About Me

I have always been an odd bird, and believe me I take that as a compliment. I am so interested in the next thing that I have a difficult time sticking to things. (I intend this blog to be as eclectic as I am, so that should keep me going.) This short attention span is very well suited for some things. I do very well with theatre, just about the time I start getting bored with the show, the run is over. Same thing with school. I love learning, and spending about a semester doing something is a good length of time for me.
Luckily I have a lot of interests. I am a historian, but when people ask what period I focus on, I cannot say. I go through phases. In first grade I was practically obsessed with ancient Egypt, by middle school it was Civil War. When I was young I did melodrama, as a result I focused on the Victorian Era, now I am in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) so I lean towards medieval.
I am very interested in new technologies, cutting edge research, and neuroscience, but also ancient cultures and technology. I will write about the failings of society and my thoughts on improvement, but also things that I love about the world and wouldn’t change for anything. Sometimes I may do nothing more than post a review of an old movie, but I will also post my books chapter by chapter.
I hope you enjoy reading what I have to say, I would like to create a lively discourse with readers and other writers.
Take Pride in Your Insanity!

KZ is a person of many interests.

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Just For Fun

About Me

The Future of Capitalism

The story of history that we are taught in school has a very simple narrative. Way back in the day, people struggled. They had to work long hours with only the simplest of tools. People were forced to work against their will. Life was miserable. And as time moved on, innovations happened. Life got easier. Machines did more work, so people did less. And people have become better and kinder, sharing their rights and privileges with the less fortunate. Now all the people have all the rights and everything is happy. And all the credit goes to Capitalism. Because earning money is the reason people innovate, and the reason that anyone can have a chance to succeed.

In case you couldn’t guess from the way I have presented that, I have to disagree with most of that narrative. Not that I’m going into each part of that now, but I would like a foil to work with (or against).

But there is a very important throughline to all of that history. Since the advent of agriculture, there have been the people who labor, and the people who benefit from that labor. Let me say that again. There have been people who did the work. And there have been different people who reaped the rewards of that work. Go as far back as you want, the people working the fields have never been the people showing off the latest fashions at court.

The specifics of the dichotomy certainly change. At some points, the farmers own the land, sometimes they are peasants tied to the land, other times, they are slaves, still other they are paid employees. But never are the people who produce the product, who actually plow the fields, forge the weapons, or manufacture the vehicles, ever in power. There are stories of people who came from that background getting out, but those are few and far between. There are times and places where the leaders let the workers think they have some power, but it’s just a minor role.

And the goals of these two groups are completely at odds. The powerful want to make as much money for themselves as possible, while the Laborers want to make as much money for themselves as possible. Because money is a finite resource, both cannot win. One must lose. And every time, it’s the people with the power. Sure there are brief moments when the workers gain the upper hand, say when the labor pool is small, or they have formed a union. But the powerful learn. Every time this happens, they learn from it how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

And so it goes. Sometimes a new technology is introduced, and there is some disruption to the system, but it balances out and keeps right on moving. Most of these disruptive technologies are labor saving devices. Great! That helps the people doing the labor, right? Not quite. It displaces some of the labor force. Some of the people who used to do the job, are replaced by machine. And suddenly have to find something else to do.

I will not deny that this has led to a massive diversification of types of labor, and career opportunities, which has been great. However, I am afraid that we are reaching a point where that trend will not continue.

As technology advances, we see a wider and wider variety of fields being influenced by labor saving devices. The reason is simple. The wealthy find that it is cheaper to implement technology than it is to pay people. For the same reason that slavery was chosen over a paid work force, and hypothetical employers would hire desperate immigrants rather than citizens, and minimum wage rarely increases. Jobs are being outsourced to the machines. And they will not come back.

And it’s not just manufacturing, cashiers and farming. It’s lawyers, doctors, and salespeople. It’s performers, artists, and bankers.

So what do we do about it? Should we raise the minimum wage? Certainly! People deserve to be able to support their family from their work. But will it help stop the robot takeover? No. It will probably hasten it. Just because the business can, and should pay, doesn’t mean they want to. Should we make laws limiting job replacing machines? Couldn’t hurt. Might stave off some of the worst effects until we can find a long term solution. But it won’t last. If the powerful want something, they will try over and over and over until they get it. It will eventually be overturned. Should we stop robotics research? No can do. The genie is out of the bottle. And it could be a great thing.

From here we have two choices. 1) We can let capitalism take it’s course. If we choose this, eventually there will be no work for people to do. I know some people say that there will be other jobs wet haven’t even thought of yet. And that might be true. But really, how long will those jobs last before themselves being replaced? Minimum Wage won’t help anyone if there are no jobs. This possibility is terrifying to me. If the powerful continue to show the type of blatant disregard for humanity that they have been demonstrating, the people who they used to rely on will be allowed to fall into a poverty so immense and unending that most of the population would literally starve to death or kill one another in a desperate bid for survival. I know that sounds extreme, and I seriously hope I am wrong and that their humanity would kick in before that happens. The thing that I thing might kick them into gear is actually their own greed. They only make money if people are buying what they are selling. It is actually in the best interests of the wealthy for the people to have spending money.

Or 2) We find an alternative way to support all people. One idea with growing support is a Universal Basic Income, or UBI. This is exactly what it sounds like. Everyone gets money just for existing. And if you work, you continue to receive the UBI. This means that people would have the opportunity to wait for a better job offer, or pursue their own passion without fear of failure. This would by necessity drive up pay, benefits, and working conditions. It would give people the spending money they need to allow the wealthy to continue to make money. But I could easily see this undone by an administration that opposes it, so even once passed, the fight would not be over. Just like with anything.

The other way to support people might be to make money superfluous. I know, this can sound crazy, but I have been bouncing these ideas around in my head for a long time. I would like to get them out of my head, and begin having discussions. Other people think of things I haven’t. But I will say that those I have discussed this with, have come up with problems they feel are insurmountable, that I see as only a problem from a perspective that already includes money. So I encourage you to keep an open mind.

We already have enough food for everyone on the planet. It just isn’t distributed in such a way to get it to everyone, because the money isn’t coming from everywhere equally. We could build the infrastructure to distribute it if we really wanted to.

There are enough vacant houses in the US to eliminate homelessness. I suspect that worldwide we could make that happen too, of it is not already true. What is stopping us? The fact that we expect money in exchange for shelter. It is the money getting in the way of solving this problem.

