Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming: Chapter Twelve - Part One

Goody-goody-gumdrops!  The end is in sight this book.  I'm so excited.

"Know That God Arranges Marriages" is the last titled chapter in the book.  I expected to learn something about how God arranges the Princess' marriage to Sir Valiant, but most of the allegory centers on Sir Valiant chatting with the Alligator about the dangers in the land followed by the King and Valiant discussing the dangers in the land.  At the very end of the allegory, Sir Valiant finally works up the courage to ask the King if he can....marry?....court?.....have some sort of relationship with the Princess.

The allegory begins with Sir Gallant and a non-descript delegation telling the King that it's time to marry his daughter off and that they recommend having a contest to determine who the best option would be.

My main thought was that the Kingdom is in worse shape than I expected if the King's closest counselors are worried about the complete and total absence of marriage plans for the Princess and the only solution they can find is "let's use her as a prize in a talent competition!"  The book has been prattling on about how the People look up the Princess and her pure, untouched ways; this section shows that the average person in the Kingdom is more confused or pessimistic about the Royal Family's ability to marry off their daughter than inspired by their ways.

The King wants to know more so the delegation fills him in on the details:
"Your Majesty, the contest would be open to all the young men of the kingdom. It would not be a small event but would span the sum of three days. An array of games and competitions would be held, including all forms of combat, many skills of the farm & craft, the ability of debate, and a concluding jousting match. Then at a great feast the king himself shall judge and announce the victor." (pg. 221)

  • I know this section wasn't meant to be funny - but I'm cracking up.  The Princess is the prize for the Champion of Champion of Champions at the Kingdom's State Fair!
  • In real life, I'm an excellent detail person; give me your "big picture" idea and I'll flesh in how to get it done.  That's why this paragraph is killing me.  
    • We need to create competition games for ALL forms of combat?  Are we trying to find a husband for the Princess or decimate the Kingdom's military?   How do you test the skill level of a pikeman without killing anyone?  
    • The farmers are going to be mad.  Producing champion crops requires advance notice.  Are you awarding on yield or size?  Yield is more fair on short notice - but how will you prevent rampant lying on crop yields?  Do you have access to enough forage and water for the animals to be judged?
    • The guilds - the same 5 or more guilds the Princess is a member of - will want to be consulted on judging the works of their master craftsmen.  Don't let the King be that judge; that will NOT go over well at all.
    • Public debates aren't a thing in the Middle Ages; people had far more interesting forms of entertainment.
    • So...jousting IS a form of military combat - not a separate category.  People love to watch it, but the practitioners are limited to fairly wealthy people.
  • I have no clue how to determine the overall winner picked from the champions of combat, farming, crafts and public speaking.  Picking the champion of champions within each discipline is hard enough - but determining a ranking for the four champions will be a nightmare.  Honestly, this whole process is more likely to destabilize the kingdom than lead to a happy marriage.  
The delegation waited for the king's response as he thought for few moments. What would the princess think? Someone who could be champion of the games would certainly be able to protect her, but this would not ensure that his life purpose would be the same as that of the princess. He who showed himself superior in the skills of farm & craft would be able to provide for her, but would she love him? The debate would be won by Sir Eloquence. That would not do. And jousting? This would be entertaining and a good jousting match is popular --but would all of this determine God's choice?

Finally the king answered, " I will discuss this and give thee an answer tomorrow." (pg. 222)

Ms. Mally missed the lesson on the Divine Right of Kings and the practical applications therein.  The King is king because God wants the King to be king.  Likewise, God clearly wants the Princess to be the next queen regnant (or queen consort) of the Kingdom.  The primary concern of any reigning monarch is producing an undisputed biological heir who had the ability to defend the Kingdom from incursions by other states.  The preference for male heirs was due to patriarchy - but also a reflection of the realities of leading an army for many nations.  (Of course, a half-a-dozen examples of regnant queens who led armies are now cascading through my head....but you get the gist.)

In that basic reality of reigning, the King's concerns are absolutely anachronistic.
  • God's Choice is the King's choice; the King's choice is God's choice.  There is no separation of those two ideas during this time period.
  • The Princess has two options: marry the choice of the King or ally with an armed rebellion to place her choice of husband on the throne after deposing her parents.  Since the Princess has the mental fortitude of wet tissue paper,  she's going to marry the King's choice for her; the King can choose him however he wants to. 
  • Marrying the Princess off to the best military commander - which is how I'm interpreting the champion of the games including jousting - is a safe bet if and only if the King is under severe threats that are external to the Kingdom and the King must keep the commander loyal to him.   If the commander isn't loyal - or decides the King is going to destroy the kingdom before the King dies - a civil war may begin.
  • The life purpose of a non-reigning female royal is to produce male heirs.  That's it - and yes, being a champion of games will not assure male heirs - but that's not what Ms. Mally meant, unfortunately.
  • There is no situation where the Princess would be married off to a farmer, a guild member or a bard (otherwise known as the champions of farm, craft and debate respectively) because they are all commoners.    The Princess might marry a member of the nobility as long as the marriage wouldn't destabilize the King's reign.  
  • The best outcome for the Kingdom would come from an eligible prince from an allied kingdom who has several healthy older brothers showing up for the joust and winning.  This would create the dynastic marriage that a sane king would have lined up for a female successional heiress.  

