Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Charlotte Mason: Discipline

Our first discussion in the Charlotte Mason series. The aspect we're focusing on here is DISCIPLINE. According to the official Charlotte Mason webpage:

By “Discipline,” Charlotte meant the discipline of good habits — and specifically habits of character. Cultivating good habits in your child’s life make up another third of his education.

If I had to say, I would argue this is probably the hardest of the 3 to be consistent about. It's probably because as a sanguine I struggle with completing tasks. My husband, who is a melancholy, does not. He and Mary Poppins would be good friends saying, "Well begun is half done". As much as I struggle with completion, I admire the quality and see the need for follow-through and self-control in everyday life with the kids. 

My house would be a HUGE mess if I didn't start training my girls right now in ways appropriate for their ages. Even with routines in place it still can get away from us pretty quickly if I'm not careful. Our 3 year old puts her shoes on the stairs so they can be taken upstairs at bed time. She asks for a wipe before she gets up from the table and knows she has to have a bib on when she eats. She knows to put her dinnerware and cups in the sink and throw away her trash after breakfast and lunch. She tells people thank you when they give her a compliment. Of course she doesn't always do these things without whining or needing a gentle reminder (I realize she's only 3!), but because we generally do the same routine EVERY DAY I see her slowly understanding the importance of disciplining her mind, so that one day I will not have to be the one prodding her along. Granted, as parents we need to have discernment about what battles to fight, but I feel like as a general rule our society is too quick writing too many things off by saying "they're just a kid".  

One Australian mom of 9 children (who struggles with consistency too) said this in a blog post reflecting on Charlotte Mason's philosophy of discipline:  
Once I became aware of the impact we have on the lifetime habits of our children,  I became conscious that as I strove to; maintain a regular routine, to introduce healthy hygiene habits, to aid a child in forming a solid interior disposition and to led a faithful prayer life, our parenting was not a series of  isolated incidences of; "make your bed", "brush your teeth," "time for lessons to begin" and "Have you prayed today?," 
I don't want life to be a set of isolated incidents for my children or myself. My biggest struggle is knowing I can easily make everything an isolated incident  -- compartmentalize  if you will -- when I have the sense to create better order.  I don't want the general unstructured nature of schooling for our kids be to our detriment instead of our advantage. 

A blog post called Discipline Brings Freedom, outlines some practical ways that forming good habits can lead to less general stress. 
Discipline: Plug in your cell phone every night to charge it. 
Freedom: You don’t have to worry about whether your battery will run out in the middle of a call. Your family members don’t have to wonder whether they will be able to reach you. 
Discipline: Put things away as you finish using them. 
Freedom: You don’t waste time and energy searching for the items you need. The discipline of taking two minutes to tidy up each time saves you from spending half a day (or more) sorting through the numerous piles that have accumulated.  
However, let me be clear -- discipline is not just remembering to put your shoes back where they belong every single time. It's about developing character. When we teach children habits it helps direct them toward the BIG PICTURE. Education is a Discipline helped clarify this point:   
"It is more important to be honest, than to be smart.  It is more important to be kind, compassionate, loyal, generous, and loving than it is to learn anything a school can teach you.  If your habits enable you to learn, AND shape your very character, that makes habits a cornerstone and of great importance.  Based on the amount of time it takes most adults to break bad habits, we should realize that it is even more important to shape good habits and character in youth."
For instance, when I play games with my 3 year old I don't always "let her win". Some of you may think I'm heartless, but I really think it's part of training on general sportsmanship and humility. When she wins (like last night with Chutes and Ladders) I sincerely tell her congratulations, she played a good game, and cheer a good bit. On the times I win she has learned over time to say and do similar things back. That doesn't mean that when she gets older and can really "compete" in sports or games that I want her to be a pushover. I just want her to be prepared with proper self-restraint when she needs it and that winning or being "right" isn't the be all end all. That kind of discipline helps in being a team player, being a faithful student of school work and the Word, being an understanding friend, being a gracious spouse, etc. That kind of discipline helps form Godly character for the long-haul. 
I hope you all reading don't think I run my house like a drill sergeant or that I don't have an ounce of grace within me. I mentioned first that I am a sanguine/choleric, an ENFP in the Myers-Briggs world, which means I have a tendency to play before I do work and get easily sidetracked by things. A lot of days I can easily thrive on a lack of discipline. If you have a conversation with me, you know that I don't always craft my thoughts as well as I do my blog (I can edit this constantly so I appear focused, my mouth not as much...). My thoughts fly in a thousand different directions! Though I try mightily to trust the Lord in this area, I am sometimes haunted and daunted by the fact that as a stay at home mom I have to model discipline in the big and small things for my girls. Training my girls is as much as exercise for me as it is them which is why I am committed to doing it however imperfectly that may be.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On the Gist of Things

I am scared to link to this article. I am afraid that if I read it one more time I might be tempted to shut down my blog because it covers so articulately many of my own musings. In it I found myriad things I have wanted to articulate about culture and reading habits. The issue of how becoming an image based culture (hence the infographic at the top) contributes to superficial reading and thinking is something I will tackle in my book review of The Disappearance of Childhood, a book that was prophesying about the digital revolution in 1982!    

But I digress... Did I mention the article was written by a beloved college professor? She has got the life experience and teaching experience to make this a very powerful piece about how much we can miss (i.e. the costs in various forms) by being lured into culture's pull to get the "to-go version" when we read.  

It's a weighty piece and you should read it because a) it's very thought provoking and convicting b) it's laced with mad advanced grammar skills c) if you don't you will succumb to some major irony (the piece is about cursory/incomplete reading and the implications thereof)

Here are some gems from On the Gist of Things written by Dr. Beth Impson. Please read it now!
Yet the gist of things leaves us with a shrug. If mere assertions could compel us to action, Dillard could have written “Life is like writing; it’s hard but it’s worth doing with passion,” and left it at that. But would anyone be moved by it, be challenged, be changed? Rather, we move on, dissatisfied, seeking something to ease the discontent that our own actions are fostering...
My student ended his challenge with the question, “Isn’t [getting the gist of it] all that matters?” It might be—if all that mattered in life were a grade on a quiz, or if the gist of anything moved us to think carefully, believe rightly, and act purposefully on both principle and compassion. This is the ultimate purpose of language, of communication—to move us to right belief and action.      

