Real Homeschool Life

I’m almost always astounded by people’s perceptions of family life when weighed against reality.

I don’t recall who said it because I don’t have a Twitter account, but somehow I came across a tweet by a man who declared that every man should assess the value of his wife during the current quarantine. He asserted that this could be done by observing the state of his home during this period.

Since wives are sequestered, he said, their homes should be spotless. For a brief moment, I offered mild mental assent to the idea that since there are more women at home, a lot of housework that has been getting postponed by the rat race would suddenly move to the top of the queue. And then I remembered something vitally important, and it came to me quickly because I have had the experience as a mother of children in school full time and as a homeschooling mom.

The reality is that a house that is being lived in all day is much harder to keep neat than one where the children are absent for 7 hours of the day. This is doubly true when you’re homeschooling, which literally every family in America has been doing for six weeks straight. It’s just another one of those things where the perception held by the uninformed sound good because they’re usually preaching to people who are equally uninformed.

Lest I’m misunderstood, we keep to a pretty strict and thorough cleaning regimen in our house. Floors are mopped every day, bathrooms cleaned every day, etc. We don’t do dirt around here. But we also have many days when our very large dining room table has art supplies on one corner and a stack of math or science books on another. Prince Caspian might be left on the sofa, along with a guitar and music stand set up by the chair. An easel with whiteboard and markers for math instruction is in the family room, and the collection of items needed to perform a science experiment are waiting to be put away. That’s not including the normal bit of clutter that comes with making dinner for seven people from scratch every night.

In other words, there are almost no circumstances under which this house will ever appear as tidy and neat as it did when our older kids were in public school all day and I was able to clean the house, breathe in the freshly dusted air, then sit back with a book for a few minutes before it was time to pick them up from school.

To be sure, there has been time to tackle a few big projects. We did such things as cleaning the garage and purging the file cabinet. I helped my husband build a couple of really nice wood storage pieces. I redid the pantry with labels and hopefully a better organization system. I’m fairly certain every family we know has been doing things like that while being at home.

However, I learned very early on my homeschooling journey that I could either give all my energy to keeping the house clean, or I could give the necessary attention to my children’s education. The latter necessarily meant there would be pockets of clutter and temporary postponement of chores not directly related to ensuring a hygienic domicile.

I can only imagine how much of a challenge it is right now for families who are suddenly juggling working from home and home educating on top of regular homemaking duties, all at once, for the very first time.

The mark of a good wife and mother is not whether she keeps a spotless house simply by virtue of the fact that she’s home all day. Being at home all day with our children opens up opportunities to do many things. If the only opportunity we take advantage of is the opportunity to keep things clean, we’re not doing it right.

Word Nerd Wednesday: Meaningful Education

homeschool

Which child is REALLY more likely to be playing outside?

Education is a hot topic this week in large part because, despite the fact that we all esteem its importance, there’s little consensus on what it means to be truly educated. This is true even among those who dedicate their lives to dispersing and pursuing education. A compelling example of this emerged this week when Harvard Magazine ran what can only be described as a hit piece on homeschooling.

In what was at best stunning ignorance or at worse knowing deception, they outlined what they titled “the risks of homeschooling”. Several assertions were made:

Elizabeth Bartholet, Wasserstein public interest professor of law and faculty director of the Law School’s Child Advocacy Program, sees risks for children—and society—in homeschooling, and recommends a presumptive ban on the practice. Homeschooling, she says, not only violates children’s right to a “meaningful education” and their right to be protected from potential child abuse, but may keep them from contributing positively to a democratic society.

The phrase “meaningful education” is what initially caught my attention and inspired this post. Before we explore that angle, however, I thought it worth highlighting the government’s own numbers concerning child abuse statistics; specifically the level of child abuse in the state-run school systems, where at least 90% of all American children receive educational instruction:

As of September 2017, the United States Department of Justice was still relying on research from before 2004 that showed “… school employee sexual misconduct, the sexual abuse and misconduct of K–12 students by school employees, is estimated to affect 10% of our nation’s students” (p. 1).[10] The actual percent might have been higher in 2004 and it might have been even higher in 2017 but data have not been available to determine this. Furthermore, these data do not include the physical or psychological abuse of students by school personnel. The authors gave the following finding to the Department of Justice:

Thus, despite clear policies and laws requiring reporting and potential legal consequences for failing to do so, only an estimated 5% of school employee sexual misconduct incidents known to school employees are reported to law enforcement or child welfare personnel, … A 1994 study in New York State found that only 1% of the 225 cases superintendents disclosed to researchers were reported to law enforcement or child welfare and resulted in license revocation … (p. 5)

That is to say, an extremely small portion of sexual misconduct acts by school personnel that are known by school personnel are ever reported to the proper government authorities. Who are these school personnel offenders? “Offenders include all types of school employees, such as teachers, school psychologists, coaches, [bus drivers,] principals, and superintendents” (Grant et al., 2017, p. 2).