The evening meal was an interesting time. The servants were intrigued, the princess was resistant, and the queen was horrified. The king just smiled and listen to the multitude of responses. In the morning he gave his answer. "The contest shall be held! But not for the hand of the princess. The victor shall receive a silver sword with a golden hilt. The hand of the princess, however, shall be reserved for one of God's choosing. " (pg. 222)

If the Princess is resistant and the Queen is horrified, why is the King smiling and listening to the servants?  Clearly, the King is insane.

Hhe's offering a silver sword with a gold hilt to the winner of the contest; that's insane as well.  Metals have different properties that drive their uses.  Gold and silver are both soft metals; they are easy to shape - but also easy to deform and tear.  A blade made out of silver would be absolutely worthless in a fight; it would be sliced in half on the first hit by a blade made of bronze let alone iron or steel.  The hilt of gold is equally worthless since the tang of a good blade would rip through the gold on the first hit.  Seriously, the best thing to do with this award sword is to make it into jewelry; that's the traditional use of gold and silver for a reason.

Oh, geez.  I meant this allegory to be a one-post review, but the anachronisms did it for me.  Well, we get to hear the Alligator chat with Sir Valiant next time.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Homeschooling Badly: Your Lifestyle Prevents Academic Learning

There is a post at Guilt-Free Homeschooling that is a get-out-of-jail free card for any homeschooling parent.  Titled "21 Things That Can Slow Homeschooling Progress", the list encompasses so many snags that any failure in homeschooling can be attributed to an outside problem.

For my sanity, I am going to clump the 21 items into larger categories - with my own titles - prior to discussion.

Category One: Turns out being a parent DIDN'T prepare me to educate my kids effectively.
1. Homeschooling for the first time
2. Leaving public or private school to switch to homeschooling
3. A reluctant learner who balks at the idea of schoolwork in general
4. An eager learner who wants to explore extensively into each topic

Response:   Learning to teach takes a great deal of time and effort.

By the time a teacher faces a classroom of students alone, they've received at least four years of college education in teaching plus at least half a year of supervised teaching.  Part of the rationale for this much training is to lessen the negative effects on students who have an inexperienced teacher - like the problems that come from homeschooling for the first time.

 A related concern from an experienced teacher - the oldest child is screwed.  For teachers, the first time teaching a prep (teacher jargon for a specific class or subject within a grade area) is the least effective.  A teacher is learning different ways to present and demonstrate the material as well as making choices about which activities to use.  In traditional schools, the negative effect of first prep teaching is minimized by the fact that students have many different teachers in pre-K through 12th grade.  In my life, a less than ideal 4th grade math teacher was more than compensated for by an exceptional 6th-8th grade math teacher.   In a home school, the oldest kid is always drawing the short straw when it comes to getting new preps.

Student teachers also learn how to deal with transitioning students into the school year, motivating discouraged students and challenging advanced students - without any of the added emotional burden of being that student's parent as well.

Category Two: Dealing with reproduction and tiny children are ginormous time-drains for parents.
5. Pregnancy
6. Childbirth
7. Adoption
8. An infant
9. A toddler
21. Miscarriage
Response: This is the QF excuse section.  Most Americans have small families (1-4 kids) of relatively close birth spacing.  While this makes for crazy years when the kids are small by the time the oldest kid is 6-7, the worst of the insanity of pregnancy, infants, and toddlers is over.

Not QF families.

Women are stuck trying to balance the needs of the current infant, toddler(s) and pregnancy while still managing a homeschool over and over again.

Various bloggers offer up "year-round schedules" as a solution, but if a mom needs 12 weeks off for a newborn and 8 weeks off for morning sickness/exhaustion during a pregnancy, that's a total of 5 months of "vacation" per year when most students in schools get 3 months off a year.

That's not quantifying the amount of time and effort diverted from homeschooling by the parent and school-aged kids to tending the needs of infants and toddlers.

Additionally, women who practice QF will suffer more miscarriages than the average American woman of similar fertility.  The number of miscarriages a given woman will experience is related to the number of pregnancies she experiences.  QF women have far more lifetime pregnancies than women who practice birth control so they will as a group have more miscarriages than the rest of the US.

