Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Writing Quandary

I am in a quandary about how to help my children learn to write.

I often read things that have been written by fellow Americans and I think gosh, they let this person out of high school? No, they let this person out of college. With an advanced degree. Ouch.

To be honest, I want to teach my children to write better than that. I am not necessarily concerned with all the formalities of our language- passive tense, comma usage, etc- but I do want my children to be able to communicate their thoughts clearly and effectively.

We have spent time studying the masters- like Charles Dickens and Shel Silverstein. And I would like to add Charlotte Bronte, James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Twain, and so forth to that list.

But this is where the quandary comes in... Americans don’t talk or write like that anymore. Seriously. Would Ben Franklin be published today? I doubt it. Certainly not Hermann Melville (and we can all breathe a sigh of relief about that). And should the children decide to go to college, they’ll need to be able to write like a modern American. Oh, does that mean texting? Nevermind.

I don’t know. Maybe I’ll buy a curriculum.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Golden Compass, A Sour Book Review

The controversy about this book should have been why the publishers gave the manuscript a second glance, and why, oh why? do so many people love it. It is imaginative. That is the only positive thing I can say about it. The problems are numerous, but I want to focus on just a few, and only addressing the first book of the series:

The 'Golden Compass' itself: This is a deux ex machina that saved the author from really having to think through intriguing resolutions. Don't know what to do? Let's look at my Magic 8-ball and I'll get the right answer. Good grief; could we have added a bit of tension to that particular plot line?

The subtle racism and sexism: I would guess that Philip Pullman deliberately chose a female main character to avoid the charge of sexism. She is, however, female in word only, and is very much portrayed as a tomboy. Great. I love tomboys. I was a tomboy. But... the only other major female character is a power-hungry sadist. All the rest are portrayed as cooks or nurses. We even have a scene where the women request to be taken along on the war expedition and the men say no, we don’t need you. And at the end... the power-hungry female is left crying over her lover while he marches on to his great destiny, promising to forget her if she doesn't come with him. Good grief, again.

I would also guess that Philip Pullman made the ‘gyptian’ people an integral part of the story to convince himself that he is not racist. However, while the ‘gyptian’ people are portrayed positively, all the other foreigners come with a tinge of inferiority. Asiatics, Tartars, Africs- nothing directly stated, just always implied.

And, finally, and most importantly, the utter lack of depth. To anything. The story is shallow. (Please? More alternate universe stuff? That was great and original... 50 years ago.) The characters are not gripping. The conversations are often painful to read. And the adventures? Yawn.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

This is Motherhood

Last Autumn, India and I worked on swinging. Feet in, body forward, ok... feet forward, body back... now.... ok, again... patience, patience, patience...

Progress, but not yet mastery.

Yesterday morning we walked to the playground, and she hopped on a swing and began pumping away, swinging smoothly into the air and quickly gaining altitude.

“Good job, India!” I shouted excitedly.

“I taught her that at Grandma’s house,” Malachi stated. You did not, I thought with self-righteous indignation.

“You did not!” India shouted with self-righteous indignation. “I figured it out by myself,” she ended triumphantly.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Germany vs. Homeschoolers

Germany is arresting homeschoolers, and the European Union is encouraging them.

Germany states that its recent history of a splinter group taking over and persecuting minorities makes them uncomfortable with any group that deviates from the norm.

So they’ll just persecute the minorities (homeschoolers, in this case) before a splinter group has the chance.

But here’s something even more interesting: in defense of Germany’s actions, the European Council on Human Rights (or something like that) states that the purpose of school is to integrate individuals into society, and so homeschooling is wrong.

Oh, ok.

Wait... WHAT?

School is about social integration? I’m sorry, last I checked school was about education.

Well, it could be argued that social integration is a vital aspect of education.

Have these people never read Lord of the Flies? Or maybe they didn’t attend school themselves, and so are unclear about the exact nature of the ‘social integration’ that is learned in a typical school setting. But I don’t need to go down that road. America has a decent number of homeschool graduates at this point, and for the most part, they are integrating just fine into society. Oh, yea, sure- a few have embarrassed the rest of us by becoming doctors, lawyers, and politicians, but most of them are pretty ordinary, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens, who have Facebook accounts, listen to pop music, and even buy Disney products occasionally. They know about the theory of evolution and use birth control, too. In fact, I would guess that the public schools produce a much higher ratio of ‘social outcasts’ (whatever that means) and welfare dependents than homeschooling families do.

