What is Homeschooling?

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

WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO???? THESE KIDS ARE DRIVING US CRAZY!!!!

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.

Just a Day (or two) in the Life

Lest you think I am exaggerating about my way too hectic life, let me tell you about the past couple days.

Halloween: I’m still trying to finish costumes. Big got up and got dressed a little quicker than he has been lately.

(Which is not very ‘quick’. It’s really hard to convince yourself to get up early enough to catch the bus an hour and a half before the sun comes up.) They said no full face masks, so I decided to work on that later.

I also had to get Little up to go to the bus stop since Grandma was out of town.

I had just enough time to finish Little’s Robin mask before we had to go into town.

We got to the school just in time to watch the costume parade. There were several Batman’s, but Big was the only Adam West Batman.

Then Little and I had to take off, just in time to make it to my dentist appointment. Yes, I am crazy enough to see a dentist on Halloween.

After that we had time to get lunch, but Little was not hungry. And adamantly against buckling his seat belt.

(My kids have been having a prolonged battle with Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. This means that when they had boils on their hands and I had to keep them home, they were not behaving sick at all, but now we are dealing with appetite loss, crabby behavior, tired, coughing…)

He was willing to put it on to go to the thrift store, so yay! But after that stop, OMG I have never had such a seat belt battle before in my life. For starters, both of us are red heads. We are Very stubborn. He is dealing with all the aforementioned things, and it was just about naptime. He is getting big enough that physically putting him in against his will is not really a viable option, he knows what parts never to bend, and he knows how to wiggle out the other arm, etc. I ended up having to loosen the straps, get him in and tighten it down. And he still wiggled out, so I got him back in and tightened it more. Then he feel asleep before I even got out of the parking space.

I then stopped to get lunch, obviously I had to go to a drive thru. I hate fast food. I know I’m not alone, but I just don’t enjoy it.

After lunch I had to go to pick up Big from school. This also included picking up Winnie-The-Pooh.

A small battle over Little’s seat belt ensued. Then I had to rush to the train station to pick up my mom and grandmother. We have a small car and had to fit three adults (one wearing a walking boot), two kids in car seats, a suitcase, two pumpkins, a walker, and the stuff from the thrift store. Luckily I am very good at Tetris.

Then we rushed home to join the costume parade. We were just late enough that the traffic through town was stopped for the parade. Since we were stopped anyway, the kids and I (yes, from the middle of the backseat between two car seats) jumped out and walked to catch up with the parade. (I grabbed my Alfred coat, but that was all of my costume I grabbed, and couldn’t get Big’s cape or mask either.)

After that the day calmed down. When mom got to the costume contest I went back to the car to get the missing costume pieces, and got back just in time for the family contest. Afterwards we went to dinner at The Holler. Awesome, as always! After dinner we tried to decide whether or not to go to Cerrillos for Trick-or-Treating. Big was super excited and was annoyed when I said he needed a coat. I had just overheard someone saying that it was 16 degrees (Fahrenheit) when they got up. Yes, he needs a coat to go out. Little decided it was too cold before the coat argument even started. We only got around one block before Big decided to go back to the car, skipping over any houses on the way. (Granted this is a rural community, the blocks are big, with only a couple houses on each side.)

Day of the Dead:

Got up crazy early to get big on the bus. I don’t think I got back to bed that day, but we had to get to the gallery and get ready to move furniture. Yay. At two we were expecting a group of people to take a fridge to the ballpark. So we had to empty it, and then started working on clearing off a desk so we can move it.

So right around two: Big got home on the bus, the fridge movers came, the propane guy came to move a giant propane tank, we got a phone call about merchants association dues.

So mom goes to show the propane guy the tank, my grandma writes the check and waits for the guy, I get the kids settled and go realize that the door frame is too small for the fridge. We consider taking down the drywall covering the door that it was probably brought in through. But that goes through the rental unit, and would need to go out through a gate that’s probably also too small, or out the back door and past the propane tank. So we determined to just force it through the too small door. The fridge door came off with a little challenge. The kitchen door came off pretty easily. It’s still too big. So the door jam came off. That didn’t solve it. We had to remove screws because the head of the screw was too thick. That helped, but still did not solve it.

I ended up climbing over the refrigerator into the kitchen, including one of those ‘why women live longer’ in reverse. I stepped onto the dolly that was under the fridge I was trying to get over. I looked around all the places that my mom wearing the walking boot couldn’t get to. Nothing was stopping it, but I could see where it was wedged so I used my shoulder as a battering ram. Finally got it through.

