Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Homeschool Curriculum Confession

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You know those table conversations with other homeschooling parents where you sit with your heads together talking about curriculum options, problems, pros and cons, efficacy, and whatnot? You know those conversations, right? They can go on forever. OH, how I hate those conversations.

There are dozens of publishers out there marketing to the homeschool family and they all put out the new and improved stuff. Everyone has their own opinions about what is best and what is not working. Well, I can not participate in those...because I have no idea about homeschooling curriculum.

A decade ago, when we were still at the beginning of this homeschool journey I was far better able to participate in those discussions, but I seldom did. 

I have this friend, Laura, who could and did talk about curriculum and online programs ad infinitum back in the day. She knew every single new thing that came down the pike and she thought I did too. What did I think? Had I tried it? What was good about it or bad about it? What did I think of the price? Had I read the reviews? Did I want to try it with her?

I could not keep up and I didn't even try. I'm not sure how aware Laura was of the fact that I simply had no opinion on any of the new and improved materials back in the day because I had no knowledge of it.

My old standby answer:
My complete disinterest in following every new thing being released was because I spent about two straight years in the beginning researching materials, everything I could find, just like every other new homeschooling parent. I maniacally researched until my eyes were red and tearing up. And I found most of it to be either weirdly Christian and mythology-based, way overpriced, or simply unimpressive. So ten years ago or so I completely stopped researching homeschool curriculum

I don't care what is new. 
I don't care what is hot.
I don't care how great it is.
I don't care what anyone else is doing.
I don't care who recommends it.
I don't care what anyone else thinks.

Don't ask me because I can't tell you a single thing about the various math curriculum (especially math) or science or writing curriculum; I can't say what is worth recommending to another parent; I can't say what you will or won't like about it. Your opinion on a material is valid and fine with me.

My only opinion is to use what you like and don't ask me about it because unless it is a textbook, I truly don't know.

There you go, my secret confession.
I'm Karen and I don't know about homeschool curriculum. 
Yay Me.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Christian Mythology for Kids

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by Chrystine Trooien

I just heard about the book from a friend and immediately went over to Amazon.com and bought it with one click. Until I can read it, have the kids read it, and let you know about it, I can tell you that the reviews I've read on Amazon look good but I'd love to hear from you:


Trust Me, I'm an Atheist

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If, like me, you are on Facebook or other social media and you have great atheist friends you probably saw the report about a FOX News story entitled Priest On Fox News: It’s Hard To Trust Atheists Because They Don’t Fear Eternal Damnation. I've got to tell you, I try so hard to keep politics and religion off of my Facebook profile because I like to keep it light and fun and personal. And because I have beloved family and friends who are believers and I feel no need to distress them.

That goal can be difficult, though, when some stories hit my ears. I admit that I am a poor reporter of news stories because, embarrassing to admit, I don't follow the news. The advantage of this is that I have peace of mind and I don't share political stuff on my Facebook profile.  *wink*

Anyway, when this story posted on The Intellectualist I had to say something. 

 Father Jonathan Morris
Part of what bothers me is this picture of the priest, Catholic priest and Fox News contributor Father Jonathan Morris, with his boy-next-door grin and Trust-Me blue eyes all while sitting on the comfy couch, projecting a kind face while bashing the integrity and goodness of nonbelievers as a whole. He may very well be a pretty good guy for all I know. But I think that spewing this type of unfair, untrue, divisive, and completely rude rhetoric deserves to be contradicted.

By me.

On Facebook my brief response to this story was:  
WOW. So very inaccurate.  I beg to differ. I am completely trustworthy because I know that THIS LIFE is essential and that THIS LIFE and THESE PEOPLE need me to be trustworthy.I am also trustworthy because...I just am.  SO, this priest can take his cute blue eyes and sweet face and go find someone else to fear...and bash.
All the while, he's just sitting there on the comfy couch, speaking for the church, having the ear of so many believers, speaking as though what he says is incontrovertible truth.

What I neglected to add was that there is absolutely nothing about the religious that make me trust them any more or any less than any other general human in the world, and far less in some cases. And even more important, the nonbelievers of the world are trustworthy for reasons not related to fear of eternal damnation and more because they simply choose to be credible, sensible, and ethical. Most people, believers and nonbelievers alike, live lives where they consistently make choices of love, fairness, and respect - and that has nothing to do with blind faith but choice.

So you are wrong, Father Morris.
And as most of us do when we are wrong, it would be nice to hear an apology, a retraction, some sort of reparation would be nice, and a statement of plans to improve. Maybe an effort to learn beyond the box of religion would be nice too...because you seem to speak for the church, and people listen to you.

Did you see the story?

How did you respond?

Homeschool History

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I've got a great recommendation for anyone who is an atheist or secular homeschooler: Joy Hakim.

