Thursday, February 28, 2013

Educational Trend: Why We Love Dr. Seuss

Since everyone is celebrating Dr. Seuss's birthday this week, I thought I would throw in my two cents on why Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) is such a celebrated figure in the world of children's literature. 

1. His illustrative style is unique. It doesn't matter if you're reading his political cartoons or his famous books -- you know Seuss style when you see it. I remember as a young child thinking everything had either a sort of "feathery" or very rounded effect to it. Even standard animals and trees had that distinct style. Although I'm not a fan of the non-animated Grinch movie, I bet the costume designers and makeup artists had SO much fun trying to translate Seuss style to real life.   

2. He's not afraid to make up words. I was reading Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! to the girls today and was reminded of how it seems so effortless when he makes up a creature like a "beft" or "guff" because it rhymed with something else he had in mind for the story. Who wouldn't love the ability to make up a word and then physically create it on a page? Because of his gift we now know what sneetches are :) A lot of children make up words (I hear my daughter do it all the time) which is why reading Seuss books are so enjoyable to them. They don't always have a paradigm like adults do about what should and should not be. The linguistic world is their oyster and I think Dr. Seuss never lost that wonder for words. 

3. Everything rhymes. According to Wikipedia, Dr. Seuss' books (excluding his first few that were prose) rhyme in anapestic meter, whatever that is! You don't have to be an expert in poetic meter to appreciate the sing-songy quality to his books. When children are learning to read and sound things out what books could be better than ones that rhyme constantly? Use words they are familiar with and let them anticipate and have fun. Parents actually want to read these books to their children because there is certain comfort that comes from rhyme. Having go-to books contributes to parents and children spending more quality time together and learning to love reading - a win-win!        

4. He had a good grasp on what beginning readers need. He generally uses simple words and yet creates this amazing story from them. You draw the children into your world, but make the reading accessible.      

5. His books lend to so many other fun activities. There's a reason elementary school teachers make such a fuss over Dr. Seuss' birthday. You can have literacy lesson plans all year based on his books. Stay at home moms have them all over their Pinterest accounts. I love seeing people being inspired to create activities based on a popular work. 

Caveat: I have chosen not to see the new movie versions of things like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax, and Horton Hears a Who. From the reviews I have read and my friends who have seen them most of the movie versions are either overly PC or distort the original intent of the books. I say stick with the books and enjoy them together with your kids. I also think it's perfectly okay to appreciate some of his books more than others (or even completely ignore a few).

Which are your favorite Dr. Seuss books? Why?    

Here are a few activities (beyond just literacy) to help you celebrate Dr. Seuss' birthday:   

And for those who are of a more cynical nature about the actual MESSAGE of Dr. Seuss... this popped up when I was searching for Dr. Seuss images:


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Educational Scrutiny

Last night I was talking with two women about homeschooling -- one was close to my age that was homeschooled and one was close to my mom's age who homeschooled her children. They were telling me about how I needed to get the local homeschool newsletter to know about events in the community. They also told me about joining HSLDA (Homeschool Legal Defense Association) and then the conversation turned a bit more serious. The mom said, "You really ought to join HSLDA because you just never know what can happen..." and the other woman chimed in that growing up they had some incidents where people threatened to call the police or call child services because they chose to homeschool. Sadly, I have heard similar stories from almost every homeschool family I know. 

Taken at face value this might seem to some as "fear-mongering" to some of you, but when I think about the prospect of homeschooling my own family I am both saddened and angered by this kind of behavior by strangers. Growing up in the public school, my parents NEVER had to endure that level of educational scrutiny by people who disagreed with their choice to send me to public school. No one ever threatened to take my sister and me from my parent's custody because of their educational practices.