The last basic human need is water. This is the hardest to overcome. But humans are really smart. As a society we have made some amazing innovations. Many of the most transformational were motivated by heart not money. People who want money like to do things that have been proven to make money in the past. Bigger and better, sure, but not transformational. People who want to change the world work in transformational.

To get real innovation, you need motivation that comes from wanting to solve real problems. Capitalism doesn’t provide those motivations, being human does. And can you imagine how many new ways to solve a problem might be created if millions of people who currently have to spend their time working just to get by suddenly could spend their time doing the things they are driven to do? I’m not just talking about figuring out a solution to water scarcity. I’m talking about cures for cancer, solving climate change, and creating long term habitats on different planets for a start.

For a long of these big problems, capitalism not only doesn’t find a solution, but actively creates them. For instance, climate change. The biggest polluters know that they make their money by polluting. Capitalism has given them a vested interest in not solving the problem. And they work tirelessly to make sure that no one will get in the way of those short term gains. Blocking regulations, and actively convincing people that it’s all nonsense. You want a conspiracy? There’s one for you. A real one. And it’s not even very well hidden.

Even attempts to make Capitalist goals align with environmental goals don’t work out. Carbon Credits always seemed like a cop out solution to me, and organizations like Greenpeace are turning a critical eye to the system.

Another amazing thing that removing capitalism does for innovation is remove competition. Competition has long been heralded as the reason for innovation, but just like capitalism as a whole, I would argue that it causes, at best, incremental improvements. I would much prefer cooperation. If two people have the same goals about saving the world, and somehow manage to get hired at two different companies actually trying to make a difference, they will each find different solutions. More solutions are great, don’t get me wrong. But if there are two that are very similar, neither one will really be transformational. For instance, if two companies both have green concrete, and one allows for rainwater to soak into the soil, and the other doesn’t produce CO2 to manufacture, which one do you choose? But if those scientists worked together instead of competing, you could have one product that did both. But the engineer working on creating solar roads could work separately and then both things could work side by side. Or they could all work together as a team and create something that has all three properties.

Removing competition doesn’t only affect innovation. It also affects our personal lives. Racism is certainly fueled by hate. Sexism is fueled by a need to be better than someone else. But they, and other -isms are also fueled by competition and resentment. Throughout history any group that is new to an area is accused of taking jobs from those who were already there. It has happened, among others, to the Chinese, the Irish, and now Mexicans. Even women were treated with a different level of respect before entering the work force. Sexism certainly still existed, and kept them in the home, but when women chose to enter the sphere of the male workplace, that sexism changed form to something more vindictive. If we can limit the things that people need to compete for, we can make more progress towards ending hate.

So in short, we are at a crossroads. We have a choice to make: do we let the world continue on its path of separating haves and have nots? Or do we address those issues now while we still can? Do we let those in power dictate our path or do we take the reins and make sure that we have a place in the future? In the end, making sure we are all taken care of is in everyone’s best interest. Not taking action is a choice. Putting off the choice is allowing the problem to magnify in the meantime. We have seen what happened with Global Climate Change when we let it play out. It gets worse and more polarized. It gets harder to solve.

Capitalism and Democracy

Capitalism and Democracy. Two peas in a pod. They go together like a horse and carriage. Like a hand in a glove.
We have been taught that without one, we cannot have the other. But how do they really work together? And might a better match be made?
Democracy is about the people having power. Each vote having the same weight in a decision. People working together to make the world a better place.
Capitalism is about people having a reason and initiative to create things of value. Seems perfect. But that ignores the fact that Capitalism encourages individuals to act in their own self interest at the expense of the community. And that self interest extends to fighting any attempt at regulation, since that regulation limits the individual’s ability to enrich themselves in an attempt to protect the populace from the individual. This creates an inevitable antagonism between the people who act in their self interest and anyone left unprotected by the system.
People who are successful in this capitalist economy are necessarily the people who are willing to put their own interests first. It would seem that Democracy would be the perfect antidote to this harmful economic incentive, by allowing those who would be helped by regulating the successful to enact that legislation. However, inevitably the successful will fight against regulation. Although the people have the numbers with which to defend themselves, the successful have the money.
At first, the playing field may be equal (in a perfect world that never existed with no past history of power disparity). However, it will not be long before the successful take the lead (especially if they have a head start). If everyone has the same chances for success, some will succeed while others will not. Those with success will use that success to inch ahead, and for awhile, this will be fine.
Until a level of inequality is reached that puts the people at such a disadvantage that they cannot overcome. By that point, the people have to play catch-up to regulate the successful.
If the people are lucky, the successful will not have thought of this, and the people might have some success in crafting effective regulations.
But once the successful realize they cannot continue to freely exploit the populace, they will use their success to their advantage. They will use their money to influence the people who directly create these regulations. These lawmakers desire money, since that is the primary motivator of capitalism. And so, the regulations begin to be worn away. Sometimes by outright removing them, other times by making them ineffective or impossible to enforce. Once this happens, the people who have not become successful, loose any pretext of Democratic power. The successful own the regulators.
The balance is permanently shifted.
The people have to find other means of gaining power.
Ok. That was a little intense.
I said that we all start at a fair level. So (aside from the fact that because every society arrives with a historical context making truly fair and equitable opportunities unrealistic) what is stopping the rest of the people from becoming successful?
In the beginning of our fictitious perfectly balanced world, some people are motivated more than others, some have better ideas, some people have fewer obligations than others. This beginning sets off the future imbalances. But at this point, shuffling can still occur. These successful people may not be the ones still successful in the end. The people unsuccessful in the beginning still have an opportunity to rise up.
But the more this inequality spreads, the more set these classes will be. As the people have to work harder to fight the entrenched heirarchy, their time is spent more trying to just get by, the less regulation there is to protect them, the less likely they are to gain success. This equality of opportunity is a fiction by this point. It may be a long time when there are still the occasional success story to keep the opportunity myth circulating, but at some point, the people realize the world is stacked against them.
Well, that got dark again. Oops.
Let’s try something else. Democracy. If left to its own devices, Democracy will function well, giving voice to the people. When something comes up, the people will do what they need to do to address the issue. A Representative Democracy might take awhile though. The representatives aren’t necessarily in touch with what is affecting the rest of the population. So, these systems still have room for improvement, but will do right by the majority.
But that brings up an unfortunate part of Democracy. The Minority is not heard. In many cases, that is because the minority might support something that would hurt the majority In others, it might simply be because the majority are unaware of something that doesn’t affect them, but does affect the minority. The majority have a built-in defense against the minority. (unless the actual lawmakers get bought out by that minority that is) But what happens if the majority want to do something that would hurt the minority? The system does not address this. It would go through.
But there is a difference between hurting the wealthy minority by taxing them to help the majority, and hurting an underprivileged minority by taking rights away.
If we build a system which builds empathy then this type of problem can be overcome. We should encourage people to support one another rather than pitting people against one another.
But the most pressing, and longest lasting problem with democracy is the delicate balance it takes to maintain. One charismatic person can tip the scales from the betterment of the people to the betterment of themselves. Through the use of media, and personality, we have seen how it is possible to convince people to vote against their own interests.
This problem is very hard to solve once it has happened. Once people believe something firmly, it is hard to change their minds. It is easier to teach hate and distrust than it is to rebuild trust and empathy.
Once again, however, we can work to limit the things that motivate this type of takeover. If there is a massive financial incentive to power, power concentrated in one individual, or fame and clout associated with a position, then people who crave these things will manipulate the system to gain that prestige.
On the other side, people who are struggling; whether it is financial, physical, or emotional, can often be convinced to blame someone. People in this position are prime targets for a demagogue.
In order to maintain this delicate balance, making sure that people’s needs are taken care of is paramount. By making sure that separation between the advantaged and disadvantaged is minimal we can both discourage the power hungry to seek political power, and help to ensure that no one feels like they need to change others for an unfortunate situation.
That said, nothing is perfect. But the more problems we can prevent, the more stable a democracy we have.
So is there a better system? I don’t know. But I do know that we cannot keep espousing the virtues of a system that has so many weaknesses towards corruption. We cannot continue to overthrow other countries that decide to try something different. We need to implement caring and compassionate adjustments to our society if we want to hold off the rebellions. And we just might find that by taking care of our citizens we save our Democracy.