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Some Reflections on Newtown...

I remember in 1999 when Columbine happened. A high school shooting and I was a freshman in high school. The fear that swept across our school that day was palpable. We talked about the "trenchcoat mafia" and wondered if we could be next. We started thinking about students who were capable of pulling something similar. It felt like our mortality was suddenly right before our eyes. We were young and scared and didn't know what to make of something so heinous, so calculated. Who could want notoriety so badly that they would be willing to kill the innocent? Many of us took to very confused praying, still asking questions about safety, suffering, and the sovereignty of God.       

In 2012 I am reminded of that fear as I fast forward 13 years later where I am no longer a student, but a mom of two young girls. On Friday, I scrambled to make any sense of this atrocious act and asked my husband why someone would target an elementary school. He said that if you're seeking attention, what better way to get it than to do the unthinkable? A sobering reminder of the depravity of man, making me long for the day when He will make all things right. 

As I hug my girls, my heart grieves for those families. All weekend as I have been playing and eating with my family, I've had this wave of sadness for those in Connecticut who are without that privilege. Those families that are trying to hold it together for their other children when in reality they don't feel like even getting out of bed. I ache for the community of Newtown.  

I am humbled by the heroism of the staff and teachers who tried to stop the killer. Those who hid children in classroom closets or bathrooms at the risk of losing their lives. I would hope that any of us would do the same thing for the innocent children under our care.

My prayer for Newtown and all of us is: 

  • That we will have open doors for our community to grieve and share prayers and questions. 
  • That we would be able to have conversations about Christ, the Hope that is within us. 
  • That we will have discernment in how we react and approach each conversation with people about the subject of suffering.     
  • That we will not be quick to offer solutions on issues like gun control, the proper way to school children, mental health, etc. We all have opinions, but politicizing helps no one in the face of grief and horror.
  • That we will not take everything that the media says as fact and spread it around. A lot of things are not fully known until the dust settles.   
  • And finally a fervent prayer that gets to the very heart of things... A Prayer for Sandy Hook and Us All

What prayers are on your heart? 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Are We Reading For?

While looking for Charlotte Mason information, I ran across a blog where the author says she frequently hears defeated parents at her local library saying, "Well, at least they're reading, right?" which led her to question the purpose of reading. 

Is reading something (no matter how bad it is) better than not picking up any kind of literature at all? Should our kids read for knowledge or pleasure? Both depending on the occasion? Both simultaneously? 

Some thoughts of mine: 

  • I agree with the 1st comment on the blog that says clearly there is a difference between reading something that is "dumbed down" (i.e. too easily comprehended) as opposed to something that proudly promotes vice (i.e. a 50 Shades of Grey type novel). Ideas have consequences (especially bad ideas that make us and our needs the center of the universe). A bad idea read and taken to heart is not much different than seeing the same bad idea played out on TV. So is ANYTHING really better than nothing?     
  • Even the most avid reader isn't always in the mood to read War and Peace type novels. Reading can be done in all different kinds of contexts. For instance, I usually try to read several blog posts a day because I think they help give a voice to certain thoughts rattling around in my head. Sometimes reading can be a short thing when you have time and others a more deliberate focus. Either way, I find that it's helpful to have someone (a friend, family member, spouse, etc.) to discuss the ideas presented in your reading. The "share" feature on most blogs has become a friend of mine.     
  • Some people tend to think that you can only be entertained by fiction because non-fiction is too dry, too factual. Actually, some of the most amusing books I have read in the last few years are non-fiction -- Truman, The Disappearance of Childhood, Just Do Something, Freakonomics. A little sarcasm, clear thoughts, and a good writing style goes a long way in non-fiction :)       
  • My husband contends that a good book imparts both knowledge and joy. He said he could read data all day long and get facts, but he'd rather read Malcolm Gladwell (someone who tells the data's story in a fresh, unique way). It's harder to see this when something isn't your favored genre, but the more you read the more you can sniff out a seasoned or amateur writing style, a helpful or corrupt idea, etc. You might be surprised by what you're interested in if it's presented well. I never thought I'd like economics, but I've found some gems thanks to my husband.     

Back to the original blog post... the author wrestles with these questions about reading, quoting Charlotte Mason along with other great thinkers. Toward the end of the post she says this:
Basically, if we want our children to read better literature, we are going to have to ask ourselves hard questions about what it means to 
1. Read widely 
2. Read well 
3. Read deeply 
4. Read with discernment
I agree with her list completely, and I know that will look different for every family. 

  • We have to get a variety of authors and styles into our children's hands
  • We have to provide and encourage lots of reading material over time 
  • We have to provide a way (I would say through their everyday education) for them to think critically about what they are reading
  • We have to do all this without creating reading burnout! :)  

What do you guys think? What do you read for? How do/did you accomplish reading goals for your family? 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Intro to Charlotte Mason

As most of you know because of our decision to homeschool, I am (in some ways) looking a philosophy of education from a different perspective than I was as a teaching candidate 10 years ago. I remember names like Horace Mann, John Dewey, Maria Montessori, and the like from my teaching classes, but I don't remember hearing much or anything about Charlotte Mason. My apologies to Dr. DeGeorge and Dr. Froemke if it's left my brain like so many other things these days :) 
Charlotte Mason was born in 1842 and was mostly homeschooled. Her parents died when she was a teenager and she went on to get a teaching certificate. She taught for 10 years (and then moved on to lecturing), during which she started working our her philosophy of education. She wrote numerous essays, articles, and curricula based off her ideas and observations of children. This blog post is a good starting place to get a feel for Charlotte Mason.         

As it happens, I went to a curriculum fair this year and sat and listened to a speaker talk about the Charlotte Mason philosophy. I really really enjoyed her talk and felt like she was articulating the conversations going on in my head and with my husband; she was organizing my thoughts about education! I don't know if this philosophy is the be all end all since we only have a 3 1/2 year old whose not formally schooling, but I sure do (in theory) like the ideas she presents. 

