Homeschool or Traditional School?

When I talk about the possibility of homeschooling my children, many people are skeptical. Stereotypically homeschoolers are anti-social religious zealots. But is that the reality? As with many stereotypes, there are people who meet that description, but many do not. I would venture to say that most homeschooled kids do not meet that description.

When looking up information on line I am having a difficult time finding any support at all of the stereotype. I like to have information from both sides, but it seems that the only people who find it worth talking about are either homeschoolers themselves or have some reason to be biased. The information that I am finding cite numerous studies that support the idea that homeschooled children are better socialized than children in traditional schools, and have an easier time getting into college. I would like to know more about these studies, and I wish that they had larger focus groups. I also would like to know how these students were found.

If the children for these studies were found in homeschool support groups, they are already part of the homeschooling community that actively engages in the community. Many of these kids are also active in other clubs and activities. I hesitate to trust the statistics completely because of this possible bias. It is possible that there is an unrepresented amount of children who are at home, isolated from people whose beliefs do not agree with their parents’, perhaps even homeschooled to avoid discovery of abuse. This is obviously a worse-case scenario, and I doubt that there are very many of these, but the scenario just points out how biased the studies may be.

So far this sounds like a real downer on homeschool, but that is far from being my intention. I simply want to point out a few holes in the research. All of that said, I would like to homeschool my children because I do believe that it can be beneficial. The key word is ‘can’. Because the parents are in charge, the parents have control over how homeschooling turns out.

Many homeschool parents choose to have their kids learn through the community, which means that they built relationships with people from all walks of life, in many different settings. This is the type of thing that traditional schools have great difficulty with. Students spend most of the day with children their own age, learning social skills from people who are no more skilled than they are. Once they get out of school, so much time is spent on homework, that doing anything outside of school is a great challenge. There are many studies out right now about the levels of stress on students, even in elementary schools.

The differences between how homeschoolers and traditional students spend their days has a huge impact on their social skills as well as their maturity and goals. Homeschool students have more time to pursue the things that interest them rather than only focusing on the things that are chosen for them. This gives them a greater sense of personal identity, and a love of learning. I believe that everyone is born innately curious about the world, but the way that schools have traditionally taught takes all the fun out of it and makes it a chore. While homeschoolers may gain more in the way of study skills, I believe that it is this love of learning that contributes more to their success after school.

Many people who think that homeschool is a good thing, but don’t want to deprive their children of some part of the school experience, be that the rites of passage like prom, or the perceived social benefits, decide to supplement traditional school with home based education or outings. That is a great idea, and I wish that more people would do that. There is one flaw, however; doing this does not give all of the benefits of homeschool and traditional school together. You end up with all of the ups and downs of the school environment and end up with very little time to spend on this type of enrichment. When it is possible, it can help to negate some of the negative associations that students can get to learning, and give them access to more information, which is certainly better than nothing. Many people though choose to homeschool not because of the perceived benefits, but to avoid the common downfalls of schools.

Schools foster a very specific type of social outlook. Students are pressured to fit in, which makes it more difficult for them to ‘find themselves’. This is supposed to happen during the growing up period, but in our culture there is a struggle for people as they leave school and adjust to the real world, only to find that the person they were trying so hard to be has no place in that world, and they don’t know who they are underneath that. Homeschoolers on the other hand, never experience that massive peer pressure and, provided that their parents allowed them freedom, they already have all of that figured out, which gives them a head start in their post-school lives.

Teachers in traditional schools can try their best to study things that their students are interested in, and to share their own passions, but despite this, much of the time students are studying things that they have little interest in. Not all students are interested in the same things, and it is impossible to cover everyone, someone will be interested in everything, another student may find that his interests are never discussed.

What are some other reasons that parents choose to homeschool? In general it is to have more control over the things that your kids learn. This can be behaviors (bullying, maturity, study skills), ways of thinking (religion, tolerance), or really anything. There are some things that kids can learn in public school that they do not want their kids learning, whether that is evolution or intolerance of others, homeschool allows parents to teach their children what they want, for better or worse.