The realities of how hard pregnancy and young children are on women led to public schooling.  Communities realized centuries ago that grouping school aged children for education outside of the home was a situation that benefited their reproductive-aged mothers by providing child-care and education while benefiting the teachers by providing income.
Category Three: Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans....
13. An elderly parent/grandparent who needs care or must be moved to a care facility
15. A legal or financial crisis
16. A job change
17. Moving to a different home
18. A wedding

Response:  An added bonus for out-of-home education is continuity during rocky times at home.  A school gives a student a needed respite from family worries at the least.  Often, students find support from other students who have gone through the same problems or from staff members who lend a listening ear - and sometimes a box of kleenex.  Additionally, schools are linked into the social services web.  (Yes, I know those words are anathema to CP/QF people, but that doesn't make the reality less true.)  As a teacher, I don't know all of the support available to a family facing foreclosure or a lawsuit - but I have a list of resource people like social workers who do know and will help get services for a family.

Category Four: When Life Is Genuinely Hard
10. A special needs child
11. A chronic illness or other health crisis affecting any family member
12. A severe injury requiring extended recovery or rehabilitation for any family member
14. Extensive property damage from fire, flood, or natural disaster
19. A divorce
20. A death in the family
21. Stillbirth

Response: These are major, life-changing events that can make homeschooling much more difficult - if not impossible.  Like the problems in Category Three, traditional schools can provide needed supports for students during crisis periods that affect their families.

Reflecting on some recent life experiences for me, I question how well families can homeschool in these situations.
  • There is no way I could have homeschooled for the first month after my son was born; I was recovering from life-threatening pregnancy complication while dealing with all of the issues that come with having a critically premature baby.  
  • Homeschooling once he and I was more stable - say months 2-4 of his NICU stay - would have meant cutting the time I spent at the NICU with him by 60% or more.   
  • Homeschooling would have stopped dead when my son was home, but dealing with severe reflux leading to choking.  We had to keep him in the same room as an adult who was confident of their ability to do CPR on an infant and awake 24 hours a day while feeding him one ounce of formula every hour by NG tube.  (Thank God my parents lived nearby and are amazing.  That month is a blur of anxiety and sleep deprivation.)
The blogosphere of homeschooling parents gives me additional reasons for caution:
  • I've yet to find a homeschool blogger who managed to continue homeschooling after a divorce. Being a single parent is plenty hard enough without adding sole responsibility for her children's education to the mix. (The divorced bloggers are clear that being a single parent - or co-parent - is MUCH easier than being in an unhappy, unhealthy marriage.)
  • When dealing with an ongoing medical crisis involving kids, homeschool bloggers often discuss how hard life was while the kid was hospitalized or in rehab - but are very sparing with discussions of how homeschooling was accomplished for the kids at home.  
    • Raising Olives' Kimberly had a son who suffered a broken right humerus (the bone between the shoulder and elbow) and Brachial Plexus Palsy which paralyzed his left arm due to a shoulder dystocia at a home birth. He needed physical therapy along with evaluation by orthopedists in three different states.
    • Raising Arrows' Amy recently gave birth to a daughter who has an unusually small lower jaw that was causing her airway to be blocked by her tongue.  (Thank God she gave birth in a hospital; Mercy would not have survived at home since she required intubation from birth until her jaw expanded enough to support her tongue.)  Mercy was hospitalized for 6 weeks in a neighboring state.  Amy hasn't made any statements about how she accomplished homeschooling while traveling between states, but it had to be difficult.
Families go through hard times; that's life.  The important thing for parents to do is accurately access when they are able to school their children at home - and when families are best served by accessing public or private schools to educate their children.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming: Chapter Ten - Part Two

This section of Chapter Ten is where Sarah Mally tries her hand at explaining why Emotional Purity (called Emo-Pure by me) is a concept that all people should follow.  I will allow you to draw your own judgements on how well she sells the concepts.

She starts off this section with an anecdote from her childhood:

'"Sarah," my mom said to me one afternoon when I was little, " you know Mr. and Mrs. Alden at our church? Well, did you know that their very first kiss was at their wedding? Just think how special it would be if you saved your first kiss for your wedding! I wish Daddy and I had done that."

