Monthly Archives: September 2010

Why We Homeschool…Part 2

Talk about education seems to be everywhere in the news lately.  First, we learned on NBC’s Today Show that President Obama readily admits the Washington DC public schools can’t provide the high-quality education he wants for his daughters.  And everyone is talking about the new movie “Waiting for Superman,” which spotlights problems in the New York City public school system.  Then yesterday, New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, announced (here) what was called a “tough love” education reform package for the state’s public schools.  My favorite part was this: 

Unqualified teachers will feel the lash. The governor is demanding that teachers in kindergarten through fifth grade actually pass tests in reading and math in order to be certified. 

You can bet that went over well with the education establishment.  In fact, the state’s teacher’s union is already crying foul about that provision among others.  Am I the only one scratching my head at the outrage here?  If a teacher can’t pass reading and math tests, why is she standing in the front of the classroom?  According to the National Council on Teacher Quality(NCTQ), part of the problem–at least in math–can be traced to inadequate preparation provided by college and universities to education majors.  Education schools do not set high admission standards in math, nor do they require education students to improve their math skills.  Some schools require NO math courses in order to obtain an education degree. 

The NCTQ also highlights problems with high school science teachers.  In another of its recent studies, the group found that the majority of states allow high school science teachers to teach specific subjects such as chemistry or physics without specialized training in those areas.  Maybe the reason so many kids hate math and science is that their teachers simply can’t teach those subjects.  Here’s the NCTQ conclusion:  

But it does no one any good – not teachers, students, future scientists, or society in general – to create loopholes and use the notion of “flexibility” to cover up the fact that our nation’s students aren’t acquiring the scientific knowledge and skills they need for success in the 21st century. Unless we demand that STEM teachers have deep knowledge of the subject matter they are teaching, we won’t get to the root of the problem. 

There is SO much wrong with education in America today.  Without a desire to overhaul the system, from teacher training to licensing requirements to reforming tenure rules and so on, we won’t see any great leaps forward in our kids’ performance.  

I’m certainly no genius, but I at least know when and where to seek help for my kids when we’re in the dark about geometry proofs, physics formulas, or the theme of a short story.  That’s just one of the benefits of homeschooling.  

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Let’s Hear It for Grammar!

Friday was National Punctuation Day.  I don’t know about you, but it really snuck up on me this year.  Actually, I just found out it existed on Friday.  It doesn’t really surprise me that a day to celebrate the proper usage of punctuation receives almost no attention.  After all, this is the age of “OMG” and “LOL.”  If we can’t even spell out words, why should I expect anyone to care about punctuating sentences?  Punctuation is not tested on the SAT’s, and it is barely taught in schools.  Along with handwriting, punctuation beyond the basics (capital letters, period, and question mark) has just about disappeared from the school curriculum.

Unless you are the unfortunate student of an uncommon homeschooling mom like me, that is.  As my “About Me” page reveals, I’m a stickler for good grammar skills.  By no means would I call myself an expert (especially with quotation marks), but I believe it’s worth the effort.  My kids have endured the long out-of-fashion Voyages in English series, Shurley English, Editor-in-Chief, and Easy Grammar Plus during their elementary and middle schools years.  They have even tried their hands at diagramming sentences.

Why did I “waste” so much valuable instructional time on what some might call obsolete or unnecessary lessons?  Because rules and order have value.  That’s a life lesson I think too many people ignore these days.  Our relativistic society embraces the “What’s right for you may not be right for me” philosophy.  But to me, the rules of grammar are no less important than the scientific method and PEMDAS (you know, the math Order of Operations acronym).  Following the rules of grammar and punctuation allow us to express ourselves clearly and effectively.  Isn’t that one of the things that separates man from other species?  It’s funny that no one likes to admit that good grammar is important, yet look at how much ridicule President George W. Bush endured over his language skills.

As a belated celebration of National Punctuation Day, I list below some of my biggest punctuation, grammar, and usage pet peeves.

  • failure to use the serial comma— This one is actually darling husband’s big grammar vexation.  When listing a series of items in a sentence, a comma should follow the last item just before the “and” (red, white, and blue).  Nearly every authority on the English language except newspaper style guides support the use of the serial comma.  I, for one, hesitate to follow the lead of The New York Times in anything, least of all grammar.
  • complete ignorance on use of the semicolon— I have taught both kids about semicolon usage.  No one knows how to use them properly, so this is one small way to set apart their writing.
  • it’s— This is a contraction of “it is”.  It does NOT show possession.  There is a whole other word for that: “its”.
  • “I could care less.”— Why, oh why, is this one so hard?  So, what you’re saying is that you do care some, but you might care a little less?  The expression is actually, “I couldn’t care less.”  I don’t care at all now, and I won’t care in the future either.
  • “a whole nother”–If something is entirely different, it is “a whole other” story.  What is a “nother”, anyway?
  • “irregardless” — Use of this word does not make you sound smarter just because you added one more syllable.  “Regardless” already means “without regard”, so I guess adding the negative prefix “ir-“makes it “without no regard”?
  • redundancy— There are SO many examples of this to choose from.  One I hear a lot is something like this:  “The hold-up took place at 10 a.m. this morning.”  Again, being wordy does not make you sound smarter; choosing your words carefully does.