Meanwhile the kids want snacks, so mom made corn dogs and passed them over the top of the fridge. The propane guy determined that he couldn’t move the tank, it was too far, so we need to get people and carry it. He capped off the gas line it was connected to. And the merchants association guy came to get the check.

Ok so we got the fridge to the truck, and roped in more help from the bar across the street. We had the dolly rolling up a ramp of two beams. I pulled it to the point where I had to get on the bed or get squished. I got up, I pulled to the point where the ramp pieces would flip up under the weight of the fridge. One flipped and the other didn’t. The fridge nearly slid off the side of the dolly, except that my arm was in the way. I don’t know what happened at that point, but it seemed that everyone thought they were done, but I had most of the weight on my arm. I had to call out to get them to get the fridge moving again. Everything turned out ok, but my arm has a rather significant bruise.

Ok, so then I went to get the kids because we were going to the Maize Maze in Albuquerque. Only Little took a nap. We went in, got a map, and stepped in to the maze. I decided to let the kids choose turns at random.

We succeeded in getting lost to the point where the map did not bear any resemblance to the maze. Since we got there kinda late, it was getting dark. Unsurprisingly the kids got cold and antsy after awhile. I decided to go back to the entrance just to get out and maintain the fun. After I made that choice we got out pretty quick…out the exit no less!

But the kids didn’t want to hang out, they wanted to go home. Which is fine since it was bedtime. But on the way to the car, Big threw up. Little had done that a few days before, I chalked it up to the cough from the Hand Foot and Mouth.

On the way home Big woke up screaming that his stomach hurt, the seat belt was too tight and that he couldn’t take it. I was really close to home, just had to go over the mountain. But I pulled over and took the seat belt off. He has had some stomach aches for the last several days. I wasn’t sure if it was just how he was sitting and squirming, but his stomach looked distended. I knew that could be a really bad sign and that I didn’t have a cell phone signal. So I had to buckle him back in (looser of course) and get home ASAP. I got home, brought him in, thankfully my mom was sitting right in the front room so I asked her to look at his belly while I got a sleeping Little out of the car. She agreed that Big looked distended, so we called 911. The first responders were helpful, but couldn’t tell us anything. The medical guys were able to tell us that it probably was not life threatening his vitals all looked good, but that he should probably go to the hospital just to be safe. My mom told them the story of my grandfather’s older brother who died of appendicitis before my grandfather was born. The doctor had said that everything was fine and was wrong.

So I drove Big into town while my mom stayed with Little. (So proud of Little: with all the chaos and being woken up getting out of the car, Little put himself to bed.) There is a new hospital in town, thankfully. The old one had a monopoly, so they never cared that everyone called them St. Victim’s. The new hospital is amazingly nice. I have had to accompany three people to the ER/Urgent Care since they opened about a year ago and I have never had a wait. Not that we got in before anyone, but that they just never have people waiting. They get you in right away. It is amazing.

So they got him triaged and into a room. The nurse who took the vitals seemed to think it was a stomach bug that has apparently been going around. But when the doctor came in and looked at the big belly, he was immediately concerned. He left immediately to order X-Rays. After that adventure with a very tired, shockingly co-operative child clearly in pain, they gave him an IV and waited for the results.

Big learned that there is no kids TV on at night. A strange concept to a child with access only to Netflix, VHS and DVDs

Turned out it was just a stomach bug, But it was a scary situation I never want to be in again.

The AI Will Steal Our Jobs!

They say that starting a post with a bolt statement is a good idea, so here you go: Artificial Intelligence will destroy our current economic structure. How’s that?

While that statement may seem like a gross overreaction and sound a little nutty, it is quite possibly true. As we move forward, AI will take more and more of the tasks we currently do ourselves. Right now they are mostly in highly repetitive tasks, such as manufacturing. These robots have already displaced many workers, they are cheaper and more accurate. But the presence of those robots have also opened up new opportunities in research and development as well as in maintenance. Here’s the catch: displaced employees cannot afford the new education necessary to go into these fields.

In the past, new technology has largely been geared towards making human beings more efficient at their jobs. If one person makes more stuff, the price of the stuff goes down and makes it available to more people. This has been the driver of our economic growth and high standard of living. Thus far technological progress has been the facilitator of our modern world.

But we are at a moment when this status quo is changing. Artificial intelligence is becoming better than we are at tasks we once considered exclusively the domain of human beings. This means that the jobs that were more nuanced and variable, are going the way of the dodo as those get replaced as well.