Financial Literacy is NOT the Answer

How many times have you been told you need to save up for retirement? Or have a rainy day fund? Or balance your budget? While these are all good goals, and well meaning advice, they are hopelessly out of touch with a huge segment of the population.
Who am I to talk about this? Well, I have been the sole wage earner for my family of 4 working for minimum wage. And I was always able to find a way to make it work without having to choose between food and rent. But let me be clear. That is not because I took financial literacy classes, or am smarter, or more determined. It is luck and privilege.
When my husband left the military, we had money in savings that allowed us to get a foothold in a new city (privilege).
I was lucky enough to get a job on my first day putting in applications.
Also, minimum wage where I moved to was higher than the national minimum (luck). When my family rented a two bedroom apartment, my son was less than a year old, so we got a roommate to help with rent. That is not a decision that everyone can make. It is also a decision that a lot of people do make, and still struggle.
When we bought a house, I deliberately looked for a house with as many bedrooms as possible to rent out. We found a 5 bedroom house on a short sale (luck). We went through many attempts at financing it. We were planning to use my husband’s VA benefits (privilege). I have good credit, but I don’t use credit cards, so they wouldn’t recognize the credit scores, so I might as well have had no credit. My husband at the time had no credit at all. So we had to have my mom co-sign (privilege). And the seller was extremely patient to drag out the selling process for six months (luck). And the whole thing would have been thrown off if it had dragged on any longer. Two weeks after we moved in our second son was born. All of the numbers would have changed, and wouldn’t have worked with a second dependant (luck). And you can’t use roommates as income for these things.
Ok, enough background. What happens without luck and privilege like I have enjoyed? Spoiler alert: It’s not good.
Let’s explore my story in an alternative universe. If we did not have that little nest egg, we would have been stuck in the city where he had been stationed. Not the end of the world, but in my personal opinion, unpleasant. Even though I know this would be harder for someone who was not white, college educated, healthy, and had already worked in the hotel industry for several years, let’s talk about what happens if one of us got a job. The minimum wage was 25 cents more than the national minimum wage. We lived in a 400 square foot mother in law apartment before we left, but within a few months, when our son turned a year old, we would legally have been required to have a second bedroom, doubling the cost of rent.
What if the place we rented had rules against roommates, or required the child to have their own bedroom, like our previous did? The take home pay from working full time for minimum wage, was literally less than the cost of a two bedroom apartment. I know that is not unique to that city.
So, what if we chose to buy a house instead? If we did not have someone who could co-sign for us, that would have simply not been an option. We would have had to build up credit in order to do that, meaning that we would be required to rent for many more years. But how do you build up credit if you aren’t earning enough to pay the bills?
Ok, what if both parents got a job? Great! Problem solved. But who takes care of the child? Child care costs more than rent, so we would actually end up with less money in the end instead of more. Unless, we staggered our schedule so that one of us was home all the time. I worked graveyard for years, most other jobs would easily fit in the off time. But then each parent ends up watching the child while they are supposed to be sleeping. That doesn’t bode well for anyone’s health. And many businesses have an actual policy that employee’s schedules change each week. There is some sort of businesslike rationale for this, like making sure that each employee gets the same opportunities or something. As a result, many businesses are unwilling to hire people who do not have ‘open availability’ which makes second jobs extremely problematic. All of this aside from common business practices like only hiring part-time employees. So, there are no benefits with any of these jobs either.
So where did this leave us? Most of what people would call ‘choices’ that I have made that helped me get by would be completely inaccessible in this situation. They are impossible, so there is no choice to be made.
Let me be clear: If you have no choices, you are stuck where you are. If you are making less money than you need in order to pay for absolute nessesities, you can’t put aside some for later. Every time I call my credit union, (a privilege) I hear a message that says that women aren’t saving enough for retirement, especially latina women. This is a true statement. They aren’t saving enough. But then it goes on to tell us that the credit union offers free financial literacy classes. On YouTube I get ads for products that ‘make saving easy’. I get that these things are well-meaning, but they are hopelessly out of touch. They make it sound like the reason people aren’t saving is because they are being frivolous. Granted, for some people, this is true. But the people who need that savings the most, the people those statistics tell us are at risk, are not being frivolous. Minimum wage earns you around $10,000 /year. A cheap 2 bedroom apartment 10 years ago, when this situation starts, would have cost nearly $12,000 a year in an inexpensive backwater city. And yet, the story we are told is that it is the fault of the people in poverty. They should just buck up, be responsible, and make better choices. This is a completely naive approach to this problem. No one chooses to be in poverty. No one chooses to work for minimum wage.
Before you say that these people should have gotten a better education so they could get a better job, look at the statistics of how much college really costs today, and how many graduates are still working for minimum wage. That was me. I have 2 degrees and I still worked for minimum wage.
Before you talk about how people should stop having too many kids, you need to find out how many kids people in poverty are actually having. And this enters a discussion about personal choice, and costs of birth control that I am not getting into today.
Before you talk about how lazy poor people are, you should find out how they live. They are the hardest working people by far. Because they have to be, just to survive.
I hope that this look at what benefits this type of privilege and luck can actually have on real world outcomes has been enlightening.

