Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why I'm still homeschooling: 20 years and still going strong

Or, What Taekwondo has Taught Me about Homeschooling 

I read something the other day that really irked me. Got me fired up in a mama bear sort of way. A Catholic blogger who used to homeschool wrote, "Anyone who says they enjoy homeschooling is either a beginner or in denial."

Let me take a few moments to deny these charges.

I'm still homeschooling after beginning to homeschool twenty years ago. I'm still enjoying it. Yes, there are days of sheer frustration. My youngest is turning ten years old on Sunday and he's got loads of learning issues. We pulled him out of the state-sponsored special ed program after he languished there for three years. After only four months of working exclusively with Mom and having plenty of time for imaginative play, he's blooming. His progress is slow, but we see genuine progress. His reading ability has improved. His mathematical skills have improved. His handwriting has improved. Yes, I get frustrated when I have to show him twenty times how to do something. But guess what? It pays off after twenty times of showing him the same thing. Maybe the public school paid special ed teacher only had time to show him something nineteen times...or, more likely, two times. I keep working with him till he gets it and not until the bell rings to mark the end of our session.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Thankfulness: Day 5--Homeschooling

There are plenty of reasons to avoid sending your kids to public schools, but I'd like to focus on five reasons I'm thankful I homeschool my kids.

1. I get to parent my kids instead of relying on an outsider. Parents who are active and involved in their kids' lives have a greater influence on their kids' attitudes and behaviors. Schools have gradually adopted the idea that they are to act in place of parents and have shifted their focus from merely teaching the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, to sex education and politically correct thinking. I'm thankful to be able to spend extra time with my kids and talk to them about life beyond the basics of academia.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Thankfulness: Day 4--Life

This morning I woke up to an aching lower back; sore and stiff muscles in my legs, abs, and rear; one painful jammed big toe; the other big toe with the beginnings of an ingrown toenail; and a right hamstring that hasn't quite healed from being torn this summer. And I'm feeling pretty darned good about all this.

Maybe it's my unusually high threshold for pain after eight non-medicated labors and deliveries. Maybe it's because I've already strained or torn so many muscles that I've forgotten what it's like to not have them. But I think my aches and pains are gentle reminders that I am ALIVE. No, I've never had a near death experience--unless you consider the two times I THOUGHT I was going to die, but in reality I wasn't.* No, I just consider the aches and pains and sore muscles are part of the normal course of life and are reminders that I can touch, see, hear, smell and taste all the wonders of this world. In short, I'm alive.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Thankfulness: Day 3--Friends

If you're a mom of young children, chances are you don't get to spend much time hanging out with friends. "Moms' Night Out" is an infrequent luxury. Time to chat over coffee (or a glass of wine) comes rarely, and those times we eke out after church or picking up kids from activities are too often interrupted by our darling children.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Thankfulness: Day 2--Purgatory

Today is November 2nd, All Soul's Day, the day we especially remember the souls of the faithful departed who are awaiting unity with God in heaven. Purgatory is the name we give to the place where these souls undergo their final purgation, or cleansing, before entering into the beatific vision.

Pugatory isn't an easy thing for me to write about, particularly since it wasn't a part of my spiritual formation as a Protestant. But when I think of the mercy of God, it becomes much easier to comprehend.

For our God is truly a loving and merciful God. We know this is true because he sent his only begotten Son, the Word made flesh, to be born of a human mother. He was dependent upon her and his foster father for protection and the basics of life because, although he was God, he was also a helpless newborn. He came down from heave to save people from their sins and enter into a deeper relationship with all mankind. He lived among the people of his time in poverty and humility. Then, he who was without sin, was convicted as a common criminal, to suffer an ignominious death on a cross on our behalf, all because of the unspeakable mercies of God. If God would go to all that trouble, just to extend his mercy and love to all peoples for all times, shouldn't we clean up our act a little bit before we pop on over to heaven? Maybe scrub our hands and faces and put on some wedding clothes before the great wedding feast?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Thankfulness--Day 1: My family

old picture...the dog is now big enough to be holding a couple of kids
From time to time my wonderful husband and kids remind me that I haven't been writing much lately. Life has been busy and my thoughts too random to take the time and energy needed to rein in a few, organize them and publish them for the world to see. Frankly, I find myself quite fulfilled with my own family and circle of friends to bother much with the wider world of the blogosphere.