So as I was going to sleep last night I was praying for wisdom in how to explain our choices to our neighbors in the next few years. I am VERY thankful for my sweet neighbors who love our family and I feel would be very open to me talking to them more in depth about our choice. I've already mentioned it several times in conversation, so I doubt it will be anything shocking to them. I am thankful that I know a good many people on our street, so especially as a former teacher I can feel comfortable going to as many as I can and explain things. However, I don't know all of them and many of them are older (read-- don't understand why in the world we would choose to homeschool nowadays) and might be prone to call child services if they see us playing in the backyard before 3:30pm every day. Not to mention our house is backed up to a large apartment complex (more eyes watching). The thought of being a hostage in my own house is horrifying and depressing, but most of the homeschool families have still advised me to generally keep the kids out of the backyard (general playing -- this does not include going to co-op classes, playdates, or fieldtrips) despite how far acceptance has come in last few decades. I suppose I see some irony here -- most people still believe homeschoolers are sheltered and under-socialized, yet because homeschoolers can be so persecuted many feel they have to keep to themselves so they won't be threatened with child services when they go to the grocery store during the day. 

I have heard so many firsthand accounts of how cashiers would ask the parent (or worse yet) the child why they were out during the school day. Even if the comment was out of curiosity, it still causes the parent and child to have to defend themselves and opens up a litany of questions that just can't be answered adequately at the checkout line. I doubt any of us (no matter what educational choices your family makes) want to open a can of educational philosophy while we're trying to run errands!              

So while we're talking about philosophy: 

1. How do I explain to my neighbors our choices without feeling like I am defending myself? I am excited for our choices, but I don't want to feel like I am looking for their approval. What would be important for them to know?   

2. How do I graciously deflect comments that are meant to question our motives or subtly ridicule our decision?

The conclusions I have come to is that I have to trust the Lord with our decisions and to continue to be a family of integrity and service in the community so they can tangibly see we're not _______________ (fill in the blank with any number of  adjectives). We're not going to be a perfect family, but I pray people will see fruit from our decisions.                       

To wrap up, I suspect that most of you reading this wouldn't even think about calling child services on a homeschool family (or didn't even know you could actually do that to someone). I'm just letting you know it does happen more often than you think. I also know that the shoe can be on the other foot. At our church we have a mix of public school, Christian school, and homeschooled children. The parents get along well, but it's a bit harder to bridge the gap with the children as they get older because they are dealing with different issues. I think being aware of this mix has really made me sensitive to how no woman wants to be belittled by someone else for the choices they make for their family. No one wants to be made to feel like a failure because they aren't doing/can't do XYZ for their family. I know some of you have been hurt by homeschool families, too. Let's be careful in our speech and mindful of who we can do serious damage to with our zeal.          

Monday, February 18, 2013

Life As It Appears on the Internet

Do you present a fairytale family on social media?

I ran across a blog post the other day entitled Dear Homeschool Moms Who Have It All Figured Out and from the looks of the comments it received some mixed reactions. It starts out like this: 

You know who I’m talking about. 
The homeschool moms who post on their blogs and Facebook and make it look like their homeschool is perfect, their kids are perfect and everything in their life is sunshine and rainbows. 
I’m sure you can think of at least one {probably more!} posts like these that you’ve read just this week.
Are you one of these homeschool moms?
If so, please, I am begging you, please stop now.
You aren’t fooling anyone. Deep down, you know that you aren’t even fooling yourself.
What you are doing though is hurting other homeschool moms. You’re convincing them that they aren’t good enough. That because they have bad days and their kids aren’t perfect that by extension that means they are doing something wrong. You’re sending the message that if homeschooling isn’t easy for them then maybe they should reconsider their decision. 
You may not mean to send these messages, but you are. You’re causing homeschooling mothers, especially newbies, to falter, to become insecure, to lose sight of the goal and to ultimately walk away from homeschooling altogether.

