Monday, February 28, 2011

Creating My IDEAL School

So, before I launch into a detailed description of my ideal school (which is more like an ideal school system, because it involves four schools -- yeah, this may take a while . . . ), I want to give you an idea of some of the basic principles behind my plan here -- the Ideals behind my Ideal School System:

1) Individualized learning. People learn differently. Yet, in schools, we continue to teach every kid the same way -- at the same pace, in the same style. Students need to be taught in the method and at the speed that fits how God made them. AND . . . not only do they need to be taught IN their individual learning styles, they need to be taught ABOUT their individual learning style -- so that when they are in a less-accommodating educational environment someday, they can adapt.

2) Real world environments. Students will (we hope) be learning for the rest of their lives, but almost never in the kind of environment a traditional school imposes. We should make "school" as much like the real world as possible -- or better yet, do our educating in the actual, bona fide, real world.

3) Knowledge vs. skills Schools have traditionally divided up all the material to be learned in a myriad of "subjects", and had different methods and techniques for each subject. In my mind, the stuff we want our kids to learn falls into two categories: skills and knowledge. There are basically five major "skills": reading (inputting information -- this would include listening), reasoning (the processing of that information once it's inputted), writing (output of information in a new format), mathematical reasoning (because reasoning about numbers is different than reasoning about words and ideas), and "research" (not quite the correct word, but I like the alliteration! -- this is knowing how to find the information you need).

All else is knowledge -- the information to be input and processed. And while we tend to divide knowledge into categories like history, science, geography, etc., there is a tremendous amount of overlap and we should acknowledge that as we teach. The real division is between knowledge and skills -- and they should be dealt with differently. Certainly, the skills are applied to knowledge. But if, for example, we try to teach a 7-year-old about dinosaurs (knowledge) mainly by means of reading a textbook (a skill -- and one they may or may not have developed very well by the age of 7), and then assess their level of knowledge based on how well they read . . . that's an epic fail.

I'll also add here that we need to emphasize skills more than knowledge. We will NEVER be able to teach anyone all the information they will need to have in life -- and if we could, they would forget it before they need it. More important to teach them the skills of where to find information they need and what to do with it when they find it.

4) Classical education model. One of the happy things I discovered in homeschooling is the classical model of education. ("Classical" meaning from the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans.) It's not perfect, but it's an imminently useful way to look at kids and their educational needs. Learning is divided into three stages: the Grammar stage, the Logic stage, and the Rhetoric stage. Personally, I think of these in terms of the input/processing/output analogy I used when talking aobut skills earlier. Let me try to give a quick overview of the concept.

In the Grammar stage (remember when elementary schools were called "grammar schools"?), we focus on students learning the "grammar" of a subject -- that is, the information. For example, when studying ancient Rome, grammar level kids would learn about togas, aqueducts, Julius Caesar, emperors, Roman mythology, etc.

In the Logic stage, students start seeing patterns, relationships, connections . . . what caused the Roman Republic to morph into an Empire? How is Roman mythology connected to Greek mythology? How was the rest of the world affected by the Roman empire?

In the Rhetoric stage, students start applying what they've learned and reasoned out to their lives -- and learning how to effectively communicate their unique perspective on these things. A Rhetoric level student would be examining what lessons from the Roman Empire can be applied in our current political climate and seeking out ways to use those lessons to make a real difference.

Again, a very brief overview, but hopefully as I continue, you'll see how it makes sense with how I want to teach.

5) Student ownership of their education. One of the things colleges have noticed about homeschoolers is that they tend to be more independent learners. They feel responsible for their own education. They use their professors as a resources for their learning, but don't rely completely on them to pour learning into their heads. This is why they succeed in school . . . and in life. We need to encourage this more.

I may be missing something here . . . if so, I'll hit it later. Now, on to my remake of elementary school . . .

Letting My Mind Go . . .