But my oldest son recommended I choose a theme and write about that for a while. All day yesterday, different themes have been running through my mind and I wondered if I had enough material to write much about one or the other...or enough Christian charity to write about moral or political issues and still have something to say.

I've decided to attempt a blog posting a day in November with the theme of thankfulness.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fatherless: A Modern Tragedy

FatherlessFatherless by Brian J. Gail

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although 536 pages sounds like a lot to get through, this book was a pretty quick read. While it started out seeming contrived and predictable, it got better the further along I read. Perhaps it was the structure of the book that kept me hooked: several story lines progressing simultaneously with each chapter left me eager for the next installment.

First the bad news: The word "cheesy" comes to mind, but only because I thought the characters were stereotypical post-Vatican II American Catholics. I felt like the author was hitting me over the head with scientific analysis of the action of the birth control pill through conversations that seemed over-the-top unrealistically earnest. There was at least one editorial comment that was left in the book and a few other areas that weren't edited well. I was annoyed that "Coors Light" would be followed by a trademark logo, but "Michelob" was not. I was amused when the characters in the book (including a priest) expressed shock to hear the Pill could act as an abortifacient and was complicit in the rise of breast cancer. I thought everyone already knew that, but perhaps not. (The story takes place sometime in the late 80's, I believe. Perhaps the actions of the Pill weren't as well known then). If the author's purpose was to inform an uneducated Catholic population of the dangers of hormonal contraceptives and the secularization of our culture, then he succeeded admirably. Getting those folks to read this book might be difficult. Having them understand it as based in fact might be even more difficult.

Now the good news: I'm still thinking about the story several days after finishing the book. There was something deep in the book that the cheese and stereotypes couldn't completely mask. And the story, which was rather depressing yet left the reader with a glimmer of hope, is a true story of the Catholic Church in America and the Western world. Our culture has produced a lot of messed up families, marriages and lives. But Our Lord promised he wouldn't leave us as orphans and he hasn't. The Church has been immensely blessed in these dark days, with two great pontiffs: Blessed John Paul the Great and our current pope, Benedict XVI. We have every reason to hope in the future.

I must admit, I'm "hooked," and will read his next book, in The American Tragedy in Trilogy: Motherless. I wonder if there will be any stereotypical homeschoolers in it?

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Friday, June 03, 2011

What's Wrong with Feminism?

The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know -- and Men Can't SayThe Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know -- and Men Can't Say by Suzanne Venker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Author Suzanne Venker dares to express the unspoken thoughts of many women (and perhaps an equally large number of men) who have been indoctrinated by the philosophies of modern feminism that something is wrong with the way we view the roles of men and women. What's wrong with feminism? Venker dares to tell it like it is. She gives compelling examples from both sides of the debate using their own arguments to show us how feminism has messed up society and our happiness as men and women by telling us our traditional roles don't matter. Feminism insists women are just as capable of being in the workforce as are men and denies the basic fact that children are happier and better adjusted when they have their mothers at home. Venker masterfully lays out the agenda of feminists and shows how government has taken the place of husbands as providers of families in order to keep more mothers in the workforce. The result has been devastating to children, mothers and the fathers who have been cast aside by feminists who view them as disposable.

The women's movement and modern feminism is nearly 50 years old and what has it gotten us? Higher divorce rates thanks in part to no-fault divorce laws, single motherhood at an unprecedented rate of 40%, and sexually transmitted diseases at an all-time high. Meanwhile, abortion on demand has resulted in the destruction of 53 million lives. That's one-sixth the population of the United States that have been terminated since Roe v. Wade became the law of the land in 1973. To put it into perspective, that's the current combined populations of Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Oregon, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming. Something is wrong with a society that says it's more important for women to continue to live their lives for themselves than to bring new life into the world.

I was raised with the notion that women are equal to men and have just as many opportunities available to them. However, no one told me about the deeply-rooted mother bear that lurked inside me making me feel as if my heart had been ripped out each morning when I'd drop my toddler daughter off at the day care center only to return 8 or more hours later and see her still crying and alone in the corner. My protective instinct wanted to whisk her away from the child care professionals who insisted she only needed to be "broken in" and everything would be fine. When her brother was born, my biology told me my baby needed to nurse, and sitting in a bathroom stall trying to express milk, while he was miles away with another mother being paid to care for him, wasn't going to cut it. I was convinced my children needed me home more than the Navy needed me, so I resigned my commission with all the perks and benefits of being an officer, in order to stay home and change diapers, coax children to sleep at naptime and be there when they awoke.