I wasn't very old at the time, but I still remember the impact of her words. Right then, even though I was very young, I made a decision: I was going to save my very first kiss for my wedding!' (pg. 184)
  • Decisions made in early childhood are not legally binding for good reason.  Kids lack the life experience and cognitive development to make long-term decisions on their own behalf. 
  • This anecdote explains an issue that recurs throughout the book: The Princess is completely unable to articulate WHY anyone should adhere to Emo-Pure besides "My Dad said I should!". Now we know why - Sarah Mally is still functioning at a early childhood level of thought on this issue.
  • Thought experiment: does Emo-Pure work if no one knows that a couple observed Emo-Pure rules?  Sarah Mally's mother knows that the Aldens had their first kiss at their wedding - but why does she know?  Is Emo-Pure about protecting a future marriage or gaining social status in the local congregation?  At this point, Emo-Pure feels more like a decoration at a wedding than an action to strengthen a marriage.
Next, Sarah attempts to shoehorn a metaphor involving cake into an explanation of Emo-Pure.  This might be triggering if food-based purity metaphors bother the reader - but I found the need for an editor far more irritating.....

"Suppose you made a beautiful birthday cake. It was a rich chocolate cake with homemade vanilla frosting. You spent all afternoon taking the time to make sure it was flawless. You decorated it carefully with frosting, flowers, leaves, and lettering, and added a few fresh cherries for the final touch. Then, enjoying the aroma of a freshly baked chocolate cake, you left it on the counter so that it would be ready for the birthday party." (pg. 184)
  • I hate when people put vanilla frosting on chocolate cake.  Always have hated it; always will.  Because of that personal quirk, I'm turned off by this theoretical cake.  
  • The third sentence combines two major pet peeves of mine from CP/QF home schools gone wrong.  
    • Lists need to be made with care.  Since Mally led off with "frosting" and didn't use any adjectives, I am now imagining a cake that has botanical flowers and leaves along with peel-and-stick  poster letters.  At this point, the imaginary cake is a gross mess in my mind.
    • Adults should be cognizant of sexual metaphors in their language.  Don't add cherries to a cake that represents emotional purity; that's a sexual purity thing.  (I'm having flashbacks of Debi Pearl's repeated use of "Tie a ribbon around it and put it in your Treasure Chest" in Preparing to Be a Help Meet.)
  • This might just be me but I can't smell cakes after they are frosted.  On the other hand, I'm glad she pulled out some adjectives to describe the cake.
"Then suppose I came along, saw the cake, and feeling a little hungry, decided to cut a piece for myself. Just as I was eating my last bite, you return to the counter and found your beautiful cake --with a piece missing. So much for all your work making sure each detail of every flower looked perfect. As far as you are concerned, the cake is ruined. There's not time to make a new one. How will it look when you serve it at the party? After all your meticulous work to make it just perfect, how would you feel about my careless attitude?

