Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming: Chapter Twelve - Part Two

Let's see.  We've learned that God does not arrange marriages through the unholy love child of a Renaissance-State Fair.  That's proof for a loving and merciful God, I suppose.

Next we find out that one knight is not preparing for the fair.  Sir Valiant is busy doing other tasks that are critical for the safety of the kingdom - and apparently so secret that even the readers can't know what they are.

A quick recap on Sir Valiant: On top of a virtue-signalling name, we know the King likes him, that he is busy fighting Lies (the Dragon) and Temptation (the Giant), and that the Princess has a crush on him.  She's seen him twice - once when he was proclaiming a message when she was 16 and once for a short conversation when she was 21.

Sir Valiant approaches the castle to have a chat with the king:

"The same knight of the kingdom was riding alone in the early summer along the stone road to the castle. The wind blew through this dark hair as he rode with dignity on his noble white steed. Crossing the bridge over the moat, the night heard an unexpected voice.

"From whence cometh ye?"

Looking around, the knight saw the alligator down below. "From yonder villages on the edge of the kingdom," he answered.

" Be ye on important business?" asked the alligator.

" Be ye the castle receptionist?" returned the knight. "(pg. 223)

Wow.  That first paragraph manages to be purple prose without using ostentatious adjectives.  I'm impressed between giggles.  Does anyone in this kingdom ever have a bad hair day or a crabby horse?  

The advantage to a poorly characterized Sir Valiant is that I visualize Prince Humperdink from the movie "The Princess Bride" every time Sir Valiant appears.  After all, we know so little about Sir Valiant's internal motivations that he may well be planning to marry the Princess then stage her murder to start a war.

Sir Valiant's snappy comeback to the Alligator made me laugh.  I think that's the only time I laughed from intended humor in the entire book.

"So then," the alligator ask curiously, " comest thou for the princess?"

"My business, oh wise one, is to report of the battles of the kingdom," the knight answered.

"Battles? Oh my! Have we not peace throughout the borders? This be news to me."

"We have not peace, o great counselor. I thought thou saidth that thou wast wise. Dragons and giants do roam the land."

" Such news be nonsense," replied the reptile. " Thou art beginning to sound as foolish as the princess. I have not seen a giant in years, though a dragon or two have visited on occasion."

"They have terrorized the land. Much damage has been done," declared the knight.

" I cannot speak for Giants, but I fear that you misjudge dragons. They are often misunderstood," spoke the alligator. " Let them be. They intend no harm."

" Thy words remind me of the evil dragon himself, oh superb analyst. Didst thou at one time live in a garden? I'm pleased to hear that the princess is not taken in by thy words." (pgs. 223-225)

I see two giant issues within this section.  First, let's discuss the literary issues.  When writing an allegory that has virtue and vice characters, the characters exist and fully live within the allegory.  The Kingdom is being terrorized by Lies the Dragon and Temptation the Giant - but no one outside of the Royal Family and Sir Valiant seem to be aware of their existence.  We learned in the last passage that the knights and men of the kingdom are so eager for advancement that they are spending the summer training for the King's Ren-State Fair.  That implies that they are unaware of - or unconcerned about - the dragon and giant that are "terrorizing" the land.  

This is also the section where the choice of a dragon to represent lies becomes clunky.  The Bible describes the critter in the garden who tempts Adam and Eve as a serpent. In the allegory, the Alligator generally tempts the Princess to flee from the CP/QF path.  Based on that trajectory, the most coherent choice for allegorical characterization would be Temptation the Snake.  Making that change would keep the point of the allegory while removing the jarring disconnect at the end when Sir Valiant combines the dragon, the serpent in Genesis 1, and the alligator into one incoherent mishmash.

Lies could be represented by the Giant - but I'm still completely unclear about why lies or temptation are represented by a Giant.  Both are far more sneaky and unobtrusive than a 30 foot tall man carrying a club.

Here's the practical problem: this section is a perfect metaphor for how CP/QF adherents live in modern society.  CP/QF believers get completely up-in-arms about "issues" that are non-starters for the rest of society like women should wear skirts all the time, hormonal birth control causing miscarriages, the myth of supporting a family on one-income of a poorly educated male or leaving number and spacing of children up to "God" (e.g., sheer chance).  THIS is how CP/QF adherents sound to the rest of society - but they have no idea how insane they sound.

Most interesting of all - by the time Sir Valiant leaves he's spent more time talking to the Alligator than to the Princess.