This book has challenged me to re-think some of my long-held beliefs that women and men can and should do the same things. My own experiences as a wife and mother of many children, along with recent scientific studies that show the significant differences in male and female physiological and psychological make-up, tells me the differences between males and females are far greater than our sexual organs.

This is an important book that should be read by all parents and educators.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Why we need to learn Latin

The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical TraditionThe Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition by E. Christian Kopff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In his introduction, University of Colorado Classics Professor Kopff, relates the source of his book's title. The late Fr. Ronald Knox, when asked to perform a baptism in the vernacular, responded: "The baby does not understand English and the Devil knows Latin."

The professor recommends the study of classical literature in their original language (likely Latin or Greek). He convinced me by page 26, that we should be learning Latin and that it was by no means a dead language. He tells us, "...of the 100 most commonly used words in English, only 10 or so come from Latin. Of all the English words, however--over a million in the latest dictionaries--more than half are of Latin origin, and those of Greek origin take up much of what remains."

The book is divided into three sections. The first section details the reasons we need to study the classics. The classics are narratives that tell a story and the story relates to who we are as human beings in the Western tradition. Learning the stories of our civilization helps us to put all the pieces of our education together. We begin to understand why we have the history we have and the underlying causes of world events throughout our history. We begin to understand how language, science, math, art and music fit into this enormous puzzle. We begin to understand the part religion, and Christianity in particular, plays. In short, our lives make more sense when we understand how all the pieces fit together and how we fit into the story.

The first section has other great insights as well. For example, the idea that tradition limits our creativity and advancement, he puts to rest. He points out "...languages are traditions learned by each generation from the preceding one and then taught to the next." Likewise, religion, science and history, are all built upon traditions. Prof. Kopff points out the beginning of science was in the sixth century B.C., when a man named Thales first proposed the world was "...a rational system, comprehensible to human minds," without relying on ancient gods for explanation. That the world is a rational system is itself a profound idea and one that we too often take for granted today. So, the first assumption in science is that the Universe is ordered and the second is that it is logical. These two ideas go back to the sixth century B.C. The third assumption of science is that the Universe is mathematical. This goes back to Pythagoras, who lived at the end of the sixth century B.C. Thus began the tradition of science.

The chapter of the first section outlines the need for the classics and the liberal arts in our grammar schools, high schools and universities. Kopff recommends children in the early years start out learning the three R's, followed by Latin, Greek and mathematics. The other subjects he recommends: history, mythology, English vocabulary and syntax and basics of government, can be taught in relation to the first subjects.

The second section discusses widely varying authors, philologists and philosophers. It was with this section that I found the most difficulty following the thread that links them all together. I felt rather like I'd stumbled into one of his classroom lectures by mistake. I was unprepared and unfamiliar with most of the names he was discussing so intimately. His somewhat frequent references to President Bill Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky scandal were rather amusing though dated. I wondered what the good professor would have to say about our present state of affairs.

The third section discusses popular culture--specifically movies--and how the ones that are most meaningful get their inspiration or find their source in some of the great classics of ancient Greece and Rome. Once again I found myself stumbling along with many of his stories since I haven't seen most of the movies he discusses and those I had seen, I wasn't always as thrilled about them as he was. For example, he thought Disney's "The Lion King" had "character and maturity." I prefer "Beauty and the Beast" for a moral tale of redemption and sacrifice.

The book reads like a collection of lectures put together to make a book. If I had been in his class and read the reading list before attending his lectures, maybe I would've better understood some of his points. Although I liked the book, it's probably not one I'd recommend to homeschoolers who want to know why they should study the classics. Leigh Bortins' book, "The Core," does a much better job of that.

The appendix, aptly entitled, "Doing it on Your Own," would be a great booklet for homeschoolers, especially if it were combined with the first section of the book. Prof. Kopff lists his suggestions for Latin curriculum to do at home, as well as Greek, along with some primary sources that would be good for beginning Latin and Greek students to read in the original.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Gloomy Day Ranting

I was going to write a witty and wonderful book review today, but my heart just isn't in it. Perhaps it's because we're into day two of the Great Deluge. We desert-dwellers who worship the sun don't do very well when our 70 and 80-degree dry sunny days are interrupted by two days of torrential downpours of rain then snow then rain then snow. It really contributes to a generally gloomy feeling.