The post goes on to reference moms who have thrown in the towel on homeschooling because they've been discouraged by both the perfect moms portrayed on these blogs and some from their own homeschooling communities. She encourages people to be real and authentic in their posts so they don't unwittingly cause more damage to the cause.     
The reactions (from the comment section) were generally one of three responses: 

1. Thanks for the encouragement that I don't have to be discouraged by the "perfect" blogs  
2. I completely disagree that I should air my dirty laundry on my blog 
3. Maybe there's a balance between being perfect and showing every single flaw

First of all, you don't have to homeschool to engage with this blog post. Take out the word homeschool and stick in some other word or phrase like "Dear Matha Stewart Mom" or "Dear Working Mom" or "Dear Legalistic Mom" or "Dear Friend I Went To High School With Mom". Let's face it... We all (to our own detriment) play the comparison game. My question is, what exactly does it mean to be authentic in this day in age when you can portray whoever you want to be on the internet? How much information is too much? I don't think this blog post is suggesting that we all start airing our dirty educational laundry, but obviously since the comments/reactions were so diverse to her post, I figure it's worth exploring.      

I try to lean heavily toward option #3 for my social media presence, but I struggle mightily with it. I'll be honest, in my sanguinity (is that a word?) I would generally rather tell you how I have been encouraged and what I have conviction about rather than the 20323th time I have yelled at my children for the same act of disobedience or the 339278th miscommunication I have had with my husband. Those close to us, know the deeper stories and struggles. Isn't that our prerogative though to share those kind of stories with those whom we trust and can give us wise counsel rather than the whole world just so we can appear real? Am I obliged to throw in an "Ugh.. struggling today with my children and my marriage!!!" status update to balance out a week of "sunshine and roses"? How would my children or my husband feel if I vented about them on the internet in a momentary snit? Is that fair to do that to them without their consent? I think the real issue is obligation and moderation. Can I still ask people to pray for me if I am having a hard week instead of putting out every detail? Yes. Am I obligated to do so? No.      

I suspect there is indeed a balance between inappropriately criticizing/divulging information and being a real human being with ups and downs, especially when you are dealing with those issues in a public forum. I want to protect my family from our instant-gratification-warts-and-all-TMI society, but be gracious in my speech when there is a lesson in the hard times. This is the balance that I am sure the author of the blog post intended.  

All that to say, I hope to communicate my thoughts about education effectively without being too optimistic about some things and too dismissive of others, but I know it's a fine line to walk.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Alfie Kohn: How to Create a Non-Reader, Part 1

Have you ever heard of Alfie Kohn? I didn't until after I stopped teaching, but it made me wonder if his ideas have trickled down in educational circles? He's a lecturer, author, and progressive education guru who's quite controversial sometimes. He bucks the education-as-usual mindset. I read in one of his books (maybe The Homework Myth?) that he believes the public school institution still has merit in society, it just needs a total rehaul in the educational philosophy department.  

I definitely don't agree with him on everything (as you'll see in Part 2), so don't take this blog as a ringing endorsement that he always speaks gospel truth. He tends to overgeneralize, but I just appreciate that he's shaking things up a bit.

The article we're going to discuss is called How To Create Non-Readers. I highly recommend you read it, but I will summarize and quote Kohn's main points on how non-readers are created:

1. Quantify Their Reading Assignments -- if a teacher tells a student how many pages to read that most of them (even the diligent ones) will do that and call it a day. Some students who are required to fill out logs, skim to salve their conscience by meeting the technical requirement. Kohn says, "What parents are discovering (surprise) is that those kids who used to sit down and read for pleasure -- the kids who would get lost in a book and have to be told to put it down to eat/play/whatever -- are now setting the timer…and stopping when the timer dings. . . . Reading has become a chore, like brushing your teeth."

2.  Make them write reports -- kids hate when you make them prove they did the work whether it's through logs or reports which Kohn says can "be easily faked and require almost no reading at all"

3. Isolate Them -- Instead of letting kids always tackle reading by themselves or with only teacher facilitation we ought to strive for a community of readers by having literary circles. Literary circles give extra insight and pleasure from a book because you are interacting with people, their opinions, AND the text all at the same time.  

4. Focus on Skills -- "Children grow to love reading when it’s about making meaning, when they’re confronted directly by provocative ideas, compelling characters, delicious prose.  But that love may never bloom if all the good stuff is occluded by too much attention to the machinery... When I look back on my brief career teaching high school English, I think I would have been far more successful had I asked a lot fewer questions that have only one correct answer.  I should have helped the kids to dive headfirst into the realm of metaphor rather than wasting their time on how a metaphor differs from a simile."

