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State Board of Ed woes

September 22, the State Board of Education will be conducting its final interviews to replace Doug Christensen as Commissioner of Education.  I personally liked Christensen.  I don’t know what his stance was on home education, but he fought valiantly for Nebraska’s STARS system and resisted education chairman Ron Raikes’ bill to require a single, statewide assessment.  He even had to stand up to the US Department of Education.

“We just told the Department of Education that if they were really trying to [serve] all kids and close the proficiency gap that high-stakes testing isn’t the way to do it,” says Doug Christensen, state commissioner of education. “We told them we would show them that we had a better way.”  How Nebraska Leaves No Child Behind

Maybe I never knew his stance on home education because he was too busy fighting the powers that be in order to effectively serve Nebraska’s public school children to worry much about us home educators.

Brian Gong, executive director of the National Center for Improvement of Educational Assessment, said Christensen has been influential in the national testing debate for years.

“Doug Christensen and his staff have been leaders in the nation in saying the form of the assessment and the form of the accountability should be as local as possible,” Gong said. “That obviously has been a minority voice, but one I think that people have really appreciated and have been thinking a lot about.”  Omaha World Herald

And that is really the crux of why I was sad to see him go.  Ted Kennedy, of all people, praised our unique system which successfully incorporated the accountability measures of No Child Left Behind and Nebraska’s historic commitment to local control.  Certainly the system was not perfect, but it was far better than the direction Raikes is leading us.

In the end, Raikes won and Christensen resigned.  We have four finalists, and I’m not sure I’m happy with any of the choices.

  • Roger Breed, superintendent of Elkhorn Public Schools
  • Virginia Moon, superintendent of Ralston Public Schools
  • Dan Hoesing, shared superintendent of Laurel-Concord, Coleridge, Newcastle and Wynot public school districts
  • Larry Ramaekers, superintendent of Aurora Public Schools

On a purely gut level, I’m leaning toward Virginal Moon.  But I’m not sure that her resistance to Omaha public schools taking over smaller school districts as Omaha expands necessarily speaks to her broader educational or governing philosophy.

I doubt any of the candidates will be quite what I would like them to be.  Maybe I’m unfairly biased, but the finalists were chosen by the State Board of Education.

Actually, I think Ramaekers will probably get the position.  He sounds like a Commissioner of Education.

And like Meyer [the President of the State Board of Education], he also said the new education commissioner must work to rebuild relationships with members of the Legislature and the governor’s office.

“I think that in the past, the Department of Education has not been as active of a player in that as maybe it should be,” Ramaekers said of assessment and state aid. “I want to make sure the Department of Education is at the table.”  Grand Island Independent

Someone to “heal” the “damage” done by Christensen.  At least that is how I read it.  Someone who isn’t quite so much a leader, but is ready to let that whole “standardized-tests-are-not-legitimate-measures” thing go.

Once that is out of the way, they’ll have a little more time to turn their attention to those homeschoolers.  After all, how do we really know what they are learning if they don’t take The Test?

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Back to school…EXPENSIVE

No kidding.  This is what the Lincoln Journal Star says:

A national retail survey found that parents plan to reduce their back-to-school spending significantly this year. The survey by TNS Retail Forward said parents on average will spend $506 on school-related items this year, compared to $668 last year.

We just finished the last of our school shopping, bringing this year’s expenditures up to about $150.  Maybe we’ll be up there by the end of the year if we include library fines.  But then, I had those when I was in school, too.

The article includes some ideas on how to make these last few days before school starts special, too.  I just got tired of the kids running around like chickens with their heads cut off and said “That’s it.  We’re starting back tomorrow.”

And we did.  The kids were excited because it meant paint.  Messes always get them excited.

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Homeschool stereotypes vs. public school realities

This whole exploration of my personal educational history started with a satire piece written over at the Winston-Salem Journal by one Mike Koivisto.  Who won the Write Scott Hollifield’s Column While He is On Vacation or Performing His Court-Ordered Community Service Contest with his indictment of homeschooling through an overdone stereotype.  I began it the only way such a thing can be answered–with a bit of satire of my own.

But it just wouldn’t happen.  The difficulty is that Mr. Koivisto has the benefit of not knowing what he is talking about as he criticizes homeschooling through fictional examples of his own fictional homeschooled childhood.  I really did attend public school, and I really did learn each of these lessons.  And had to unlearn each of them, as well.

My earliest memory of school was making gingerbread men in Kindergarten.  I remember somewhat sullenly pressing candies into icing, knowing my cookie I was so enthusiastically encouraged to embellish was about to be kidnapped.  See, we had just heard the story of The Gingerbread Man, and I had a foreboding sense of impending doom about the future of my particular gingerbread man.  When we were done, we walked together in single file down the hall to the kitchen where we watched a cook place our cookies in the oven.  Surprise, surprise.  When we returned, the cookies were missing.