Oh, the list could go on and on.  What are your biggest grammar and punctuation grievances?

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Fashion Police Again…Mom Weighs In

This weekend I took SuzyQ shopping for some fall clothes.  She is 16, and we have never really had battles over what clothes are considered appropriate.  We simply have a 2-way veto policy:  I can veto anything she picks out, and she can veto my selections.  So far, so good.   Nevertheless, shopping for clothes in the Juniors department is torture.

Take jeans, for example.  The average zipper length on jeans for teenage girls must be about 3 inches.  How do girls sit in them?  And I don’t even want to discuss what underwear is appropriate for something “ultra low-rise.”   Who knew that “low-rise” was just the beginning of the torment?  This fall, the hot trend is the “jegging”: leggings made out of denim.  Essentially, they’re tights.  Back in the 80’s (my high school and college era), we wore leggings under giant sweatshirts that came almost to our knees.  Today’s teens see nothing amiss about wearing these “jeggings” just like they would any other pants: with just a t-shirt.

Image from Macy's

Doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination, does it?  Just because there’s no skin showing doesn’t make it any less objectionable.  The rule at our house is that skinny jeans or leggings automatically get paired with a top that covers the butt.  No exceptions.

Take another look at the picture, and you might notice the shoes.  Am I the only one who is reminded of a street walker?   I can’t think of any occasion that would call for a teenage girl to wear 4-inch platform stilettos.

Every generation has its questionable fashions.  I get that.  What I don’t get is how any girl in her right mind could imagine that clothes like these would produce anything but slutty looks and remarks.  If clothes are the way teens express themselves, what is a girl in this outfit trying to say?  And what kind of parent lets her daughter parade around dressed like this?  Not an uncommon one, that’s for sure.

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Fashion Police: The Catholic Squad

It’s well after Labor Day, and I wore white pants with white wedge sandals to church last weekend.  According to some, I made a fashion faux pas.  Was it because of the white or because of the pants?  Apparently, a number of good Catholic folks would condemn me for wearing pants–of any color.

Yes, it’s tough being a Catholic in today’s culture.  I figure it’s hard enough trying to build a modest wardrobe for myself and 16-year-old SuzyQ.  But then I come across discussion about whether it’s immodest or even sinful to wear pants.  Not just the pants that are so tight that they look painted on and flesh rolls out over the top of them or even the ones that are cut so low that they leave more of one’s backside uncovered than covered.  This discussion was about any pants: trousers, dress pants, jeans, etc.

Now, do Catholics really have nothing better to worry about than whether pants lead men into impure thoughts?  Sadly, I have known women who, though only implicitly, cast some judgement on women who don’t wear frumpy jumpers and long skirts exclusively.    Now, as I read more Catholic blogs, I find out that people actually believe it’s no coincidence that women started clamoring for ordination about the same time that pants became an acceptable part of their wardrobes.  Some even link pants to the Culture of Death that pervades this country.  Pants??  So pre-marital sex, abortion, shacking up, “alternative lifestyles”, sexualization of children, and so on all trace their roots to pants?

I happen to love skirts and dresses.  Usually they are easier to fit, and they can be very comfortable, especially in the summer.  But I also think pants are very practical, and they can be very attractive with the right fit.  Both can be tasteful and modest.  Sure, I would like to see more women wear skirts and dresses, particularly to Mass on Sunday.  It just makes it look like they put a little extra effort into going to Mass.  (I blogged about it here.)

The world thinks we Catholics are crazy enough as it is.  I don’t think equating pants with immorality helps attract people to the Church.

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Feed Your Own Kid!…or, Baseball Team Snacks

The Fall Ball season has begun.  Junior plays in our community league in the 13-14 year old bracket.  Did you get that?  These kids are either in 8th grade or high school.  So why in the world do parents still have to bring team snacks for every game?? 

The games start at either 5:45 p.m., 9 a.m., or 11 a.m.  The 2 morning start times are right between meal times.  Eat a full meal either before or after the game, and you’re good.  The evening games can make it a bit trickier to work in a decent meal.  We just have Junior eat something light before and after.  What’s so hard about figuring that out?  In other words, team snacks have nothing to do with hunger.  Coach said he tried to do away with snacks last season, but it “didn’t go over well.”  I wonder if it was the kids or the parents who complained.

I’m tired of having to drag a cooler full of Gator Ade and those stupid little bags of chips to games.  What’s wrong with parents just bringing drinks and a snack for their own kid if he can’t make it through the game and the 10 minute drive home unless he eats something?  I quit feeding my kid every 2 hours a long time ago.  If kids really are starving, they do have a concession stand at the field.  The proceeds even go back to the league.   And they sell hot dogs, soda, gum, candy, sports drinks–all the same garbage that I’m supposed to give out as freebies at snack time.

