Saturday, January 13, 2018

Go Fund Me for College Tuition    My daughter, Yasmeen, is enrolled in college in Massachusetts.  She has impressed her professors her first year, but we have no money at this time to cover the remainder of her tuition after loans and scholarships.                    When I had my last baby, Yasmeen - at 16 yrs old - came to every pediatric visit, helped with her baby brother in the middle of the night, and helped care for him while I recovered from back surgery.    She did all of this because I could not lift my own baby after he was one month old until after I had my back surgery.  (I can now lift my son.)          
       Yasmeen was seriously considering a career in academia. She is the girl who finds essay writing (20 pages) to be not easy, but certainly very doable. She wrote 30 pages on Freud just in her Freshman year. She has taken extra classes. I know I am biased because she is my daughter, but she has always been a student for research and academics in the field of humanities. She does need to be in college. And she has been happier at Hampshire than I think I have ever seen her. She found her community of progressives, of self-directed learners who embrace academia, and of amazing professors. If 450 people could spare ten dollars, we can do this! She has been approved for three work study jobs for next semester, so that will help, but we need this $5K to prevent her from being blocked from readmission for the Spring.    She is receiving federal aid, a generous  partial tuition forgiveness financial needs scholarship from Hampshire College, and a community service scholarship, but it does not cover the full amount.       Please feel free to share!

Friday, December 29, 2017

History: Western Civilization Part 1

History: Western Civilization Part 1
“The Battle Of Marathon” in The Histories by Herodotus
“The Battle of Thermopylae” in The Histories by Herodotus
 “Pericles’ Funeral Oration” in The Peloponnesian War by Eurcydides
“The Plague and Plague Speech by Pericles” in The Peloponnesian War by Eurcydides
“Melian Dialogue” in The Peloponnesian War by Eurcydides

Julius Caesar and Roman Britain by Walter Du La Garde
“Cincinnatus” in Famous Men of Rome
“Emperor Nero” in Famous Men of Rome
Plutarch’s “Life of Themistocles”
Plutarch’s “Life of Alexander The Great”
Plutarch’s “Life of Julius Caesar”

 “Ancient Athens and The Golden Age of Greece” Documentary
“The True Story of Hannibal” Documentary

The Byzantine Empire by Jennifer Fretland VanVoorst (booklet 48 pages)
The Life of Charlemagne by Eginhard
William Malmesbury’s Account of The Battle of Hastings 1066
“The House of Normandy” in British Kings and Queens – covers William the Conqueror, Civil War  between Stephen and Matilda, and the rise of Henry II
Henry II and Thomas Beckett by Walter Du La Garde
The Magna Charta
“Magna Charta In Context” by Claire Breay and Julian Harrison
 “The 95 Theses” by Martin Luther
“The Transatlantic Slave Trade” article from UNESCO
“The Slave Route” UNESCO
Maps of the Slave Route UNESCO

“The Transatlantic Slave Trade”;jsessionid=f8302320431476677508560?migration=1&bhcp=1

Monday, December 18, 2017

Another Day In The Life: Fifth Grade

Science: Model making of a cell from play doh.   Learning about sharks and whales
Poem: Copywork first four lines of “From a Railway Carriage”
Recitation: “Still I Rise”
Art: drawing practice, Van Gogh’s Room At Arles
Music: The Nutcracker
Math: Multiplication practice

Now that Seneca has completed her book My Side of The Mountain for her literature block, she is now working on her science block.  For formal study, she is reading from the book The Way We Work by David Macaulay.  She made a model of a cell from play-doh and discussed the functions of the parts of the cell.   She had to check the book repeatedly, and I’m still not sure that sure remembers what part of a cell does what.  However, the repetition is good for her, and we will revisit the model cell again tomorrow.   
This isn’t a Charlotte Mason approach to science, but straying a little and using a variety of sources can be beneficial.  The book itself is a good and informative book. I also think that doing even a small hands-on project, such as making a replica of a cell, is helpful in learning about a cell.  I consider each time she was asked to explain the model to have been an exercise in oral narration, so that is a CM component to the lesson.
   On her own, Seneca has found science websites from which she enjoys learning.  She has always loved learning about sharks.  She told me about a shark with skin that is toxic to humans and she showed me the video. 
She also loves whales.  She showed me a site where she had been learning about whales. She told me that whales travel in pods (which I did know), but that there are aggressive and non-aggressive pods (which I did not know.)
      For writing practice today, I asked Seneca to copy four lines from the Robert Louis Stevenson poem, “From A Railway Carriage” in cursive.   Since she didn’t love this poem, I had let her choose out another one for reading aloud this past week.  So, her main poem this week was actually “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou.  However, for writing practice, she is using “From A Railway Carriage,” and that is because it is a shorter poem. 