Many of the benefits that I see to homeschooling are really just logic, whether or not the studies are trustworthy, one can see that spending time with many different people means learning to communicate effectively with different types of people. It makes sense that if you are able to study the things that you love, you will love learning. But this does bring up a conundrum. How do you teach the things that a child needs in life but has no interest in?

That really depends. To me it seems that in order to be well-rounded, you do not need a high-school level education in every subject. More important than certain subjects is the ability to acquire information. First up is reading – this one is easy – let the kid read about things they find interesting. My mother is a librarian at a middle school. Every year she meets many students who tell her that they do not like reading. So she asks them what they are interested in and sends them to that area, or suggests something they might like. Even if that ‘I don’t like to read’ idea does not go away, they usually leave with a book or two and will come back – even if it means sneaking away from their friends to do it.

Study skills, like learning about quality sources, looking for differing opinions, and different ways to present the information (formal presentation, written paper, power point etc.) can all be taught, like reading, in the context of any material the child is interested in.

It is not so much the material that we need to know in today’s society, but the skills we use to acquire information and interact with the world. If you are not an engineer, math is only so helpful your day to day life. But you do need those basics. And those basics can be taught in fun ways. I will not even try to delve into that here, just run a search on ‘hands on math’ and you will find hundreds of ideas, even into middle school level.

In the interest of understanding quality sources, I would also put learning the scientific method in the category of life skills. Many people seem to misunderstand what science is. Science is not a collection of infallible facts, it is a system of best-guesses. Science gives us a way to consistently improve our understanding of the world by providing a framework with which to come up with new ideas and narrow the possibilities nearer and nearer ‘the truth’. All with the understanding that we will probably never know the full truth.

Beyond that, education can largely be child-led. As much as I think that people need to understand history, this is more about learning about cause and effect. The people who make decisions need to be well versed in the past so that they can use that to make informed decisions. That said, if history is taught in fun ways, and focusing on a child’s interests, everyone should be able to find some sort of history to teach. After all history is just a collection of true stories, and what child does not like hearing stories.

The other thing that I would like people to have more knowledge of in general is different religion. There is a great emphasis on learning one’s own religion, and I think that is fine, but in order to have an understanding of others, we need to understand a little about their beliefs. I understand that this may not fit into everyone’s interests, but as a protection against the dangers of acting on a misunderstanding, if the lessons of forming an opinion only after doing research, which can be taught with any subject matter, I think that the worst aspects of ignorance on this can be negated.

So homeschool or traditional school? That decision rests largely on the type of people the parents are. If they will use homeschool to isolate and indoctrinate their children, I do not believe that is good for the children or society, but if homeschool will be used to give the children the opportunity to learn to love learning, and find their place in the world then if you can do it, go for it!

That said, from a practical perspective, how do you make it work? Unfortunately, no matter how much the parents might be amazing teachers, or might benefit their children, if they cannot afford to have one parent stay home with the kids, homeschooling is usually not an option. Some people might be able to find a way to have each parent work opposite schedules, or have the child in the care of others for some of the time. This takes a very large commitment, and often rests on a delicate balance.

Homeschool can be an amazing experience, and that I wish everyone could have, but not all parents are suited for it, and even more cannot fit it into their lives. It is unfair that something that has so much potential is only an option for so few. It is also unfair that the stereotypes may prevent people from ever trying something that could be so beneficial.

 

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Religion

I consider myself to be an Eclectic Atheistic Agnostic Pagan. What the heck does that mean?

It means that I don’t really know what is going on out there, but I do not believe that any one entity is in charge, but rather that we are all connected. I take little bits from lots of different religions and sciences and put them into my beliefs together. I know a lot of people think that religions are not compatible with one another, but I find that most religions, regardless of the details, had one point in common; Be nice to one another.

I do not understand how people have begun associating so many negative things with religions. Bad people will do bad things. They will find an excuse anywhere. There are passages in religious texts that, taken out of context give fuel to people’s hates. This is not to say that religious texts teach hate, because they, as far as I have seen, do not.