What I really wanted to vent about is the gloomy state of our local public education system. Before I begin my diatribe, let me preface it by saying, yes, I know there are excellent teachers in the public schools. I'm not blaming the teachers who actually care about the students and the education they receive. Sadly, I'm convinced most of the teachers today really don't care about the quality of education in the schools and the main reason they don't care is because they aren't even aware of the severe deficit in knowledge that has occurred in the United States in the past 60 years or so. They can't possibly know because they didn't receive a well-rounded education themselves. And the reason they didn't receive a well-rounded education is because their teachers hadn't received a well-rounded education.

Maybe I should first define what I mean by a well-rounded education and also let you know that I have not received a well-rounded education. The only reason I know I haven't received a well-rounded education is because I know I don't know much and I've read books by people who are much more knowledgeable than myself. So please keep that in mind when you read what I have to say. A well-rounded education consists of a basic foundation in the classical Western tradition of literature, history and mathematics, with a fundamental knowledge of at least one classical language (such as Latin or Greek) and at least one modern language (sign language doesn't count). An educated person understands the basics of logic and doesn't engage in illogical reasoning except for amusement. An educated person listens to the arguments of others (provided they are also logical) and can passionately argue a point without bashing the person with whom he (or she...see, I can be PC when I want to be) is arguing. (I know I'm missing a bunch of those elements in my own education, but I'm trying to continue learning. That's one of the perks of homeschooling your kids for a generation or get a second chance to learn the things you didn't learn the first time around!)

How many of today's teachers have received this type of education? Most of them, I suspect, were taught by progressive professors who dismissed classical Western thought as so much yesterday's garbage. Darwin, Mead, Freud, Kant, Rousseau...these are the thinkers for the 21st century. Oh, wait, not many of today's teachers had to read any of these people, I would venture to guess. Instead, commitment to diversity and teaching kids to save the rain forests, stop global warming and have safe sex are the top priorities. We've moved away from the idea that the past has something to teach us to the idea that we know best how to form the future in to our own image. Popular culture is our teacher now.

Kids today are crying out for attention (as I'm sure they have always done). But as our culture has taken away the standards of decency that for so long permeated all levels of society, young people have to resort to even more extreme methods to get our attention. I know kids who praise and admire kids (who are still children, by the way) who embrace an alternative lifestyle. The popular kids are those who change their hair color every week, pierce unusual body parts and talk freely of sex, drugs and booze.

The young men use young women for their own gratification and they have their own cars (or the free use of their parents' cars) despite not having a job of their own. These same young men either wear skin-tight jeans they must've bought in the little girls' section of the department store, or they wear jeans that are so loose the crotch is at their knees. I know they must put a lot of thought into their clothing because they always have some sort of plaid or interesting print boxer shorts they proudly display as their pants fall down below their butts. (I often wonder: Who buys these boxers? I've seen them in the stores and I always end up buying the white briefs that come in jumbo packs of 6 pairs for $7 or $8. Those designer boxers cost about that much for one pair! Are their moms buying those expensive boxers for their sons to flash around town? Or are the jobless sons saving all their non-hard-earned cash to buy them for themselves?)

These kids dismiss religion as old-fashioned and outmoded and instead cling to darkness in music, appearance and lifestyle. In some cases, the parents either approve or at least don't disapprove. The parents might own a medical marijuana dispensary or the kids might be products of broken families. The only stability in their lives are the teachers in the schools they attend, but all the teachers know how to do is instruct them on deconstructing traditional values and replacing them with feminist and socialist ideologies. The teachers make a show of telling the kids to question authority but by that they really only mean question someone else's authority.

I can't end a post on a gloomy note. No matter how bad it seems, we Christians know the battle has already been won for us. There's a song that I love that's played on the Christian radio station by a group called Tenth Avenue North. The song is called "Healing Begins," and for me, it's a song about the grace of confession. The reality is the grace of confession and the love of Christ conquers all sin and death. My favorite two lines in the song are: "Sparks will fly as grace collides/ With the dark inside of us." Grace is powerful. It collides with darkness. It makes sparks. It is a cleansing fire. It is light.