5. Offer Them Incentives -- "You may succeed in getting students to read a book by dangling a reward in front of them for doing so, but their interest in reading, per se, is likely to evaporate – or, in the case of kids who have little interest to begin with, is unlikely to take root -- because you’ve sent the message that reading is something one wouldn’t want to do.  (Duh.  If it was fun, why would they be bribing me to do it?)  

6. Prepare Them For Tests -- if you make learning a means to and end (i.e. you only learn because you will be tested) then consider the implications for motivation to read. You only read so you can get the grade you need. You only have to learn so much. You don't have to take thoughts to their logical conclusions, just far enough to get the right answer. He doesn't think just standardized testing is bad; he's not a fan of any testing. 

7. Restrict Their Choices - he is not kind to Common Core saying, "Teachers have less autonomy these days than ever before.  The predominant version of school reform, with its emphasis on “accountability” and its use of very specific curriculum standards enforced by tests, proceeds from the premise that teachers need to be told what, and how, to teach.  At the same time, this movement confuses excellence with uniformity (“All students in ninth grade will . . . “) and with mere difficulty (as if that which is more “rigorous” were necessarily better)."

Kohn goes on to assert that there is too much bureaucracy in public schools. It's like a food chain -- all top down-- and teachers have to decide whether they're going to "food chain" the students OR follow the golden rule (treat others the way you want to be treated). He says teachers have gotten too much of a mindset of "doing to" their students instead of "working with". He says if we make all the choices as teacher we leave no room for "student innovation" and "enforce passivity". We point the finger at kids for their lack of critical thinking when we're the ones actually stamping it out with our choices. A lack of interest in reading and writing, Kohn says, comes from no opportunities to have a say in your education. He says we ought to support a child's autonomy by letting them do more constructing and less selecting. Here's his example: 
I once sat in on several classes taught by Keith Grove at Dover-Sherborn High School near Boston and noticed that such [class] meetings were critical to his teaching; he had come to realize that the feeling of community (and active participation) they produced made whatever time remained for the explicit curriculum far more productive than devoting the whole period to talking at rows of silent kids.  Together the students decided whether to review the homework in small groups or as a whole class.  Together they decided when it made sense to schedule their next test.  (After all, what’s the point of assessment – to have students show you what they know when they’re ready to do so, or to play “gotcha”?)           
He says that most people will rationalize their way out of following this prescription by saying he is offering an "all or nothing" approach, but he says that it's not just about a teacher rubber stamping every idea the class comes up with; it's about working together on a solution. He concludes with this: 
It may take us awhile, but ultimately our classrooms should turn the usual default setting on its head so the motto becomes:  Let the students decide except when there’s a good reason why we have to decide for them.
I told you all he was controversial and a bit idealistic. 

What do you think? I'd love input from parents, teachers, homeschoolers, etc. Just remember to tackle the ideas, not the author (or the messenger, for that matter!). Part 2 won't be far behind, so stay tuned!     

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Opera, Les Miserables, and Lifelong Learning

I am here working on my talk for the church women's retreat on how having Living Hope (Christ Jesus) should transform our everyday relationships. In other words, by being a new creation in Christ you ought to relate to everyone countercuturally (being sacrificial, being a good listener, being full of integrity, etc.). You know, confound people so you have an opportunity to humbly explain how much you've been forgiven of and how that changes your outlook on things from day to day.

I am basing a lot of my talk on the character on Jean Valjean from Les Miserables. He is the epitome of carrying out that Gospel transformation with everyone he meets. Sadly, I have not read the book so I am going off of what I have seen from both the musical-Hugh-Jackman version and the not-musical-Liam-Neeson version. However, if my husband doesn't stop reading me snippets of it (he decided to pursue it after we watched the musical version this Christmas season) I might have to break down and read it myself soon though I have a million other things I need to be reading right now.