    Seneca has been watching a lot of drawing videos lately and has been working on developing drawing skills.  I am quite impressed with the dedication and hard work that she has shown.  I think I may order an online drawing course for her in the near future. I certainly cannot help her at all in this endeavor.  This isn’t something that I assigned or even suggested to her.  

Friday, December 15, 2017

Grades in the Homeschool: What is Fair?

Let’s talk about grades.  All through school, if I studied for a history or English test, I was pretty much guaranteed to get an A.  If I put the same amount of effort into studying for a math test, I was guaranteed to get a C.  If I did not study for a history or English test, I would most likely get a C or B-.  If I did not study for a math test, I would still get a C.  
Grades are supposed to reflect effort and time put in to something. And sometimes, those grades are a true reflection of time and effort, but what about when they’re not.   No matter how much effort I put into math, I can’t get better than a C.  Please don’t misunderstand me:   I don’t think I should be given an A unless my test scores are that of an A grade. 
                But here’s a good thing about grades: they let me know not only what I was good at, but what I was bad at –math.  You really do not want me to be building bridges.  (Aside: I’ve heard people say things like, “Oh you need math to go into business or be an engineer.”  My mental response was, “Fine. I won’t study business or become an engineer.”  So, please be very careful when you say things like that.  You may be doing more harm than good.)  I also now understand that I have math learning disability called dyscalculia. 
                One of the great things about homeschooling is that you can tailor the teaching method to match your child’s style of learning.   But does this give homeschoolers some unfair advantage?  Let’s say a homeschool student learns physics concepts by doing project-based learning.  That student is able to show what she has learned both through the physical project and notes explaining the project and how physics applies.  She gets an A in her physics homeschool class.  Now, let’s assume we have a public school student who just can’t seem to grasp these physics concepts within the confines of the textbook.  (Textbooks can be fantastic resources.)   Anyhow, our public school student ends up with a B-, but not for lack of trying.  Had said public school student been allowed to engage in project-based learning, she might have earned an A as well.  So, while I do love the idea of tailoring learning to meet how an individual student learns, I am deeply troubled by the ethical implications of this.    To be clear, I am talking about high school transcripts which will be used my college admissions counselors.  Those counselors assume an A is earned through textbook study and exams.   Also, how many projects should a homeschool student do to earn a credit that is worth 120 hours of work. Granted, as homeschoolers we don’t have to hit exactly 120 hours, but again out of fairness, shouldn’t what we do be at least comparable on some level to public/private school students?
                I agree with teaching to mastery rather than just moving on to the next topic, but how should grades reflect that?  Public school kids get one shot at it (maybe more if it’s a series of quizzes), but the final grade is the final grade.   If a public school kid gets a C on a chapter test, it’s still onto the next chapter with fellow students - some of whom will have earned As.   If a homeschool student has the opportunity to relearn the lesson and retake the test, is the higher score used for the final grade (for that unit/chapter) or is the recorded score an average of both grades?
           I know that a lot of homeschooling families will say to not worry about grades or comparisons with public school kids.  I agree in theory, but my qualms arise when it comes time to do high school transcripts for colleges.  If a public school student has to do XYZ to earn an A, then shouldn’t my kid have to something that is at least comparable to public/private school work in order for him to earn an A?  I do think that there is a question of ethics.  Is it fair to say my kid got an A if my kid was able to re-do something over and over again. Is it fair to say my kid got an A if he did less work than a public school student?
           After having a mini existential crisis on the assigning of grades, I did what I do best - I asked Google.  Well, I asked on some different homeschooling pages and researched some more on Charlotte Mason's methods of grading.  It would appear that I am overthinking this whole thing.
      As to the question of how to grade if you are applying the mastery system, the conventional wisdom is give your student the A.  I asked on a Classical education site and that is what they suggested. Their logic being if a grade reflects what the student knows and has accomplished, then an A is correct.  In fact, students in schools are being shortchanged because even if they do understand the concept of the lesson by the end of the unit, the final grade is often an average of all the grades earned during that unit.
        I also found great advice from homeschooling educator Lee Binz.  Binz writes about the advantage of we have as homeschoolers of truly knowing what our children know.  For example, my son can talk about detailed facts of the Civil War years after learning about them.  I can walk up to him and at any moment I can ask him to give me a run-down of the War of The Roses and he'll do it and do a good job.  I know he has achieved a mastery of history that he has studied.  Binz also brings up a good point by saying that you can explain in your course descriptions if you used a mastery approach.
       But what about the lady herself, Miss Charlotte Mason?  There were no grades assigned in her PNEU schools.  A narrative assessment was done for the parents that was unique to each child.  If a child struggled, but was really putting forth his/her best effort, then that should be recognized.
    The problem with Mason's method for modern day homeschoolers is that most colleges want to see a letter grade assigned to each course. (My oldest daughter's college is the exception to this and in fact prefers that homeschoolers provide narrative evaluations instead of letter grades. I love my daughter's college.)  So, combining the advice of Mason and Binz, one could give grades that are a fair and accurate reflection of a student's achievements.   If a student hasn't earned an A, don't give it to him.   Even if my child put in her absolute best effort, but still did not master a subject, I would not give an A.  I do believe that we all need to know what we aren't as good at as well as what we are good at.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Day In the Life: Secular Almost Charlotte Mason