All parents are home educators to some degree or another. We all have influence over our children, whether we like it or not. They will see the good that we do as well as the bad. Parenting is perhaps the hardest job on earth. On a rainy day like today my thoughts are gloomy and my heart breaks for the kids who have no one to guide them in the way of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. But I know in the end the Light will win. Because the Darkness can not overcome it. Sparks will fly as grace collides.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

A Feminist Critique

Official Navy recruiting poster
I'm a recovering feminist. I used to subscribe to "Ms." magazine. I used to have a t-shirt emblazoned with the motto, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle," and I actually believed it. I was going to have a career in the Navy and if I ever did get married (which I probably wouldn't) or have kids (which I probably wouldn't) I would have someone else do all the mindless domestic chores, the "woman's work," which the feminist movement told me was so demeaning to me. If I played my cards right, perhaps I could marry a docile man who would support my career and stay home to take care of the children that I probably wouldn't have.

Some who know me peripherally might think I'm still a feminist. Although I left the naval service a long time ago to become a stay-at-home mom, I recently earned my black belt in taekwondo. I'm an expert pistol shot (or used to be). I can hammer a nail straight. Yesterday I fixed a toilet.

I believe in the equal value of women in the workplace, government, and society; just laws that give equal protection to women; and instilling in our daughters the motivation and desire to succeed academically and professionally. I believe women are just as smart as men and are capable of handling stressful and difficult situations just as well as men.

Me as a plebe (first year midshipman), c. 1981
But don't call me a feminist. Feminists are angry with men and believe the root of all evil in the world is caused by men. Feminists preach that women must be free from their biology and be like men in order to be valuable members of society. Feminists are so obsessed with being like men that they have euphemisms like "reproductive rights," which actually mean the opposite of what the words mean. They don't want the right to reproduce; they want the right to avoid reproduction. They assist men in being irresponsible for their behavior by giving them an easy way to avoid paternity.

The growing problem of pornography in our culture proves that women are still exploited and are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation than men. In feminism's refusal to acknowledge the differences between men and women, they have contributed to this problem.

Men are no longer expected to be the primary breadwinner in a family, since women are just as capable of bringing home a good salary as men. In fact, men have become the disposable part of a family today as many more women are choosing single motherhood to fulfill their need to become mothers without the burden of finding a suitable mate. (In some cases, there just aren't marriageable men around. As the ratio of women to men on college campuses nationwide nears the 60 to 40% ratio, fewer men are choosing higher education and are instead choosing to live in their parents' basements playing computer games.)

No wonder so many men are jumping on the feminism bandwagon.

My evolution from feminine mystique to feminist critique came to completion with Motherhood. I was determined to bring up my boys without gunplay or violence. Despite my navy experience as a 45-caliber pistol instructor, I didn't own a gun and didn't want them in my house...even play guns. Yet my little boys made guns out of everything. Sticks, Legos, toothbrushes. You name it, they shot, fired and exploded it.

It wasn't just the gunplay that confounded me. I began to notice they'd go into zombie mode whenever flickering images were near. They would throw hysterical tantrums when I'd shut off the television. They've outgrown the TV tantrum, but they're still prone to computer gaming addiction. This has never been a problem with the girls. They might spend hours on the computer, but it's because they're on Facebook chatting with friends, not playing computer games. Though not the stereotypical girly-girl frills and laces types, the girls are more relationship oriented than the boys. Friendships are critical to their well-being. They're more sensitive to the feelings of others. I didn't do anything nurture-wise to make my boys and girls behave differently. They're just wired that way. (Dare I say, God made them that way?) Scientific studies confirm what all mothers and teachers intuitively know: boys and girls are wired differently.

The Wall Street Journal published an article on May 4, 2011, which said the tears of men and women are profoundly different. A study on crying was conducted by Ad Vingerhoets, a professor of clinical psychology who focuses on stress and emotion at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

It turns out women are biologically wired to shed more tears than men. Men have larger tear ducts, which means women's tear ducts fill up and spill over more quickly than men's. Testosterone can also help put the brakes on crying, which may be the reason older men tend to cry more often than younger men. Tears are full of hormones and proteins. One of the hormones in tears is prolactin, which is a lactation catalyst. Young women have 50% - 60% more prolactin in their bloodstream than young men do, which could also explain why women cry more often than men. In other words, it's not all social conditioning.

Dr. Vingerhoets conducted a project in 37 countries to compare the different rates of crying among men and women. Women in developed Western economies cry much more than men, and much more than women in societies where women have fewer rights, he says.

As to why women in developed countries cry more often than women who have fewer rights, my theory is that women who are infused with modern notions of feminism are so conflicted with competing roles of breadwinner, nurturer, and swimsuit model thinness that they cry more often. After all, modern feminism's mantra has always been that women can "have it all." Having it all has come with a price tag, which is the loss of true femininity, which values women for their femaleness, not for how much they can be like males.