The knight had spoken of these matters with the king many times previously. He did, however, have another purpose for this visit to the king. He had long noticed and thought about the princess and sought, whenever the discussion allowed, to bring questions of her into the conversation as naturally as possible. He had often look for ways to talk about her without disclosing his personal interest. But he had decided that today was going to be different --it would be a day to speak of the matter more plainly. (pg. 225)

Sir Valiant sounds like a lovelorn teenager who doesn't want other people to know he has a crush on the Princess but doesn't realize that he talks about the Princess incessantly.  It's a great characterization of the average teenager - but is Sir Valiant supposed to be that inexperienced and unskilled in social skills?

Equally unexplained is why Sir Valiant has waited years to approach the King about his interest in the Princess.  Seriously, Sir Valiant has been making attempts at bringing the Princess into conversations for multiple years - what has stopped him from saying "I'd like to court the Princess, please."  

Either way, the knight finally makes it into the castle, asks to see the king and is taken into a "private conference room" (pg. 225).  Yup, yup, castles totally have those.  *eye twitches convulsively* 

The King and Sir Valiant chat about the problems facing the Kingdom before Sir Valiant subtly asks the King what the Princess thinks about the upcoming Ren-State Fair.  The King uses fancy language to state that the Ren-State Fair is beneath the notice of a Godly Princess who cares about the people.  (You know, the Princess who helps people once every two years between epic moping sessions in the castle.....that Godly Princess.) 

Sir Valiant - who is suddenly more afraid than he's been in battle against magical critters - politely asks what the King is looking for in a suitor for the Princess.  

The King interprets that as the equivalent of Sir Valiant asking to marry the Princess.  Most strangely of all, this massive, terrifying misunderstanding doesn't phase Sir Valiant at all.  He doesn't run away screaming.  He doesn't blanch or avoid social situations where the King or Princess will be; he just takes it in stride.  
"Why asketh thou for her hand?" questioned the king. " Why doth she please thee?"

" Sire, though she be a princess, I've seen no greater servant. And though she be beautiful, she gloweth even more greatly within. And, my Lord, though she hath opportunity to meet many a knight, she falls for none because she seeketh one. I find not, Sire, another maiden in the kingdom that be of such mind, heart, and demeanor."

" Thou hast answered well, Sir Valiant. And not only with thy words, for I have observed also thy loyalty, diligence, faithfulness, and understanding. It would please me to give my daughter and my blessing to such as thyself. I shall talk to the princess and her mother on my behalf."

The king spoke briefly with the queen, but they needed not a long discussion, for they had spoken of Sir Valiant many times before and had observed his faithful service. They knew of no other young man in the kingdom with his understanding and stature. The queen was delighted, as the king knew she would be. Then the king walked outside to meet the princess. (pg. 226)

*rubs head to relieve ache from thumping against the desk* 

Describing a princess as being a "great servant" is the type of faux pas that leads to nobles falling from favor and diplomatic alliances between countries to break down.    "No, King, seriously, she's a great charwoman!  I love how she can work for hours like a peasant!" is a great way for Sir Valiant to spend the rest of his life in one of those remote, tiny villages in the hinterlands of the kingdom.

The rest of the first paragraph is a joke.  Glowing from within means fairly little when heroine is already a drop-dead gorgeous princess with everything money can buy.   The princess has no discernable virtue at keeping her heart pure; she's met one knight - Sir Eloquence - whom she did like in a wishy-washy way after a while before he was run off by the King.  After that, the Princess has been kept hermetically sealed in the castle and reproached about Sir Eloquence every time she wants to socialize.  Ms. Mally should have dropped "mind" and "heart" from the list; all Sir Valiant knows about the Princess from his two interactions with her is a bit about her demeanor.

I can't figure out why the King thinks he knows much about Sir Valiant.  In the book, the King has meetings with Sir Valiant....and that's it.  I have no idea how Sir Valiant would prove loyalty or faithfulness - the plot ignores any issues within the Kingdom like factions.  Really, at this point, Sir Valiant seems like a toady to the King - a yes-man who parrots what the King wants to hear back regardless if that information is true or accurate. the ideal husband for a CP/QF girl, actually.  

I think we've reached the heart of the "singleness" curse afflicting CP/QF young adults.  Men won't ask to court women because asking to court is the equivalent of getting engaged - without having a chance to determine how compatible two people are.  Women are secretly relieved on some level because suitors are being chosen on how well they impress her father rather than how well the couple suit each other.  