What if I suggested that you bake another piece of cake to fill in the empty space? Obviously, my advice would irritate you even more. " Of course not," you'd say. " The cake is ruined. It will never look the same again." (pgs. 184-185)
  • I'm curious who the hell looks at an uncut cake that says "Happy Birthday, Buddy O'Mine!" and decides to cut a piece for themselves.  We've had birthday cakes be dropped, eaten by a dog and stepped on by a cat but we've never had a person help themselves to a cake prematurely.
  • Sarah and I see this situation very differently.  For her metaphor to work, the cake must be ruined.  In my life, I see this as a time to get creative.  I don't need to make an entire new one; I need to disguise the missing piece.  My first attempt would be to make a posterboard cube slightly wider than the missing piece to fill up the hole and then frost over the posterboard.  
  • If a person asked me to bake a single piece of cake, I'd be more irritated about their shoddy command of the English language.  You bake a cake that is cut into pieces.  You could bake a small cake or even a cupcake.  You cannot bake a single piece of cake.  
    • Mostly unrelated: My husband's grandfather used to send local teenagers out to dig half a hole in the yard on their first day of working on the farm.  Apparently, it was a good lesson in asking questions when the directions don't make sense.....and far cheaper than dealing with mistakes involving cows or equipment later on.
  • What is the most important attribute of a birthday cake?  Honestly, the external look is nice, but I appreciate the effort that goes into making or obtaining the cake much more.  My second most important attribute after loving effort is taste.  (Of course, the cake I made for my husband's birthday devolved into a cake-slide because the moist red velvet cake + cherry filling destabilized the bottom layer so the weight of the frosting on the sides started ripping sections of the cake apart. Looked horrible; tasted great; decent story, too.)
"A Proverbs 31 Woman will do her husband good, not evil, all the days of her life (Prov. 31:12). One of the best ways you can do good to your future husband today, even if you don't know him yet, is by protecting your heart so that it will be completely his. Your heart is a priceless treasure that you are saving for one. How will your future husband feel if you have already given pieces of your heart to others and can offer him only a partially eaten cake? He wants a cake baked just for him, not ones with pieces missing that other so tasted first. He wants the whole thing --not just part. One day you will long to give him your whole heart --but in order to give it later, you must protect it now." (pg. 185)
  • This paragraph took me three separate tries to read into my transcription software because I would start laughing so hard at the mixed - or should I say mixed-up - metaphors!  
    • The whole "giving pieces of hearts away" tripe is a metaphor to start with; people don't carve out chunks of heart tissue to exchange with each other.  Ms. Mally clearly lost track of that tidbit of information.  That's funny enough - but doubling-down with the "partially eaten cake"  analogy in the same sentence makes the whole paragraph sound like a SNL skit.  
    • I've taken to asking random men I know from college to post-retirement age if they prefer a cake baked just for him OR a cake that someone has eaten pieces of first. The general consensus is that cake is cake.  
  • The Emo-Pure interpretation of Proverbs 31:12 is beyond strange.  The sane interpretation of that verse is that a wife should do good things from the time she becomes a wife until her death.  The Emo-Pure interpretation forces women to behave as a wife prior to marriage - even prior to looking for a spouse!  
  • The Biblical basis for Emo-Pure is extremely scant.  At best, Emo-Pure will hook together Proverbs 31:12 with a few snippets from the Pauline Epistles before declaring that God really wants us to be emotionally pure.  The problem comes with the fact that nowhere does the Bible explicitly address emotional purity.  
    • The Bible does have sections that address prohibited sexual relationships - but even that is pretty slim compared to sections entitled "Being nice to others in our group", "Being nice to others outside our group", or even "Worshiping other gods leads to punishments meted out by God".
    • There are plenty of counter-examples to Emo-Pure as well.  Abigail essentially betrayed her husband by CP/QF standards and married David after Nabal died.  Abigail must have had some emotional connection to her first husband - but she married David.  Boaz didn't tell Ruth that they couldn't be married since she'd been emotionally entwined with her first husband.  
  • Don't marry someone who expects to have the entirety of your heart - that's the first warning sign of an abuser who will isolate you from friends and family.  Chunks of your heart will have already been given away to your immediate family and close friends.
"Emotional Purity is hardly even considered possible in our present society. But think of it this way: how would your future husband feel if he knew that some other guy had known your deepest thoughts, dreams, fears, and emotions? What would he think if some other man had known you even better than he himself knows you? Or how would you like it if some other girl had dozens of long, deep, intimate conversations with your husband and knew practically everything there was to know about him?" (pg. 186)
  • I've been thinking about this a lot: has there been any society in which Emo-Pure has been a real, widespread concern?  I can think of plenty of societies where sexual purity for women has been obsessed over - and nearly as many where romantic love is viewed as only possible outside of marriage. The idea of emotional purity saved for a life-long monogamous marriage is a new invention.  This is one of those areas where a strong liberal arts background gives a stronger understanding of how human cultures have work throughout time.
  • The rest of the paragraph is from a different universe.  
    • Lives are built forward in time, not backwards.  Thoughts, dreams, fears and emotions change over time.  Even if a guy adheres to Emo-Pure, the fact that a woman has had an emotional relationship with a different man means very little about their emotional relationships going forward.
    • Presuming to read a future husband's mind is a bad idea.  I find it much easier to ask my real husband his opinion when needed.  My husband's reply when I asked him if he cared that when we met other men had known me better than he knew me at that point was a blank stare followed by "That book is on crack, you know."
Having worked herself into an emotional climax, Sarah Mally decides to explain all of the things you can save for doing with your future spouse.  Alas, due to some editorial quirks, my husband and I have ruined our 6-month old son permanently.

"You see, there is more than just your first kiss and your physical purity that you can save. There are many other "firsts" that will be very special if you make them special by saving them for the right time rather than trying to generate romance with every young man you know. Sure, most girls your age treat all these things casually. Sure, they might be having fun now, but how is it going to affect their marriages later? Think how meaningful each of these first can be, when shared with that special someone:

  • First expression of interest
  • First words of affection or love
  • First gift given or received
  • First romantic look into his eyes
  • First trip together
  • First special song, place, event, or memory
  • First ring
  • First dinner date
  • First personal letter expressing emotions
  • First I love you
  • First piece of your heart given
  • First serious or ongoing correspondence with a young man
  • First special affectionate nickname or actions
  • First kiss
  • I know this section was supposed to be deep, but I kept laughing while trying to read it out loud.  People aren't supposed to express interest, affection, or love to their kids apparently.  No gifts or trips.  No songs or nicknames.  That sounds painfully sterile.  Although - not as painful as cutting a chunk of heart muscle out for someone else does.

    I'm trying to imagine reading work emails from a young man who is trying to avoid emotion, seriousness or on-going correspondence with me.  That's not going to end well.