Surviving on Minimum Wage (example)

Dallas, Texas Minimum Wage earner budget

Payroll withheld(87)493
Groceries (1 person)(250)248
Car Insurance(56)2

This budget is for a single person living in the cheapest apartment I saw available in Dallas. They work minimum wage. Groceries, commute distance, mpg, utilities are based on averages for the area. Car Insurance is the cheapest option. And in case you are wondering why I prioritized gas over something else, Dallas’ public transit is so dysfunctional, as to be non-existent.

What can they not afford that are considered ‘needs’?

  • Renters insurance.
  • Health insurance.
  • Out-of-pocket medical costs.
  • Life insurance.
  • Car payment.
  • Internet.
  • Cell phone and/or landline.
  • Student loan payments.
  • Other minimum loan payments.

This also does not include other household members. They would not be able to afford food for a child, or child care for them.

  • Child support or alimony payments.
  • Child care.

We cannot discount these costs as unnecessary based on the idea that people earning minimum wage are young and living at home. People younger than 20 actually do not have to be paid the full minimum wage, so they earn even less. As of 2019, a Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program study shows that “Nearly two-thirds of low-wage workers are in their prime working years of 25-54, and nearly half of this group (40%) are raising children.”

This is not to mention the things that so many people don’t think twice about as they go about their lives.

  • Eating out
  • Clothing
  • Television and Streaming Services
  • Grooming and cleaning products
  • Gym memberships
  • Going to see a movie

The site that I am looking at recommends these things be 30% of your budget. They also recommend 20% of your budget be for things like saving up for emergencies, paying off debts, and investing for retirement.

As someone that worked a minimum wage job (luckily in a state with a higher wage) and supported two children and a husband (it was cheaper than child care) I have always been rather offended by these types of budgeting tips. They are completely out of touch. They recommend cutting out the fun stuff so that you can save more for retirement. For anyone who has been on this treadmill, that is positively laughable. You can’t ‘cut out’ something you couldn’t afford to begin with. They tell you to prioritize your needs and try to find the cheapest option. What if you can’t afford all of the ‘needs’ in the first place? What if you had to get a second job, so now you don’t have time to call around to get the best rate?

Chapter 21 – The Trip

When Jessica and Rodney continued walking, she could not contain her curiosity. “What was all that ‘it will all be ok’ stuff about?” Rodney just shrugged.

They walked along chatting like old friends, until they reached a staircase climbing down, like the most basic subway entrances back home in New York. To Jessica’s surprise, they went down. She was trying to figure out what this had to do with sustainability at all.

When they reached the bottom, they found a row of round cars. Most were small, a few were larger. One of the smaller ones was waiting for them. The doors opened automatically as they walked up to it. Inside, there was no steering wheel, no seat belts, no controls of any kind, only benches. Jessica hesitated, while Rodney climbed in. He held out his hand and led her in.

Inside it was much roomier than it looked like from the outside. A grown man could stand up comfortably, the benches could hold about two people each, but from the outside it looked like the size of a car with only one seat!

As she sat down, Rodney started touching one of the windows, which lit up to display a map. He selected a location, and switched to another display. In just a moment the black windows lighten and Jessica can see an underground highway maze with the little round cars zipping around every which way. Jessica wasn’t sure she wanted to join in that fray at the mercy of a robot.

Rodney reminded Jessica that it was all a dream. As the pod car started moving, he asked if she wanted to watch out the window. Jessica thought that was a rather odd question. There wasn’t exactly anything else to look at. But as the pod picked up speed she wasn’t sure she wanted to look. She hid her head in her hands.

A moment later, Rodney was sitting next to her, coaxing her to open her eyes. Assuring her that everything is ok. She nervously peeked between her fingers, and instead of seeing the dizzying, darting pods zooming around, the windows showed a peaceful green meadow dotted with flowers of every color. As she looked up she picked out the yellow hearts of daisies, the snow ball fluffs of white chrysanthemums and the splash of red poppies. Jessica knew they were moving, but it hardly felt like it. There was no rocking, or juddering. She could see out the window that things were moving. She figured they had gotten above ground at some point. She sat back and enjoyed watching as the meadow slowly slipped by. Rodney watched Jessica’s calm demeanor for a few moments before looking outside himself.

Me Time

It is a common enough recommendation for stress, “Take some ‘Me Time’.” Often it is accompanied by the word “just”. That word is a tangent for another day, but suffice to say, it is not that easy.

‘Me Time’ sounds all well and good and it is very well-meaning advice. But the problem is, some people just can’t. ‘Me Time’ is a privilege.

Yes, I, a cis, straight, white woman am talking about something that I do not have the privilege of doing. But that is precisely why I am talking about it. If I don’t get ‘Me Time’ working from home and living with 2 more generations of mothers, you better believe that their are a lot of less privileged people out there who also don’t have the ability to take some time for themselves.

But this is not just a tirade of complaints. (Although I am very good at that, if I do say so myself). Let’s talk about why this is the case, why it is not talked about, and what we can do about it.

Why Not?


But when I say that, people say, “You need to pick what’s important and cut out the rest.”

Sounds so easy when you say it like that. Let’s go over some examples of people who might have this problem.

Single Parents – It is no secret that being a single parent is hard. It is hard to split time with another parent. It is hard to ask others for help. It is hard to get after-hours daycare. It is hard to take a day off work. That’s all good ways to get ‘Me Time’, right? That is all well and good if you have that option.

There are many situations where the other parent does not take the kids; location of the other parent, loss of custody, death of the other parent, etc. Other people switch off so that the kids are with the other parent while they are at work.

There are many situations where there is not another adult able to watch the kids. They could be all burned out from watching the kids while you are at work. You could have moved away from family and friends.