So, let’s see if I have things straight.  These boys are about high school age.  They hate to be called children.  They probably all have their own cell phones.  They are allowed to watch adult TV rather than just Disney Channel and Nickelodeon.  So is it unreasonable to expect them to decide if they are going to get hungry at a game or not and to bring along a snack or not?  They want to be treated more like adults and be given more freedom.  Well, here’s their chance.  Welcome to the grown-up world.  After all, when I have to spend 2 hours at the DMV, no one hands out snacks.  Neither are there traffic attendants who pass out refreshments during traffic jams.  Kids who wear cleats size 9 and above and have hands that are bigger than mine have no business sticking them out demanding mini bags of Doritos.

 A snack schedule has been made, and my name is on it.  I could refuse to bring anything out of protest, but where’s the fun in that?  Instead, I told Junior I plan to bring a bag of apples.

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Should Simplifying Your Life Be This Hard?

Several of the blogs I read regularly have featured posts recently about the feeling that you have too much “stuff” (here and here).  This was definitely a timely issue for me as I face the chore of unpacking the last few boxes after our move 4 months ago.

These boxes contain things that were stored in the basement or a closet of our old house.  With no basement and minimal closet storage in our current house, where will this stuff find a home?  If it’s been packed away and out of use for 2 or 3 or more tours of duty, why am I even holding on to it?  It would seem logical that our military lifestyle, with the frequent moving into housing ranging from 1500 to 3000 square feet, would prevent me from accumulating and hanging on to a lot of stuff.  Sometimes, though, I think just the opposite happens.  The curtains in one house don’t work in the next.  No central air means you pick up a few window fans.  You need more or fewer shower curtains than you had before.  Now you have wall-to-wall carpeting, but at the last house you needed area rugs.  At some point I guess I figured it was less expensive to hold on to things “just in case.”

The harder issue concerns what to do with the mountains of sentimental stuff.  We have boxes full of yearbooks, scrapbooks (the old-fashioned kind with newspaper clippings, greeting cards, and pictures), report cards, kids’ artwork vacation souvenirs, and so on.  I rarely open the boxes to look at this stuff, and it doesn’t really flood me with warm, fuzzy memories. These take up space we really don’t have.  But it also takes up energy to hold on to these things.  Unpacking after each move would take a lot less time if I didn’t have all of that wedding crystal that we’ve never used in 18 years.  Maybe I could breathe a little easier if I didn’t feel like I had to find a storage space for all of those mementos.

Why is there so much guilt involved in getting rid of these things that really aren’t giving me any pleasure?  Will later generations hate me because I didn’t pass down any heirlooms?  What makes something heirloom-worthy anyway?  Am I a bad mother for not keeping the kids’ old report cards for posterity?  How can I tell if something will be an artifact someday or just junk?

My immigrant not-so-distant ancestors came to this country with basically nothing.  They started whole new lives without worrying about “things”.  I don’t know if they grieved about leaving family treasures behind.  It’s more likely that they were so poor in the Old Country that there were no treasures.  So is it that important to keep things to pass on to future generations?  How much of a loss will they feel if they don’t have any of their grandmother’s things?

The magazines make it seem so easy to get a serene, uncluttered home.  The covers scream at me every month to “Simplify!”  The professional organizers and life coaches quoted in the articles gives lots of perky tips for decluttering and eliminating excess.  So why am I still stuck with these last couple of boxes?

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Great While It Lasted

Open Windows

After a LONG, hot summer, we just had a short, sweet taste of Fall.  For 2 straight days, I turned off the air conditioning.  That’s right. Off.  Every window in the house was open.  Of course, it’s way too early to imagine that open windows will be the norm.  Around here, that won’t happen for at least another 3 weeks.  But, oh, how I love at the end of a season when the house has been all sealed up for months, to throw open all the windows and air things out.  Unfortunately, all I could hear with those windows wide open was the hum of everyone else’s air conditioner.

Who knew I was the green one?  Well, I suspected it.  (See this post).  I’m all about energy conservation, mainly because it saves you money.  See, we moved from New England a few months ago.  The cost of electricity and heating oil up there could have sent us to the poorhouse.  It’s cheaper down South where we live now, but we got used to being miserly about our energy consumption.  Our AC gets set at 79, and if the outside temp is anywhere below 82 or so, I shut off the AC.  Living in Hawaii with no central air and only the Trade Winds to keep us cool also conditioned us to enjoy moderate temperatures.

I’m not sure what’s up with all of our neighbors.  Maybe they are all severe allergy sufferers who can’t stand the fresh air.  Could they all be going through menopause and having hot flashes?  Not likely, given the number of preschoolers in the neighborhood.  It must be that they have never felt the pinch when the electric bill arrives in the mail.  I guess that’s one more hidden benefit to moving every 2 years.  I get to experience the varying utility costs around the country.

Today, though, the windows are closed tight, and the AC is cranked back on.  We have plenty more steamy days to come.  Those couple of gorgeous, fresh air days just might get me through until Fall arrives for good.  Ahhhh.

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