Dating is sounding more and more appealing the farther into the book we get.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Homeschooling with a Meek and Quiet Spirit: Reinventing the Wheel

Now that we've discussed a wide variety of ways to homeschool badly, I'd like to start reviewing snippets of Teri Maxwell's book "Homeschooling with a Meek and Quiet Spirit".

Teri Maxwell has achieved some prominence in CP/QF homeschooling circles for her series of organizational self-help books including "Managers Of Their Homes" (often abbreviated MOTH), "Managers of Their Chores", and "Managers of Their Schools.  The Maxwells have eight grown children.

The vast majority of this book is inspirational ideas scavenged from Scripture.  I hate inspirational literature across the board - spiritual or secular.  The only time I used inspirational literature was when I was a camp counselor for tweens - they LOVED the Chicken Soup for the Soul series so I was more than willing to read one of those stories to them before bed to help them transition to lights out more easily.

To save everyone from listening to me bitch continuously, I am just going to pull out the sections on homeschooling or parenting to discuss the expectations placed on the mothers in CP/QF.

Mrs. Maxwell begins by giving an example of a frustrating day when she began homeschooling:
"I remember sitting down with my third grader for his first home school "read out loud" session. One reason we had decided to home-school was that this son was having trouble with reading. The pace at school moved too fast, and he was left behind with a very negative, reluctant attitude toward reading.

I was looking forward to the opportunity to help my son develop a love for reading. We were simply going to slow down to a pace he could reasonably manage. We would read out loud together, snuggled up on the couch side by side, and I would be right there to help him over the rough spots --no pressure!" (pg. 13-14)

Mrs. Maxwell begins with an important trope within homeschooling narratives: "How Schools Injured My Child".  Now, many parents choose to homeschool to remedy issues within traditional schools - but the trope has a few important characteristics.

  • The homeschool child's issues in school are severe enough to merit removal, but vague enough to avoid searching questions.  In this example, the Maxwell son shows a dislike towards reading caused by the class moving too fast.  Honestly, I have no idea what that means.  As a teacher, these are the type of questions I would need answered if it were my son:
    • How far behind was his reading lagging compared to the average third grader - a month, a semester or a year?  (These questions are to gauge how severe the deficit is and to verify that my expectations are not too high.)
    • Does he dislike reading across the board - or dislike reading materials that are at too high a level for him?  Does offering a book that is of high interest to him increase the amount of time he tries to read before giving up?  (These questions are trying to determine if the problem is with reading as a skill, frustration at overly hard material, and if a cool book can be used as a reward to help make learning to read less frustrating or boring.)
    • Does he struggle more when the class is in stations/rotations/lots of small groups?  Do you see any signs that he might have hearing or vision issues?  Does he seem to need more physical activity than most of his classmates?  Does he do better at reading shortly after recess?  Does he seem distracted or daydream more than average?  (Looking for signs of auditory processing issues/attention issues, vision and/or hearing issues, attention issues, attention issues and attention issues respectively.  The last question is especially helpful for students with ADD.)
    • What in-class remediations have you tried?  How did they go?  (No need to reinvent the wheel if the teacher's already tried something that didn't work - or maybe she's figured out a trick for your kid....)
    • Do you think my kid needs to be evaluated for more in-depth help like pull-out reading support or a Special Education evaluation?  (Parents can always begin a Special Education evaluation by requesting it - even if the teacher doesn't believe the kid needs help.  An excellent way to make school much harder for your kid is to refuse a Special Education evaluation when a teacher recommends it; parents can do that, too.  I've worked with far too many older teens whose path to dropping out of high school accelerated when a parent refused Special Education services in elementary school - and as a result their student never learned how to read or do math because of severe dyslexia.) 
  • The bar for fixing the student's problem is as nebulous as the problem itself.  I can assess accurately if a student is reading at grade-level; there is no standardization for "love of reading".  Additionally, students can love to read and still be below grade level in reading.
  • The solution is self-evident: Parents know how to teach their own kids.  Now, Mrs. Maxwell implies that her son's reading issues were severe - but could be fixed by bringing him home and removing all the pressure to learn how to read.  This plan may work very well if the child's reading issues are primarily due to anxiety about school or performance - but I don't understand what the long-term plan is to help him learn to deal with that anxiety.     If the kid's problems were due to a vision issue or dyslexia, being at home is not going to make much of a difference.
    • On a personal note, my life greatly improved when I received professional counseling targeted for anxiety.  There are many techniques that a person - even children - can use to recognize and reduce anxiety.