In America right now I hear a lot about two religions in particular, Islam and Christianity. The story about Islam from one side is ‘They are out to get us” and the other side says, “we just want to live our lives, we hate the nut jobs who attacked just as much as you do”. The story about Christianity also has two sides, one says “Poor me, I am being attacked!” and the other says “You are the one in power, all anyone asks is to be on par with you.”

Islam is actually very similar to Christianity. In fact the books are so similar that people can’t tell them apart. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEnWw_lH4tQ

I have gotten into multiple discussions with people where they argue that there is no way that Islam has roots in Christianity (some even claim that Islam is older than Christianity). People talk about how if they are not all out to get us, why are they not standing up to defend their religion? Now I see all over facebook, ‘Blaming all Muslims for ISIS is like blaming all Christians for KKK’ and this is a much more succinct way of saying it, but I would talk about how most people just want to live their lives in peace. Today, in the face of all of this hatred toward Muslims, many are standing up for themselves. I stopped watching the mainstream media long ago, but I doubt that they are covering any of that, since they are guilty of perpetuating the myth.

This is not the only religion that is being marginalized, with all of the hatred coming from Donald Trump, many non-Christians are fearing the worst, like the holocaust kind of worst. But somehow the other big religious battle getting any media coverage right now is the ‘War on Christmas’. I know it is all over the place online right now, but I am going to say it too. There is no war on Christmas. You are allowed to celebrate it all you want. We may get annoyed with the holiday starting two months early, but we can deal with that, and I don’t think that is what they mean.

When I was little I thought “Happy Holidays” referred to ‘holiday season’, or Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. I was pretty clueless about non-Christian anything, so I made it fit with what I knew. As far as I remember, growing up ‘Happy Holidays’, ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Feliz Navidad’ were used pretty much interchangeably. (I grew up in New Mexico). I think that if that one store had just quietly switched to ‘Happy Holidays’ no-one would have really noticed. While I whole-heartedly approved of the announcement that it was done with the intention of being more inclusive, and still do, I believe that the announcement itself is what kicked off the whole thing.

I understand that part of the history of Christianity involves persecution, but I also recognize that since the conversion of Constantine, they have largely had the upper hand. Yes, some places not so much, but overall, after that Christian influence has flourished around the world. Aside from some small countries in some parts of the world and a few radicalized individuals, no-one really wants to kill Christians just because they are Christian. The ‘War on Christmas’ in America is really just a bunch of over-entitled people who have been told their whole lives that they are victims (because persecution is still taught like it’s a current issue) throwing a pity party because their entitlement is waning.

All anyone ever wanted out of ‘Happy Holidays’ or making a cup red is making people who celebrate other holidays around the same time feel more accepted. All we want is equality. We are not trying to take away your right to celebrate, we are not trying to minimize your holiday or religion, we just want to be able to celebrate ours with the same freedom.

So this Yule I want to wish everyone a Happy Holidays and Peace to the World.

Intelligence

What is intelligence? I know I have touched on this before. Traditionally we define intelligence as IQ, or Intelligence Quotient. This is something inherent to us that does not change within our lifetime, or at least that is how it is thought of. IQ is a way that we are all assigned a number that puts us on a line from less intelligent to more intelligent. There is no second dimension to it. More or Less, that is all.

But I believe that there is more than that. Think of it as the difference between plotting a point on a one dimensional number line and plotting a point in three dimensional space, except that I want more planes than even that and adding time (as a fourth dimension) would allow. There are so many different ways that people (and animals) can be intelligent. This is how we generally think of animal intelligence.

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But not only do they probably think the same of us, but what if they are the smart ones? All it takes is a small perspective shift. They have figured out a way to let us do the work while they reap the rewards. Pretty smart.

In my opinion, intelligence is made up of many things, including some that cannot be tested for. I don’t really see the point of testing for it anyway. As I see it the point of testing is to see who is superior, and I would argue that no-one is. Everyone has their own strengths, and beyond finding a way to discover those, testing is superfluous.