If that is not available, just get a babysitter. Just kidding. Just to let anyone who has not had young kids recently. Daycare is prohibitively expensive for people working minimum wage. You literally make less than you pay for that single service while you are working. Never mind paying someone to take care of kids while you aren’t even getting paid. And that amount is a fee that works with other parent’s fees to pay the employees, etc. If you pay a sitter, they will expect minimum wage at least. So you are no better off that way.

Another option is to use the time when the kids are asleep. Hahahaha!!!!!! Yeah right. That time gets spent doing all the housework that no-one else takes care of. And sleep? Doesn’t exactly qualify as ‘Me Time’. And most adults don’t get enough of that as it is.

Women – This problem disproportionately affects women rather than men. Women are more likely to have custody in a separated family.

It is also well documented that women tend to earn less than men do. Women, on average, do not get as far ahead in their careers, glass ceilings and all. Even when a woman does have the same job as a man, she does not get paid the same for it. (We have the right to discuss our salaries for a reason. Don’t let your boss convince you otherwise.) This income disparity means that it is harder to find childcare to take that much needed ‘Me Time’, never mind pay for that Spa trip your single friend recommended.

Even for a couple in a relationship, women tend to take on more of the child care and household duties in addition to their jobs. Sorry men, if you think you are doing your fair share, I encourage you to take a closer look. You might be right, but chances are that while you are in front of the TV, or on the computer, or reading the paper, or whatever you do in your free time, your wife or girlfriend is probably cleaning or cooking or working on something with the kids. This is true even for men who believe that the workload should be shared. I am really trying to make this not stereotypical, or based solely on my own experience, but it is often easier to just do what needs to get done than it is to point it out and then argue about it. It’s hard to get away when you have a whole lot of things to take care of. I get that you might be more productive after a break, but getting to that break can be a real struggle.

It is also well documented that people of color tend to earn less than white people do. People of color on average, do not get as far ahead in their careers, racism and all. Even when a person of color does have the same job as a white person, they do not get paid the same for it. (We have the right to discuss our salaries for a reason. Don’t let your boss convince you otherwise.) This income disparity means that it is harder to find childcare to take that much needed ‘Me Time’, never mind pay for that Spa trip your white friend recommended.

These problems are similar, but not the same. I get that. There is more at play here with systemic racism. Not to mention that Women of Color get screwed on 2 fronts.

This is a good place to discuss the necessity that many people have of having multiple jobs, just to keep themselves afloat. Here is the obvious statement of the year: If you spend more time working for others, you have less time for yourself. (And if you work more you pay more for child care, if you got ’em). Many people end up in an endless loop of needing more money to pay for child care, getting a job, and ending up needing more money than they are making again, just to cover the additional child care!

I am fully in support of businesses paying overtime when needed. What I do not support is businesses only hiring for part time so they don’t have to get benefits. I do not support businesses paying less than a living wage. The means that the employee who needs to work more than 40 hours, but has is spread across two jobs, is not getting overtime. We talk about these horrible before times when people had to work 80 hours a week and only had one day off, etc. That was terrible. But it was with one employer. When you need to balance two jobs, you end up juggling them to make sure that you are not scheduled at the same time for both. Many businesses will not hire people without an open schedule. Even more have a policy of making each week a different schedule. With a routine, you could get it set up and be good. With changing schedules, every week requires mental gymnastics, negotiating with employers, and stretching your good will with them closer and closer to the breaking point. You have to run across town, get changed, etc. All time that you are not getting paid for. And that one day off? You don’t get that. Many jobs, even part time, do not give full shifts. Employees will work for 4 hours here, 3 hours there. The hours that you work get spread out, meaning that rather than working for 5 days and for 40 hours, you could work 7 days and only get 25 hours!

And these people are not lazy. They are some of the hardest working people in this country. And they do it, because it needs to get done. Despite knowing that they have a dead end job, and all of this hard work won’t get them out of where they are.

These people are not stupid. Many of them would be much better at running the businesses where they work than the CEO is. Many of them have diplomas, and even degrees, that didn’t get them a better job.

These people aren’t trying to take advantage of the system. They are victims of the system.

So yes, people know they need ‘me time’. People know they should also spend more time with their kids. They don’t want to be on government assistance. They want to go to school to get a better job. Some want to start their own business. Some have an idea that could stop global warming. Some wish they would run for office. Some just want to be a stay-at-home parent. Everyone has dreams. And you know what? If these people could get that ‘me time’ the whole world would probably be better off.


Two days ago I wrote a post where I ended by saying that the massive divisions in this country would, at some point come to violence. The next day, the capital building was taken over.

Yesterday was supposed to be dominated by Georgia’s election results and the counting of the electoral college. But we knew that there was a planned pro-Trump rally. This was the thing that made me write that post. I’m not a great prophet or anything. As many people have said, while this has been shocking, and sobering, it was not a surprise.

Many people have pointed out the extreme difference in reactions between this and when the Black Lives Matter demonstrations were going on in the capital. There was an immediate military response to BLM. Not just in the capital, but in cities all over the nation, while Trump supporters were welcomed inside by the police! BLM marches were demonized for a few bad actors damaging buildings. But the Trump rally turned into an actual invasion of our halls of government by, while I have not seen actual numbers, seems to be hundreds, if not thousands of people.

Now the people I listen to are calling for punishment. They are calling out leaders who encouraged this behavior. All of that needs to happen. But there is another thing that needs to be considered.

What are the Trump supporters thinking? They clearly see themselves akin to storming the Bastille, or throwing tea into Boston Harbor. They see themselves as victims. While we see them tearing down our democracy, they are being told that democracy is already dead. If we arrest then and impeach Trump, who they see as their only hope at salvation, what will they think? I don’t want to give Qanon any more traffic by looking to find out what is being said, but I have a pretty good guess.

They believe they are being oppressed and they must fight to take back their country. I suspect this was nothing more than a call to action for others that the battle has begun. Every attack we make to punish these bad actors, will make a martyr for their cause. They will only get more motivated in their right against what they perceive as tyranny. But if we let it slide, we are only telling future leaders to go ahead, there are no consequences for this action. We have to make sure that there are consequences for their actions. Go down the political line. Each congressman and governor that supported this needs to be held accountable too. But as we do this, we need to demonstrate that we show understanding and mercy. We need to do our best to show that we are not bullies. And we need to understand that our actions also have consequences. There will be fallout from our attempts to hold these people accountable. They will keep fighting. They have been told this story for so long that many have spent their whole lives waiting for the chance to fight to bring back what they feel they have lost. This did not start with Trump, nor will it end with him.