I was searching for the lyrics to two of Valjean's songs which made me wonder if it was playing at the cheap theater yet. I was crestfallen to discover I would have to wait an unknown amount of time to be able to watch it for the 3rd time in the theater... However, while scrolling through the "coming soon" section I was reminded of something our cheap theater does (that perhaps others do?) -- they show famous performances of the Metropolitan operas in the morning. My guess is it's like the ones you see on PBS occasionally just on a REALLY large screen. 

I am REALLY excited about this.

Irony alert: I'll be honest, I do not consider myself an opera buff. I'm not even sure I like most operas. Operas to me have always been like one of those things in life where you know you're supposed to like it because it's good for you (in this sense, culturally), but you might have to stomach a lot before you get to the point of marginally tolerating it. Kind of like broccoli, spinach, or beets. When something's not in English I feel like I am concentrating so much on reading the captions that I am missing the "experience". Even if there are a million archetypes and universal themes weaved throughout it, it's still difficult for me to enjoy. However, I have not given up hope because of three things: 1) I love musicals. Love.Love.Love. 2) The one opera I did sit through was a local production of La Boheme and I thoroughly enjoyed it (captions and all) 3) I have developed a taste (both physically and culturally) for many things because of Justin's influence. I know would be missing out on a lot if I always concluded I could never like something simply on the basis of being unsure of it. Justin keeps telling me that Les Miserables is just like an modern opera in English. 95% singing is about as close as you're going to get these days :) My curiosity after that was piqued. Of course, I will have to wait a few years to take the cheap theater up on their offer of culture because my girls are 3 1/2 and 1 1/2. They're not going to care who Rigoletto is or why the flute is magic right now. But some day...

A love of learning is one of the visions for our household -- that means us and our children. Even though not every opera is going to be a diamond in the rough, I am open to the possibility that some may be total winners. Some performances may be like hiking for me -- something I still marginally tolerate and I can make my peace with that. However, some may give me something new to think about or a way to explain an idea through story to someone else. Having an open mind about things you were formerly closed to or unsure of is the essence of being teachable which produces the spirit of lifelong learning.

Oh, and if you have any opera recommendations, feel free to share them with me!  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Rebus Books

Part of my journey into children's books has involved rebus books. If you're wondering what a rebus is it is defined by Merriam Webster as "a representation of words or syllables by pictures of objects or by symbols whose names resemble the intended words or syllables in sound".

Still confused? Perhaps some of you have been to a Christmas party where you had to figure out the name of the Christmas carol by looking at the pictures inside the box. 

Make sense now?    

Rebus books allow your pre-reading child to "read" along with you by knowing what to say when they see the picture but you the adult are still doing most of the narration.

The other day my daughter received a rebus book of poetry called Night House Bright House from the Imagination Station program in our state (Have I mentioned how much I LOVE this program? Free books mailed to the house are so wonderful!). The format was both rebus AND word. Now I know I am new to the rebus world, but doesn't putting the word next to it defeat the purpose of the picture it represents? I took a picture of one of the pages so you could understand the conversation that ensued when we read it for bedtime.    

Me: "Shh -- it's night," said the...
My daughter: LAMP! 
Me, slightly puzzled why they had a lamp: Well, it does look like a lamp, but it's supposed to rhyme with night. Look at the word next to it -- light.  

Me: "Pit-a-pat," said the...  
My daughter: RUG! 
Me, slightly puzzled why they had a rug: Well, it does look like a rug, but it's supposed to rhyme with pat. Look at the word next to it -- mat.

Me: "Jingle, jangle," said the...
My daughter: BRACELET! 

Me: "Clinkety, clank," said the...
My daughter: PIG! 

By now some of you are thinking my daughter can't get this rhyming thing down (she did eventually). However, I was confused at to why they put these fun pictures that children with a limited vocabulary would get confused with on the page with the intended word. The rest of the book had several items that looked like one thing, but were meant to represent another. Don't get me wrong, the idea is cute (on the other page you can look in the big picture for the objects that were being rhymed), but I felt bad for having to correct her until she got the idea that the pictures were somewhat misleading.