Children are a perfect example of this. People often laugh at children because they believe the things they say are stupid. When I was young I put together the fact that I saw the world as flat and the fact that I knew there was another side of it and imagined that the world was a cube. Obviously my conclusion was incorrect, but you cannot fault the logic. I had used the information available to me to come to a more accurate representation of the world than man had for centuries. Intelligence, in this case, is about taking pieces of information and putting them together.

My son still has a very limited vocabulary, but he is figuring out ways to tell a story. Sometimes he will say ‘hot’ and ‘mom’ while pointing to the kitchen. It is pretty clear at that point that he wants a meal. He is communicating not only that he is hungry, but he wants hot food, or a meal. One time I came home and he said ‘eye’ and ‘ear’ and pointed at a wall. I was a bit confused, until my husband told me that they had been pointing out the eyes and ears of the girl in a picture on the wall. My 18 month old was telling me what they did while I was at work.

I know that may not sound like much, but one of the smartest things about kids, and this applies double to babies, is that they soak up information all the time. Learning itself is a part of what intelligence is. And, as many parents have discovered, they don’t only learn what you try to teach them. Many parents find to their dismay that the kid has picked up curse words. This is for the same reason that many babies first word is ‘no’. Kids say what they hear.

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These type of images are all over the internet, and people laugh at the dumb little kids. Really though that is a very smart kid. He knows that he is hungry, and food comes from boobs. He is just missing some information that led him to a false conclusion.

All the time kids fall down because they are still learning physics. If a kid learns to walk in a room with a perfectly flat floor and nothing on it, they will stumble when he gets on a ramp or a hill. But the younger they are, the quicker they are able to learn to compensate.

Another group that is often mocked for low intelligence is older people. When someone with Parkinson’s shakes and drops something they are called ‘retarded’. (We will address that in a minute.) The person’s mind can be as sharp as ever, but if the motor function starts to drop off, the labels fly off the shelf. In many cultures, and I am sad that mine is not one, older people are respected for their wisdom.

I completely understand that it can be very frustrating to try to teach someone who did not grow up using a computer how to do something that my generation regards as basic. But all it means is that the person’s mind is less malleable. They have more information stored in their brains than we do. Their intelligence is generally called ‘wisdom’ and it comes from the build up of all of the information that they have accrued in life.

Even people with what most people would consider ‘diminished mental capacity’ are intelligent in their own way. Today Einstein would probably be diagnosed with half a dozen learning disabilities. The reason that we think in terms of higher and lower intelligence is because we are giving the fish and the birds the same test as the monkeys and the elephants.

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This image has been used as a mockery of our current educational system, and it is. But the problem goes deeper than that. While many kids can excel at reading, teaching a dyslexic student in the same way can be disheartening, and make them wary of not only books, but the information contained in them. While trying to teach an autistic child to read can be completely futile. (And yes, under No Child Left Behind they are held to the same standards of ‘proficiency’ as anyone else in their grade).

That same autistic child might be a savant at something else. For some it might be advanced mathematics, another might be just obsessed with trains. While some teachers might try to use that obsession to motivate the child, (nothing wrong with that) I would suggest going even further and trying to figure out what it is about trains that they love so much. It might be that she is interested in creating the path for them because in their mind they can instantly see the most efficient route, or maybe it is the idea of multiple things following in the exact same path.

Sensory Processing Disorder is diagnosed when people’s sensory perception is abnormal. It is often described in terms related to ‘broken’ but what if some of them feel the need to re-confirm the solidity of objects because they somehow subconsciously know that atoms are mostly empty space? When Earnest Rutherford first discovered that fact, he is reported to have been afraid to get out of bed in the morning because he did not want to fall through the floor.

I am not presenting any of these ideas as fact, but as a thought exercise, a reminder that things are not always how we perceive them. Something that we see as stupid can, in fact, be signs of intelligence. It just means that we not see something in the same way as someone else. Rather than judging in the moment, we should give some time to consider how they came to that conclusion. It might just be that our own understanding of the situation is missing some information, or that they understand something better than we do.