Spent a few days with hubby in the glorious warmth and sunshine of southern Florida this weekend. Ahhhhh. Very happy to be in warm weather even if just for a short while. But the best part of the weekend was quiet time to myself. Keith spent much of Friday golfing and Saturday morning playing tennis. I sat on the balcony of our hotel room -- or at the pool -- or at various other sunny spots around the resort. Reading . . . thinking . . . dreaming.

I listened to a speech about education Thursday night that mentioned Big Picture Schools -- which I then googled and got all excited about. I've thought for years (and have mentioned here) how I would LOVE to start a school that homeschools. These Big Picture High Schools are about as close as I've ever seen to that idea.

That excitement bubbled over into my spending a lot of time sitting and thinking about schools. If I were to create the ideal school, what would it look like? I eventually had so many ideas crowding my brain, I got out my little notebook and started taking notes.

Part of me felt a bit guilty at this use of my time. As if I would ever actually put any of this to use. As if I would ever really be able to create my "ideal school". I don't have the resources, the credibility, the everything it would take to make such a thing happen. What a waste to spend hours pondering the impossible.

And then I slapped myself around a bit for feeling guilty. Who says it's impossible? Who says it's a waste of time? Who says there's no value in dreaming of an ideal? Not to mention the fact that I just flat out really enjoyed myself as I was doing it. I rarely have the opportunity at home to just sit and let my mind wander long enough to allow those wandering thoughts to gel into some structural unity. And I love when that happens.

So, I now have a framework for an educational system outlined in my little notebook. And I really like it (right now, anyway). I think I will share it with you all -- in little pieces, of course, because it's too much info to put into one post. If you're bored with the idea, or find it a waste of time to dream of an ideal, then move on. But I'd love to hear what you think.

Coming soon . . .

Sunday, February 20, 2011

You CAN'T Really Mean This . . .

A liberal friend on Facebook just posted a link to an article called "What Conservatives Really Want" and asked his conservative friends to comment on its accuracy. I want to sincerely commend this friend for his desire to increase understanding, rather than just increase the rhetoric.

But moving on to the article. I have only skimmed it thus far, but a few remarks jumped out at me so forcefully that they really have me in a tizzy. Note the following excerpts where the author is trying to explain the conservative mindset about poverty (because he, clearly, has conversed intimately with many thoughtful conservatives and knows of whence he speaks -- insert rolling eyes here).

"Conservatives believe in individual responsibility alone, not social responsibility. They don't think government should help its citizens. That is, they don't think citizens should help each other. . . . And what of people who are not prosperous? They don't have discipline, and without discipline they cannot be moral, so they deserve their poverty. The good people are hence the prosperous people. . . . No one should be paying for anyone else. It is individual responsibility in all arenas. Taxation is thus seen as taking money away from those who have earned it and giving it to people who don't deserve it."

I'm so appalled at this characterization I could bust a window. I am SO tired of being told that because I'm a conservative, I obviously hate poor people. And yet, this seems to be exactly what many liberals think. Let me make a few things clear about my conservative stance (and that of practically every conservative I know).

1) I do not -- absolutely do not!! -- believe that everyone living in poverty out there is undisciplined, immoral and/or undeserving of help. That they "deserve their poverty". OH . . . just the fact that I even have to state that is beyond unfuriating. The gall of this man.

2) I absolutely DO believe that citizens should help each other. As do most conservatives. As I mentioned in an earlier post, in recent surveys, conservatives have regularly been shown to give more to charity than liberals. They not only believe we should help, they DO help. Of course, this is conveniently ignored by liberals who need the world to see us as hateful. Grrrrr........

Seriously, folks -- I have to stop and emotionally recover from this before I go on. Such accusations are inexcusable.

Now, let's get to what seems to be the heart of this confusion on the part of liberals (at least, on the part of my thinking, reasonable liberal friends -- I'm not sure I can give this writer credit for being merely confused).

