Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Blow for Math Literacy

Found an Associate Press article by Economics Writer Jeanne Aversa about an increase in credit card payment defaults in the past quarter. The article blames gas price increases for stretching budgets, causing credit card account to go past due.

My quarrel is not with the thesis of the article. I'm sure rising gas prices are squeezing families that may already have trouble paying their bills. My quarrel is with the inflammatory language the writer used.

And I quote: First sentence, "The percentage of credit card payments that were past due shot up to a record high..." (italics mine)

In the next paragraph we find that the delinquency rate is 4.81%, up from 4.76% in the previous quarter. Granted that's a new high, but is 0.05% really a "spike" in credit card delinquencies" (paragraph 5)??? Or is it just a lack of understanding of the mathematics involved?

Then we come to the last paragraph: "The [American Bankers] Association's survey also showed that the delinquency rate on a composite of other types of consumers loans, including auto loans and home equity loans, climbed to 2.22 percent in the second quarter, up from 2.03 percent in the first quarter."

That's a change of nearly two-tenths of a percent (compared with a "spike" of five-hundredths) but it hardly rates a mention. To my mind, the delinquency rate on all consumer loans is a bigger story, but apparently the credit card subset of the data is sexier or at least more newsworthy.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Wolfie Sees the Future

Wolfie's homework yesterday consisted of the following: "Write four declarative sentences, marking subject and predicate. Then write one each exclamatory, interrogative and imperative sentences."

I suggested he write the sentences in the form of a story because he couldn't think what to write about. It ended up like this:

Mom is a much harder teacher than Mrs. Fulkerson.
She wants me to write this assignment in the form of a story.
I don't want to.
I told her, "No."

"Wha--?" she said.
"Are you sassing me?
Do it right now!"

I thought it was brilliant, but he turned in something more boring. I would never stand for such a thing. ;)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

I Love My Kids

They're all science geeks like their dad and sometimes I get discouraged that my interests in literature and history and the performing arts don't matter to anyone but me. Then Wolfie gets all excited because Oliver Twist was made into a movie.

And both he and Chester insist I read them the picture book we have of three of the poems from T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats and fight over who gets to read the picture book of Spenser's The Faerie Queen first at bedtime. Granted these are picture books, but the language is pretty advanced and I hadn't been able to get Chester, in particular, to listen to these stories before.

I was unable to find our old copy of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats last night so I went to the bookstore this morning to get another copy. While I was there, I remember I wanted Klaus to read all the The Odyssey, not just the half-dozen excerpts in his textbook, so I got that (plus The Iliad and The Once and Future King) while I was there. I expected Klaus to complain that I was making him work harder than he had to, but when I showed him the books, he said, "Oh, hey, I'd been thinking about skipping ahead to that book!" He took all three books upstairs then came back down and asked me to read the first chapter of The Odyssey to him. Sure he was probably stalling a little (still hasn't taken his midterms) but I can spare a half an hour to encourage his interest. :D

They like words. Even better, they like words I like. I guess they are my kids after all!

Now if I can only figure out how to get the other two to homeschool, I'd have lots of fun! LOL

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Smarter than the Average Bear

Chester's been having some trouble with school this year. We're not entirely sure whether he's missing his friend (in a different class for the first time in three years) or having trouble with the way the teacher is teaching (Klaus had her for 5th grade, too, so we know it's not the teacher) or some other reason (or some combination). He's been feeling frustrated and saying he doesn't want to go to school, which is completely out of character for him. :(

So I was asking him a little about what he thought the problem was--lessons too fast (teacher not explaining enough or not visual enough) or too slow (busywork). "I found out recently that doctors and other earners-of-graduate-degrees have an average IQ of 125, which is the same as you, so I know the problem isn't that you're stupid." I told him, and we talked about the difference between how much you're capable of learning (IQ) versus how much you know (5th grade). He perked up considerably after that, so apparently he was thinking he was stupid. He's very very hard on himself.

The next day we were at the school dessert social, on the swings, when I made some general comment about brains and school. Chester says, "Yeah, I'm smart enough to be an average doctor!"