I couldn’t figure out why the teacher was putting on such a show of surprise, and I think I might have burst into tears.  I learned an important lesson that year, I think.  Something about not trusting adults and literature being responsible for the theft of cookies.

At the beginning of first grade, Mrs. A. passed out plain sheets of paper and instructed us to color a house.  I made mine with a high peaked roof, two upstairs windows and a door.  It occurred to me that my house looked rather sad.  I know I was a strange kid, but I have always seen faces in houses…still do in fact…and some look like they’ve been bopped in the eye, most look rather bored but a few appear to be grinning from chimney to garage.  The house I lived in smiled, although most of its smile was hidden behind a tree.  I wanted a happy house, so I added a few extra windows in the shape of a bright smile and colored happily until Mrs. A. came and looked over my shoulder.

My house was much happier than she looked.  She scolded,

Houses do not smile.

If I remember correctly, I responded something to the effect of “Mine does.”  Which she took as the height of insolence, though that was the furthest thing from my mind.  So she took my paper and gave me another, demanding I “do it right.”  I somewhat reluctantly restarted my assignment, turned in a miserable, haggard-looking and every-day sort of house which she smiled at and praised.  The praise stung, and I think I burst into tears.  I never did see my happy house again.  I learned another important lesson that day.  Something about creativity and expression being acceptable only under tightly prescribed rules.

By the end of first grade, I had read all of the books in the lower elementary students’ section of the library.  I asked the librarian if I could check one out from the other section, the great big inviting section which looked so much like a small version of the public library rather than a reading corner for little kids.  She smiled kindly and said,

When you are in third grade.

I looked disconsolately at the books while years of re-reading the same baby stories stretched out before me.  And I learned another important lesson about grade level expectations trumping individual abilities and interests.

For second grade, I had Mrs. J. and Anthony, an annoying boy who kicked me under my desk and would immediately raise his hand and tell the teacher I kicked him.  At first, I protested.  I had done no such thing.  He, in fact, had just kicked me.  But she always believed him, always defended him, always said, “But my Anthony would never do a thing like that!”  And I always thought the mere evidence of the case stood overwhelmingly in my favor.  His legs were so long they were literally wrapped under his desk and though I was not exactly short, I couldn’t have reached his desk with my foot if I had tried.  After some time of this, the trouble-maker–that would be me–was moved.  I learned a lot then about justice, fairness and partiality.  And began to develop stomach aches and head aches on a regular basis.  I had a vague suspicion that it was because they were both black, but that would be nothing compared to my first real lesson on the playground.

One winter day, I was playing on the snow drifts with the other children when this little black boy ran up, punched me in the lip and ran off without saying a word.  I told the recess monitor who rounded up every black child on the playground and stood them in a circle around me, demanding I identify the one who hit me.  I looked at them and, surrounded as I was, I’m still no sure whether my tears were from the pain in my lip or from my growing sense of fear.  They stared me down, the group of them, and I had a distinct sense I was going to be jumped by the whole lot at some unsuspecting moment.  I finally pointed out the boy who had hit me, and Ms. V. exclaimed,

Dinky!  I should have known!

And grabbed him by the collar and marched him off to the principal’s office, dismissing me to see the nurse about my lip.  My great lesson in socialization and learning about people different from myself was that blacks were THEM, a group, a haunting group, a dangerous group.  A group to be feared.

Fourth grade, I had Mr. T, by far my favorite elementary school teacher.  He taught with enthusiasm, always had anecdotes and tangents to share about the subjects he obviously knew more about than all our textbooks combined, and he never answered our questions immediately, turning most of them back on us to consider a little more.  He made me think.  I loved being in his class and had more respect for him than I had ever had for any other teacher.  He also noticed that I had a difficult time making friends and took me out in the hallway one afternoon to talk to me about it.

Why don’t you try to be more like the other kids?

I fought back tears…feel them stinging my eyes even now at thirty four as I remember how devastated I was.  As if I wouldn’t have chosen to be “more like the other kids” if I had even known how.

Fifth grade taught me perhaps my second most important lesson.  My best friend (and my only friend at school) stopped playing with me that year with no real explanation.  One day in gym–we were on the same baseball team for class–she sat down next to me on the bench and started to talk to me.  For a few moments, it was like things always were.  The previous few weeks had hung over me like a dark storm cloud as I battled boredom and loneliness, having no one to talk to on the playground.  But for a few moments, the sun shone.  Until Leslie came over and sneered,

I thought I told you I would only play with you if you didn’t talk to Dana, anymore.