    Equally weird are the categories that are so broad as to be useless: place, event, memory or actions.
    The chapter goes on for several more pages and gets less and less coherent.  At one point, Ms. Mally compares choosing to drink a cafe mocha in the afternoon and staying up all night from the caffeine even though she knows that will happen to making bad choices in dating.  This is followed immediately by comparing the benefits of Emo-Pure to the time her sister wanted a cool place to eat some early strawberries so her sister carried them up to the top of a tree one by one and ate them there.

    I've got nothing left; once an author has compared choosing a drink and eating strawberries in a tree to dating, they are clearly out of touch with reality.

    The entire next chapter is about getting to know Jesus.  I'm skipping it entirely.  The allegory is unintentionally hilarious - the Princess talks to the Alligator about her new "boyfriend" - who obviously is Jesus - without explaining that explicitly.   The Alligator thinks she's losing her mind - and I agree.

    Chapter Twelve explains how God arranges marriages.  

    Wednesday, August 30, 2017

    Homeschooling Badly: The Other Socialization Issue

    Socialization issues come in two varieties.

    The first socialization issue is how home schooled students who have been greatly restricted in choice of friends while having the amount of time around non-family peers slashed struggle to make friends when exposed to the larger community. This topic has been covered well by bloggers inside and outside of the homeschooling community.

    The second issue is an outgrowth of the first; home-schooled students lose access to many, many professional contacts by being removed from a school system.

    In my elementary school, I graduated with 34 students and I am in contact with about 20 of those classmates.  My high school graduating class had 206 students and I am in contact with ~100 of those classmates.  I have contacts in medicine, K-12 education, law, finance, marketing, sales, STEM research and applied arts.  I have contacts in metal working, tool-and-die making, woodworking, logging, agriculture and home-based care.

    Why does this matter?

    In life, having contacts - or networking - greatly increases the likelihood of landing a coveted job or creating a business that lasts.

    I taught for eight years in Michigan.  When I was looking for my first teaching job, the market for teachers was super-saturated.  For high school science jobs, districts would receive 50-100 applications.  For elementary school jobs in a desirable (read: middle or upper class) district, schools received as many as 4,000 applications!

    How did I land a job within a month of getting my teaching license?  I worked my connections.
    I landed my first job in part because a classmate's uncle worked as a personnel director in a local district. Sarah introduced me to Paul at a local community gathering when we were in high school.  Paul was an interesting guy who sold his district well so I kept in contact with him over the next few years.  His district needed substitute teachers who could fill in at the last minute so he signed me up as a substitute teacher within his district as soon as I finished student teaching.

    I used that time prudently; I subbed repeated in a early intervention pre-school classroom for kids with language delays and mild autistic spectrum disorders and had a blast.

    This caught the attention of the principal at the school.  Apparently, they've never had a sub request to be in that class before - and never had one return repeatedly.  He found out from the para-pro I worked with that I was a secondary science certified teacher and recommended me to the alternative education high school principal when he had a long-term sub position open.  I took that job and when it was made into a permanent position the next year I was hired as an internal applicant.

    Yes, I had the skills needed for the job - but my job search was shortened to less than a month because of the people I knew.

    This topic caught my attention when I was looking into the Maxwell Family who have a tidy income from books promoting homeschooling and educating sons to be single-income breadwinners for a family. They promote having sons leave high school early (age 15-16) and use that time on career training - but not any training that would expose them to bad influences like working in an industry or going to college.  Needless to say, the Maxwell Family LOVES any certification that can be earned through self-study.  Since four of their sons are income-earning age,  I thought I'd see what everyone is doing.  

    Honestly, everyone is working in one family business or another.  Most of the family works at Swift Otter building websites using Magneto - but I found that site by following an earlier, but still operational site called Communication Concepts, Inc.  That's where I noticed that one of the sons - John - has a company called Maxwell Irrigation. That intrigued me; my husband farms and I was curious how he got a foothold in irrigation work.

    John's business plan is odd.  He offers to create irrigation design plans for fields.  This is thoroughly strange because companies that build irrigation systems will create design plans as a matter of course when installing an irrigation system.

    Why wouldn't farmers want an independent contractor to make a design for them?  After all, wouldn't that be a good way to prevent being taken advantage of by Big Irrigation?

    No.  Farmers have a tried-and-true method of finding companies that work and shunning companies that do bad work.  They do this by relying on contacts they've made in life - contacts that do not include John Maxwell if all of his education has been done through self-study.