According to, these are the essential methods for schooling:
By “Atmosphere,” Charlotte meant the surroundings in which the child grows up. A child absorbs a lot from his home environment. Charlotte believed that atmosphere makes up one-third of a child’s education. 
By “Discipline,” Charlotte meant the discipline of good habits — and specifically habits of character. Cultivating good habits in your child’s life make up another third of his education.
The other third of education, “Life,” applies to academics. Charlotte believed that we should give children living thoughts and ideas, not just dry facts. So all of her methods for teaching the various school subjects are built around that concept.
I want to speak to each of these, so each of these topics will get a future blog post.  In the meantime, I found a few short blog posts on the Charlotte Mason website for you to get a good idea of where I'm heading with this: 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tradition Through Food

They say the more you engage all 5 of your senses the better you will remember something. What else can engage all of your senses like cooking? You hear, smell, feel, taste, and see what's going on in the kitchen.

In households all over the USA, people experience culture through food. Heritage and recipes are a thing much delighted in. If you read a lot of memoirs most authors mention their family's food somewhere in their narrative because it's ingrained in the psyche of their childhood memories.

Nowadays, I think cooking is becoming a bit of a lost art. We're all so busy that our Pinterest accounts are filled with the quick and easy (I include myself in this) instead of the methodical. I tend to go for the quick and easy and always get upset when Justin's dishes taste better than mine. He is methodical in everything he does and that obviously translates into the kitchen. He has shown me over our 6 years of marriage that through good habits and attention to detail you can always improve a dish. Justin's chef hero is Alton Brown (of Good Eats fame) whose niche is getting you to understand the science of cooking so you can understand how the components of the dish work together to achieve ultimate tastiness.

I aspire to have the discipline my husband does in the kitchen and hope to pass his culinary skills onto the girls (as well as myself) as the years go by. Right now we let our oldest (3 1/2) help us where she can in the kitchen (though on some days it frustrates me to death), let her sniff the spices in the cabinet, pick rosemary from our little herb garden, and sometimes watch cooking shows with her instead of movies. It's fun to see her recognize what the chefs are using, making, or describing. She's being educated early, but not by force; she wants to do these things!

Even if you're not an aspiring chef, it seems the Christmas season brings out everyone's culinary sensibilities and we think about dishes that we have had passed down to us. There are 3 dishes that excite my senses and say Christmas to me:
  1. Boiled custard -- it's not eggnog, folks! There's no nutmeg or alcohol. It's milk, eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract. It's SO creamy and SO rich. You don't need a lot to feel full. I'm not sure if my grandmother started making this, but we've served it at Christmas gatherings on her side of the family for as long as I can remember. I think of Mimi (who passed away a few months before our wedding) every time we drink a glass! 
  2. Jam Cake -- This was another of Mimi's Christmas specialties. It's like what fruitcake wishes it could be. It has the taste of so many dark flavors in one thick bite. No flashy colors of maraschino anything. The caramel buttercream frosting had to go with it as well. I've never seen anything like it served at any restaurant which is a shame.                    
  3. Congealed Salad -- Not sure how this one became a favorite either, but I love it. It's lemon jello, peaches, pineapples, pecan and marshmallows. We can't have any holiday get together without my mom making it. Justin always says the texture is weird, but that just means more for me.      

What are some of your favorite holiday foods? What are some of the habits or traditions you want to instill in your family?     

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Talkin' 'Bout My Education: Anne Hockenberry

Here's the first of a new monthly feature -- Talkin' 'Bout My Education. On the first day of each month, I will have a guest post from a friend who will discuss a topic of education. 

Our first guest is Anne Hockenberry, a very good friend (as well as her husband, Owen) from Bryan College -- we're talking since 2002! She currently works as an educator in the public schools for children with special needs. I hope you are encouraged by her reflections!

Any public school teacher can relate to this picture on some level. Though funny, it strikes a deeper cord with me when I think about education and it’s ramifications for our children. When my husband and I think about the possibility of having children and about their education, I have to make that decision based on my own upbringing as a homeschooler and current profession as a public school teacher. 
My parents homeschooled my four siblings and me for most of our elementary years and all of high school and I really treasure my childhood and the education I received. My husband had a similar educational experience to mine. However, unlike some people who come from a homeschooling background, I wouldn't say that homeschooling is a quick fix to the educational dilemma many are faced with. I have also witnessed the public school system as a teacher for the last 5 years and have seen many great resources and hard-working teachers who are dedicated to their profession. I am grateful that I can positively influence students’ lives on a daily basis and give some of them the stability that they may not otherwise have. Both of these backgrounds have given me varied perspectives on education and have caused me to wrestle with the idea of homeschooling our future children. 
But before we can even ask the question about how to best educate our children, we have to ask ourselves what we ultimately want for our children and who we want them to be as adults in this ever-changing world. The difficult thing about this is that every parent wants something slightly different for his or her child. Ultimately, I want those decisions for our children to be up to my husband and me not a school teacher or school system. As Christians, our primary objective is to raise children who have relationships with Jesus Christ. The decision to homeschool or not is secondary to our children’s salvation. However, teaching children at home makes it easier to instill in them Christian values. Likewise, I’m not interested in raising children who have the skills to pass a standardized test, but rather children who love the Lord and have the skills to be successful citizens, whatever that may look like personally for them (i.e. it does not necessarily mean having lots of high degrees or being wealthy). Homeschooling also provides a platform for creating life-long learners and developing a curiosity that it is difficult to cultivate in a public school setting. There is so much more freedom as a homeschooler to tailor education to the individual child’s needs. My husband and I also found that we gained the skill of self-motivation and independent work skills because of the educations we received. 
We consider all these things in making a decision to homeschool or not, but there’s also the personal aspect: I could go to school for 40+ hours a week and teach other people’s kids (as I do now) or I can invest that same energy into educating my own children. To me, the trade off is obvious. When it comes to considering whether or not I would homeschool my future children, I whole-heartedly agree with Rachel’s sentiment and I can’t do it all. I can’t invest in my children’s lives the way I would want to AND be a public school teacher. It’s clear to me that if we did have children, I would quit my job to stay home with them. It makes sense for me to have the primary influence on our children when I already have the skills and resources to teach at home.
So where is the dilemma for us? When we discuss the possibility of having children, we agree that the primary adults raising a child should be his or her parents. However, each child is so unique that there is not one best way to educate all children. As a teacher working with children who have learning disabilities, I have seen that individual or small group instruction can be some of the most effective; but some children learn better surrounded by their peers when they can participate in large group activities. Every child and situation is different and my husband and I are very open to the idea of sending our children to school if we thought it would be more beneficial for them. There are opportunities that are available to kids in public school that may not be as accessible to those taught at home. And there may be times when our child may need to have more social interactions than those that are available to homeschoolers on a daily basis. As parents raising children to be Salt and Light to the earth, there is also the dilemma that homeschooled children have fewer opportunities to witness to unbelievers. Speaking from my experience, homeschoolers can be very sheltered, and while this has its benefits, it can also limit Christian children from spreading the Gospel in a secular world. I don’t want to limit my thinking about education to completely exclude the positive aspects that the public school system presents.
Ultimately, it comes down to choosing what we think is best for each of our children individually and not making a blanket statement about whether one form of education is better than another. At this point, we can’t make a definitive decision because we don’t know who our children will be. However, I am grateful that when that decision needs to be made, I am equipped with perspectives from both educational realms in order to better inform our decision. With God’s guidance every step of the way, we don’t need to doubt that He will lead us.   