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Mermaid Chair

I just finished reading The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd. I bought it because I so loved The Secret Life of Bees, but approached it with a bit of trepidation after all the terrible reviews I read. No, it's not a romance novel, although the tagline "In this luminous novel from the author of The Secret Life of Bees, a wife and mother falls in love with a Benedictine monk" may imply otherwise. Many readers called Jessie selfish, but I have to think after thirty-three years of hiding her true self from everyone, she's allowed a couple months of selfishness. Sue Monk Kidd's lyrical prose is an absolute joy to read and while The Mermaid Chair is a strong novel, it just never will have the power that Bees has. Very few novels do.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

And Isn't it Ironic, Don't You Think?

I was watching a show on the Science Channel this evening about Nero's Golden House. For those of you who didn't watch the fabulous "When in Rome Week" on the History Channel, Nero was the fifth emperor of Rome. You may have heard he fiddled while Rome burned. Apparently that's not true, but he did take over 200 acres of downtown Rome on which to build his Golden House and extravagant grounds, complete with artificial lake, after the fire, presumably because the ruined land was cheap. ;)

His profiting greatly from a natural disaster didn't sit well with Rome ruling class or with the Senate. The ultimate insult to them was the 120 ft. bronze statue of himself called the Colossus Neroni. After that flight of egotism, the aristocrats began to plot, as they do, and eventually Nero was deposed, fled Rome and stabbed himself in the throat, thus ending his family's rule.

Nero was succeeded, eventually, by Vespasian, who founded the Flavian Dynasty. The Flavians did all they could to erase Nero from both the Roman consciousness and the history books. They built over the Golden House and even paved over the lake and built a huge amphitheatre over it. It was called The Flavian Amphitheatre and still stands today. Now, though, we call it the Colosseum, because Nero's Colossus stood nearby.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Oh, My Aching Wallet!

Reason to homeschool #487--No Fundraisers

Tomorrow, all the schools in our area are wrapping up Operation Classmate--a drive to collect clothing, hygiene items and school supplies for the Katrina evacuees now living in Rapides Parish, Louisiana. Desperate times, worthy cause, growing kids with social consciences--it's all good. Yesterday, I received catalogues and order forms for frozen food from Wolfie's middle school and for popcorn from Chester's Cub Scout pack.

God, how I hate these things! The products are garbage, it's not safe to go door-to-door, our relatives all live out of state, I don't have office mates to push this stuff on and DH can't do it at his office because he's the boss and it would put undue pressure on his co-workers (not that he thinks it's kosher to sell stuff at work anyway).

On top of the donations I've already given to the schools for the "Sixth Grade Field Trip Fund", and two PTOs, I'm tapped out. And we have at least three more of these to look forward to--Chester's school drive and his drama club costume drive and Wolfie's orchestra drive. I'm saving milk caps, cash-back points and Campbell soup labels. Not to mention that I had to pay $30 each in materials fees, plus classroom magazine subscriptions, PE t-shirts and lunch money. These schools should be rolling in dough!

Constitution Day

Apparently, tomorrow is Constitution Day, the day mandated by federal law when every school receiving federal money must teach about the Constitution, according to (a href="">The New York Times. Apparently, many historians (at least the historians quoted in the article) fear that No Child Left Behind is eliminating the study of history by forcing focus on reading and math skills. At least so says David McCullough, author of the fascinating if occasionally impenetrable 1776. He supports Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)'s bill to develop a nation-wide history test--as if public school kids don't have enough tests to study for.

While I agree that teachers are much more likely to cover material that their students will be tested on (called "teaching to the test"), I don't agree that more mandated testing is the way to encourage a study of history. Or writing, for that matter, although the newly rewritten SAT shows the College Board disagrees. Children learn from teachers who are excited by what they do and I doubt more federally mandated curriculum is going to excite anyone. ;)

Monday, September 12, 2005

It's a Miracle!