Donald Trump as President

At first I thought this post would say something like, ‘Ok, the joke is up, it’s not funny anymore.” But it is way past that point. I am truly terrified about this. At first it was just as an idle ‘what if,’ but the polling numbers make this a real possibility.

facebook page supporting Bernie Sanders posted a question, ‘What worries you about Donald Trump being president?’ I found that my answer was far too long for a response in the comments.

Entitlement – It started with Trump’s 1% attitude. He thinks that he got himself where he is today. As I have said before, I don’t really believe that is how capitalism works. Our economy does not get people where they belong based on work or ethics, but primarily on family wealth and/or unscrupulous behavior. This is shown with his ‘small $1 million dollar loan’. Little does he realize that this is more money than most Americans will even handle in their lifetime.

Trump feels that he is the best. His success has given him the idea that he can do whatever he wants. And the US legal system supports that. The fact that he has declared bankruptcy makes him feel that he has seen the worst. And the fact that he came back stronger makes him believe that he is even stronger than an ordinary millionaire. He thinks that he is so infallible that no matter what he does he will succeed.

As someone who already benefits from the elaborate protections the wealthy have on their money, Trump is likely to keep those and create more. All of these protections are damaging for those who cannot take advantage of them. For every penny that they keep is a penny out of circulation. Each penny is another one that will not be paid to the hard-working employees to buy food. In the end, each penny they hoard is a penny they don’t have to steal a second time.

Cruel – The television show, The Apprentice, is known for Trump’s coldhearted treatment of the contestants. While one could hope this was just for sensationalism, it is precisely that sensation that propelled him to where he is today. It is that attitude that has earned him fans. Having anyone in charge who thinks that people are disposable is a recipe for disaster. I doubt the people who work for him are treated very well. And these people we see on the show have been mentored by him, sometimes for several weeks. Even that does not help him to show any sympathy. What can we expect him to feel for people he has never even seen?

Bigot – Trump has gained his thunder through cruelty in general, but now he is directing it. He knows that he needs certain individuals to support him, and is directing their existing fears and prejudices to his advantage. His hate speech is terrifying to me. We forget that Hitler did not round up everyone he disliked at once, he started small and gradually worked his way up as fewer and fewer groups were there to protect one another. This is one of the reasons that we must protect other people’s freedoms as well as our own. American history that I grew up learning was a consistent progression of gaining equality and rights for the disenfranchised, but within my lifetime we have gone back centuries when it comes to this progress. Trump is even more overt about it than Bush.

Followers – The most terrifying thing to me is not that there is someone in the world like this. I know they exist. The fact that he has power is frightening, but what scares me the most is that people follow him. He has supporters who believe the outrageous claims. He is working them up to a fever pitch, allowing people who were considered ‘fringe’ before for their radical views to come into the limelight. This is the Tea Party, but perhaps even more extreme. This is dangerous.

 

Fashion

With my obsession with clothing, it may come as a surprise that, while I do enjoy studying historical fashion trends, I find modern fashion largely uninteresting. Every once in a while something will pop up that I like, but usually it is something that references historical fashion. In casual conversation I usually just dismiss modern fashion as boring, which is the reason that I don’t really like it. But there is more to modern fashion that bothers me than that. Prices.

I do not, cannot, and  will not understand how brand names mean higher prices. The Louis Vatton bag looks the same to me as the one at wal-mart, except that the one at wal-mart I am not paying someone to advertise for them. The quality is no better than the cheap wal-mart version or the knock offs. I have had people argue this one to no end, but I do work with these things, I know what I am looking at. As far as I have seen, men’s suits and the fabrics they use is the only exception to this rule, but even then the nice fabrics that are worth a higher price do not always go with an expensive brand name.