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Adopting a School?

I ran across this article in October when I was catching up on some e-journals from 9 Marks. Justin and I were on our anniversary trip in our cabin (where we got some great time to sit in peace and quiet to read!!!) and I kept saying, "That is so incredible! What a practical ministry to the community!" I hadn't started this blog yet, so it got pushed to the back of my mind until it got reposted a few days ago on a favorite website of mine, The Gospel Coalition.       

The rundown is that in 2004 a church felt convicted that they "were not displaying the generosity of the gospel to [their] community". They wanted to make a tangible difference so people would ask what compelled them to love so freely. This conviction lead to an opportunity to help an elementary school in their community that was probably going to be shut down in 2 years at the rate it was going. It was the worst performing school in county. 
"Over the next several years we led several innovative projects for that school. Many of our people started tutoring children. Small groups adopted classrooms and teachers, housed refugees, and met physical needs of families in the school. One soon-to-be-married couple in our church asked that any gifts for their marriage be redirected to a family in the school whose house had been destroyed in a fire. 
As that first year ended, the principal asked if we would pray for her kids during the end-of-year exams because the school would be evaluated chiefly by their scores. We gladly obliged.
By the fourth year of our involvement, the school had the highest percentage of kids pass their end-of-year exams of any school in the county. And the principal officially credited the church's efforts with helping to improve the school's academic performance. [1] At a subsequent teacher's banquet, one of the teachers said, 'I have always known you Christians believed you should love your neighbor, but I've never known what it looked like until now.' "

What's amazing about this story is that it doesn't just stop there. Improved lives and test scores are great things, but the opportunity that followed was even more amazing than anyone at the church expected: an open invitation to share the Gospel with the entire city. The pastor recalls: 
"In front of our entire city government, I explained that our church's generosity was a response to the radical generosity of Christ toward us. Christ had done for us what we could not do for ourselves, so how could we not extend that to those in need? When I finished, the school board, mayor, and city council gave a standing ovation. 
...The work of the local church is to proclaim the gospel and makes disciples. But the effective witness of Christians must contain both word and deed. Without word, there is no gospel. Without deed, we fail to confirm our testimony with our lives. As Francis Schaeffer famously said, the love on display in and through the church is Christ's 'final apologetic' to a skeptical world."  
I was drawn to this story because it reaffirms what I feel about getting involved in the community as a part of a philosophy of education. Teaching the next generation to serve unconditionally is a dying art these days. What a great testimony of this church to get everyone involved in a school that needed help. They didn't just throw money at the situation and hope things would get better. They got to know people and CARED about them on a very personal level because Christ did it for them first. I would wager that a lot of these people who did this didn't even have kids in that school or even lived in that area. These Christians have radically transformed the educational experience of both parents and children in their city. This article is a good reminder of our role in our own communities.    

Monday, November 26, 2012

My Education: Here and Now (Part 3)

Not my child, but a cute one!
People often ask me why we're choosing to homeschool, and I wish I could explain to them as thoroughly as I did to you in Part 1 and Part 2. To fully explain our decision in a few soundbites or a long Facebook post, can't be done. However, our reasons do seem to fit into two categories -- academic and social. I'm going to layout the academic position here in Part 3 and the social position in Part 4.

Please know that these are the conclusions for OUR family, I am NOT trying to put anyone down for the educational decisions for HIS/HER family as everyone's circumstances are different. I just think it makes sense for me to explain why so you'll have a context for future posts on philosophy.    
Class Size
If it's just you and your children the teacher to student ratio is pretty small. Even if you go to a co-op class in the community (which we will do), they're intentionally small. The implications of this are pretty obvious, the overall quality of teaching improves when you can give more individual attention to a student. I could be wrong, but I think most teachers would agree with that. Our goal is to train our girls to do work with confidence yet always have the freedom to ask for help whenever it is needed. The bottom line for me is that I can know more intimately when my child has mastered a skill and what we need to continue to work on. That means I do not have to have a ton of paperwork or charts and graphs to know where my child needs improvement. It means I can tailor the curriculum to suit each child's needs and interests best and at her own pace. I don't have to "teach to the middle" like so many teachers are being forced to do out of necessity (class size and the variety of needs in the classroom).     
This is what it felt like almost every day trying to teach literature!
Time to Process
I'll grant that this may be related to me being an English teacher, but when you're reading a weighty book you need time to process. You need some time to think about what you've just read and the wider implications of the text. If you're wired like me you also need time to TALK it out too (drives my husband crazy sometimes!). In my class, genuine teachable moments and deeper conversations were all too often cut off by the bell. The momentum couldn't always be recovered the next day and it certainly didn't go home with most students. I don't want my children's education to be hindered by a bell that says learning a particular subject (even if it's NOT English) has to end. I want to go deep and have fun with our subjects, not just cover what I can before summer hits. Some homeschoolers spend weeks on a subject they're interested in (not the exclusion of all other subjects, just a more specific interest within a particular subject) because they are motivated to learn. Also, the older I get the more I see the need in my own life to slow down and not talk prematurely. Sometimes my initial thoughts and feelings are not fully formed and I would do well to take time to process. As my husband wisely reminds me, it's easy to bypass critical thinking for the quick answer and the fast pace.   