After pizza tonight, it was time for official homeschooling. I pulled up a picture of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers for picture study.  S had read a children’s biography on Van Gogh the week before last. She had actually read the book a few years ago, but since it can be good to learn about people more than once we are having Van Gogh as our artist once again - especially since we already owned the book and could save money this way.    For picture study, I pulled up the picture of Sunflowers that I found online. She looked at the picture for about a minute, and then described it without looking at it.  We had previously done the same thing for Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”  She saw “Starry Night” tonight as well, but that was just to be reminded of the painting. There was no describing “Starry Night” tonight.  I had played Don McLean’s “Vincent” for the past couple of days for her during picture study.  It’s a beautiful song, but I think I had better stop before she grows tired of it.  Here is the song:
                After picture study, I pulled up a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “From A Railway Carriage.” S read the poem aloud and then I read it to her.  She will continue to read this poem throughout the week.
                She had already done some of her reading earlier today without being asked. She said that she had been bored, so she read!  I asked her if she would do a written narration to go along with what she had read and she happily obliged. She typed her narration while I put her little brother to bed.               
                For math, I wrote out some addition problems for her to work on in her notebook.  She did fairly well with those.  She knew how to work through them.    She doesn’t speed through math, but her progress is consistent.  She didn’t use any manipulatives or drawings for these problems.  The purpose was to have her work through her calculations and to keep up her skills in addition.  She had been working on multiplication a lot lately, so I thought it would be best to do some addition work again.
                    For tonight, S has covered art appreciation (aka picture study), poetry, literature, writing, and math.  It does not seem like a lot, but I reflect on the quality of what she is learning.  I also know from previous experience that while our days may not seem that full, by the end of the year, she will have covered more subjects and have a variety of artistic and poetic examples listed in her log. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Addressing the High Cost of College

There has been a lot of talk lately about the expense of college and questioning whether it is worth it or not.  I’m hearing the arguments for either no college or community college followed by a public college or university.  However, I’m not hearing the arguments from the families that have chosen the expensive, be in debt until you’re dead, private colleges.  Well, as the mother of a daughter who has chosen an expensive college that will keep her in debt for all eternity, I thought I would share why – despite everything- I believe that this is the right decision for her.
There are a lot of issues to consider when the time comes to apply to college.  Two major requirements for my daughter was that the college she attends have no math requirements and be SAT optional.   I’ve learned that here is where a lot of people want to jump in with remarks like – well, she just can’t have it her way or that’s not how this works.   We’re talking about a girl who designed her high school curriculum on her own. She took suggestions from me and from some Charlotte Mason reading lists, but the ultimate decision on everything was her own.  Good luck telling this girl that she HAS to take a math class in college or that she just can’t have it her way.  She’ll find a way out of it – and she did. Her college has no math requirements. 
Next is the issue of the SATs.  The fact that more and more colleges are becoming SAT optional indicates to me that we are not alone in our opposition to these tests.  More and more research is proving that these tests are not the almighty predictor of college success that they have been touted as for decades.  In my opinion, the SAT is a scam.  Honestly, I love that my kids don’t want to go to any college that is being taken in by such a scam. 
But, here’s the caveat – all of those SAT optional and math optional schools are the ones that charge the exorbitant fees.  
So, let’s address the issue of debt.  Do people think that these college students are too dumb to realize that they will be graduating with large amounts of debt?  These students are intelligent people who do understand what they are getting into. They also have the intelligence and wherewithal to pay their loans just as they would pay for a car, rent, insurance, etc.  I’m not about to tell my daughter that I don’t think she is capable of creating a budget after college.  As it is now, any spending money that she has while she is away at school is money that she has earned being a dining server during her school breaks.  That money has to last her, so she does know how to plan and budget. 
The expensive colleges are not without a heart.  The majority of students at X receive financial aid.  X College has also provided my daughter with an extremely generous amount of tuition-forgiveness since the federal loans won’t cover the full cost of tuition.  We knew she couldn’t afford X when she applied, but that wasn’t going to stop her from at least trying.   We had faith that somehow it would work out and so far it has. 
Then there is the issue of the culture of the college.  Schools like Hampshire, New College, Global College, Naropa, etc have such a unique culture that is so different from mainstream colleges.   Yasmeen calls X College a transcendentalist’s dream come true.  These colleges have a campus culture that is much more aligned with the culture of many unschooling families and progressive families.   If you’ve spent years cultivating a family-culture so different from the mainstream, why wouldn’t you be interested in at least considering a college that fits well with your ideals?   I don’t know if maybe many unschooling/progressive families are just not aware that there are colleges out there that don’t fit into the mainstream mold. 
I’m not saying that all unschoolers/relaxed homeschoolers/progressive homeschoolers should go to an expensive alternative college.  What I am saying is that there are logical reasons why some may choose to go this route.   
Why am I defending my family’s choice so much?  In large part, it’s because I worry that with this shift in public opinion towards college, it will result in grants and other financial gifts to colleges drying up and students who need the help won’t be able to get it.  Ask yourself if – assuming you had the means to do it- you be more likely or less likely to contribute a large sum of money to a private liberal arts college after watching some of these videos warning on the high expense of colleges and claims that a college degree is not that useful.  Also, as these videos circulate, elected officials may be less likely to support legislation to either grant more aid in the form of a gift or to extend loan forgiveness programs. A lot of what these videos do is put the blame on the student for going to an expensive school and ASSUMES that the student has no foresight to plan for repaying the loan.  Why don’t these videos ask why the government can’t provide more financial aid in the form of a gift rather than a loan? 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