So, if the European Union is not interested in the facts of the situation, then what are they interested in? Could it be at all possible that ONCE AGAIN the White Western World is assuming that its ideology is superior to anyone else’s, and therefore anyone who deviates from that ideology (in this case, How Modern Schooling is the Best Choice for Educating Your Children) needs to be eradicated or at least reformed? Is it at all possible that hundreds of years of conquering and subjugating people that are different than they are is still the accepted norm, even though they try hard to deny it? Is it just part of human DNA that different = bad? And hey, I like Europe; I like Europeans; but you gotta admit they have a nasty addiction to tyranny & oppression.

I’m not usually ‘rah rah’ American, but in this case, I’m glad for that independent streak that made us sit up and say ‘We don’t need the European tyranny’. And I’m glad that we’re opening our doors and letting German homeschoolers into our country as political refugees. Hopefully, this is one area where we won’t follow Europe’s lead, but will continue standing up for the rights of individuals who have decided to live differently.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Obligatory Yes-we’re-back-and-yes-we-had-a-great-time-and-yes-we’re-exhausted Blog Update

Yup, we went to the tropics for two weeks in the midst of this miserable St. Louis winter. Yup, it was awesome. Paradise, to be exact. Sunshine everyday. Air conditioning only occasionally. Green, green, green. Except where it was blue (at the beach, mostly).

We stayed half the time in a little fishing village on the southern (Caribbean) coast of Puerto Rico. My favorite bit was walking everyday to the tiny supermercado to pick up a loaf of bread or a jar of peanut butter. We were also able to take some boat rides into the sea- one during the day to see the little islands that dot the horizon, and one at night to see the Bioluminescent Bay. Actually, now that I think about it, I think my favorite bit was the chickens roaming freely about the town. Everyone apparently has a bunch of chickens and nobody bothers to keep them cooped up (ha ha), and nobody also seems to mind the sound of roosters. In another small town we stayed near, peacocks lived on the roof of an abandoned house and would casually stroll across the road, stopping traffic on a whim.

I love not-quite-third-world countries.

A trip to Puerto Rico is not complete without driving in circles at least one time through a rambling small town that uses alleys for thoroughfares but has a brand new baseball stadium (at least they have their priorities straight). We never did manage to find the highway connection, so we took the extremely scenic view to the ocean, driving in circles through a couple more small towns on the way. Just for the fun of it.

Oh, wait, perhaps my favorite bit was passing by the smashingly blue, big, beautiful, Spanish-style house that had cows living in the front yard. I love these people.

The next few days we spent in the rainforest, near that town where the peacocks lived. The house we rented was rather disappointing (seriously, people, no oven!?) but the rainforest is always intriguing, and we found a pretty stream where the children could swim. They now thoroughly understand the saying about ‘swimming upstream’. It was hilarious to see them swim with all their might and get exactly nowhere. When they weren’t futilely trying to defeat the current they were futilely trying to catch the large fish that lived in the swimming hole. It was a stunningly beautiful location, in the middle of the rainforest, with enormous boulders and tall peaks surrounding us. The water was also FRIGID so David and I mostly sat on the boulders and watched our children enjoying the pleasures of a mountain stream.

AND despite the numerous twisty, turny, one lane with cars coming at us anyway, people walking on the shoulder and peacocks on the other side, sheer-drop-off type of roads I managed to never hyperventilate and only once had to ask David to turn around. Woo hoo for progress on managing my phobia!! (Praise God from whom all blessings flow...)

For the last portion of our vacation we moved again- to the heart of Old San Juan, an ancient city with lots of history and lots more parties. Seriously, again, people. I mean, I understand your need to party. But under MY window? At two a.m.? Singing songs and laughing hysterically? Don’t you know that my kids wake up at 6:30? The neighbors partied, and I had the hangover. David bought earplugs.

And then we walked and walked and walked. The kids definitely didn’t care for this portion of our journey, especially since we had swum every day, at least once a day, until transferring to Old San Juan. We toured a castle that is about 500 years old (San Cristobal), toured the governor’s mansion that also has parts that are 500 years old and is the oldest continuously-used executive mansion in the world (complete with dungeon), shopped and shopped some more, and ate at a bakery that was more than 100 years old. But the food was fresh and OH SO YUMMY. I wanted to see the house that was built for Ponce de Leon (guess what? It’s about 500 years old, too) but it was apparently being worked on (can’t imagine why).

Of course, we take the kids half-way across the hemisphere to this city dripping with antiquities and their favorite bit is feeding the pigeons in the park. Typical.

And my favorite bit- at least of Old San Juan? The colors. I love a culture that has no restraint in painting their buildings whatever color they feel like. Teal, pink, deep green, blue, red, orange and more orange. I never knew what color combinations might pop out in front of me when I turned a corner. Vibrant!