Flexibility and Time Efficiency 
In order for school systems to work you have to have class transitions, assemblies, meetings, discipline, bathroom/locker breaks, etc. I'm not sure how they can avoid this on any given day based on the numbers of students they have to provide for; it's a huge undertaking. I want to trade those hours of transition for school work, co-op classes in my community, playdates, volunteering, relaxation, crafts, meal planning, Bible study, etc. In other words, I get to use time more efficiently to maximize on family discipleship, academics, friends, and straight up fun -- the things we value as a family.  I'm really excited about finding creative new communities for us to become a part of regularly, and as I found out at the homeschool curriculum fair this year, they aren't hard to find in this city! I want my kids to feel free to be a kid without having to go go go go go all day long. Also, after being able to determine my schedule for the past 3 and half years I'm pretty reluctant to let it be dictated by someone else every weekday. Maybe that's the choleric in me talking...      

A Chance to Relearn and Discover
This is really topping my list these days. The wife of one of my favorite professors at Bryan says that she homeschools so she can get smarter :) I am excited that I can learn and connect new things now as I go through curriculum and life in general with my kids! As I have mentioned before, I have always been slow (therefore resistant) in math and science, but I was encouraged when I read an author that said math especially is a subject that needs to be redeemed for the glory of God. He orders our world through math and science, so we have the opportunity to worship Him through that part of His design for Creation. That's a much more compelling case (as opposed to staring a textbook) to relearn some tough stuff! I want the joy of learning, no matter how insignificant the thing might seem, to be natural to our girls!                 

Quality Control
Paycheck cashers. We've all had them. The teachers who choose not to teach well or at all. Even though I have many fond memories of exceptional teachers, I still haven't forgotten the really bad ones. I have spent a lot of time under the tutelage of my husband for some of those "mistreated" areas. Teenagers aren't known for being the best motivated group of people, so the blame does not solely rest on the teacher; however, it's still not a gamble I want to take. 

College Credit Limitations
At my ten year high school reunion I was talking to a classmate of mine who was near the top of the class. He was telling me about his educational shock during his first year at Furman. He started comparing transcripts with his college buddies who talked about how many Dual Enrollment Classes and AP classes they had racked up prior to college. He had to tell them that in our school (one of the biggest and best in the county, I might add) they could only offer so many of those courses; it was not feasible for them to do more with the large class sizes of the regular classes. I sympathized with him and said that of even those small college credit classes offered I could only take one that would have helped toward my major. I don't place the blame on the school system (they can only do so much in this area), but homeschooling doesn't have to worry about that. There are so many online, correspondence, or community college courses available nowadays and CLEP tests for college credit (which was also NEVER promoted as an option in my school), but you have to have a flexible schedule to do many of them. I can do ACT prep for a whole week before my kids have to take the test to improve their chances of getting a better score. With what college costs these days compared to what we live on, taking full advantage of these options will be very important for our family.     

These are just a few main things that came to mind, so if you have more feel free to comment. Stay tuned for Part 4, the social reasons for us wanting to homeschool...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Taking Shape

Over these past few months, I've told you a lot about how our philosophy of education is constantly being shaped for our family, but I wanted to take this opportunity to encourage you to really think about your own philosophy. I say this to EVERY person who is reading this post -- whether you're married, you have kids, you're single, you're a grandparent -- you need to know what you think about learning! Questioning things by rethinking and reevaluating isn't just for the contrarians anymore ;) 

Here are some ways I want to get your started via my blog: 

1. I am starting a monthly series called "Talkin' 'Bout My Education" (with apologies to The Who). Each month I will feature a friend who will guest post something thoughtful concerning education. These people are from all over the country with all different family, educational, and career backgrounds. I have NO idea what they are going to say, but I know that you will be encouraged from their perspective! I'm very excited about this! 

2. I will start up some book reviews periodically. Some will be children's books, some will be pedagogical books, some will be sociological books, some will be hey-I-learned-this-new thing books, etc. I hope to get a bit of something for everyone with the aim in helping your form your own philosophy.         

3. I hope to find some blogs that are of educational interest as well. If you of any good ones, please comment and let me know. I consider my blog to be "Philosophy Lite" as the really really in-depth stuff hurts my head and would probably bore most of you to tears. Justin says I'm trying to be the Malcolm Gladwell of the educational blogging world -- bringing the ideas down from the ivory towers and to the peoples :)   

4. If you're just dying to get started on some of this educational stuff (because I know you are...), here are some questions that Justin and I have come up with for you to ponder or write out answers to. If you're married I would encourage you to talk to your spouse about these questions. Feel free to comment on here as well.   
  • What were the pros and cons of your own education?
  • How as a culture did we move away from lifelong learning to the K-12 model?
  • When you were in school did you ever think about what you wanted out of your education?
  • How did we go from the John Adamses of the world (self-taught, read Cicero for fun by candlelight) to begging kids to graduate high school?
  • If you had teachers that inspired you, what was it about them that created that fondness?
  • Why did your parents choose to educate you the way they did (if you're a parent/grandparent, why did you choose what you did for your children?)?   
  • If you're a parent of young children, what does a success in education look like for them?  
Happy thinking!  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book Review: The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians

Being trained for Secondary English, I always loved teaching classics like The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird, but had virtually no exposure to children's literature. That is until I actually had children. Then I found myself on my own in the library overwhelmed in the children's section trying to figure out what "my style" was. Do most people care what their style is when it comes to children's books or is that a strange habit of mine? Ironically, the ones I liked best have never been on anyone's top reading lists. They are simply ones that I pulled off the shelf, leafed through and "tried out" on my now 3 year old.