The storm broke, and I sought shelter.  Shelter somewhere deep within myself.  My fifth grade year, I learned how to become invisible.  To remain under the radar.  To attract no one’s attention and no one’s scorn.

It was a lesson that would haunt me for years.  I had set an interesting trap for myself.  Everything about how I handled myself told people to stay away, not to notice me, not to engage with me.  And for the most part, they didn’t.  In a crowded classroom, I was alone.  In a busy hallway, I was alone.  Sitting in a noisy cafeteria, I was alone.  And because everyone treated me as if I weren’t there, I felt as if I weren’t.

That all might surprise some of my more regular readers.  I have always said I had a positive school experience.  And I did.

Fifth grade may have taught me my second most important lesson in life, but my most important lesson I did not learn at school or as a result of school.  The summer between eighth and ninth grade, I really began noticing for the first time how differently I was received in my neighborhood than at school…even by the very same people.  Take that back.  I had always known that, but I had always viewed “them” at school as a sort of singular entity, separate from any of the individuals in that group.  In a group, people were very different than they were individually.  But over that summer, I began to really realize that they were not different.  I was.  I was the one who changed according to the social environment.  I was the one who walked confidently around my neighborhood, striking up conversations and rounding up kids for a softball game.  At school, I never made eye contact, rarely spoke and walked quietly along the edge of the hallway, trying to stay out of everyone’s way.

That summer, I had a conversion of sorts.  Not to Christ…that wouldn’t be for another five years…but from a victim to a survivor.  I made a choice not to play the part of the victim, and ninth grade was a very different year for me.  My high school years were some of the best years of my life.  And I never did become quite like other kids.  I accidentally rooted for the wrong team at the only Homecoming game I ever went to, never went to a school dance…not even prom…and found the whole social scene somewhat baffling.  But I had finally found myself and navigated through it all somewhat amused rather than offended.  I loved high school.  I relished not having to fit in. I was no longer being educated by the public education system, but in it.  And I felt free.

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The Family State, 1600-1776

This is a summary of the first chapter of Homeschool: An American History by Dr. Milton Gaither.  Feel free to respond either to my summary or to the chapter itself.  If you post on this chapter, be sure to let me know through a comment or an email so that I can include your post in the thoughts I share regarding the discussion at the end of the week.

This chapter opens in Amsterdam in 1608, looking at a small band of Protestant separatists who had left their home in Scrooby, England with hopes of “finding enough religious toleration to allow them to follow God’s revealed pattern of church government.”  The history and conflicts of this significant little band of Christians is condensed into a few paragraphs, but serves to set the scene for the reason they chose to leave Holland for America:

many of their children, by these occasions and the great licentiousness of youth in that country, and the manifold tempations of the lace, were drawn away by evil examples into extravagant and dangerous courses, getting the reins off their necks and departing from their parents…So that they saw their posterity would be in danger to degenerate and be corrupted.  Of Plymouth Plantation

I appreciated in this brief analysis the recognition that the Pilgrims came to America seeking more than religious freedom…this they possessed in Holland.  Instead, the primary concern for these families was the education of their children.

He then goes on to describe family life in colonial days, conflicts with Native Americans and the role the state played in the family.  Thus we enter into the support for the main theme of this chapter:  that during this period of our history, civil government actually enforced a certain sort of home education.  Rather than being free from governmental control as is often depicted in modern looks at home education’s history, the family and civil government were viewed as parts of the same, God-ordained heirarchical structure.

As the King governed by Divine right, so did the father.  And both family and state were created by God to serve the same purpose–the peaceable government of society according to Divine law.  p. 14

Home education was not merely tolerated nor allowed.  It was strictly enforced.

A summary of laws to support the point:

1.  Massachusetts School Law of 1642, giving authority of selectmen to oversee parents and masters in the education of children.  Keeping a “vigilant eye” even.

2.  Connecticut Code of 1650 (scroll down). It would seem that Puritan Massachusetts had its influence on Puritan Connecticut from the wording of the law.

3.  New Haven in 1655 (p. 54 and 55) added even more to the same basic law.

New York, Plymouth and Pennsylvania also enacted laws enforcing educational standards on parents, and while enforcement varied, parents and masters stood under the authority of government appointed officers and could face fines and eventual loss of custody for their children if they were not educated sufficiently, or were “unruly.”

Families were not autonomous, and officers were even employed by the state in order to monitor families.  The Massachusetts General Court, for example, established “tithingmen” in 1657 to monitor and inspect families.

The remainder of the chapter provides an overview of practices not so relevant to today, including formal apprenticeships starting at a relatively young age and the “putting out” of children to be educated by other families, with a brief look at the education “inside the Great House” on southern plantations.