I'm the first to admit I don't know much about raising fiddler crabs. They make very interesting pets, though, so I'm trying. Xavier, our first crab (actually Chester's) lasted about six weeks until we went on vacation and came home to dead crab. Zoidberg, whose picture is posted elsewhere in this blog, lasted about a month, but he was never very happy, despite me trying to get the salinity of his water right and giving him dry land and sand to dig in instead of just aquarium gravel. RIP Zoidberg :(

Before I had a chance to tell DH I didn't want to have another, he brought home Stormin' Norman. Norman seemed to be doing well--regularly "taking the beach"--until last week when he stopped eating and spent all his time hiding in the half-buried shipwreck in his tank. Sunday, DH found him looking quite dead at the bottom of the tank. RIP Norman :(

But wait, there's more! I scooped the carcass out of the tank and flushed it (after saying a few appropriate words, of course) and began to dip the water out of the tank. When it was nearly empty, suddenly this large brown crab charged out of the ship, wondering where his water had gone! I nearly dropped my dip cup!

Turns out Norman had simply molted and we'd mistaken the empty shell for dead crab. Molting is a good thing. It's the definitive sign of a happy crab. He'd been hiding in the bowels of the shipwreck until his new carapace hardened. So now he has fresh brackish water, a new filter cartridge, he's eating again and all is right with his little brackish world. :D

I guess I'm not such a bad crab Mommy after all. LOL

Project Motivational Math

I've never been particularly good at mental math. I think I'm too visual. But for those of you who are looking for a good resource, check this out:

One problem given to a fourth grade boy at the 2002 Mental Math Competition in Miami, Florida, went something like this, "Nine times nine, plus 19, times four, divided by 25, square root, add six, multiply by ounces in a pound, minus 60, plus 44, square root." "Twelve!" shouted the youngster, of Ben Sheppard Elementary school, which won the 2002 championship in the competition, enjoying a sound victory over even North Miami Senior High.

Find Project Motivational Math products at

Chiquita Miranda?

So I'm singing the Chiquita Banana jingle to my boys yesterday, because I like to enrich their cultural boundaries (i.e. annoy them) like that, and I was explaining the context about how Mis Chiquita was a parody of Carmen Miranda and her fruit-covered turban, etc. Then Wolfie says to me, "Back then, Chiquita Banana might have been a parody. Now it's identity theft!"

He got a big laugh and continued, "The phrase 'You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a person named John'"(which we taught him last week) "used to be a figure of speech. Now it's animal cruelty and aggravated assault!" LOL

Good thing he wants to be an architect and not a lawyer. LOL

Ground Zero, USA

Heard on the news this morning that New Orleans officials were baffled when their "driving buses around the city to evacuate people without transporation" plan didn't work during Katrina. According to Fox News, the plan "would have worked" but the bus drivers refused to stay in the city in the face of a Category 5 hurricane. Go figure. But how many people would have been standing out on the street corners, anyway?

Back in the early 80s (height of the Cold War and all that), I lived in Omaha, Nebraska, aka Ground Zero USA, because of nearby Offutt Air Force Base and SAC (Strategic Air Command) Headquarters. As you may remember, after 9/11, the President was whisked off to SAC to protect him from possible terrorist attack. That plan had been in place and widely known, at least in Omaha, for decades, although the news media seem to have either been ignorant or conveniently forgotten this fact during the "Where is the President?!" phase of the 9/11 coverage.

Anyway, I bring this up because Omaha was one of the first places the Soviets would have nuked. Our city's disaster plan was just like New Orleans's--if you have no transportation out of the city, stand on a nearby street corner and a bus will come to pick you up and take you to safety. Riiiiiggghht. The nukes are coming and I'm going to go stand outside on a street corner. NOT!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Classical Homeschooling

I believe I've already mentioned how disappointed I am with the freshman English class that Klaus is taking through Keystone. They do a great deal of writing but the class is heavily focused on the textbook. The only whole works they read are Romeo and Juliet and Animal Farm. Grrr.

I'll admit, I'm spoiled because the English department at my alma mater was truly amazing and I want that kind of curriculum to challenge my kids. Particularly Klaus, who is the most verbal/literary of the bunch at the moment.

So I was given a link to The Great Books Programwhich offers a classical education through study and (online) Socratic dialogue. (Classical education in terms of homeschooling is best exemplified in The Well-Trained Mind by Bauer and Wise.) The first year students study the Ancient Greeks, the second year The Ancient Romans, The Middle Ages the third year and the Moderns (19th/20th centuries) as a senior.