In other words, mandating that children report each day to a government-run school is hardly a panacea against abuse. Children are hardly safer at school, especially if you factor in the abuseof all kinds inflicted on students by each other. Additionally, many children who go to school also experience undetected abuse at home. The facts do not support Ms. Bartholet’s assertion. She would be hard-pressed to defend her argument of abuse prevention as a valid reason to “presumptively ban” homeschooling.

Leaving aside the canard of abuse, I wondered about this meaningful education to which children have a right that is presumably denied when parents opt to home educate.

She views the absence of regulations ensuring that homeschooled children receive a meaningful education equivalent to that required in public schools as a threat to U.S. democracy. “From the beginning of compulsory education in this country, we have thought of the government as having some right to educate children so that they become active, productive participants in the larger society,” she says. This involves in part giving children the knowledge to eventually get jobs and support themselves. “But it’s also important that children grow up exposed to community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints,” she says, noting that European countries such as Germany ban homeschooling entirely and that countries such as France require home visits and annual tests. [emphasis added]

Aha! Finally, we get to the crux of the words meaningful education, where a meaningful education is defined as one where a student is properly indoctrinated with introduced to ideas, philosophies, and perspectives that may diverge from those of their families and faith tradition. Without daily rebuttal’s to the traditional values of their parents, the students’ education is not meaningful.

This position makes a lot of assumptions, chief among them as presented in the article is that all homeschoolers are white conservative Christians. Ms. Bartholet is so determined to stick it to “those people” that she completely ignores the growing contingent of secular and minority homeschool families, including religious minorities.

At the risk of offending, I have to wonder how anyone can observe the increasing ignorance and banality surrounding us and conclude that mass government education definitively provides a meaningful education, including any real understanding of democracy or what it means to tolerate others’ viewpoints.

The irony is palpable in this denunciation of homeschooling, and the timing of this article and the upcoming anti-homeschool conference (itinerary here) couldn’t be worse. In fact, a public educator wrote a thoughtful rebuttal. He writes:

 

Most parents of public school children who are now confined to home-based learning are also balancing careers and do not have the time, energy, or ability to engage like their homeschooling counterparts. Still, the effort to find best practices and effective strategies would benefit at a time like this from a cooperative partnership between the two entities (public school and homeschool).

Unfortunately, no such relationship exists, thanks to years of an entrenched opposition to homeschooling among the educational establishment that has consistently sought to undermine parental rights while exaggerating the authority of the state.

How bad has it gotten? Even now, as the future of public education has been thrown into uncertainty amid a global pandemic, not a humble recognition of its limitations, but a seething condescension towards the backward rubes continues to define our academic elite.

For proof of that fact, look no further than this ridiculous cover for Harvard Magazine’s recent issue.

The whole thing reads like a parody:

  • Home is a prison (with bars on the windows, no less!), but mandated, compulsory public schools are liberating.
  • Religious bias on full display as the Bible forms one of the prison walls.
  • Condescension not in short supply with “arithmetic” intentionally misspelled to mock the average Joes out there “teachin’ ‘em up.”
  • The missed irony of government-education types picturing a captive child at home…in the midst of a lockdown ordered by, you guess it, the government.
  • A subtitle so lacking in self-awareness: “Elizabeth Bartholet highlights risks when parents have 24/7 authoritarian control over their children.”
  • A bizarre, yet not-so-subtle suggestion that homeschool children aren’t allowed out to play.

The most amazing thing about this is that all of these educated professionals can’t seem to figure out that if anyone is demonstrating a narrow-minded, bigoted, intolerant view of the world that exists outside their own rigid dogma and antiquated methodology, it isn’t the homeschoolers.

He’s right. It isn’t, but as usual, rigid ideologues -of any stripe- are nearly incapable of true introspection and objectivity for the good of others or society as a whole. Even the best interests of children must bow in subjection to control and political power.

And that’s too bad, because education, meaningful education, isn’t about any of that.

 

 

 

 

Off the beaten bibliophilic path…

In case anyone was wondering, the answer is yes. Bibliophilic is a valid word rather than one of my creative conglomerations. According to Merriam-Webster, bibliophilic is the adjective form of bibliophile.

My regular reading schedule has been pretty derailed over the past several weeks. This has been the case for both noble and less than noble reasons. I suppose the marked decreased pace of book reviews reveals that I haven’t been reading as much as I normally do. I am reading, but the breaks between sessions are much longer than normal.