Have any of you have good luck with rebus books? I would love some good suggestions to counteract this poor one I gave as an example.    

Monday, February 4, 2013

Rosa Parks Turns 100 Today

Did you know that Rosa Parks would be 100 today? She passed away in 2005, but her legacy is still strong in America. Every time I am reminded of her quiet courage, I think about the kind of questions my girls will ask me when I teach them in depth about civil rights and the cultural blinders of our nation during the struggle. I hope to point to these blog posts by Dr. Russell Moore when they are old enough to understand.    

My husband has been following Dr. Moore's blog for several years and last year we had the privilege of hearing him speak at a local church as part of a summer preaching series. He is originally from Mississippi (which is part of why he can speak with a special voice on topics like these); however, he and his family live in Kentucky because of his job as Dean of the School of Theology, Senior Vice President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and as Professor of Christian Theology and Ethics. If you follow his blog or Twitter feed you know that he loves Mississippi very, very dearly and is serious about his Christian faith. When we talked to him after his sermon he exuded the warmth and care that the South is known for. I feel like that warmth, Christian concern, and scholarship comes across in his writing anyway, but it was certainly reassuring to experience it firsthand.   

I encourage you to read both of his posts Why Rosa Parks (Still) Matters 

"In refusing to give up her seat, Mrs. Parks wasn’t struggling for her own position. She did so on behalf of millions of others, many yet unborn. There’s a difference, in a truly Christian ethic, in fighting for our own prerogatives and in working for justice for others. Jesus calls us to give up the cloak, to walk the extra mile, to turn the cheek (Matt. 5:38-42). And yet, he also led the Apostle Paul to appeal to his rights as a Roman citizen not to be prosecuted for preaching the gospel (Acts 16:37-39). Why? It was because the issue wasn’t Paul’s personal comfort but the advance of the church as a whole. 
Rosa Parks was a great heroine who deserves our honor. But let’s not consign her to the museum. Her heroism still speaks, and points to some old, old truths that are needed in a new century."

and How Martin Luther King, Jr. Overcame "Christian" White Supremacy.  

"One of my earliest memories is of a substitute Sunday school teacher chastening me for putting a coin in my mouth. “That’s filthy,” she said. “Why, you don’t know if a colored man might have held that.” It might just be my imagination playing tricks on me, but it seems as though she immediately followed this up with, “Alright children, let’s sing ‘Jesus Loves the Little Children, All the Children of the World.’” 
Now, this lady probably didn’t consciously think of herself as a white supremacist. She almost certainly didn’t think of herself as subversive of the gospel itself. She never thought about the hypocrisy of holding the two contradictory worldviews together in her mind. She probably didn’t see how her dehumanizing of African-Americans was a twisted form of Darwinism rather than biblical Christianity. 
She wasn’t alone."

Friday, February 1, 2013

Talkin' 'Bout My Education: Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

This month's feature on education comes from an American who had her son in Deutschland (Germany!) in the late 80's. Ironically, her last name is Berlin :)

All of my understanding of education comes from a purely American POV, so I asked Mary Vance to share her unique perspective -- having been brought up in the US school system and way of life while considering the possibility of having to raise her son in new territory. I am always fascinated by hearing how non-Americans do "life" and I think this post explains a lot to that end. She says that this was the climate almost 30 years ago and does not know to what extent is had changed since then. This is part 1 of her story:      

When asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I never answered, “A teacher.” In fact, my usual reply was, “A teenager!” Yes, I was obviously destined for great things with such an answer of vision for my future...Funny thing, though, I did become a “teacher,” just not in the sense of a school.
After marriage, my husband and I returned to Europe where he had been serving with Youth With A Mission (YWAM). I completed my required schooling in Dumbarton, Scotland, UK, to become staff, and then we moved to Augsburg, Germany. My journey as a “teacher,” began in earnest at the birth of our son in Augsburg.
As a general rule, the European system of education is all-encompassing and is directed by the governments. There are a few alternative options (such as a Catholic or Christian school), but these are quite rare, and they are subject to the State as well. Islamic schools are the exception, though, as they are regulated by their own systems within the Euro nations. Homeschooling is legal in only a small handful of countries. Euro education is a tightly regulated institution, and it is monitored extremely closely. Each neighbourhood has schools, and the residents’ children are enrolled in the closest ones to their homes; there is no “freedom of choice.” Because Europe is so developed and land is at a premium, most schools are located in apartment buildings or buildings in the apartment complexes, and even play yards in a Euro school are usually on concrete!
In my apartment complex, the Kindergarten teachers displayed the children’s art work on the windows and on boards outside the school’s entrance. German education in the early years focuses heavily on art and crafts. The paintings and drawings the children did were truly impressive! In our American children’s art work, for example, there is often a strip of blue at the top of a paper to indicate the sky and a strip of green at the bottom to represent the ground; in the Bavarian children’s works, the blue sky “met” the ground, as it does in real life. The teachers work diligently at helping the children see the precision of reality, and their art work, even as small children, reflected that. When sun was added to a German child’s painting, it was more a spot of brightness and not a yellow disk with lines shooting out as we see with an American child’s drawing.
Once a child reaches the age of 7 in the German system, everything changes. Until this age, the children’s schooling was mainly instruction in art and simple basics of their language, reading, and math. “7” became the pivotal point where a child’s formal, and intensive, instruction began.
One of the daughters of staff on our YWAM Augsburg team, transitioned from the German Kindergarten program into the formal schooling. During a writing exercise, the students were instructed to write a single word 500 times. Their penmanship was critically evaluated, and imperfections were pointed out for improvement. As the week progressed on this particular lesson, the children were still writing the single word 500 times per day. At the end of the week, TJ was called up to the front of the room, and her paper was analyzed by the teacher. In the word, there was a letter, “T,” and TJ’s paper showed ONE word where the line crossing through the lower case “T” was a teensy bit crooked. The teacher circled it wildly in red, and then mocked TJ’s imperfection; after all, she had a week to do it properly!
In the middle of February one year, we had a break in the wintry weather. I took my young son outside to toddle in the fresh air. Two German boys (about 6 - 7 years) were standing by a refrigerator cardboard box. They squatted down, looking inside and gently rotated the box. They talked amongst themselves, and from what I could hear, they were trying to figure out what to do with it. Interestingly enough, two small black American boys came outside about that time (they lived in my apartment building and were children of an American soldier stationed in Augsburg). The German boys stepped back while the American kids pointed at the box. I asked the German children if the other boys could play with the box, and they nodded.
The American boys began a flurry of playing! That box was a spaceship, a fort, a place to hide, a house, a tank, and their minds continued to wildly brainstorm ideas of what the box could be. Their mom came out and called them back inside, so waving, they left. As I watched, the German kids shyly approached the box again, and tried to re-create some of what they had seen.
Within the German education system, it appears the children are “programmed” for precision, preciseness, and perfection; however, their creativity and imagination are mostly sacrificed. Convergent thinking and education are celebrated. While this cannot be a “blanket” statement, having such an educational system understandably produces much “black-white” thinking, which explains, as an example, why the Germans are now known for their remarkable engineering skills.
One other important aspect of German education concerns the “tracks.” The teachers and officials are regularly “evaluating” the children, and within a few years, their educational “tracks” are determined. Not everyone can attend a university; they must be on the pre-determined “track” to do so. Children are separated into “tracks” that will eventually determine their careers with very little deviation. We saw a number of suicides and discontentment from young people as they struggled within their designated “tracks,” unable to make a change in their future careers. I do not know what changes are in the education system in Deutschland today; however, I do know there are more and more Deutsch Christian families who are risking imprisonment to homeschool their children. Some families are even taking drastic steps to renounce their citizenship and move to another nation to have the freedom to home educate their families.

Living in Bavaria solidified my commitment to homeschooling, but the journey had yet a few more interesting twists to it! For starters, we realized we were to move to Amsterdam, The Netherlands, but that is for another entry...   

Head to Part 2 here!