So, well, I have a lot more to say (not that I usually have a shortage of verbosity) but this is plenty to start with... and I will post pictures soon!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

They Taught This in Schools

I am reading an anthology of early science fiction- Asimov, Clark, and the guys that went before them, as far back as the 30’s and 40’s. While the stories themselves are alright, I have been horrified at the blatant and accepted racism that punctuates the works. Africans, along with all darker-skinned people, are portrayed as obviously less-evolved (evolution also plays a huge role in these early sci-fi stories)- oh, the casual statements are only made here and there, asides, nothing constant or overwhelming- but enough to get the picture across, very clearly.

Reading these have, firstly, been rather annoying (the plots now, 70 years later, are so cliched that it is laughable- though I recognize that these are the writers who pioneered the cliches and made them popular, and at the time they were wildly creative- still, how many times can I read about the superiority of future man and the oddness of Martian creatures?) anyway, it’s been rather annoying, but also sobering, because this is part of the history of racism:

First, under the ethics of Conquering Lesser People and Enslaving Them, some preachers claimed the Bible encouraged this behavior. The people listened, and didn’t bother to do the read the Bible themselves, or perhaps they would have noticed things like this: - and so the conquering and enslaving continued.

Then, when science began to rule the day, some scientists taught that evolution was evidence that darker-skinned people weren’t quite human, and therefore it was perfectly acceptable to kill, rape and enslave. Of course, there was no scientific evidence that lighter-skinned people were more evolved, but nonetheless the people listened, didn’t bother to do the research themselves, and so killing, raping, and enslaving continued.

Then, of course, textbooks followed suit. The court case that brought evolution into the limelight was revolved around a science textbook (Civic Biology) that taught an evolutionary theory of humans, and the Christians went nuts. As far as I know, no one- on either side of the case- bothered to mention that the textbook taught an evolutionary theory of humans which included the ‘fact’ that dark-skinned people were lower on the evolutionary ladder. This is a book that had been popular in schools. Here’s a link to what it says about races:

So the teachers started teaching the inferiority of darker-skinned people, and of course, the students didn’t do the research themselves, just listened to bad teaching, and so the killing, raping, and oppression continued.

They taught this in schools. They wrote about it in books. They portrayed it in movies. They preached it in pulpits. For several generations, up to our grandparents’ time. And we wonder why we still have race issues today.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Road to Hell is Paved With My Good Intentions

School this year has, in some ways, gone really well; and in other ways... eh. Mostly ‘eh’ because of what I felt to be lack of organization and schedule-keeping on my part. So my New Year’s resolution was to get my butt in gear, have clear goals, stick to a flexible schedule, yadda yadda yadda. Starting TODAY.

Then my kids reminded me that we had a dental appointment scheduled for today. Crap.

That was the beginning of our misery on this coldest day of the year (so far).

Around nine in the morning I bent over to shove the pans strewn across the floor back into our kitchen cabinet when I felt cold air blowing from our kitchen vent.


Yup, the annual crap-out of our furnace had occurred, and the house was down to 55 degrees (which amazingly didn’t feel that much colder than our usual 68). So I call David and he offers to come home right away- don’t worry about it, I respond. We’re going to spend the morning at the dentist and then do some shopping. You can fix it when you get home, says I, thinking we’re going to be nice and snugly warm in our dentist’s office. Oh yea.

We get to the dentist’s office around ten, and guess what? His front door decided it didn’t feel like closing anymore, so instead of a snugly warm office we sit and shiver, subjected to an even longer exposure to bad TV since the office PIPES HAD FROZEN and so our dentist was running around like a madman trying to fix it all rather than seeing patients. The dental people were all (understandably) cranky, and three hours later we trudge out of the dentist office (yes, with clean teeth and no bad news- one good thing at least in this day), scorfing down our crushed ham and turkey sandwiches and longingly dreaming of our frigid home. But first, Wal-mart.

My dear brothers and sisters, perhaps you have heard from well-meaning preachers that your souls are in danger of the fires of hell because of your sinful ways. Well, let me tell you the truth: repent, or spend eternity in Wal-mart.

Oh. my. gosh. I shop there because the only viable alternative is Target, and I’m too much of a snob to shop with all THOSE snobs, them and their trendy housewares and cutesy marketing. Give me the world-dominating, employee-mistreating, redneck-loving, overly crowded aisles of Wal-mart any day. Except today. Or tomorrow. Or... well, preferably never.

The good thing is that Wal-mart was the absolute low point of the day- though really, can it get much worse than that? We came home to an abode that was still hovering around 50; made coffee (!); David came home and quickly fixed the furnace, and despite the resurgence of my cold, I managed to whip together a yummy mushroom-leek soup with homemade rolls.

And tomorrow, SCHOOL!