should have been making a good salary. However, his skill level was poor. I don't know what his actual income might have been, but if the condition of his office and the lack of patients was any indication, the man was not making much money at all. (pg. 25)

Psst!  Let me give you a hint: the doctor had been practicing successfully for 25-30 years!  Let's assume that he was making enough money to get by. 

Honestly, I have far more questions about the Maxwell parents' choices at this point. 

  • Steve had a job that presumably had coworkers.  Joseph's cough had reached a chronic point so surely making the appointment could wait 24 hours for Steve to ask someone who lived in the area for a recommendation for a pediatrician or family practitioner.
  • It's not like the doctor needed to do a detailed throat inspection;  he was looking to see if the kid had post-nasal drip.  All he needed was to see the throat for just long enough to see if it was reddened.  
  • Did the Maxwell parents fill the prescription?  The story is not clear about that point.....
  • Every drug I've ever taken for a cough says that if the cough doesn't improve in between 3-7 days to call the doctor for a follow-up.  I feel terrible for poor toddler Joseph who has been hacking for around a month by the time his parents decided to find another doctor.
The next chapter is about a person's "real" earning potential.  I can't wait!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Homeschooling Badly: Grade levels? We don't DO that!

I stumbled across a home schooling blog called the Hmmmschooling Mom that I really enjoy.  Amy's posts show the type of level-headed thinking skills that benefit teachers of all stripes. 

The first post I read dealt with why homeschooling parents should know what grade level their kids would be in if they were still in public schools - and why they need to stop acting aggrieved when anyone asks.  Amy argues that grade level is a simple method of grouping children by age and ability level - and not a sideways attack on home schooling methodology.

I agree with that.  It's  also a safe question to ask kids who you have just met that allows for a short conversation about what they are doing at school.

Taking her idea one step farther, home schooling parents need to know at roughly what grade level each of their kids are working at in math, language arts, speech and social skills for pre-K through 2nd grade, for math, language arts, science, and social studies for 3rd-8th grade, and for math, language arts, science, social studies, physical education and foreign language in 9th-12th. 

Before someone tells me about how they don't measure their kid's progress against artificially contrived benchmarks again, let me explain the two major reasons these pieces of information is important.

First - this information makes moving back into the traditional education system much more simple for the student.  Hopefully, the student will be returning to traditional education as an adult in the collegiate system where having a detailed, accurate transcript will saves the student a great deal of time and money.  I've also had more than one student who returned to a public high school with no educational records from their homeschooling period because of their home schooling parent died, suffered a major disability or separated from the family.   When a student is dealing with a major stress event at home, having to test into or out of classes is a crap-shoot. 

Second - parents who have taken over the academic education of their students are morally obligated to assess when their kids need more support.  A kid who is working within the range of one year behind to two years ahead of their grade level most likely doesn't need outside support.  (Another way to think of this is that in the average 2nd grade class room most kids will be reading at 1st, 2nd or 3rd grade levels - and the teacher can probably deal with a 4th grade reading level easily.  Or that I often had 9th graders who could read at 12th-college levels - but I only had two kids who had maxed out the lexile levels at post-graduate.)  Students who are far behind - or far advanced - bring a different set of challenges that tax experienced teachers.  How do you find books that cover reasonably age-appropriate themes without being at the wrong reading level?  How do you teach a kid to read who is dyslexic or math to a kid with discalculia? 

Parents can be lead astray by assuming since a student is "researching" a higher level subject that they are learning the material at a higher grade level than they actually are.  I was volunteering at an agricultural demonstration when a parent overheard that I had taught high school chemistry in the past.  She introduced her fourth grade  public schooled son - who was in no way interested in talking to me - and shared with pride that he loved chemistry and was learning really advanced material on his own like hydrogen bonding.  I asked the kid to tell me about hydrogen bonds and he gave me a partially accurate definition of hydrogen bonding being when hydrogen and oxygen atoms are attracted to each other.  I asked if hydrogen bonding only happens with hydrogen and oxygen.  He said yes.  I smiled and said something like "Ok."  I asked what causes hydrogen bonds.  He shrugged and started digging in the dirt.   I gave him some recommendations for finding a worm (which was his goal) and dug with him for a few minutes.  When he had warmed up a bit, I asked him what his favorite part of an atom was.  He looked massively confused and said "Atoms have parts?".  Meanwhile, his mom had been telling me in great detail how the two of them had watched videos on YouTube that showed how hydrogen bonds formed in water.  I asked her if she knew how that benefited life on earth - and she looked at me if I grew another head. 

Part of teaching high school chemistry is knowing what material a student should be aware of on a topic.  The high school level answers to the questions I asked the kid included:

  • Hydrogen bonds occur between molecules that have strongly polar covalent bonds.  Hydrogen and oxygen are common examples - but many of the elements in the same family as oxygen will form hydrogen bonds.
  • Hydrogen bonds occur because some atoms share electrons unequally in bonds.  This unequal sharing causes the atom that holds on to the electron longer to act like it has a slight negative charge and the atom that get the electron less to have a slight negative charge.  A hydrogen bond occurs when two molecules are attracted to each other because the slightly negative atom aligns with the slightly positive atom.
  • Life on Earth has benefited from hydrogen bonds because hydrogen bonds cause water to freeze into a less dense solid form.  IOW, hydrogen bonds are the reason that ice floats on water; most chemicals have solids that sink to the bottom of the liquid while freezing.  Since ice floats, it acts as an insulator so that bodies of water take much, much longer to freeze solid that an equivalent size body of liquid without hydrogen bonds.  This gives aquatic organisms the ability to survive in the liquid portions of ponds, rivers, lakes and oceans during the winter.
I was happy the kid was learning about chemistry - but he was learning about chemistry at a 4th grade level of understanding.  There's nothing wrong with that at all - except that his mother was assuming that her son was a budding prodigy when he was simply a very normal boy.  (He found two worms - which made my day and his :- ) )|

Every state has a series of standards and benchmarks available for K-12 education in (at least) math, science, social studies and language arts - and many have additional ones for foreign languages, physical education, health, and arts.  Start when your kid is young; the standards are cumulative and the earliest grades tend to have very concrete standards that are pretty easy to understand.  As students grow, the standards get more complicated - but a parent-teacher is only adding one new level per year; that gives them a full year to decipher what next year's courses need to have.

My next post in this theme will be on the home school boogeyman - grading students!