One of the reasons I’ve read less over the past month is because the quarantine has induced within me a burning conviction to be productive in quantifiable ways. Stuff that wasn’t getting done while we were running the rat race now has no excusable reason for going undone. To that end,  more time is dedicated to larger household chores and projects. Among them:

  • We cleaned the garage at the end of the first week of quarantine, although it’s quickly regressing.
  • The tedious, eye-crossing, painstaking work of cleaning and clearing out our file cabinets and other areas of paper jungles. We just finished that over the weekend.
  • Sewing a few masks, although I admit I haven’t worn any. I do make our youngest kids wear them on the few occasions they accompany me to the grocery store and two of our older children are required to wear them at work.
  • I’ve begun blanching and freezing fresh fruits and vegetables as a preparation measure for whatever economic situation may be coming around the corner.
  • I’ve helped my husband build out a couple of pieces of furniture to create storage in both the bedroom and family room.
  • We’ve all been cooking quite a bit more than usual, exercising creativity in the kitchen because we have the time to do it.

I am still working on a few things as well as re-visiting jobs that were done but need to be updated:

  • Rearrange and re-stock the pantry (again)
  • Continue prepping fruits and veggies
  • Gather unused items for Goodwill/Salvation Army pickup

In the midst of all of this, there is the additional work of staying on top of the kids’ studies and making sure that their assignments are scanned or emailed in on time. Because their school only met twice a week and the teachers work in conjunction with homeschoolers and their objectives, we haven’t had the kind of taxing experiences that have been reported from parents of children in school full time. However, there has still been some added work. Fortunately, for us, the formal school year ends at the end of this month so we will soon be on a much more relaxed schedule.

Our annual May vacation has, of course, been canceled this year, and a lot of other activities we would do in summer won’t necessarily be available either. Because of that, another challenge for me is filling the need for engaging activities through the months of May and June. I’m gearing up for that and am open to suggestions. The kids are 11 and 13, if that helps.

My time hasn’t only been filled to the brim with busy, productive activities. To pretend otherwise would be disingenuous. I have also recently gotten totally hooked on The Chosen, as much because of the back story of its creation and execution as because of the show itself. You should take a minute to read about it.

Despite all the distraction and upheaval brought on by this strange phenomenon called COVID-19, I am still reading, albeit at a snail’s pace. Hopefully, I’ll have a new book review up by the end of the week.

 

Word Nerd Wednesday: Ad Populum

This week’s installment, like another recent installment, is inspired by our children’s logic lessons, which are continuing via Zoom throughout this quarantine. An argument ad populum is probably self-explanatory, but I’ll provide the definition offered at The Skeptic’s Dictionary:

The ad populum fallacy is the appeal to the popularity of a claim as a reason for accepting it.

It’s also referred to as the bandwagon fallacy and the appeal to popularity.

By now we can probably all point out any number of things in history that were believed to be universally true only to be proven false. Mobs can be, and often are, wrong.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to offer in the comments any ad populum fallacies you can think of that have been disproven and debunked.

A DNF Post

DNF is an acronym meaning “Did Not Finish”. The Orangutan Librarian’s very entertaining post outlining the angst of getting through books that are difficult to finish is the inspiration for this post. Her post is very funny, and it will be to any bibliophile who has struggled to read a book that is supposed to be the bee’s knees. You should go read it. Really, the use of gifs alone is worth the click.  Her description of trying to get through a book, sometimes just for the sake of writing a review, made me chuckle:

Step 1: Crack open a book, hyped or otherwise, naively *brimming with excitement*

Step 2: Realise “huh, this wasn’t as good as I thought it would be”

Step 3: *Shrug shoulders* and keep reading- but this time with a growing sense of foreboding…

Step 4: Feel the boredom growing.

Step 5: So. Much. Boredom.

Step 6: *Start speed reading*, thinking that maybe it’ll get better, but begin to consider that this book may not be for you and perhaps you should just quit…

There are 14 more steps, which just get funnier as she goes along. And the gifs, 😄 😄😄.

Anyhow, it occurred to me that I have never done a DNF post before. Since there have been several books that I’ve started and couldn’t finish for various reasons, and I am running behind schedule cranking out book reviews, now is as good a time as any to recall a few books I just couldn’t finish. A couple of these are classics, beloved by teachers and literature buffs alike and one or two are nonfiction books that strained credulity such that I couldn’t finish. First, the classics:

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: I figured out quite a long time ago that fantasy isn’t really my cup of tea. Fantasy combined with nautical is even less my cup of tea, but Jules Verne is a classic author! I fancy myself a fan of classic books! Why couldn’t I get beyond being bored with this book? After all, I have read and loved nautical themed books. There was The Old Man and the Sea, Captain’s Courageous, and The Lion’s Paw. I think the problem is that I just don’t care for Verne’s writing, and I’ve decided that I’m okay with that.

The Scarlet Letter is, I have decided once and for all, a terrible book by almost any standard. I remember reading it in high school and feeling neutral about it. I picked it up for a quarter several years ago at a used bookstore to jog my memory, and I wished I hadn’t. I couldn’t read it when I wasn’t under duress at the barrel of a bad grade.

Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Why this book is so beloved, I simply do not know. I’ve read other books by Morrison, such as The Bluest Eye, which were coherent and which flowed somewhere, and I liked them well enough. Even if I didn’t agree 100% with the premises she put forth, at least there was a premise to disagree with.  Beloved is a jumbled bunch of nonsense stretched out over 300 pages.

In the nonfiction category, I’ve run across a few books that were particularly hard to finish as well, for various reasons.

Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X. Kendi. This is one that someone told me that I needed to read. I needed to be enlightened and educated, they said. So, despite my general abhorrence of grievance peddling and oppression literature, I checked this book out from the library. I wondered if there may be some glaring gaps in my black history that would be filled in here. I got about a quarter of the way through it before I took it back to the library. The logical fallacies alone were more than my brain could handle, and after learning that by the standards of the author, I’m hovering somewhere between self-hatred and a race traitor, I knew I had to put it down.

After the Ball: I decided very quickly that reading something that I watched happen in real-time is a waste of time. back to the library with this one.

And then there were the books that I began, loved, and found that the pace of my life when I picked them up wouldn’t allow me to give them the level of concentration they merited.

The Brothers Karamazov: I began this book and loved it almost immediately, but the timing was bad. I was too busy to soak it in. I’m really looking forward to reading this one next month once the school year is done.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: The title speaks for itself, and I’m looking forward to reading this memoir.

Those are a few of the books I began but didn’t finish for various reasons.

What about you?

 

 

 

 

 

The Plague

 

the plague book

The Plague, by Albert Camus. Originally published in 1947. 320 pages.

Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise. The Plague, Albert Camus

It might seem as if The Plague is the last thing any sane person would want to read right now, but I beg to differ. It’s a great novel exploring the nuances of human nature during times such as these. Our current crisis, to date, is not as severe as the plague described in the novel, but Camus still speaks to the spirit of this age.

That Camus, in 1947 no less, described his French Algerian city of Oran in ways that easily parallel any American city in 2020 was pretty striking. As our story begins, the plague has not yet struck. Camus describes it this way:

Certainly, nothing is common nowadays than to see people working from morning till night and then proceeding to fritter away at card tables, in cafes, and in small talk what time is left for living. Nevertheless, there still exist towns and countries where people have now and then an inkling of something different. In general, it doesn’t change their lives. Still, they have had an intimation, and that’s so much to the good. Oran, however, seems to be a town without intimations; in other words, completely modern. Hence I see no need to dwell on the manner of loving in our town. The men and women consume one another rapidly in what is called “the act of love”, or else settle down to a mild habit of conjugality. We seldom find a mean between these two extremes. That too is not exceptional. At Oran, as elsewhere, for lack of time and thinking, people have to love one another without knowing much about it. p. 4-5

With this description of the busy city of roughly a quarter-million residents, Camus begins their story. It begins when they’re faced with the unsettling but manageable proliferation of rats dying in the streets, then the slow but emerging realization that whatever is killing the rats is also beginning to plague the city’s human population. It’s a nasty disease, and its victims experience painful buboes and die gruesome deaths.

At first, the people are in denial, while the authorities resist drastic measures for economic reasons. Before long, the reality of what they are facing becomes apparent and the town is locked down. The city gates are secured and no one is allowed in or out of the town. The residents still move freely, as there are no other restrictions in place, but there are many non-residents trapped inside the city, and residents who can’t get back in.

In the midst of all of this is the story’s hero, Dr. Rieux who is treating a significant number of plague patients. Most of what we see, we see through his eyes as the town slowly descends into a place quite unlike anything its citizens are accustomed to.

There are included the stories of people who are in various levels of despair and desperation because of the separation from the ones they love. There is the priest with his fiery sermon calling the people to repentance. After the initial pause for fearful reflection, he is largely ignored:

With regard to religion- as to many other problems- plague had induced in them a curious frame of mind, as remote from indifference as from fervor; the best name to give it, perhaps, might be “objectivity”. Many of those who took part in the Week of Prayer would have echoed a remark made by one of the churchgoers in Dr. Rieux’s hearing: “Anyhow, it can’t do any harm.”

I’ll not give away every aspect of the plot, but this quote is an apt description of the paradox of human behavior in crisis, which Camus captures quite well:

But we do not congratulate a schoolmaster on teaching that two and two make four, though we may, perhaps, congratulate him on having chosen his laudable vocation…But again and again there comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two and two make four is punished with death. The schoolmaster is well aware of this. And the question is not one of knowing what punishment or reward attends the making of this calculation. The question is that of knowing whether two and two do make four.

This novel is definitely worth the read. Y’all should check it out.

 

4 out of 5 stars