I completely understand paying more for a better product, I understand paying the person who makes something what it costs for them to make it. I expect that. I charge more for my work than you could buy a Halloween costume at party city, but I make it out of sturdy materials, I make it to fit the customer, and I expect to be paid for my expertise and time, as well as the costs of materials. What I do not get is paying more money for the EXACT SAME PRODUCT. We are not talking a few dollars here, it is the difference between $20 and $500. The only difference is the big showy label that says “I paid way too much for this bag!”

Honestly if people choose to spend their hard-earned money in this way this is their business, not mine. It does become my business when people assume that ‘homemade’ means cheap. It is my business when people want me to make them a real Victorian corset for the same as they could buy a cheap Halloween costume ‘corset’. It is my business when people think that because I do not make these brand-name things that my labor is worth less than they would pay for that.

Freedom of Expression; Gender Identity

My son is about 18 months old now, and I want it to be his choice when he gets his first haircut, because I believe that it is about self-expression. His hair is getting long enough to be in his eyes, and I sometimes manage to pull it back for awhile before he takes out the hair tie. Because of the long hair people always assume he is a girl, but especially when it is up. I don’t really care, at that age gender doesn’t mean anything. To me the only thing gender means is how you have sex, and some limited biological brain functions. Most of what we consider gender identity is created by our culture.

Today my son was wearing a red flannel shirt and jeans while his hair was pulled up in a pink hair tie because that is what I happened to have with me. A gentleman stopped by to say hi and asked “who is this sweet girl?” I introduced him as my son. I thought it was rather amusing that it was more believable to the man that a little girl would wear a full boy’s outfit than that a boy would have long hair in a ponytail. In our culture girls have more freedom in this regard than boys do. We have fought for it. A century ago a girl wearing pants was even more taboo than a boy wearing a skirt is today.

Not only do women have a box they are expected to fit into, so do men. For women it is about fingernails, hair, and makeup. It is about shopping for shoes and clothes that allow her to be the woman she is supposed to be. For all of the fighting that women have done to be equal to men, there is still a box. The fight is not over.

The problem is that some men feel like by women gaining ground they are losing it. That is not the point. I am not sure what about the feminist movement gives that impression, but some people’s notion that women are trying to take over might have something to do with it. Men are confined in a box too. They have always been, and have not put together a fight the way that women have. Men and boys are pressured to be macho. “Be a man”, “Grow some balls”, those types of statements are endemic of the battle that they face. The equivalent “Act like a lady” is reserved for specific situations, but for the most part women have permission to be more manly than men have to be womanly. Not only is the behavioral box more confining for men, they are also more confined in dress. Women are expected to wear makeup, but the choice not to is not as taboo as the choice of men to wear it. Women can wear all sorts of tops, dresses, or skirts or pants. Men get shirts and pants. The variety even within that is very limited. As a costume designer I find designing for men from the 19th century on rather boring. And to top it off, men are expected to support the women in life in a way that they can do the shopping they are supposed to do.

I believe that the crisis that some people have with gender identity would not be nearly as bad if they did not feel pressured into a mold they did not fit. When a boy is forced to be a boy they feel the need to push back just because they like some things that are considered ‘girly’. Rather than sending this child on a whirlwind of identity, how about we just let him play with the dolls if that is what he wants. Later he may turn out to be straight, or he may turn out to be gay. He may even turn out to identify as a girl. That is okay.

To me it seems that the dichotomy between male and female has created a very damaging society. I understand that for some people who identify as their non-biological gender they only feel complete once they have completed their gender re-assignment surgery. I have no problem with the surgery, if it is that important to you, go for it. I support you 100%. My concern is that some people feel that in order to fit they have to completely identify as one or the other. I would rather live in a society where a man is allowed to wear a dress and makeup when he feels like it, but is still allowed to go hunting with the guys. Rather than having distinct gender identities, and spending so much time categorizing people (including adding new distinctions) we should just let people be themselves and skip the labels. For some people just being allowed to be themselves is enough, they would not need to go through all of the physical changes. For others the body they were given is not themselves, and they should have the right to change it.