I've discovered that I really enjoy unique illustrations coupled with a zany story. Stop That Pickle is about as good as it gets. The Green Gourd is hysterical with its outrageous Appalachian dialect. Hamburger Heaven is a creative rhyming story with clever pictures. However, the book I am about to review is actually not a zany story at all; it's a story that is deeper than one or two readings will give you. I don't usually go for the sentimental stuff, but what this story taught me about community was too good to not share here. 

The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians by Carla Morris is about a little guy named Melvin who is inquisitive, somewhat absent-minded, and very into books. He practically lives in the library as he goes there most days after school. Whenever he has a question he asks the three librarians (Marge, Betty, and Leona) who each go out of their way to help him find the answers he is looking for. 

The book follows Melvin grade by grade as he receives all kinds of help and encouragement from these three very different women. They cheer for Melvin at the library, from their homes, and at the academic events Melvin gets involved in. The women are invested in Melvin because he respects them, he loves to learn, and oozes with curiosity. What adult wouldn't want to be this kid's friend? Over time, these women who have helped Melvin become a life-long learner and public servant, see the fruits of their labor when Melvin comes back to work at the library that gave him his start. Though, I suspect that even if Melvin hadn't become a librarian, they would have helped him just the same because that's community, folks! I really was delighted to happen upon this book because it features positive role models and a positive view of learning (not making it "nerdy") without being cliche.    

Aside from the story, the illustrations are fantastic. I found myself looking over the detailed expressions of the librarians, their outfits, and graceful age progression. 

After going to preschool time at our own local library every week, I know the Melvins and special librarians of the world are still out there today!     

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

From Crank to Thank

I had originally planned a rather ornery post about our bloated American society, but my tooth changed my heart. Don't get me wrong, I am still sick of Black Friday attitudes and our culture of indulgence as it relates to passing those habits onto our children, but I'm just going to leave in the draft folder for now :) 

Some of you who follow me on Facebook know that I have had some major teeth problems this year. Actually that's a big understatement. Try 3 root canals with 3 crowns still needing to be done in January when the insurance resets. Make sure you read the whole rundown so you actually understand why I am thankful for my teeth.

Mid-September: My jaw feels bruised and it hurts to swallow on one side. After a day or two of Ibuprofen Justin and I look up abscessed tooth on Google. Yep. Consult with an old church friend who is a dental hygienist  She told me that I needed to get on some antibiotics ASAP. That made me feel much better. 

Late September: Went into the hygienist's office to confirm I needed a root canal on my tooth with a crown. X ray said heck yes. After many phone calls I found out that their billing was broken up by procedures instead of a lump sum and I would be paying more out of pocket to go there. Had to pay $50 for the X-ray though. Since the slight delay from going to the first dentist because I didn't understand billing and procedures I was on round 2 of the antibiotics. Got the pulp treatment done from the endodontist with no problems.

Mid-October: After a week of coming off the antibiotics I still was feeling sluggish. Called the endodontist and he prescribed Round 3 -- a stronger antibiotic. 

Late October: Since I was coming in to finish up the root canal for the one tooth he said he would take a look at the two teeth I was going to have to get crowns on. He said both teeth needed root canals. Sadly signed the piece of paper with the billing amount (insurance was maxed out) and got those treated. A few days later I will still going down hill, so I got round  4 of antibiotics. Pretty sure I had no bacteria left in my body at this point. My father-in-law offered to do bloodwork at his office if I didn't feel better by Christmas.    

Early November: After flossing one night about 1/4 of my molar broke off. The next morning I called so I could have the endodontist smooth the tooth and put more temporary filling material over it. I cried a good bit before I called though. I was so tired of saying, "it could be worse" and it ACTUALLY getting worse. The next day I got a call saying they could squeeze me in to finish up my root canals. The next day my beautiful crown that he had to drill through came off, so I had to get squeezed into my dentist's office on Monday to get it put back on. The next day part of my filling in one of the molars fell out leaving a hole in my tooth.    

Today (Late November): Went into for the endodontist's last appointment for the day because my molar with the filling missing was acting up. The dentist extracted a somewhat detached part of my tooth that was apparently jabbing into my gum every time I bit down. Had no idea it was that bad.  

I am going into my regular dentist on Monday to get posts and build ups for those teeth, so I can make it through Christmas when I can have the crowns done. 

So why did I tell you all this? Because it reminded me of how cranky I was yesterday about our Black Friday culture, completely forgetting about the blessings at my doorstep. 
  • I had a husband who took time off of work almost every time he could (though it put him behind at work) to help me get better. He works 40+ hours every week to provide the funds for my teeth though he has only had one filling his entire life.
  • I had parents who work from home and were able to adjust their schedules to watch the girls for some of the other procedures.
  • I had people at church praying for me and asking me how I was doing every Sunday. One of my biggest prayer warriors was a retired dental hygienist. I also had several friends ready to commiserate because they were going through root canals or having major tooth work done.      
  • I got to know the staff at the endodontist's office and have conversations about Christ (hey, they played CCM the whole time!). Turns out both the doctors and all the staff are Christians.
  • I did not have to worry about finances because we had socked back some savings. However, even if we did not have the means to pay I knew of several ways the Lord would have graciously provided the funds.
  • We opened up new culinary possibilities after making all kinds of soups when I couldn't eat much else. 
  • My mind kept going back to a thankfulness for convenience. If someone can watch my kids, I can just walk into a an office and get the treatment I need. The church we partner with in Haiti (to my knowledge) has still not been able to get a dentist to come to the medical clinic because they do not have infrastructure for one. As an American, I literally can't imagine dealing with such agonizing pain and having no way to treat it.             
I have much to be thankful for this year through this unexpected 2 months of life lessons. I hope my children will learn that if they focus on how Jesus is actively working in their lives, even in the most frustrating situations of dental hopelessness, He will prove faithful.   

Monday, November 12, 2012

Papaw: Education Through a Life Well Lived

Some of you may have seen this last year when I linked it on Facebook, but Justin's tribute to his grandfather bears repeating. The "education" Justin received from Papaw was one that can never be matched. I got to know all about Papaw when Justin and I were dating. In fact, I probably knew more about Papaw than most other members of Justin's family if only from the numerous stories Justin told me. Once I actually met Papaw, it wasn't hard to see why Justin admired him so much; he truly walked his humble Christian talk every day. 