What Unschooling Has Taught Me About the Value of an Experience

There are a lot of things that I like about unschooling and a lot of things about it that I disagree with. Ultimately, it is too dogmatic for me.  Yes, I think unschooling is dogmatic.  But let’s look at what I do like about it. One thing that unschooling has taught me is the importance of seeing value in otherwise unappreciated ventures.  For example, Seneca likes to play an online game called Roblox.  It had nothing to do with our homeschooling.   Anyhow, this year we recently started to implement Written Narrations where she writes a few sentences to a paragraph about what she has been reading.  She asked if she could type her narrations and I was actually glad she had asked to type them. I was worried that since she hadn’t done any practice with her online typing curriculum in about a year that she had lost her typing skills. I was quite wrong.  She sat down to write her narration and I heard that keyboard clicking away.  I asked her where she had learned to type so well, and that was when she told me it was from playing the online game Roblox.  She had learned this great skill, but not in an academic approach or set plan to learn typing.     
With the unschooling approach, simple everyday acts become seen through a new lens.  One of the better presentations on unschooling was a report done from Australia.  In the segment, the reporter states, “Research shows play stimulates problem solving, creativity, and imagination.  It also helps social skills including a child’s ability to compromise and cooperate.  And so, unschoolers place equal value on park days and academic learning.”
I would like to step out right now to say that of all the segments on unschooling that have been done in the US by American reporters not once was the issue of play addressed from a positive standpoint. The reporters never mentioned any research of the positive aspects of play.  To me that is very negligent reporting, and it’s unacceptable to be that negligent. 
I have come to see that a day at the beach is not just a recreational activity, but it is a learning activity. I do not turn it into a learning activity.  We don’t stop and study what we are seeing. But I know that the sand and water are providing sensory experiences.  A connection is being formed, so that when my kids do go to an event or pick up a book studying aquatic life they will be able to connect with the topic on a deeper level.
This is not to say that to study any particular subject, one must have some sort of direct personal experience with it.  Our experiences and connections come in all forms.  For my older kids, much of their love of history was initially sparked by movies set in different historical eras. From there, they did research on the people and events of the times. 
Tree climbing can be seen as a lesson in business planning.  You have to steady yourself, plan where to reach for and step next, and then do it.  Establish yourself and get a firm grip of where you are on the tree and reach for the next  branch.  In business, you get to a point, make your impact; and then prepare through market research, budgeting, and networking to go for the next level - and then you do it. 

Tree climbing can also be seen as PE. It is a great physical activity.  It also has a connection to environmental science just as the ocean (or in our case the Gulf) does.  And then there is the emotional component of how time in nature affects our mental health and psychological well being. 

            As a homeschooling parent, the philosophy of unschooling has helped me to be able to relax and to find value at times when I might otherwise have been stressed out that we weren’t doing “enough.”  I’m not suggesting that to learn about business planning the only thing one has to do is to go climb a tree.  I’m also not saying to turn the tree climbing experience into a lesson. What I am suggesting is maybe years later when the student is studying economics or developing an entrepreneurial plan, you might remind them of something like a tree climb in terms of planning and reaching for goals.  Or, you could just let the tree climb sit and if the student has made a connection to that particular endeavor, great – if not, no loss.  The joy and the fun of the climb is what mattered.   

Education As A Feast

 Charlotte Mason is often described as referring to education as a feast.  You (the teacher) prepare a feast for your child and the child fi...