During the five years I served as a naval officer I got married and had three children. I no longer wanted to be a career woman because I felt I wouldn't serve my kids well if I was serving my country. I wanted to give myself totally to my vocation as a mother. When I resigned my commission as a naval officer, I had to write a letter explaining my reasons. I remember writing something about having to make a choice between being a good naval officer or being a good mom. I knew there were lots of people who could fill my shoes as a naval officer but I was the only one who could be a mother to my children. It was an easy decision for me and one I've never regretted. We've since added seven more kids to our family and I've had the privilege of homeschooling them all. I never could have done that if I'd stayed in the navy. I'm thankful for the generosity and support of my dear husband whose tireless devotion to his family enables me to stay home and take care of the kids. In some ways, I feel like I really do have it all.

embracing true feminism

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Book review: "The Core"

A year ago I first heard about "Classical Conversations," a Protestant organization that promotes classical education among homeschoolers and has co-ops throughout the country. I looked into their program and was very excited about what I was reading. We decided not to participate, however, when it became apparent there were some anti-Catholic elements in the curriculum and Statement of Faith. While I can't recommend the group to Catholics, I can, however, strongly recommend The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education, by Leigh Bortins, the founder of Classical Conversations. You can read my book review here.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Homeschooling through High School--Community College

There's been a lot of discussion among our local homeschool group about sending high school kids to community college. At first glance, it sounds like a great idea. The local school districts will fund homeschooler's tuition at one of our many local community colleges. All they ask is that the kid pass the course, which for most homeschoolers is probably pretty darned easy. (At least that's what I've been told from kids who've been there). Plus, it sounds uber cool to say, "My kid goes to college," when they're only 16. Doogie Howser meets Dougie the Homeschooler. Somehow it's supposed to legitimize homeschooling through high school. Which, by the way, is a pretty daunting task and you'll certainly encounter more than a few raised eyebrows if you dare to tell people (or your mother) that you plan on homeschooling little Dougie past elementary school. But, if you can tell Grandma that Dougie is enrolled at Local Area Community College and he'll actually earn *gasp* COLLEGE CREDITS!! she can proudly tell all her Bunco friends that Dougie is going to college and they can "ooh" and "aah" to Grandma's delight.

But...(you knew there was a BUT coming, didn't you?) how do you know that Dougie will actually learn something meaningful at Local Area Community College? (I'll just call it "LACC" for short). Being a thoughtful homeschooler, you actually like to know what your kid is learning and you understand that institutionalized education doesn't always teach your kids the things you want them to learn, least of all the things that you know they really need to know like how to get ten loads of laundry done, the bathrooms cleaned, the dog vomit scrubbed out of the carpet, the Legos picked up from the living room floor, the grocery shopping done, the kids' scrubbed and dinner made all in time for Fr. Smith to come for dinner.

Maybe that's not really what you think your kids need to know in order to be responsible adults. Maybe you want them to actually know some History or some English Literature or some Calculus or some Spanish. Maybe you've checked into LACC's History department and you know that Dougie will get some excellent instruction in U.S. Constitutional History. Or maybe the English department has an excellent reputation for classical literature. If that's the case, then LACC may be a great way for Dougie to further his education. Unfortunately that's often not the case. Most high school students, for some blithering reason, tend to take courses like: Psychology, Sociology or History of Oppressed Minorities Like Gays and Women.

But Mrs. Jones sends her kids to LACC and she tells you how great it is because they're going to save TONS of money on college since the state (I mean taxpayers) are picking up the tab for her kids' first two years of college. What Mrs. Jones failed to tell you (probably because she doesn't know it yet herself) is that unless the kid has an unusually highly developed sense of responsible planning, he will most likely take some classes at LACC that are completely useless for his future major (which he'll probably change a half dozen times anyway). Or that should her kid actually want to go to a college out of state, the chances of all those LACC credits being accepted are pretty small.

And believe it or not, there can actually be a problem with skipping your freshman year at a four-year college. If you or Dougie are interested in getting the full "college experience," then freshman year is a vital part of that. Two of our four kids who've graduated high school thus far have gone on to Catholic colleges with a visible Catholic identity on campus. There's nothing wrong with skipping that first awkward year of college, but it's not necessarily a good thing either.