Justin used to take his college buddies to Papaw's house in Georgia to get away from college life so they could experience the slow pace of small town life. There are not many young adults that can get friends to go visit their grandparent's homes for fun, but Papaw was different in Justin's mind.  

Justin proposed to me in Papaw's front yard where his dad proposed to his mom. When your husband thinks the most romantic spot in the world is in his grandpa's front yard, you can tell how much the man means to him. That's not to diss Justin's choice because in the moment he proposed I knew in an instant WHY he chose that spot. Papaw's house had so much history and so much of his life's education wrapped up in it. It was the kind of thing only his novelist's heart could sense and Justin knew I would sense it too.  

Without further ado, here is the loving piece that Justin wrote after Papaw passed away:          
I’ve heard it said that the chain of wisdom always skips a generation; that the lessons of lives long lived are instilled in grandchildren by their grandparents while their parents are working to make ends meet. 
That’s not to say that our parents are not wise, rather that our ability to absorb their wisdom as children is clouded by familiarity, authority, and selfishness–we’re predisposed to doubt what they tell us until we grow up to realize they knew exactly whereof they spoke. In the time between birth and that epiphany of maturity, God interposes grandparents.
Maybe we listen to them because they’re a curiosity–we don’t see them daily as we do our parents, their gray hair and glasses make them seem softer, their habits and customs from an earlier time are both confusing and inviting. Maybe we let them teach us because they offer us love with an infinite patience bolstered by the peace and quiet of living somewhere else (without kids) most of the time. Whatever the reasons, this cross-generational transfer of wisdom seems to be part of the design of life.
 I’m thinking about this now because my grandfather passed away yesterday at the age of 86, and it’s hard to look at my life and values without seeing his fingerprints everywhere.
A child of the Depression, he taught me that the pursuit of “stuff” was futile and that the simple joys of life are the most enduring: growing your own vegetables, chopping your own firewood, cooking good food and eating the leftovers all week long, and spending evenings with card games and conversation. These habits forged in hard times are as necessary today as ever.
He taught me that life is best enjoyed slowly through his hobbies: fishing from the bank with a cane pole and live bait; taking long walks to no place in particular; working crossword puzzles on the front porch. 
Even though he only went through eleven grades before finishing high school, he taught me that life is an ongoing lesson. He was always reading a book or two about whatever caught his fancy. He loved to travel and find out what people were like in different parts of the country and the world by striking up conversations with total strangers (I remember the time he asked a rather stunned coffee-shop waitress in Milo, Maine what kind of crops they grew in that area). He consistently took an avid interest in my school work, even if my lifelong inability to grasp math puzzled him. 
By his service in the army at the end of World War II and the stories he told about that, he taught me the value of being a part of something bigger than yourself and of forging lifelong friendships with those who share a difficult experience with you. Even after a year in Japan, he came home to Pine Mountain, and more or less stayed put for the rest of his life. In that, he taught me what a community was and why it was worth putting up with the bad and the ugly to be a part of the good. 
Through his daily routines he gave form to generosity and neighborliness. He shared the overflow of his garden with anybody who drove by. He took in more dogs over the years on his little country road corner than most animal shelters. He would insist (to the point of argument) on paying for our family’s meals when we ate out together. In short, he knew that money and possessions make us happier when we use them primarily to meet needs and give good gifts to others. 
By his commitment through thick and thin, choir, Sunday school, VBS, and Wednesday suppers, he taught me the vitality and value of the local church. Following Christ is not something we can do in private, and he loved his church, warts and all, for decades. 
When I think about all these things and more as the memories wash over me, I recognize that most of the areas of my life that are distinctly “me” are often my subconscious attempts to be like him. The world of today is a far cry from his rural Georgia upbringing, but the person that made him is a type of man the world needs more of. I only hope the Lord sees fit to bless me with a life long enough to pass some of these things on to my own grandchildren some day.
Every time I read Justin's tribute I think about the legacy I am leaving. Are you? 

Friday, November 9, 2012

My Education: Teaching in Public School (Part 2)

Part 1 explained my educational background and how that inspired me to be a teacher. Here's the story of my 3 year teaching career and how it impacted my decision to homeschool. Hope you have an hour or so to read it. If you don't, just read a little, take a bathroom break, and then finish reading :)  

Well, every day was not the Mr. Kotter vision I had hoped for, but I think I came close a few times in Yearbook and my 11th grade English classes. Achieving my goal of "mentor and teacher" was a lot harder to manage because I was only 7ish years older than most of my students. At 22 I wanted them to take me seriously, so it was hard to let down my guard down. Darn you, Mr. Kotter, for making teaching look so easy and wonderfully sarcastic!   

 A lot went on in those 3 years and I was privileged to teach basically whatever grade/standard appropriate English-related thing I wanted (not something you hear from most teachers in the system these days). I got the impression from the administration that if  a) the parents didn't complain and b) everything on the Gateway and Writing Assessment was covered, the rest was up to me. A nice vote of confidence, but a little daunting at times since there was so much to choose from within those parameters. My first year was basically "survival mode" using the same textbook from when I was in school 10 years ago -- kind of nostalgic really. 

The best thing I ever assigned were the short journals the students wrote two or three times a week; it really helped me see their "process," know what was relevant to them, and get a feel for their writing style. It also helped me give better feedback to parents about their child's ability to interact with the readingsThe journaling also gave me an extra outlet to encourage my students -- no peers were there to judge their comments, just me. It doesn't take long in teaching to figure out that trust is crucial to teenagers. So much of their adolescent life is DRIVEN by peer-dependency, so there weren't a lot of places where they felt safe to share specifics. Having their trust made me be a better teacher to them. 

And, man, did I love my students...and want to strangle my students :) If you don't find something simultaneously compelling and off-putting about teenagers, you can't teach them. I'm going to save up my student stories (both the laughworthy and the heartbreaking) for later blog posts, but just know that they were a huge part of why I love education so much and why I still look back on the years at my school with fondness.        