The reading list is rigorous and I'll admit it appeals to me. The classes themselves are pretty rigid though. We've already missed the first lesson. And they only require two written essays a year. (We wrote twelve per year at Central.) I've got Susan Wise Bauer's The Well-Educated Mind on backorder at Zooba, so we may just use that as his textbook. He's going to rue the day he picked me as his teacher!

Friday, September 09, 2005

The PC Police Have Done It Again

So I'm reading the paper yesterday, after having prepared my box of school supplies for the Katrina refugees now living in Belton, MO, and I find out these supplies aren't for refugees at all! Imagine my surprise! Apparently, a refugee is not "a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster" (italics mine) as my handiest dictionary says. That word apparently only refers to foreigners forced to leave their home to escape natural disasters. "These are not refugees. These are Americans," President Bush says. Wha---?

Our dear president is not known for his universal command of the English language. Neither is The Reverend Al Sharpton. And I wish I could find the reference I read yesterday when some linguistic luminaries suggested they should be called "Katrina escapees." But now the media have jumped on the bandwagon.

Oy Vey, Maria! Do these people have nothing better to do than cry racism?

According to the LA Times, the "displaced persons" themselves would prefer to be called "evacuees." That's fine. I'll call them the "Kings of Mardi Gras" if they want me to, out of respect for their suffering. But, the word does not mean, or even connote as far as I know, a group of people coming to this country from a Third World nation seeking asylum. They're Americans seeking refuge from a natural disaster. And that, folks, makes them refugees.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Ability Grouping, Day 4

Wolfie is taking "Super Challenge" math this year (6th, 7th and 8th grade general math, collapsed into one year) and is also taking 7th grade science instead of 6th. So far, none of the 7th graders suspect he's really a 6th grader. It certainly helps that he's taller than most of them. ;)

Disciplinary Literacy in St. Paul

Interesting story about a new teaching concept in the St. Paul, MN middle schools. Apparently, they're going to let students form and voice their own opinions. As the Guinness brewers say, "Brilliant!"

Well-Meaning Amateurs, My Foot!

Apparently I am late to this bandwagon (just found this article this morning) but it's got me all het up, as my supervising teacher used to say. The gist of this essay is that homeschoolers are "well meaning" but not smart enough or professional enough to teach their own children and are being misled by the curriculum publishers who only want their money.

You can read the whole article in the link above, but I need to refute some of these assertions line by line:

"[W]hy would some parents assume they know enough about every academic subject to home-school their children?" He says in the last paragraph that he's referring to "teaching math, science, art, writing, history, geography and other subjects."

A. As a former elementary teacher, I can tell you unequivocally that not every teacher knows any more about those subjects than I do. I've seen classroom teachers misspell words on the blackboard during a lesson. So let's not hold up "professional" teachers as more knowledgeable than your average parent. Any subject they don't know thoroughly (and some they do) they just follow along in the textbook and teach the lessons the curriculum publishers provide for them. "But wait!" I hear you say, "Aren't those same curriculum providers misleading parents into thinking they are qualified to teach their own children?" The short answer? YES!

The bottom line is that I know more about "math, science, art, writing, history, geography and other subjects" than my children do and that's all that's required to teach someone something--knowing more than the learner knows. If only "professional teachers" are qualified, then why is "peer-to-peer teaching" all the rage in the public schools? Surely, if a parent is not qualified to teach a child, a slightly older child is not qualified, right? Not to mention the fact that he will have time to work with a mentor, who knows more about his areas of interest than even a "professional teacher" would!

"That is, [leave teaching] to those who have worked steadily at their profession for 10, 20, 30 years! Teachers!"

I know I'm deliberately misunderstanding his point here, but surely he must realize he's suggesting that classroom teachers with less than ten years experience are also not qualified to teach. Such lack of precision in logic doesn't say much for his own [presumably] public school education. I suppose the students in his school should be grateful Mr. Arnold is a professional janitor not a professional teacher.

"Of course there are circumstances that might make it necessary for parents to teach their children at home. For example, if the child is severely handicapped and cannot be transported safely to a school, or is bedridden with a serious disease, or lives in such a remote area that attending a public school is near impossible."