We've purposely avoided sending our kids to community college during high school. Why? My first thought is that the large number of high school-aged kids going to community colleges has really dumbed down both the community college and high school. Homeschooling through high school entails branching out from the kitchen table to acquire more real-world experiences. But that doesn't mean shuttling kids off to a community college during some of their most formative young adult years. Some of the parents who send their kids to a community college wouldn't dream of sending the same kid to their local public high school.

If its college credits you're after, look into having your son or daughter take a CLEP test after finishing up a course at home. The CLEP tests are far cheaper than a community college course, at $77 per test. Plus, since they're standardized by the College Board, they're probably accepted at more four-year colleges than the credits from LACC would be. And, Dougie can start taking them as young as he wants. Just find a CLEP testing location and sign up.

Finally, keep in mind that not all colleges will accept community college credits or CLEP exams. For example, the top choices of my two high school kids right now are Wyoming Catholic College and Thomas Aquinas College. Both are Great Books schools whose students study the same courses each year. Everyone has the same major (liberal arts), so getting college credits in high school is a moot point for them. They need to develop strong foundations in the liberal arts through broad reading and learn good study skills to help them in college.

There's no one-size-fits-all description of the perfect homeschool high school program. Some kids may benefit from a rigorous community college preparation or using community college to gain some vocational skills. But I suspect most high schoolers would benefit more from having a rigorous high school program combined with real-world experiences and practical applications. (More to come).

Friday, March 11, 2011

"UnPlanned": The Abby Johnson story

Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader's Eye-Opening Journey across the Life LineUnplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader's Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line by Abby Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Abbey Johnson was the director of a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Bryan, Texas until the day she walked off the job and sought refuge at the Coalition for Life offices down the street from that clinic. She tells the story of how she went from naive college student, wanting to help women in crisis situations, to Planned Parenthood Employee of the Year and director of one of their most successful abortion clinics in just eight years. When she was called to assist at an ultrasound-guided abortion one day her heart was changed forever. She knew she could no longer work for Planned Parenthood and even more shocking, she realized she needed to join forces with those who had been praying outside her workplace for all those eight years.

She talks to her readers like old friends. She reveals herself to us with all her flaws, including her own secret abortions. I most appreciated the fact that she didn't try to make excuses for herself or others. She just told her story with openness and honesty. I was also deeply moved by her love for her friends on both sides of the abortion issue. She even speaks kindly of the notorious late-term abortionist who was murdered in his own church, Dr. George Tiller. She was appalled at the abortions he performed, even though she thought he had a kind and gentle manner. She never approved of late-term abortions, even as she served at the helm of an abortion clinic.

As one who has participated in peaceful prayer vigils outside Planned Parenthood clinics, I've experienced the feeling of helplessness as women are ushered into the clinics by volunteers who do their best to shield women from hearing the voices of pro-lifers offering support and help. Too often, the peaceful pro-lifers' voices are drowned out by the radical vocal minority who wave large signs depicting aborted fetuses or shout, "Murderer!" to the scared and confused women seeking help at the abortion clinic. I've seen the workers zip in and out from behind the tall iron fencing, avoiding all eye-contact with the prayer warriors. I've wondered what good could we possibly be doing standing there outside the abortion clinic, praying to our unseen God, while women in crisis are inside being stripped of the life within their wombs. How can our quiet prayers be heard when other voices shout words of damnation to the patients and staff on the other side of the fence? I've wondered what sort of monsters those people must be who work and volunteer at such a place of horror.

Abby Johnson answered my questions and helped me understand that many of the people working for Planned Parenthood believe they're doing a service for women. They may be sincerely doing what they think these women need. It wasn't the accusations, condemnations or death threats that changed Abby Johnson's heart. In fact, those things usually only strengthened the resolve of the people who work in the abortion industry. It wasn't those things that turned her from director of an abortion clinic to pro-life sidewalk counselor. It was the faithful, sincere, loving prayers and friendship offered by the volunteers for Coalition for Life that finally softened her heart enough to see the evil that was going on around her.

This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to see the abortion industry shut down. Rhetoric and talking points won't do it. Politicians can't do it. The only way this will happen is to change hearts and minds one person at a time, through love, compassion, gentleness and understanding.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Baby it's cold outside. Let's make snow!

What do you do when the schools are closed because it's too cold for the buses to run and too cold for kids to wait outside? Okay, besides homeschooling? Make snow!