To that end, I loved doing unique projects that would stretch my students, especially when I saw their excitement from connecting the activity with the text. I loved when they would eagerly talk to me about the positive choices they were making in their lives or their new-found quirky interests because they knew I wanted to affirm them. That was the essential training I learned from my teachers growing up -- shepherd, shepherd, shepherd. However, some days I felt like (whether they realized it or not) I let my students heap more emotional burdens on me than I could handle. It's not like I was ignorant of things like teenage pregnancy, suicide attempts, disturbing violence, excessive profanity, divorced parents, cheating on tests, superficial Christianity, or manipulating other teachers (...the list goes on...). I think it just stings more when it's happening directly to those you're intentionally trying to disciple. I so desperately wanted them to see that through Christ they could make better choices, but that peer dependency was eating them alive. My fresh idealism (that so many new teachers have), was starting to wear down. Every day was a new drama unfolding with unexpected twists and a lot of it left me emotionally drained and ready for prayer or venting when I got home. I wish that I had more often acknowledged that God was in control of my student's lives, not me. It would have lightened my burden considerably and sharpened my focus on the days I felt emotionally overwhelmed. 

In addition to the emotional responsibilities, there were some serious paperwork responsibilities. I had to e-mail progress reports for every student every month or 6 weeks (I can't remember now?) and answer any questions the parents had via e-mail. I also had to grade reading and vocabulary quizzes (for 100 students), homework (for 100 students), tests (for 100 students), long essays (for 100 students), research papers (for 100 students), have separate curriculum for Honors classes, work on the school yearbook, and co-lead National Honor Society. It was a lot of work to manage. 

By my second year, Justin and I were already talking about having kids and I was slowly realizing that there was no way I could do all of the paperwork, read and write new curriculum, help keep the house clean, manage the day-to day needs for our family, and be emotionally available to my husband and children. And I say me, as in me personally because strict organization is not my strong suit (ask my husband who helps out a lot at home!). My co-worker, who was a paragon of organization, seemed to balance everything so well! She was generous to everyone, graded papers diligently, raised a son with special needs, and most likely kept her house clean. I mention that only to say that God gifts and equips people in different ways, but I knew I would personally be overwhelmed and not worth what the school paid me if I added children into the equation of busy teacher. In other words, I could give my all to the kids at school or I could give my all to my own kids. I was not personally capable of "having it all", as they say, and God was pointing out my weakness in organization to show me that I would better serve my family and myself by having a different kind of workload.               

During all this, Justin and I revisited the idea of homeschooling. My eyes were being opened  (uncomfortably so) to some things on a philosophical level after working in the school as opposed to just going to school. Ironically, it had very little to do with the teachers and more to do with the failings of the system itself. It was such a burden off my shoulders to be able to separate in my mind the hard-working teachers I learned from and worked with from the system that so often let them down. Once I started seeing how top-down the educational system was, it made sense why things weren't working efficiently. With layer upon layer of bureaucracy, the buck kept getting passed--both up and down because everyone needed something from the other and neither seemed to actually ever get it! For 3 years, I questioned why there was so much accountability expected and demanded from the teacher's end and very little from the unmotivated parents and students when it came down to it. All of these things were ROOTED in a problem with the school system's watered down educational philosophy -- that success in education amounts to knowing and reciting the right set of facts for grades or test scores. In the pursuit of trying to meet so many needs and put out so many fires, the most crucial thing -- critical thinking -- got lost in the system. It broke down in homes. It broke down in Central Office. It broke down in some classrooms. It was very difficult to teach critical thinking well within the system structure. So much was expected of teachers (especially from absentee parents), that by necessity, the quality of education suffered, but as a teacher you just do the best you can some days. My perspective, of course, is coming from the high school side of things where I saw the culmination of the disconnected educational system, student apathy, and parental neglect and it wasn't pretty. In fact, it was downright frustrating a lot of days for everyone involved all the way up until graduation.              

One particular incident during my 2nd year really raised a red flag for me. My principal told that a guardian of a student accused me of physical assaulting her son. If you know me, you know I'm animated, but not naturally a toucher or hugger (Weird, I know. Ask my mom who hates that fact). When you're 23 and your students are only 7 years younger than you, you're better off to give no sign of affection other than smiles and words of affirmation. The situation was dealt with by the principal who knew it had everything to do with my gradebook and nothing to do with my character, but he was wise to give me a warning to stay clear of the disgruntled student because if the guardian had wanted to pursue it I could have lost my license (i.e. my word was worthless next to a student's allegation). After much crying to Justin, I realized how quickly my life could change depending on how far a parent wanted to take his/her threats. That was a was a painful and ugly look at how the school system is forced to operate in these kinds of situations; their hands were essentially tied. I wasn't ready to lose my hard work, my degree, my students, and my reputation for blatant lies.  

However, by the time my contract was up, it was still bittersweet as I tried to deal with both my admiration and sentimentality for public school as well as the stark reality of its flaws. I had so many good memories of students who touched my life in a way I will never forget. I enjoyed so many of my colleagues. I loved to pop in their room or office to chat, get advice, or see them invest in their community. I relished the parents who were really and truly concerned about their children's learning experience in every subject.  I loved people so much that I wasn't sure how I could handle having the hustle and bustle of relationships taken away. I was just hitting my stride and yet I was giving those rights away to become a homeschool mom. I didn't want people to call me a traitor and a hypocrite for choosing a new educational path that didn't involve classroom teaching. Having Christians work in the school system is more needed than ever (and I applaud you teachers reading this for your vital ministry!), but God graciously showed me when my time was up and how through having a relationship with so many teachers that I could still encourage them to be salt and light in their ongoing careers. 

Homeschooling was a decision that Justin and I prayerfully made together (as you will see in Part 3) and I have been amazed at the outpouring of support that we have received from so many (our church, our friends, and most especially both of our parents who are just as excited as we are!). As the days go by, I am more and more confident that in me stepping down from classroom teaching to invest our children and local community, we made the right choice for our family. For the past 3 years, people have reminded me that just because I am not formally teaching does not mean that I cannot use that skill set for the benefit of my children and my community and most of all to glorify God. 

Stay tuned for more specifics on why we wanted to homeschool in part 3 (the academic reasons) and part 4 (the social reasons).     

"He thinks my jumper's sexy..."