3) While I absolutely recognize that there are many people in our country with serious financial needs, I do not believe that that government aid is the method of choice for meeting all of those needs. PLEASE note clearly, my dear liberal friends, that this is a FAR CRY from saying that they don't deserve help, or that citizens shouldn't help each other, or that individual responsibility trumps all compassionate action. We absolutely should help each other! We just shouldn't need government to make us do it! I've commented in the past on the dangers of giving a government too much power, so I won't go into that again.

By all means -- let's figure out a way for people to get the healthcare they need! But can we really find no way to do it other than to give the whole thing over to the government?? It is not the government's job to ensure that everyone has healthcare. We should care for our neighbors ourselves.

I realize there's much more to be said on the issue of poverty and the government's role in dealing with it. But right now, I just needed to defend my side from the viciousness of this portrayal. GOOD GRIEF. So much for our new age of civility.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Confessions of an Over-Achiever

In my younger years, I was a super-achiever. In grades, in activities, on the job . . . I was uber-perfectionist and rule-keeper extraordinaire. I loved the thrill of success, the accolades of others--it's quite a high. The sins of the super-achievement mindset are subtle and subversive, because on the outside it looks like they've got it all together.

God used drama ministry to start breaking me of this behavior. Seeing things happen on stage that were greater than the sum of the parts I had put together in my measly abilities. I've become increasingly aware of God speaking to his people through drama -- and my being no more than the pencil, or the mouthpiece. I take no credit for the success of the sketches and plays I've been a part of. Even more, I've found the joy of watching God work and the privilege of being used as a small piece of it are FAR better than the temporary high of my own success.

Not that I don't slip once in a while and crave honor for myself, but I always regret it when I do. With the honor of the success comes the burden of the failure. There is no peace for the achiever, because there's always more too be achieved.

While going to sleep last night, I wondered if this principle can be applied to other areas of my life. Like parenting. Keith and I really aren't the ones raising our kids. God is. He knows their natures, their strengths, their weaknesses, their hearts, their futures . . . he sets up situations to grow them into who they need to be . . . he nudges their hearts in the direction they need to go. We are only tools he uses: as a stick to nudge, as a wall to block, as a signal to remind, as a shoulder to comfort. The success of the mature, well-raised child goes to him -- ours is only the privilege of being used in the process and the joy of seeing the result!

How about a well-run house? A constant stress of mine. But order is a characteristic of God. He is fully capable of doing what it takes to maintain order in this home, and even of defining what constitutes order. He motivates the family members, he adjusts our schedules, he controls the flow of items in and out of the doors. Maybe I would find more peace and satisfaction in my housekeeping if I look for where God's already working to create order in my house and join him, instead of stressing myself out with my own agenda. The success of a well-run house goes to him -- ours is only the joy of the result.

And what about my own spiritual life? I'm all too aware of how incapable I am of pulling myself up to heaven by my own bootstraps. Any growth that happens in me is not a result of my Martha-like striving and planning and rule-keeping and personal disciplining . . . it's a result of his drawing me to him and my sitting Mary-like at his feet. The success (what there is any) of a well-lived life goes to him -- ALL to him -- mine is only the joy and peace of being his child.

Some of my friends -- fellow achievers -- may find this to be sad. Like I'm giving up. I've stopped reaching for the stars and am settling for mediocrity. Won't I miss the thrill of success at achievement and the satisfaction at accomplishing a great goal? Oh, no, friends. I've felt the fleeting thrill and satisfaction of my own successes -- they've got NOTHING over the abiding peace and joy of being a part of God's.

Mother Theresa once said that we cannot do great things, only small things with great love. My new mantra.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Audition Day

Today is audition day for the middle/high schooler homeschool drama program. I finished a roughdraft of the script a couple weeks ago. After Kim and I figure out who we're casting where, I'll be spending the rest of the week revising the script to fit the actors I have. Adding roles, if necessary. Adjusting personalities in roles. Expanding or reducing the size of some parts. That kind of thing. It's the hard way to do it, I suppose, but it's the only way I know of to do it right.

One of my personal goals for this drama program is that every student come away from the production having had a good experience. They may not have a starring role (most don't), they may decide that drama isn't for them (some have), but they can at least look back on the show they were in and say, "Yeah, that was fun. I was on stage in front of all those people and it was fun."