For awhile there will be new jobs created by this boom, but eventually those will be taken over as well. Eventually there will be very little, of anything, that human beings need to do.

So now it is not only the ‘unskilled’ laborers who will be out of jobs, but the more technical fields as well. The only people who will be able to make money will be those selling the products that the robots make, this will soon include such diverse things as health care and art to add to the products they manufacture today.

That won’t last long, if no one is earning, no one is spending.

So, now that I have completely depressed you; let me tell you why this could actually be awesome, and what we have to do to make sure that it is.

If you think about it, if robots are doing all the work and there is plenty of everything to go around, why should anyone ever have to go without? The only way this would happen is if we stay on our current economic course. If people need to trade their labor for money to trade for goods and services.

However, if we eliminate the need to pay for those goods and services, why do we panic over the loss of income? In other words, if we make those basic necessities available to all, it won’t matter if the robots do all the work.

Here we get a choice, how do we create an equitable system?

Option 1: Necessary goods and services are provided to all, and money is used to buy luxury goods.

This option is a good middle ground, and very likely to be the solution, but as I see it being implemented, it would be in a simple reactionary way. Like refugee camps, or homeless shelters. Necessities are covered, but living conditions are appalling with no visible path out of the situation.

If we plan ahead, we could create this as a positive way to keep everyone happy and healthy. But it would still leave the wealthy with power and influence over those who just get by on the basics with little upward mobility.

Option 2: Basic universal income.

The results of this option would be very similar to the plan ahead version of option 1. People would get some support, (although that income may not cover everything they need depending on health, implementation, and local economic variation.) but would still struggle to grow. Any growth would depend on the movement of currency to people from all walks of life. This would require that anyone attempting to improve their station from subsistence would have to advertise essentially, to gain the attention of those who do have money to burn. It would just be redistribution of the wealth between the wealthy.

Option 3: Preemptively create a non-monetary based system. No money means that all basic services would be available to all add needed. And anyone willing to grow would not need to convince someone else to part with their money, but only to show that they are providing some benefit to society. Without competition, the existing barriers of the economy would break down.

Everyone could be required to work a certain amount of time in service to community or society as we grow to reach the time of robots doing all of the work. As robots take on more of the workload, the required human workload would be readjusted and distributed equally. Less work for humans would not result in lost jobs creating starvation in a land of plenty.

As a bonus to this idea, if we got rid of money, there would be a huge number of ‘jobs’ that surround the redistribution of wealth that would disappear with it. This means that the starting workload for each person would be much less work than we currently do today. These jobs would include things like cashiers, loan specialists, stock traders, bankers, accountants, investors, and sales to name a few.

Even if we only eliminated that workload and required a lot less work to keep the status quo, I suspect that we would actually make progress toward a work-free future faster. Without all that time spent on the redistribution of wealth, the free time that people would gain would go towards hobbies.

Everyone has a few things they enjoy doing in their free time, and some of those have the potential to drive us to the future. Some people enjoy listening to music or watching movies. Some people enjoy creating neat things. Some people enjoy robotics and coding in their free time. Giving people more free time, and unlimited access to education (one of the most basic services provided) would spawn a massive outpouring of growth in many areas, including STEM. There are many people caught in the day to day grind of living paycheck to paycheck who could do so much for our world if we can unchain them from the money train.

This does require a whole new way of thinking. But in a world without scarcity, we do not need to create a system of artificial scarcity, which is how money works.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Welfare and Socialism

Today there is a great debate over how much assistance should be given to people just by right. The main arguments go something like this;

“Can I get some help here so my kids don’t starve?”

“Work for it.”

“I work as much as humanly possible, my pay is too low.”

“Go to school to get a better job.”

“I cannot afford to go to school, I can’t even put food on the table.”

“I did it, why can’t you?”

And so it goes. Families that have both parents often find that they have more take-home pay if only one works, due to the expenses of child care. I cannot even begin to imagine how a single parent family is expected to do it.

As with most problems, I think that both sides have the best of intentions, and there is something that just doesn’t convey. I will try to do my best to represent both sides, but I know that it will probably become clear where I stand on this issue if it is not obvious already, and from my other posts.

This is an issue now because the pay that many workers receive does not allow them to maintain a basic standard of living. The national minimum wage is woefully inadequate to support even one person. In fact, many states have higher minimum wages, and many cities are even higher than that. According to citylab.com there is only one state that pays more than bare minimum for one person to get by on.