    Who would we rely on if we needed irrigation?  Here are some options:

    • Local companies run by families my husband met in K-12 education including after-school activities like 4-H and FFA
    • Local and regional companies that employ people my husband met while he getting his college agriculture degree
    • Local companies recommended by the Extension Bureau - which rely on contacts made at the land-grant college by students and faculty
    • Family ties.  Agriculture is one of a few career choices that marrying into the system is an accepted way of joining.  (I see the flaws inherent in the system especially towards minorities - but the system exists and should be mentioned.)  We are probably shirttail cousins of someone who does agricultural irrigation.  At the very least, the introduction between my husband and the company representative will end with them realizing that our third cousin twice removed was at MSU in the Farmhouse Fraternity two years before the company representative. See, we're like family!
    John Maxwell was homeschooled for all of his levels of education, has not listed a college on his Linked In page, was raised in a family where his dad worked as an electrical engineer for an aerospace company, and is single.  The larger agricultural community in Kansas doesn't know he exists because he's never connected with the normal contact points.

    The fix for this is quite simple; Kansas State University has a horticulture degree that would give John plenty of contact time with professors and students who are in the agricultural system.  By choosing his electives sensibly, he would have an even stronger basis for being hired into an irrigation company as a designer.   Best of all, someone would explain to him why his business plan won't work.

    Because - when push comes to shove - a farmer needs someone who can install an irrigation system. Those professionals will design an irrigation system for the field as the first step; they need a plan that their installers can use and that they know is adequate based on experience.  A reputable company will not take a design created by a person they've never heard of - let alone worked with - and install a system based on that.   Having Maxwell create a $2,700 plan for our 180 acre field would be $2,700 wasted.

    I wish I had a magic answer to the problem of losing potential contacts for homeschooled kids - but there's no quick answer if the purpose of homeschooling is to minimize contact with the outside world.  For parents who are homeschooling for academic purposes, making sure their kids are active in their neighborhood, a few community activities like sports or scouting, and a church or civic organization that has multiple generations participating should do the trick of making contacts similar to classmates.  

    For kids for whom homeschooling is used as a form of isolation, I can't see how to make up the difference in contacts - and that's an issue that has ramifications for years.

    Thursday, August 24, 2017

    Homeschooling Badly: Kids Just Need to Know How To Learn!

    As a licensed teacher, the thought of personally homeschooling my kids - or anyone's kids - is frankly terrifying.  I could probably make a high school science curriculum that was solid and possibly a forgivable junior high science curriculum - but I have no idea what an appropriate curriculum for third-grade math looks like or fifth-grade language arts.  What if my kid wants to learn Swahili?  Oh, God - what if my kid has a talent for two-dimensional art?  I'm so bad at that!

    I'm honestly sweating bullets right now at the thought of trying to teach drawing at home.

    This is partially why I find homeschooling parents' answers to how they are going to teach advanced subjects fascinating.  Each option is my summary of the blog post attached.

    Option One: "I'm going to graduate my 16-year old from high school having completed badly flawed 10th grade Biology and 9th/10th grade Geometry using Khan Academy.  Education isn't about getting a job, after all."

    Thanks to Amy from Raising Arrows for this plan.
    • Her son was completing Biology using Apologia Science.  I bought a copy of Apologia's Biology textbook; the material is horrible. 
      • The "evolution" section is a joke, but I expected that.  I didn't expect the genetics section to be convoluted to the point of being incoherent. (The study of Mendelian genetics somehow fails to label the "Law of Independent Assortment" and "Law of Segregation" with those terms.  That was surreal.)  
      • I didn't expect the entire field of ecology to be ignored outside of biogeochemical cycles (and, no, that term was never used to describe those cycles). 
      •  Honestly, most of the book is a study of animal and plant taxonomy without evolutionary grounding which is roughly 60 years outdated.
    • In Michigan, a student is expected to have covered either physics or chemistry before leaving high school.  I wouldn't be opposed to a student doing some in-depth biological or earth science topic (think botany (with field section), astronomy, geology, etc.) in lieu of physics or chemistry - but doing two years of high school science is not considered adequate for a high school diploma.
    • In Michigan, the minimum high school graduation requirement in math is Algebra II.  Most students take Algebra I in eighth grade or ninth grade.  Geometry is the next class in the most common math sequence so most kids would take it between 9-10th grade.  It's not considered a math capstone class.
    • I like Khan Academy as a resource for students who learn well from videos and I linked some of the videos on my old classroom website for students to use during and outside of class if they wanted.  Having said that, I have deep concerns about using it as a stand-alone curriculum.
      • All of the problems given by Khan Academy must be rapidly graded by a computer algorithm.   This limits the types of questions that can be asked severely.
      • I've been working through Algebra II, Trigonometry and Precalculus on Khan Academy for mental exercise.  So far, all problems that have addressed theoretical concepts have been marked as 'challenge' problems that required to reach mastery. 
      • Khan Academy doesn't provide either cumulative tests or projects to be completed.  I accept a wide variety of ways for students to demonstrate mastery - but they've gotta do it at some point.
      • I have no idea how a home-schooling parent would convert information from Khan Academy to a 4.0 point GPA.  Is completion worth an A?  
    • Education is not about getting a job - but education is required to get certain jobs.  A weak STEM background in high school is expensive to remedy.  Remember, public schools cover whatever classes a student can take in K-12 for free.  Taking remedial classes or college classes that count for credit, but do not count for a major (which I had several friends who needed to do to reach the requirements for General Inorganic Chemistry) is more expensive.