New Normal

Since March we have all been living under a drastically different ‘normal’. And we have all been asking “how long will it be until we can go back?” But what I have been asking is “can we go back?”

Between the biological virus rampaging the world, the bitter divide in my country, (and many others), and the political corruption, it is clear we are in strange times. But I want to explore how I think things got this bad, and what will happen next. Clearly, I cannot say with certainty, but I can tell you things as I see it, for what that’s worth. I’m just another person on the internet after all.

Let’s start with the ideological divide since that’s kind of where it all began. I first noticed it when George W. Bush was elected, but I was in middle school then. That’s the time when people start paying attention to these things, I guess. But it goes back further than that. Many people start it with Reagan or blame it on social media, but I think the roots go back much further than that.

White people who were bent on profit, fame, and power were the ones exploring the seven seas. It was easy for these people to convince other white people that they were better than the other peoples that were ‘discovered’ on these explorations. It’s only too easy to believe it when you are told you are better than someone else. This was the group that started settling this land.

They were followed by another group. This group is the one seeking freedom from oppression. But these people also believed they were better than other races. There is no escaping that.

This country was founded largely by the latter group. This is why freedom is so central to our constitution. But even in politics at that time, there was power hunger. When there are powerful people, there will be power hungry people. This group, so focused on their own freedom, had only a few people who had any thought for the freedom of other races. But there were some.

Eventually, the government was so full of power hungry men, they tore the country apart. This was hardly about abolishing slavery, but rather a fight for what states would have more power. Slave states had a disproportional amount of power to the number of voters. Non slave states didn’t like that, but slave states didn’t want to give it up. Eventually it became clear that while the south had the electoral power, the north had the military power. Abolishing the institution of slavery was kind of an afterthought.

Time marches on. The rich continue to get what they want from the government, while the poor are ignored. More people come to escape oppression, danger and hunger. The poor are told to blame the newcomers. People like the Irish are prevented from getting employed, adding to the existing racial struggles.

Native Americans have been massacred, Blacks are systematically murdered, Asians are left to be destroyed by plague, Hispanics are poisoned at the border.

The rhetoric of the power hungry gets better and better at convincing people who can vote (white men) they should blame minorities for their present misfortune.

When other people finally one by one gain the right to vote, the established technique won’t work as well, so blame starts to shift. Eventually the parties are blaming each other, and rather than each party holding a stance on a few issues while others vary within the party, every issue becomes aligned with a political faction. It becomes harder and harder to be in the middle.

The fact that one party shifted to political blame more and tried to court those minority voters, meant that the other party kept the people who still blame them. This is where we see the increasing division between the people who blame minorities, and the people who want to help minorities. All because one party didn’t actively blame them any more.

Meanwhile jerrymandering becomes so efficient that winning in these areas is less about competing with the other party, and finding middle ground, and more about catering to the extreme parts of the party.

Add into that firestorm the social media echo chambers, and you have a massively divided country. Each only listens to their own side, freedom and patriotism have been twisted to mean a very specific kind of opinion is considered American, and showing any sort of national loyalty is seen as having certain beliefs. This, in turn, means that some people avoid showing any patriotism at all even though they are, which fuels the opposing argument.

Because both sides listen only to their own sources and believe the other side cannot be trusted, it doesn’t matter to followers what atrocities their leaders commit. They probably won’t hear about them, or will only hear things blamed on the other side, maybe a defense here and there. Either side is primed to start a war. In traditional wars, each side controls its own media and spreads terrible stories about the other, during and often before actual fighting breaks out. Each side believes that they are on the side of right and will die to defend against tyranny, corruption, terrorism, and to protect their families, freedom, and beliefs.

This is the precipous upon which we stand. Both sides have been primed for war. Can we avert disaster? When will it start if we can’t? Will we even know in the moment when it began? Can we be sure it hasn’t already?

Today we have attacks by government employees on minorities nearly every day. These attacks are clearly racially motivated, but since these people also tend to be on the side that has been labeled as not patriotic, this also has a political component.

We have massive marches supporting or denouncing both sides in an endless parade. We have people on both sides literally taking up arms to defend themselves against the other side, who they have heard is stockpiling weapons. We have government officials stoking distrust in the very institutions and systems that make this country what it is. We have leaders deliberately spreading false information that costs lives.

This distrust will not go away after January 20th, just as it did not go away after the election. If we manage to avoid all out war, there will still be millions of people who will continue to believe that the election was stolen. Even if Trump does not set up a shadow government, these angry people will not trust the elections for many years to come. These election disputes may become a normal part of our elections. As we have seen, just because one side wins, it does not change the mind of the losers. The fallout from the civil war that has recently come to light shows these tensions can last generations.

Other people have explored what would happen if we devolve into open war. The short version? The people who have been training and stocking up tend to live in rural communities. Cities are very vulnerable because of all the systems it takes to keep so many people living in one place.

Is there any way to avoid this? I hope so. We need to find a way to make sure that people are hearing from both sides. But the government is not going to make that happen. That change needs to start with us. We need something to bring us together. The coronavirus had the potential to be that thing. But it was used to add to the division, to the point where walking out your door and what you wear when you do became a political statement. That unity will not come from the government. That change needs to come from us. In short, we need a drastic bottom-up transformation. We need to increase communication between people. By unfriending people you disagree with, you are increasing their isolation and your own echo chamber.

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

Today we can a few more verses to this dark poem. The Muslims, the Mexicans, the Blacks, LGBTQ+, the homeless, the addicted. All of these groups, and more, have been incarcerated in some fashion in response to supposed threats.

I will fully admit that although I vehemently oppose these attacks, I am one of the many who has not done enough to help. I have many reasons, but in a sense they are all just excuses. This should be much higher on my priority list. Not the least of those reasons if because my time is so occupied. As I have discussed before, in a real sense we do not need to work 40 hours a week. But by keeping people underpaid, the government keeps us too busy. More recently, by keeping the pandemic out of control, fewer people are willing to protest for fear of falling ill. Note that supporters are told not to fear, so they are able to gather in support.