Many people’s first reaction is to tell the person working at this low wage that it is all their fault. They must have made bad choices in the past, and now they have to pay for that mistake. While some people may have had the opportunity to go to college, or join the military and chose not to, not everyone has that luxury. If your family needs money now, a kid, even still in high school, may need to work to help their family get by. This means that college gets put off until later, if ever. The military is a great option, provided that you meet the physical and mental health requirements. (Not to mention that some people choose not to join for political, religious, or ideological reasons.) There are many people who are in minimum wage jobs not because of their own errors, but because of the cards that life dealt to them.

But let’s imagine that we are talking about someone who had made the grade in high school, could have gone to college, but chose to put it off for whatever reason, a common enough scenario. In the meantime, they get a job and try to get a place. Now they are not living with mom and dad anymore, and they have a whole place to themselves that needs rent to be paid. This makes it very challenging to get together the necessities for school, especially if a second job is needed to pay the bills. While their is some financial assistance available, it is more challenging than getting that assistance straight out of school. (And many of these programs fall into that category of government aid that we are debating here anyway.) The question then becomes how long should they suffer for that one bad choice?

There is also the increasingly common scenario of someone who followed all the rules, they made good grades, went to school, got a degree, worked their own way through school with as little debt as possible. Now that they are out, no-one is hiring in their field. And when they do find an opening the competition is fierce. Employers have their pick, and usually will chose someone who offers not only the educational background, but experience as well. The question then arises, “How do I get experience if I can’t get hired because I have no experience?” In some industries, the answer has been internships, but, potentials for illegality aside, this is a system that does not work in all fields.

It is frightening when even getting a minimum wage job has the same pitfalls I just discussed. Increasingly I hear about people needed to go to two or even three interviews just to ‘flip burgers’! There are so many people actively looking for work, that employers can be, and are, very picky even for supposed ‘entry level’ jobs. If people did not have to work 2 or more jobs to get by, there would be more jobs to go around.

Having established that living itself can get in the way of trying to improve oneself, lets talk about that a bit. There is enough food in the world to feed every person on the planet, and plenty of housing for all homeless, at least in many ‘developed’ nations like the US and the UK. What gets in the way is not supply, but rather, means. In some cases creating the infrastructure to distribute food might take some time, but is within the realm of possibility. In the case of housing, the largest struggle is simply the legality of it.

There are many people who have ‘made it’, and proudly proclaim that they did it all without any government aid. That may be true, they did not file for need-based assistance programs. However, they certainly have benefited from for more socialist type of structure. The type that you don’t need to apply to use, it is available to all. Some examples of this would be public roadways, utilities, and emergency services. These things are generally agreed to be for the public good and are therefore made available to all. Parks and Community Centers are other great examples.

My question is, why are these things thought of as public rights, and the things that are considered human rights and even necessary for life, are things that must be paid for? I have no problem with money. Money is a fine way to distribute wealth and luxury goods. However I do not believe that anyone, no matter how lazy, should be denied basic necessities of life, or the internationally agreed upon human rights.

Millennials

I am coming to terms with the realization that I am a part of the ‘Millennial’ generation. I had been under the impression that this was a group that was a few years younger than me, but from what I gather, I am actually right in the thick of it.

Why did I have that impression? Probably because I do not associate myself with the stereotypes. OK, yes it is stereotypes, and I know how much worth to put into those, but forgive me for not wanting to be grouped with people who are considered ‘entitled’, ‘lazy’ and ‘narcissistic’. I know that, like most stereotypes, this describes only a small percentage of my generation, but you know how it goes, the bad apples ruin it for everyone.

I have actually been having a hard time finding someone to tell me, or anything online, that actually sums up ‘the quintessential millennial’. I keep finding things on ‘how to market to millennials’, which, now that I think about it, really does sum up how many people of my generation think of themselves.

We are a generation who has been molded by marketing. I know that this is true of other generations too, but I think that it is very obvious with people my age. We are obsessed with physical beauty. Any small imperfection that people find in themselves they tend to latch on to. That said, there has been a lot of push back against this lately. Women especially are learning to fight back and to be proud of who they are without bowing to the ideals that are being pushed on them by the media. Men are having a harder time, I think that it partly because the media has less specific standards to be met, but instead reinforces ‘what it is to be a man’. Stepping outside of those confines is also more socially unacceptable for men. Women are allowed to do masculine things, but men are not really allowed to do girly things.