That means tailoring the script to fit the actors I have so that they get a role that fits them -- rather than requiring inexperienced, immature actors to fit themselves to a role. As much as possible, I want every kid to have a moment in the spotlight . . . a funny line that everyone laughs at, a poignant moment that everyone remembers, a quirky look or gesture that makes them stand out.

My first year with the younger kids, I had two girls in the program who wouldn't speak at the auditions. I was kind of puzzled what to do with them. In the end, they were servants in the castle, but I gave them a few funny bits. Like . . when one character was giving a short speech of instructions to someone, they flanked him on each side and acted out the instructions with flight-attendant-like gestures. Their moment in the spotlight.

This is my second play with the older kids, so I already know quite a few of them. That's an advantage and a disadvantage. Disadvantage is, as I've been writing, I'm already picturing a few of the kids in certain roles. That's a problem because I may not look at everyone as objectively as I should then. And it's also possible that in the audition, they won't live up to the performance they gave in my mind. That happened in the fall with the younger kids.

But, I'm excited about the audition. This is SUCH a good group of kids! Friendly, respectful, hard-working. Not perfect . . . there are some boys with some excess energy issues. But I can see myself working with the homeschool kids long after my own girls are out of that category. They're just a wonderful group! Evidence again of how far people miss the mark when they assume homeschoolers are lacking in "social skills".

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Naked Brothers

My youngest has recently discovered re-runs of "The Naked Brothers Band" on Netflix. Insert heavy sigh here.

She has asked me several times why I don't enjoy the show, and I struggle to explain it to her. I could just say it's a matter of preference -- like how I don't care for applesauce. I could also just roll my eyes and tell her it's a Nickelodeon show, for Pete's sake. It's not made for adults to like. But I want her to learn to be a discerning viewer, not a snobby one, so I'm trying to articulate my reasons. It's tougher than you'd think.

For those of you not living in the world of Nickelodeon, let me fill you in. Nat and Alex Wolff are a couple of musical prodigies whom Nick created a TV show around a few years ago. It's a mockumentary about a famous rock band composed of pre-teens and younger. It's super-cheesy and intentionally so. I told the young 'un, I think that's part of my problem with the show. It either doesn't quite go far enough in poking fun at itself, or it doesn't do a good enough job of it. It often seems to be taking its subject matter too seriously, and it's hard to take these kids seriously in the situation this show puts them in.

I also think I just don't care for the personalities of the kids. Alex is a diva brat and Nat is a wimp -- at least their TV show personas are. They're just not likable enough to make me want to tune in.

Now, I will give them this: if these two boys genuinely write and play all the music on the show (which they apparently do), they are VERY talented. They have a few stupid songs, but many of them, musically, are better than what I hear the girls listening to on the radio these days. Unique melodies, interesting chord progressions, fun riffs -- when I can ignore the lyrics, I enjoy the music pretty much. The lyrics leave something to be desired, though. For one thing, it's a bit uncomfortable listening to a kid singing about his love life when he's young enough his voice hasn't even changed yet (I have the same issue with Justin Bieber).

I also just flat out don't like the quality of Nat's voice. Again, it's kind of wimpy sounding -- except when he's pushing it too hard to sound like a rock star. And he has some weird pronunciations . . . too affected. Annoying. You're an American, kid. Sing like one.

I don't know if any of you have young girls who are -- or were -- infatuated with the Naked Brothers, but if so, I would love to hear your take on the show. I wonder occasionally if there's more there than I'm seeing. But . . I don't think so.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Hubris [hyoo-briss, n.]

It's a term from Ancient Greece, the birthplace of theater. It means excessive arrogance or pride, especially that which brings down a hero. Oedipus Rex displayed hubris when he over-confidently assumed that he could never have done something so terrible as kill the Theban King Creon and accused the seer Tiresius of lying when he said he had. It is a primary ingredient in all tragic drama from the period.