My one criticism at this point is that Gaither seems to focus heavily on the northern colonies, those most influenced by the Puritans who were not religious radicals, but religious conservatives.  New York was a middle colony, and Virginia was a southern colony, but the single reference to the law in Virginia refers only to “a fine of five hundred pounds tobacco was to be levied when clergy discovered parents who were ‘delinquents in the catechizing the youth’…”  Rather than placing power in the hands of civil authorities (who according to Puritan notions worked alongside the church, not independently of nor in authority over), this seems to leave power with the church, where it had been under English custom.

According to a website summarizing education in colonial America put together by Notre Dame,

First and foremost, Southerners believed that education was a private matter and not a concern for the state. They were quick to point out that in all traditional societies the most important training a child receives is in the home where he/she is inducted into the values of the society he/she is about to enter. If the family fails in this endeavor, then how can the schools be more successful? They felt a priority should be placed upon creating a college-bred elite, if their traditions and way of life were to be successfully transferred to successive generations. This system helped to perpetuate the sharply defined social-class structure which existed in the South. There were planters (plantation owners) and there were slaves; no middle-class existed in the South to bridge the gap between upper and lower classes, and as such, there was no demand for services beyond that provided for those who could afford to pay. Another reason that public education did not flourish in the South was that the population was more dispersed than it was in the North, making it difficult to find enough children in one area to justify a school. Also, the Anglican religion of the South did not put quite as much emphasis on religious indoctrination through schooling as did Puritan New England. The final reason was the South’s feeling about slavery, which will be mentioned below.  Education in the Southern Colonies

This perhaps also sheds light on why Horace Mann’s reforms took hold more readily in the North, where there was a longer history of public education and state involvement in education, than further south where the population was sparser and education seems to have been viewed as a more private matter.

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HST Notes, California, the Olympics, homeschoolers at school and the gifted

Update: This week’s show is posted, but there is some dead air at the beginning of the program after the intro.  Once I got the sound working, I didn’t realize it was working so you can listen to the introduction twice, at least until I have time to edit it.  If you fast forward to about ten minutes into the program, you will have sound.

Home School Talk Notes

Join me Monday, August 18 at 1PM CST to discuss news, homeschooling “as it should be” and homeschooling the child with special needs.

Coming feature: The show should soon be available via iTunes.  My understanding is that it can take up to a week to be included and may not immediately show up in searches, but I will announce as soon as the show is there.

Last week’s show (8/11/08), available here:  Home School Talk, The Gifted Child

I.  California Appellate Court ruling regarding homeschooling

The first article I read regarding the decision actually popped up in my feedreader from OneNewsNow, a conservative Christian news site.  After summarizing the case, I focused on the closing paragraph of their report.

Farris says groups like the Alliance Defense Fund, Liberty Counsel, HSLDA, and Focus on the Family teamed up and were armed with new information that compelled the court to uphold parents’ constitutional right to educate their children at home.  OneNewsNow

From the beginning of this case, I was impressed by the ability of so many disparate groups to work together for one common goal.  HSLDA and the three statewide California homeschool associations were even able to issue a joint statement showing their commitment to the preservation of homeschool liberties for all.  But suddenly, now that the case is over, the only ones of relevance are conservative, Christian groups?  Rather than commending the efforts of California homeschoolers, all recognition goes to a handful of national interest groups.  Annoying, and I’m not even from California.

II.  The Olympics

In 2004, the US diving team failed to bring home a medal for the first time in 96 years, raising concerns that perhaps the program needed to change.  One of the biggest challenges the team faced was the fact that US athletes tend to train part time whereas athletes in other countries train full time.  The answer?  Homeschooling.

USA Diving established a national training center three years ago in Indianapolis and continued to identify young and talented athletes.  Wingfield and Chen started to sell athletes and their families on the idea of training full-time and being home-schooled.  JCOnline (original article removed)

For students who see homeschooling as a sacrifice to be made for their Olympic dreams, they seem to be doing pretty well.

My daughter also had a comment on the story, but you will need to listen to the show to hear her (along with her lovely introduction to the show, of course!)

Links for lessons:

Summer Olympics 2008 Lapbook

Debbie’s Digest, with a variety of links and information

III.  An Unschooled Child’s View of School

This was a brief discussion of Kevin Snavley’s essay “Education From the Free Eye,” and included some thoughts on the introduction, which I discussed here last week in A homeschooled child’s view of school.

IV.  Gifted education

My guest this week was Susan of Life on the Planet who spoke from her experience homeschooling a gifted child.

If you have questions, comments, show ideas or would like to be on the show, please email my at homeschooltalkshowATgmailDOTcom.  Or leave a comment here.  Also, if you have any lessons you would like to share or have come across, let me know.  I would like to at least occasionally feature lesson plans and unit studies, especially when they are relevant to the news of the day.