The other big reason I have not joined marches, is because I have never seen them create change. Something happens, people march, politicians pander to their supporters, make a few overtures at change, people lose interest and nothing really happens. But this could be its own post.

We have to remember that both sides are being told that they are the victims. We need to stand up. But not against the other side, against the system that has led us to this point. Republican and Democratic voters and people are not the problem. The problem is the power hungry puppet masters at the top. In both parties. For all the good they claim to do, those who need help are never getting it. Politicians agree on more than they let on. They agree to keep the people down. The people are on more than we are told. We all want to make sure our families are cared for and that we maintain our rights and freedoms.

Chapter 20 – Make the Best of It (WIP)

Rodney led Jessica to the diner where they had first met. On the way, Jessica was trying to be okay with all the happy smiles and waves from strangers. She even tried waving back a few times. One couple stopped. Every instinct told Jessica to put her head down and slink away, but she stayed with Rodney.

“Hello! You must be new here.” Jessica was wondering what gave her away.

“Um, yeah.” She paused as she realized she had no idea of how to start a conversation with someone she knew nothing about and had nothing obvious in common with. She said the only thing that came to her mind. “How are you doing today?”

“Well, I worked in the garden this morning, so my back is a bit stiff. We decided to take a walk to see if that helps, – but never mind that. Where are you from?”

Jessica was taken aback. She was not used to people actually answering the standard greeting. As she composed herself she tried to answer their question, “New York originally but now—-“

Rodney stepped in as she trailed off. “Jessica here is visiting from the midwest. She came to see the sustainability overhaul before they get underway there.” Jessica was so glad that Rodney had answered instead of her.

“Yeah, I’m curious how things will be once they do…what…they are gonna do.” Jessica realized it might have been better to just stay quiet when the lady raised an eyebrow at her.

The eyebrow went back to where it belonged quickly though, and the lady just said, “Well take a good look around, we are just loving it! We were a bit hesitant at first. I mean, what happens when I want to go somewhere I can’t walk to, right? Or what happens if the weather doesn’t co-operate? But we have been happily surprised! We have been able to go on trips more, everything keeps working even when the weather didn’t seem like it would ever behave, and the best part is all this wide open space that we can use and enjoy!.”

“I have been loving it so far! Thank you, I have heard a lot of those concerns too, so neat that it actually works out!” Jessica exclaimed before remembering that this is a dream. Physics doesn’t really apply.

Rodney and the man shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. They both pulled out their phones and tapped them together like they were giving a toast. The woman introduced herself as LuAnn before looking Jessica straight in the eye, and telling her in earnest, “I know everything looks bleak right now, but everything will be all right. There will always be things that make it hard to move forward. There will always be things that help your world get better. Just focus on finding those things and hop between them like stepping stones. Avoid the negativity if you can. You are strong enough to get through everything going on in your life. Find your rock and stand on it. Use it to guide you, Use it to guide the world. You will know what to do.”

Jessica had no idea what to say. The lady seemed to be talking about the detectives and the Rodney look-alike, and the insurmountable debt, but she couldn’t be. Was the world of the Midwest really so dire in this world that it required all of that? Or was this dream lady speaking to the real-world Jessica, just telling her what she needed to hear? Jessica was beginning to doubt what was real and what was a dream.

Table of Contents

What is Homeschooling?

Here we are. In a pandemic. Home. With our kids.


And just like that parents all over the country, and indeed the world, are trying their hand at homeschooling for the first time.

But are they really? What is this distance learning thing? Is it really homeschooling, or is it still a public school education?

And the question all parents are dying to have an answer to – How do I make my kids do what they are supposed to do and LEAVE ME ALONE?

Ok, I’m not going to answer that last question. Because it is the wrong question.

So, let’s deconstruct this a bit. Kids who are used to a highly structured school environment are being put into a situation where they (and their parents) are suddenly being held accountable for their own education.

This experience is hard enough for someone like me, whose child is way ahead of where he needs to be (In fact Little, who is 2 years younger is actually giving the answers and Big is checking them before he puts them into the computer.) I can only imagine how much of a struggle this must be for parents whose children are behind and need the teacher’s more direct assistance. And for parents whose own education does not help them to help their kids. And for parents who don’t have the time because they are still working, be it in the home or out in the real world (thank you so much essentials. You need a permanent raise and a massive bonus! And lots and lots of hugs…as soon as we can.) And for parents who have lost their jobs and are just trying to get through this with their lives intact.

I have always struggled getting either of my kids to be interested in a sheet of paper. They love books, but they don’t really do drawings, have no interest in coloring, and puzzles are only worth a few minutes.

So how do all those homeschool parents do it? Trick question. They don’t. Ok, even that is not completely true.

This ‘homeschool’ experience you are going through is more similar to those “Public School from Home” or “Homeschool curriculum” ads you see on Facebook.

Confused yet? That’s because the phrase “homeschool” means different things to different people. The idea that homeschool is similar to what you are struggling with right now has led to the phrase, “Unschooling”. OK, so now we have two terms we need to define, so I guess lets do that.

Homeschooling – Structured system of education at home mimicking the structured school environment.

Unschooling – Letting kids do whatever the heck they want.

Ok, just kidding. Yes, I’m struggling to explain all of this, because it is really hard to pin down.

Let’s try from an historical perspective instead, shall we?

Many people have claimed that until recently kids were homeschooled unless parents could afford to send them to school. And that really depends on your definition of homeschooling. Did parents sit down with their kids and formally teach them the things they need to know in a highly structured way? No. Did they let their kids do whatever they wanted? No. The real answer is that they did something in between. From the genesis of humanity to the dawn of the industrial age most people (excluding the gentry, we’ll get there later) did homeschool as I see it. They taught the kids what they were doing, if mom is cooking and the kids (ok, girls) were in, they would help. That is how they learned to cook. If dad was building kids (boys) would help. But it didn’t end there. Children would be out in the real world, hunting, farming, selling newspapers, etc. They would be engaged in helping the family in any way that was needed. The problem with this is that it limits the children’s education to a similar experience to their parents. That is a huge limitation, and still needs to be addressed in homeschooling today.

The gentry would be educated by a tutor or private school in whatever was considered important at the time, philosophy in Greece, music and French for girls in the last several centuries, military strategy for young men in politics. This allowed parents to focus on their own work, and make sure that the children got the best of everything. This was what the rest f parents wanted for their children that brought about the public education system.