Allow me to offer a more modern example. A woman posts an entry on her blog telling the world about how she's losing weight and about the food rules she has set up for herself that are making that possible. Complimentary remarks ensue. Self-congratulatory feelings prevail.

And then said woman makes a batch of Golden Graham S'mores. Golden Graham cereal and mini-marshmallows coated with a chocolate/corn syrup/margarine blend. Absolutely decadently delicious. This woman was well aware of her personal weakness for this dessert. She knew that she had a history of devouring this dish in short order, sometimes straight from the mixing bowl, with no regard for the consequences to follow. But this time, she allegedly made them for her family -- and it really was her intention that everybody else eat their share. Apparently, they were not as enamored of the dessert as she was, however. Within 48 hours, the bulk of the batch has been consumed by said woman, much to her shame.


Just figured I'd better come clean. Confession is now made, and mercy is new every morning. Hallelujah, and amen. Pass the carrot sticks.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

There's Less of Me to Love These Days

I'm losing weight. As of this morning, about 13 pounds. I would never have believed that I could lose weight during the winter. Not only it is holiday time, but it is cuddle-up-on-the-couch-with-a-snack time . . . and eat-my-way-out-of-this-depression time. Also, I-hate-to-get-up-in-the-cold-and-exercise time.

I'm not sure why this winter is different, unless it's the stuff the doctor recommended to straighten out my neurotransmitters and adrenals. Actually, when he first was talking to me about needing to eat better and exercise, I actually went home and cried. I had NO faith that I was going to be able to change those habits -- and I couldn't bear the thought of making myself that miserable trying to do so -- and I was depressed to think that might be the only way to fix my sleeping problems. So, this has been a pleasant surprise.

I think one thing that has helped is I set up my own food rules and stopped listening to everyone else. I mean, seriously -- does anyone else go nuts listening to the nutrition "experts" out there? First eggs are contraband, now they're good for you. First, you need several servings of breads and cereals a day, now you need to eliminate carbs altogether. Nobody has a clue. It's ridiculous.

So, here are my rules. One, I try to eat a variety of different kinds of foods at every meal. Meat, breads, veggies, fruits, dairy, fats . . . nothing is off-limits as long as it's not overdone. Of necessity, this has meant I am adding more veggies and fruits to my diet, because I haven't been eating much of them. But my focus is variety.

Two, the closer the food I eat is to the state in which God created it, the better. Butter is better than margarine. Whole-grain is better than white bread. A clementine is better than frozen orange juice. Fresh green beans are better than canned green beans. Homemade is better than processed.

Three, I try very hard to only eat when my stomach is actually registering physical signs of hunger -- and to stop when my stomach needs no more food. That means my portions have decreased. We have a ridiculous idea of what is an appropriate serving size these days. I'm making myself do something else to meet my emotional needs other than eat. (Again, I think getting my body's chemicals in order is helping with that.)

Four, because I'm an genuine sugar addict, I'm planning my sugar intake. If I have a mindset that I'm just not going to eat it, or that I'm going to eat less, I just fret about what I'm missing and end up bingeing. Instead, I think ahead and plan what sweet I get to have when -- like, I'm going to have three Oreos after dinner tonight, or I'm making a pie for the family this weekend. Then it's a positive thought, not a negative one.

Five, I schedule indulgences and let myself completely enjoy them guilt-free. Every Friday for lunch, Eastin and I split our favorite brand of frozen pizza. It's processed and unhealthy, but when I know I have that coming, I can be good the rest of the week. Every Sunday, our family eats out after church and I don't stress about how healthy my meal is -- if I see a healthy choice I like, great, but if not, I don't worry about it. And I NEVER worry about how healthy my meal is on a date. Like I need that to spoil my precious time with my husband.

I'm also drinking more water. And I've started fasting one day a week -- just breakfast and lunch on Mondays (which is as much a spiritual thing as a physical thing). Altogether, I'm finding this much more manageable than any "diet" I've been on before. It's not a diet. It's just living like I'm supposed to live.