"That day, as he began to read, it didn't take long until he was stuck on a simple word. "Sound it out," I said.  Nothing came from him. "Come on, Nathan. What did your teacher tell you about how those letters sound?"  He attempted the word, but the vowel sound wasn't right.  " Try again, Son."  He did --very same way he had before! Finally, in exasperation, I said the word for him, and we continued.

By the end of those first 15 minutes of my dream homeschooling life, I had become a very frustrated mother. I was close to tears. Rather than being patient and loving, I have been short and irritable I expected my seven-year-old son to sound out the very words he struggled with at school! I felt I had failed. I wondered whether I was wise to take on this job of homeschooling. Maybe I wasn't cut out for it." (pg. 14)

Oops.  That first paragraph is agonizing to read.  Good intentions do not instantly lead to good teaching unfortunately.

Part of becoming a teacher in any age group or subject is learning a variety of methods to teach an idea.  With practice, teachers present the method that most students pick-up rapidly and then use alternate methods for students for whom the first method fails.  Teacher also learn to adapt.

One method of teaching reading is by using phonics to sound out words.  From the story, it's clear that Nathan has some issues using phonics to determine vowel sounds.  This is not uncommon in English; we have lots of vowel sounds and plenty of non-standard spellings.  (Think "weigh" and "way".)

The problem is that Mrs. Maxwell fails to attempt any teaching method when her son struggles.  His first attempt produces the wrong vowel sound.  The most basic intervention would be to tell him that the vowel sound is wrong before he tries again.  Even a simple one syllable word like "ton" or "cat" has three different sounds.  Letting him know which is wrong would help him focus on a different vowel sound.

Asking a student to try again without giving feedback is extremely unlikely to cause a positive change.  Imagine I handed a student an algebra problem.  The student completes the problem and gives to me to check.  I check it and say "It's wrong.  Try again."  The student is very likely to do the problem the same way again.  Better to say something like "You lost track of a term in the third line".  I'm more surprised at Mrs. Maxwell's shock that her son repeats the mistake rather anything else.

Equally importantly, Nathan is showing that anxiety alone is not causing his reading problem.  This means that he will likely need more intensive remediation than simply reading at home with mom.

Mrs. Maxwell does deserve credit for admitting that homeschooling wasn't a success immediately after starting.  Admitting that takes guts.
"It wasn't long before I was on my knees crying out to the Lord over the sin in my life during these daily fifteen minutes of reading. If homeschooling was to provide sweet, precious moments with my son, and if he was to make progress and learning to read, I needed a change of spirit! Not only that, but I deeply desired a meek and quiet spirit to replace the irritable, impatient, and sometimes even angry one I was displaying." (pg. 14-15)

CQ/QF theology has a very, very different understanding of sin than I learned as a Catholic.  My understanding is that sin requires a conscious action with the known outcome of hurting others or damaging our relationship with God.  Making common teaching mistakes isn't a sin.  Equally importantly, feelings in the absence of action are not sins.  Feeling irritable, impatient or angry is not a sin.  Really, the only way this crosses into sin is if Mrs. Maxwell was taking her frustrations out on her son - which she doesn't seem to have done.

This section begins a strange ATI/ATIA/IBLP corollary: Unresolved sin causes all sorts of problems that are completely and totally unrelated to the sin itself.   In most Christian theologies, sins create problems as a natural consequence of the sin.  For example, lying causes people to trust each other less.  The lack of trust is a direct consequence of the sin.  ATI/ATIA/IBLP teaches that sin causes all sorts of bizarre consequences.  A famous lesson for home study states that bitterness causes damage to bones including bone infections.  Mrs. Maxwell applies this warped logic to blame her son's reading problems on her 'sin' of being irritated.
"The Lord showed me that my reactions during the reading session were sin. 1 Corinthians 13:4 tells me," Charity suffereth long, and is kind." My love (charity) was not long suffering or kind. I needed to confess my sin to the Lord Jesus Christ (1 John 1:9). I also had to ask my son's forgiveness. As I prayed about our reading time, the Lord prodded me to develop a plan for those sessions. It went like this. When Nathan came to a word he didn't know, I encouraged him to sound it out. If he didn't have any idea where to start, I would very slowly begins sounding it out for him. Then, he was to sound out the word after me. (pg. 15)

Thought experiment: Mrs. Maxwell's new plan to improve her son's reading has three subparts - apologizing to God, apologizing to her son, and actively teaching her son phonics.  Are all three of the parts equally important?  I see some benefit to apologizing to her son - especially if their lessons have become tense.  I believe that teaching her son to read is also beneficial.  Apologizing to God may be needed for her relationship with God - but I don't think it will directly or indirectly impact her son's learning.