    Option Two: If we can't teach it, the subject must not be that important.
    This pearl of wisdom comes from Kimberly at Raising Olives.  The only redeeming value is that she seems not to have enforced that idea on her offspring.

    She lists a series of "other" options instead having a parent actively teach their kids advanced subjects.
    • Pick a good curriculum and a teenager who knows how to learn should be able to teach themselves!. 
      •  I know how to pick out a good curriculum in high school science courses because I have enough college level classes in science to do that.  I would struggle to do that in History or music or a foreign language; I just don't have the background to figure out if a given curriculum covers US government or Economics well.
      • How much time is it worth to have a student struggle on a concept within a good curriculum that could be cleared up by a trained teacher in the area in 5-10 minutes?  I get the benefit of wrestling with a hard concept - but often a student isn't wrestling with a hard concept; they are spinning their wheels because of a minor misunderstanding.  Other times, students need more scaffolding (education jargon for "break it into smaller steps") than the text provides.  Some people advocate simply sending the student off to find different resources until they learn it, but that has its own issues.
        • KimC at InAShoe wrote a blog post about how she used progressively finding different textbooks to teach herself math up and including calculus.  That's genuinely impressive and deserves kudos.  The part that broke my heart: she remembers crying over functions before she got how to do them.  For people who aren't math geeks - functions shouldn't be hard for a kid with as much raw talent as KimC had.  I suspect she got stuck on the notations of functions which a teacher would have straightened out for her in....oh.... 30 seconds maximum.
    • Have a sibling who is talented in that subject help them out!
      • That's not much help for the first kid to cover the subject, is it now?
      • Ever notice how worked up homeschool bloggers get over the theoretical idea that advanced public school kids will be expected to help other students instead of getting more advanced work?  Ironically, that indignation completely evaporates when siblings are involved.  I find that irritating since I worked hard at making advanced materials for my students who needed a challenge and I never pretended that all advanced students made good tutors.  
    • Take high level subjects from subject area experts in your church without passing off educating your kids to them!
      • There is some weird, hair-splitting, angels-dancing-on-a-pin semantics going on in that section.  I doubt God's going to smite a family who chooses to let a subject-area expert teach an advanced class because the parents have abdicated their duty to educate their children.  On the other hand, I did teach in the public system so I might be terminally warped.
      • There is a very important reason that I didn't assume that advanced students made good tutors: a sizable subset are horrible at teaching.  Being good at a topic does not mean you can teach a topic well.  I have an overwhelming sense of pity for the scientist at a CP/QF church who went into research because he still has nightmares about being a TA while getting his Ph.D.  Being told he has a moral duty to teach the congregation's teenagers chemistry and physics is going to suck for him.
      • I can't imagine that every homeschool friendly church has a math and science career guy who is willing and able to teach physics, chemistry and all math above geometry while supporting his massive family.  Oddly enough, the subject of paying for his time is completely ignored because he's a church member. I guess that's an issue for men as well as women! 
    • We've never used them, but online options and co-ops exist!
      • See all of my earlier objections for picking subject area texts for online options.  When does a homeschooling mom have time to look at the major online options for Calculus?
      • I refer to co-ops as "unregulated private schools who hire unlicensed teachers".   There are some excellent parent-teachers in the world and there are some really bad ones. 
        • How does a co-op deal with a well-meaning parent-teacher who is a weak teacher?  In school systems, new teachers get a mentor teacher plus the help of plenty of other experienced teachers in their building and system. Can a co-op do that?  
        •  How about a parent-teacher who is well-liked by the students, but creates classes that are academically below expectations?  Would anyone ever know?  (That second question caused me to break out in a cold sweat.)
        • Can a co-op remove a parent-teacher without causing the entire co-op to shatter into factions?  Is it worth the risk of shutting down a co-op to remove a subpar teacher?  Who makes those kinds of decisions?  
    Well, this post has gotten long and I'm sweating bullets at the thought of kids being taught chemistry badly by a dad who was guilt-tripped into teaching by his local congregation because he's an agricultural engineer.  *shudders*

    Please teach your kids.  If you pull them out of a school system, you take on the responsibility of their academic future. If doing that gets to be too much, put them back in the system.