A couple paragraphs beyond this quote, Mr. Arnold rants about the old "socialization" chestnut. So I guess he believes that homeschooling is only acceptable when socialization is near impossible.

Despite what he believes, homeschooling does not take place in a vacuum. There are local homeschool groups which schedule field trips, classes and other group activities. Homeschoolers play community sports, do volunteer work and participate in Scouts and church groups. My son and I have not holed ourselves up in our compound with a case of bottled water and a rifle.

"It’s obvious to me that these organizations [curriculum publishers] are in it for the money. They are involved in the education of children mostly in the hope of profiting at the hands of well-meaning but gullible parents."

What about the well-meaning but gullible school districts who use their products? Please. You are not going to learn more about The Odyssey from excerpts in an anthology/textbook than you would reading the actual book. And where does all that taxpayer money for textbooks go? For profit curriculum publishers, that's where.

"Don’t most parents have a tough enough job teaching their children social, disciplinary and behavioral skills?"

Perhaps, but the job is a lot easier when you have the children with you for more than an hour a day and you don't have to spend that hour undoing the bad behavior they learned at school.

"They would be wise to help their children and themselves by leaving the responsibility of teaching math, science, art, writing, history, geography and other subjects to those who are knowledgeable, trained and motivated to do the best job possible."

Who could be more motivated to "do the best job possible" than a child's own parent? How wise is it to leave the responsibility for raising our children to a stranger, let alone a new stranger every year?

(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is head custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois.) (italics mine)

The irony is, of course, that while I am happy to take over the role of teacher for my children, I would never presume to know how to run one of those giant floor polishers!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Get a Life!!

Found this article from CNN on Saturday. Can you hear my eyes rolling? Can these poor children not get away from their screaming soccer parents even at college? What on earth does this mean for the next generation?

I'm going to try not to rant about self-important Baby Boomers here. I absolutely understand wanting to supervise and smooth the way for your children. It took a great deal of self-control for me not to pop upstairs and see what Klaus was doing on his first online high school day. But I didn't do it. This is his show. If he asks for help, I'm here to give it, but I'm not going to tell him where he needs help. (Besides, I've done that when he was younger and it doesn't work. ;)

Dear Helicopter Parents,

Your son or daughter is off to college. Congratulations! Yes, he or she is going to have to struggle a bit at first, particularly if you got into the habit of doing everything for them because it was "easier." Struggle is a good thing. Struggle builds character. Let them struggle.

When your child calls to complain, let them. Then practice one of these responses.
"I'm so sorry to hear that."
"How is that working out for you?"
"What's your next move?"

Consider it tough love. Unless you really want your child living with you until he or she is 40.

Day 3 of Homeschooling: So far, so good.

After getting off to a somewhat confusing start, Klaus and I have finally decided on a weekly schedule, tried some classwork and made some plans. He decided to study one subject per day, plus an hour of Japanese (We're using Rosetta Stone for language learning.)

Friday, he finished two weeks' worth of Keystone's Biology course and 45 minutes of Japanese before biking 3 miles over to the high school to meet his friends after the last bell. The Keystone courses have a printable "Suggested 36 week timetable" which is based on doing one hour of the class every day. We printed out these timetables for him to refer to and help keep track of what he's done and hasn't done. I don't think Biology is going to take him all year, although English might. (The timetable for English is twice as many pages as the one for Biology.)

This morning as he was heading upstairs to study, he said, "I think I'll do Japanese first today. I just love having the freedom to decide my schedule. And to take fifteen minutes to read a book if I'm getting bored." And I love the time management skills he's learning along with everything else.

As for the dreaded "socialization" issue, if anything he's spending more time with his friends, not less. I hardly saw him this weekend--two friends stayed over Friday night, then he stayed over with one of them on Saturday. When he was in school last year, there would occasionally be sleepovers but most of the time, he was so exhausted from school he didn't want to do anything else. I know we'll settle into a routine (and when the weather gets colder, he won't want to bike over to Memorial every day) so he'll see his friends less often, but he'll be starting karate classes at the local dojo soon and we go to an orientation for volunteers at the Humane Association tomorrow night. And next month he'll be 15 and old enough to get that part time job he's been wanting. He won't be a hermit.