I heard about this experiment from the dental hygienist who cleaned my teeth yesterday, so I decided to give it a try. When I posted my findings on Facebook, several friends told me they tried it too, but only got steam. So here's my unretouched video "proof" that you can make snow from boiling water. We planned on catching the snow in the black cloth (my old midshipman neckerchief) but the wind catches it and it rises until it dissipates. Notice the lovely way the children interact with each other (yet more proof that homeschooled kids are "normal") and the cold-proofing we did of the downstairs bathroom vent to try to prevent freezing pipes of last winter. (Which, by the way, worked!)

By the way, the temperature was hovering around 0 degrees F, which, for my metric friends is -18 degrees C!

Another friend told me to try blowing soap bubbles. They were supposed to shatter like glass bubbles when they hit the ground. It wasn't quite so dramatic as that. They appeared more like plastic bubbles when they froze and they usually popped before they hit the ground. But some of them we could see were beginning to grow leafy ice patterns on them as they danced about in the air. We tried to make a video of them, but you can't quite see the beautiful frosty patterns. As you can see, if you don't blow the soap bubbles out fast enough, the soap will freeze right on your soap wand.

Notice the wonderful soap wands we used: an old toilet paper tube--it worked best once it was fully saturated in soap solution; the plastic frame from a grocery card; and a plastic part from a K'nex set! (The toilet paper tube worked the best). We made homemade soap bubbles with about 3/4 cup of water and a huge squirt of Ivory liquid.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Still homeschooling after all these years!

It seems like forever and ever. I've been homeschooling my darling youngsters since about 1992. That's nineteen years, if you're counting.

I hadn't even heard of home education until 1990. I remember reading an article called "Home-Grown Kids," by Raymond and Dorothy Moore in Mothering magazine. I was intrigued by what I read because it made a lot of sense to me, but they were ideas I'd never even considered. I remember assuring my husband as I read him excerpts from the article, "Don't worry. I'm not going to homeschool. I just think it's interesting."

Ahh, the sweet innocence of youth. Later that fall I heard about a Catholic homeschooling conference in Chantilly, Virginia. I believe it was the very first Catholic homeschooling conference. My husband and I attended the conference and we began to think seriously about venturing into the foreign territory of home education. I decided to start my eldest daughter a year early, so that if I messed up I could just send her to kindergarten the next year.

Our first year went smoothly. Better yet, we were happy, and even joyful. I started homeschooling the fall after having my fourth child. My kids were 4, 3, 2 and 9 months. I'm sure I went overboard in buying curriculum and workbooks and worrying about fulfilling requirements. But a funny thing happened while I was teaching my first daughter to read: her next younger brother learned as well. In between diaper changes, potty training, nursing and naps, we managed to fit in a pretty decent kindergarten program. We decided to try it for another year.

One year at a time. We decided to take it slowly and not think about high school or college or even two years down the road. We were just having fun getting through our ABCs and early readers. Addition facts followed, along with handwriting and Greek myths. (My kids loved the Greek myths. And they're still benefiting from their early exposure to the Greek myths. More about that in a future blog posting.) We tried to weave in our Catholic faith and stories of the saints along with the three R's. Some days it was a challenge just to have everyone clean and fed. At the time I felt like I wasn't doing it book perfect. I knew there were things I wanted to teach the children that I was leaving out. But we plodded on.

Nearly twenty years later, we're still homeschooling. We've thought about putting the kids in full-time school, and one kid went for one day once. We've changed our schedule innumerable times. We've changed our priorities. We've changed our curriculum. We've sought out professional help when we've felt it was needed. But it's still the best option for our family, at this point in our lives. And, best of all, I still enjoy being with my kids.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Knit your way through Hell

It's time to reawaken the slumbering blogger and post something blasé about what I'm reading and what I'm knitting. In actuality, I'm knitting a couple of projects and reading several books, but I've decided to highlight the book and project I'm most enthusiastic about at the moment.

I'll explain the book, but not the knitting, since it's a surprise gift for someone who's probably too busy to read my blog, but just in case, I'm keeping mum. Tomorrow morning we have our high school Dante discussion group coming over and I'm supposed to be leading the discussion as we journey through Dante's vision of Hell together. It's actually much more fun than it sounds and my kids have had a blast making their own maps of Hell. (I warned them to only put Dante's sinners into Hell and not their own family members).

Thanks to Ginny for encouraging me to share this for her Yarn Along and giveaway!