We are a generation that was raised in a time of great prosperity in this country. We were raised with the expectation that growth would continue, and the world would keep getting better. People would continue making gains with regards to equality, income would continue to rise (not that they really compared it to inflation), if anyone paid attention to the problems of global climate change, they saw that more people were making strides to conserve, for whatever reasons. We were promised that if we did well in school, and got a degree we would be set for life. It didn’t even matter what the degree was in, as long as we had one we would have an easy time finding any job. All in all, the world was a very promising place.

Then, just as we were finding our place in the world, everything changed. With 9/11 we were told that America was the victim in a religious war, and certain people became ‘the enemy’. Suddenly we were told to be afraid all the time, of anyone who was not like us. The government created a way to not only keep a pulse on the fear of the nation, but to control it. Soon the economy fell. My generation was in various stages of starting their careers, some people were looking for a first job, others were just getting out of college.

This is when people really started to get disillusioned. Right now, a college graduate has, on average, tens of thousands of dollars of student loans. We were told that loans were the way to go. We have to build our credit, and once we graduate, our job will easily cover the bills, no problem. Now, where is that field of jobs, ripe for the picking? It does not exist. People who lost their retirement are not going to leave their jobs, so no jobs are opening up. Companies are more careful about how many people they need, and more picky about who they hire. All of the people who were laid off in the aftermath of the crash are out there looking for jobs too. And they have experience on their side, and on their resume. That is not to say they have it easy, no-one is hiring, and the longer you are out of work, the harder it is to get a job.

So now people without a job do not have the luxury of finding the right job, they have to take what they can get. In my case, as for many others, this means a job that starts at minimum wage. I am lucky that this company actually does raises, but most do not. I am lucky that I am making enough to get by, but many others do not. They need government assistance just to make ends meet. The requirements that they must meet in order to continue receiving assistance are already enough to show that these people are not just lazy, as they have been made out to be by the media. In order to qualify for many, they must have, or be actively looking for, a job. Many of the people on these programs have more than one job.

While I may qualify for some of these programs, I have not chosen to take advantage of them. Partially due to the stigma associated with them, and partly due to the trap they often catch people in. In order to qualify, certain income levels must be maintained, but if you make more than that number, the amount of benefits you lose far outweighs the gained income. I am lucky enough to still be able to make this choice, although luck is the only reason. Sometimes things happen in life that cannot be planned for. Sometimes those things turn out okay, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, even if you have a backup plan, it cannot cover the realities of life. And once that plan gets used up, it just takes one more case of bad luck.

My generation may act entitled, but I guess that is what happens when we are promised the world and then the rug gets pulled out from under our feet. We are being judged by the people who reaped the benefits of that golden age. They do not understand why we are struggling so much, and they think it must be because we are lazy. We have been told all of our lives that if we are just that much better, that much prettier, that much stronger, we will succeed. So is it any wonder that people latch on to these things as the things that will make them happier?

Please, stop blaming us for the economy falling apart, we were handed a broken plate and expected to return a meal on a silver platter. Please, stop telling us that our failure to thrive is our fault. Please, stop telling us that it is our own fault that we are struggling. I am not blaming you, I am just telling you how it is for us.

 

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.

 

Choice in Health Care

This is a really big topic, and the center of a lot of debate at the moment.

When I was pregnant with my son, we spent a lot of time looking over all of the information about the different tests and things that were available to us. We decided not to do any tests that we could not do anything about. What that means is that if the result of a test would tell us something, but we could not do anything to change the outcome then there is no point. One of these tests would tell us that our child would likely have down syndrome. Because there would be no way to lessen the probability following the test, we decided not to do it. Additionally the risks associated with the test were far more likely to cause problems than the likelihood that it would find anything. I have worked with down syndrome kids and we knew that if anything were to happen we would deal with it.

That said I was seeing many different doctors within the practice so that I would have met any of the ones who might end up delivering the baby. One of these doctors (luckily they were no longer employed there by the time I went into labor) was very indignant that we opted not to do this test. I understand that doctors have their own personal beliefs, and that they are supposed to do no harm. We were very upset that she refused to respect our choice, especially since that choice, according to the statistics, the science, was the less damaging. The doctor agreed that there was nothing that could be done about the results, and understood our risk/benefit analysis. Unfortunately the doctor’s personal preference to know took precedence and made us very uncomfortable.

This is something that is the patient’s choice. It has no effect on anyone else’s life. Us knowing in advance would change nothing except potentially adding problems because of the test.

Some people choose to have the test because if the child is more than likely going to have down syndrome, they would terminate the pregnancy. This would be considered a medical reason and is subject to different rules than if the parents chose abortion for a healthy child. I respect that choice. Having children is a huge responsibility, children with special needs more than doubly so. Although I do believe that every person has worth I know that many people would not be able to handle the care that these children require.