And for all of its problems, and no matter how much I rag on it, the public education system is an amazing and vital institution. This is actually the reason I criticize it so much. It is far too essential to let it fail this badly! But that is a story for another day.

All of this brings us to a modern understanding of what homeschooling actually is.

If we force kids to do the same stuff they are doing in school, there is almost no point to homeschooling. The advantage in that case is just in the lack of a commute and minimizing distractions of other students. (And don’t get me wrong, for some people, those are essential concerns). This method makes sure that children get all of the skills that they need in order to keep up with their public schooled peers. This has become the idea that the general public has of homeschooling, peppered in a little bit with some of the other groups, like the religious, and the extreme unschooling.

For some people it is about making sure that your kids get the information that you want them to have, and yes, sometimes that means not getting the information parents don’t want them to have. I understand the desire for this, but it really gives children a false sense of the world, and denies them the opportunity to learn the vital skills of evaluating information themselves. This is where you get the stories about kids with no social skills, and sometimes even concerns about cults.

But for others, like myself homeschooling is just making sure that children get the ability to learn what they need and want to know. And for all this jabbering, that’s really all it is. This is the category where you get those amazing stories of prodigies and young people doing things that only people twice their age would normally be doing, starting businesses, following their dreams.

And then there is unschooling. Unschooling is a movement against the overly structured school regimen that teachers have to use because they have so many charges. And since that has become the pervading idea of what homeschooling is, many parents feel that they can’t use that term to describe what they do. But really, the unschooling movement is just what homeschooling used to be before parents felt the need to be told what to teach. Basically, teaching the kids what they need without the formal riggers of a school environment.

The last major group is what the unschooling movement has come to mean in some circles. This is the “let your children do whatever they want” group. This unfortunately results in children who are woefully unprepared for the real world.

Let’s focus on the middle ground. That group that produces the prodigies. How does that work, I think we would all like to know. I will tell you, I do not think that it is all about parents who magically have amazing kids. But this method is the hardest. It takes a lot of work, planning, and creativity. You don’t get to farm out the planning to a company selling you curriculum, and you don’t get to just tell the kids to go outside. You have to be proactive. You have to be in tune with your children’s interests, and not put your own goals for them first. You need to get really good at seizing the opportunity.

For instance, the other day I took a hike with my kids. In the course of this walk we discussed, and indeed, experienced geology, archaeology, traditional and modern mining methods, climate change, biology, UV radiation, tiny homes, needs vs wants, driving, train travel, simple machines, map making, photography, viruses, broken bones (Yes, I took a hike with a broken toe), city planning, decomposition, elevation, meteorology, physical exercise, wood carving, acoustics, industry, community, litter, erosion, company towns, combustion, and more that I cannot remember. My kids are 4 and 6. This is not things that I had on a list of things to discuss, this is not just arbitrary topics pulled from the sky. Each one of these things was brought up organically by the place we were in and the things we were looking at and touching.

Field trips are a vital tool for homeschooling. Take advantage of the resources in your area. That is a really hard thing to say right now, I get that. I am so grateful that so many zoos, museums, and other resources are making their information available online. I hope to see that continue, because not everyone has access to these things. But it is very important to not only take opportunities, but to make opportunities. Many organizations are willing to go above and beyond for a curious kid.

But what if a child struggles with a certain subject? Why make them sit and read something they are not interested in? No, I’m not saying those things should be ignored, because they certainly should not. They take the most conscious effort, because the child is less likely to just stumble across it.

Little wants to be a firefighter. That gives us the opportunity to talk about safety, chemistry, self-sacrifice, strength (emotionally and physically), bravery, and the environment among other things.

Big wants to be a doctor (in the ambulance on Little’s team of course). We can learn about the human body, mechanics, technology, optics, healthy diet, exercise, more chemistry, selflessness, and sanitation for a start.

They of course have other interests we take advantage of too, but this gives you the idea. That said, we can also cover the grade-level appropriate material as well. It’s easy with reading, they can find a book that really interests them and learn to read based on that, memorize it (one of the first phases of reading), kids like to hunt for a specific word every time it pops up in the book, and it can go from there. Numbers can be harder. They aren’t seen as frequently, and they take a bit of effort to tie in. But we have been counting bones. That may sound weird, but Big’s favorite anatomy book tells us how many bones are in different areas. So we count and try to figure out where they are. Little is the one benefiting from that now, Big has it down. But there are also just fun books for kids about numbers, so not too worrying.

Ok, yeah I hear you, the stuff that little kids need to learn is easy to incorporate, but how am I gonna do that to teach fractions to my Middle Schooler who just wants to be a pop star? Thank you for asking. It takes engaging them to be the best pop singer ever. I am not very good with music, but I do know that it has a massive amount of mathematics to figure out patterns that are pleasant to the ear, and beats are nothing if not fractions.

Some things are going to be easier to incorporate than others, that is just a fact. That is why I say this is the most challenging homeschooling method. But it is also why it is the most successful. So many kids ask why they need to study certain things. This method builds in the why in an intrinsic way that gives each new subject value. Each subject can be tied in to the child’s interests, and even things that seem disconnected, and really challenge the child can, and should be incorporated. It means that everything has an emotional connection, which inherently makes them more memorable.

Ok, back to the question: What is homeschooling? The confusion stems from the fact that people use the word to refer to a wide range of experiences, and even use different words to describe the same thing. Just because your kids are getting their schooling at home, does not automatically make it home schooling. This is a great opportunity to give a few activities a try. Simple things like putting a water bucket outside with a whole bunch of different things to see what floats or not. Or finding one of a multitude of artistic uses of mathematics in action. Or getting your kid a novel that you think they will get lost in. Or learning a new creative skill. Or taking a deep dive into learning about their life goals.

I feel your pain trying to get your kids to spend their precious time sitting on a computer doing math and English worksheets that have been re-labeled as ‘games’. Just know that you don’t have to rely on that to educate your child. And their just assignments might get easier if you can engage what they are working on in class into their hobbies. I challenge everyone to take advantage of this strange situation we find ourselves in, and try something new and different. See what ideas you can come up with to engage your kids into their challenges.

Edit: All that said, I am not against computer learning systems. In fact, my kids do use them. But there is a difference. Usually they are treated as a privilege. The kids have to earn the games and shows they watch, which are all educational. But now that Big has a requirement to do these things, I have noticed that the exact same activity has become a chore. When it is a privilege, it is enjoyable, when it is a job, it is not.