I wish Mrs. Maxwell had created a plan before removing her son from traditional schools for teaching reading if Nathan needed more support than reading on the couch with his mom.  The internet wasn't available in the 1980's, but Mrs. Maxwell had access to a great resource known as the local library.  Many libraries have plenty of materials for homeschooling families to use at the nearest branch plus access to the holdings of many other libraries through interlibrary loans. Mrs. Maxwell could have saved a great deal of frustration for Nathan and herself by familiarizing herself with some basic ideas on teaching reading prior to homeschooling her son.

"The Lord also showed me that I needed to praise Nathan abundantly for every little word he read correctly." I am not a " gushy" kind of person, so this felt very artificial to me. However, that little boy beamed as he worked through his readers, while his mom lavished upon him, " Good boy, Nathan. That's it. Wonderful. Keep it up!" " (pg. 15)

All teachers in my state are required to take "Introduction to Psychology" followed by "Educational Psychology" (or similar classes).  One of the major themes in Psychology is learning how people respond to reward systems.  People often respond in positive ways to encouraging words especially when they are in the early stages of learning a skill.  The fact that Mrs. Maxwell was unaware of that idea makes me sad for her homeschooled kids.

Students do best when they receive prompt, accurate and non-judgmental feedback on their work as well as praise.  Interestingly, Mrs. Maxwell lumps the feedback phrase of "That's it" into praise rather than feedback. Thinking back of when I would tutor students in math or chemistry, I would have a series of running feedback responses.  Often, the feedback was a simple as saying "Mmm-hmm" while nodding to tell the student that they were on the right track during a problem.  I suspect that Nathan needed that level of continuous feedback while working on his reading skills since he was working at decoding vowel sounds.  One of the hardest teaching skills to master is learning how to interrupt a student who needs feedback for a mistake without discouraging the student.  After all, no one enjoys hearing "That part is wrong".  I developed a calm, but upbeat tone to say "Let's pause here for a second".  I'd quickly explain what needed to change and let the student try again.

The final thing I noticed was that I chose different praise words than Mrs. Maxwell did.  I dislike blanket praise phrases like "Good boy/girl".  Academic success has very little standing on if a person behaves in a socially conscious way.  I don't want a student thinking that I dislike them as a person because the student struggles in science.    I try to make praise very specific like "I am impressed by how long you stuck with that problem.  You worked very hard on that" or "Helping so-and-so out was very kind.  Thank you for doing that."

"Can you guess what happened once my spirit changed ? Within a few short weeks, Nathan's reading had improved immensely. Soon he became fluent reader and came to thoroughly enjoy reading, even doing it during his free time.(pg. 16)

I have so many questions and so little information to glean answers from.
  • I find the connection between Mrs. Maxwell's spirit and Nathan's reading skill incomprehensible.  I'm willing to bet that a well-trained reading tutor would have gotten the same result even if the tutor was spiritually desolate.
  • Nathan was a seven-year-old third grader.  That seems very young to me.  Perhaps Nathan crossed a developmental threshold and would have improved regardless of if he was homeschooled or not.
  • His jump in reading levels seems suspect to me as well.  If he was struggling with phonetics enough to be "falling behind", that implies that he was reading at lower than early second grade lexile level - or at least a full year behind in reading.  I'm extremely skeptical that 15 minutes of reading aloud at home with Mom every day was enough to bridge a full year's reading lag.  On the other hand, "falling behind" is completely subjective in this context.  Perhaps Nathan doesn't like reading aloud - but was doing alright on reading to himself.  On the other hand, if the books Nathan was reading at home were of a lower lexile level, he might appear to catch up - but is really not.
  • As a voracious reader who graduated from traditional schools, I find the obsession with "reading for fun" very odd.  I love to read - but not everyone does.  Many intelligent people like to read - but enjoying reading is independent of intelligence.  Now, homeschooling a kid who loves to read is much easier, but that's a whole other ball of wax.

The next selection from this book will demonstrate some of the unreasonable societal pressures that CP/QF homeschooling moms face.

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.