Abortion is a choice that does affect other’s lives, mostly the parents and the child’s. That choice should be about what is best for those people. If the parents, specifically the mother, know that the child would not be well off growing up in that household or situation, they have the options of adoption or abortion. It is the responsibility of those involved to make the decision about what is best. Just being alive is not always the better option. I used to say that having a child would end my life, not in a literal sense, but in a figurative one. When I was younger I would not be able to devote the time to improving my situation if I were to care for a child. The child would come first, and unfortunately would not be able to be brought up in the way I would like if I did not have a job and an education.

So what about the other big debate right now? Vaccines. I believe in free choice. I do not like it when the government imposes things we have to do. As far as I am concerned wearing a seat belt should be a personal choice. The statistics are out there, it is undoubtedly safer with a seat belt, but the only life lost would be your own, yes other lives are affected by this as well. In a perfect society I would say that people need to take that into consideration as they weigh the risks and benefits (?) of not wearing a seat-belt. I know however that people tend to be self-centered and not consider that others would be affected by their passing.

What does this have to with vaccines? I believe that people should be allowed to make their own choices. However people are not very good at weighing the data, or considering others. I really feel silly for repeating some of this, but the original study used to back the argument that vaccines cause autism has been retracted, and the author discredited. The other risks that are often cited are concerns about the inefficacy or side effects of the vaccines themselves. If the vaccine is ineffective, you are no worse off than if you did not have it, so I believe there is no more to be said about that. As far as side effects, these are usually minimal, a little soreness, but come on, you stuck a needle there, why wouldn’t it be sore? Yes, some people are allergic to certain elements of the vaccines. The chances of this are extremely remote. Those who are too young, do have a bad reaction, or find that the vaccine is ineffective are those who have to count on herd immunity. As a culture we have had this type of immunity for long enough that some people forget what the risks really are, which makes a real risk/reward analysis skewed. It can also allow people to forget that their decisions can affect others.

This is an article about a child who was exposed to measles. And this is the response from an anti-vaccine advocate. One of the points made in the response is that the man who carried the infection had been vaccinated. This means that he is just as much of a victim of the shrinking herd immunity as the child. Yes, I have problems with the pharmaceutical industry, but that is about them charging too much for things. They have something of value and a monopoly on it. They are taking advantage, and not realizing who that might hurt, but I do not believe they are evil. If you look at some of her links you can see that the evidence does not all fit. The risks associated with the vaccine are stated, but it is clearly stated that those risks apply to the people who should be counting on herd immunity. Her link about the court case has a headline reading “Merck Whistleblower Suit A Boon to Vaccine Foes Even As It Stresses Importance of Vaccines”.

I do believe in free choice, but I am an idealist and think that people should have the ability to make informed decisions when they are given the information. I have a problem when what I believe should be the case is not the case. In the case of vaccines, I am tempted to say that the government should take away people’s right to choose, for other’s protection. But if I do that, am I any different than those who want to take away women’s right to make decisions about abortion? Am I any different than those who advocate taking guns away because some might be used to kill? Am I any different than those who are trying to take away our right to choose our leaders? If I choose to limit people’s right to spread misinformation I am not different than anyone who tries to limit my speech against corporations or governments. These are rights I believe in, and I refuse to participate in setting a precedent that would assist taking away these rights, and others. I can only hope that giving people the information and teaching them how to use it (including reforming our current school system) is the best way. I am not willing to risk the future of our democracy in order to combat one ill-informed decision. A functional democracy depends on having an informed populace. That is what we need.

 

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.

Happiness

They say that being happy comes from enjoying what you have and living in the moment. I believe that, and I try my best. Overall, I am very happy. But this is a lot easier when I ignore what is going on in the real world.

The problem is that ignoring bad things allows them to continue. Some people say that the problem is that I care too much. That may be true, but I know that if we allow bad things to happen, it will affect us down the line. If by acting now I can help prevent that, I will act now.

I keep running into the problem that so many bad things are going on in the world that I cannot really be active enough in any one thing. Especially since I am a parent and I work full-time. This frustration that I have is probably part of the reason that so much of what I post are merely rants. I know full well that I am not adding anything meaningful to the debates. I just feel the need to DO SOMETHING.

I sign petitions, but so many of them ask for money after you ‘sign’ that I don’t even know if it gets counted unless I donate. I am not a bottomless pit, and I cannot donate to every worthy cause I come across.