Joy Hakim 

Joy Hakim is an American author/past school teacher who has written a ten-volume history of the United States, A History of US, and Freedom: A History of US (a trade book to accompany a 16-part PBS series), and Reading Science Stories, all published by Oxford University Press. Hakim is also the author of The Story of Science, three volumes co-published by Smithsonian Books and the National Science Teachers Association. (from Wikipedia)

Hakim's A History of US is a rare history book in that it does not take the usual tact of passing off history myth as history. As Amazon.com describes this 11-book series:

Whether it's standing on the podium in Seneca Falls with the Suffragettes or riding on the first subway car beneath New York City in 1907, the books in Joy Hakim's A History of US series weave together exciting stories that bring American history to life. Readers may want to start with War, Terrible War, the tragic and bloody account of the Civil War that has been hailed by critics as magnificent. Or All the People, brought fully up-to-date in this new edition with a thoughtful and engaging examination of our world after September 11th. No matter which book they read, young people will never think of American history as boring again. Joy Hakim's single, clear voice offers continuity and narrative drama as she shares with a young audience her love of and fascination with the people of the past. 
The newest edition of Hakim's celebrated series is now available in an 11-volume set containing revisions and updates to all 10 main volumes and the Sourcebook and Index.
I have loved history for most of my life but, even as a kid, I was aware of the slanted, mythologized, larger-than-life way that most textbooks and history texts portray American history and American historical figures. When I found these books a few years ago I read them myself and loved them!

My own kids, non-book-readers, still followed each book and enjoyed the anecdotal stories as well as the accessibility of history through Joy Hakim's writing.* Also available to homeschoolers and others at Amazon.com are workbooks for The History of Science books, assessment books for The History of US books, and other additional materials for those who might be interested.

Also, please check out this phenomenal accompanying website for Freedom: A History of US.

In 1995, Pulitzer-prize winning historian David McCullough went before the Senate Education Committee in support of a bill sponsored by Lamar Alexander and Ted Kennedy intended to improve the teaching and learning of history. McCullough gave a scathing attack on the state of textbooks, but cited Hakim's book as an exception: Joy Hakim's new...multi-volume History of the United States is superb. But others are dismal almost beyond describing.

I can also recommend the three-book The Story of Science series. Using the workbooks, my daughter devoured this series of books during her first year of homeschool high school. And I loved reading this series too.

Even better, I priced the eleven-book The History of US books, used, on Amazon.com for about $44 plus shipping.

*  In full disclosure, John has not read the entire series.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Homechooling Parents: Do You Know What I Loved About School?

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I went to public school K-12. I'm not even sure if people had ever heard about homeschooling back in those days. Actually, I do know that people homeschooled. It was a thing that people did when their kids couldn't make it in school because of behavioral issues or developmental issues. That was all I knew of homeschooling back back back in the darkness of the stone age.

All I knew as a kid was public school, and I loved it.
  • I loved the art classes. Trying out different types of art projects from clay to fiber to ink and more. I doubt the art teachers back in the day got much acknowledgement, but now I appreciate them.
  • I also loved Pizza Fridays in the cafeteria. Why, I have no idea. The pizza was terrible and I generally went home for lunch every single day...for pizza.
  • I nearly always liked my teachers. I had the kind of teachers who truly seemed to care about each of us personally. There were a few exceptions, but for the most part I had very caring teachers all through school. 
  • I liked feeling smart in my classes. I was always in the advanced classes and I knew it. I knew when I was the best or the smartest or the fastest reader... It was a real self-esteem boost.
  • I liked holding a nickle in my hand to buy a new pencil in the second grade. It was a fat, red pencil with thick, soft graphite and no eraser. I loved those pencils.
  • I liked it in the sixth grade when my advanced class finished the grade school curriculum and our sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Stork, designed a very creative year's worth of activities for us.
  • I liked that little pencil tray inside of the desk that held pencils, erasers, and mini pencil sharpeners.

See, although I loved school back in the day I really didn't have anything to compare it to. If I had known about homeschooling as it exists today I think I would have made the perfect candidate to be homeschooled. What would it have been like if someone had noticed how little I was getting from school, how completely disconnected I was? What would it have been like if someone (but who?) would have taken me in hand, would have recognized my ability to learn independently, and would have taken an interest in me and who would have empowered my studies. What would it have been like if I could have had some of that child-led learning stuff and freedom to follow my own interests? I had so many interests!

I had no friends in school, truly. I truly didn't. I had little connection to the materials we covered in class. I seldom felt actually seen. In fact, I remember some specific moments when I actually thought I was invisible. I felt like flotsam. There were about half a dozen bullies in my class, K-12. I remember thinking our class material was pointless and, even worse, I don't remember ever understanding why we were learning what we were learning; I guess I had little context. I never seemed to understand what was going on. I never ever understood the socialization of kids around me. 

I hope schooling is better for kids these days, though I think that the problems have just changed. Public school...it's just not for everybody.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Is School Superior to Homeschool?

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Not long ago I was feeling overwhelmed and upset with some gaps that I had started to notice in one of my children's education. I was noticing that John was absolutely lost anytime another part of the globe was mentioned...geography!

One day John and I were looking at a St. Louis map and I realized that our metropolitan area was a total blur to him. And that wasn't surprising to me; he's not the most alert and aware teenager on the planet, what with his head bent over his phone whenever we are in the car. 

So I was worried, but then I remembered how completely lost I used to be while driving in the metro area when I was his age. And I relaxed a bit.

And I remembered how, at his age, I had no idea where the Middle East was and no idea what was there. And I relaxed even more.

And I remembered how anyplace in South America or Southeast Asia had been a complete mystery to me at his age...and dozens of other places too. And I relaxed even more.

And I saw some school kids who were John's age and I asked them if they knew where a few countries were and, guess what? They didn't know and hadn't even heard of the countries. And I relaxed even more.

It's easy, as a homeschooling parent, to see the gaps and to freak out about them. To see gigantic holes in the plan. To detect a giant deficiency in your well-meaning lessons. It's easy to feel depressed and defeated and to go the total distance and fear that you are messing up your kids forever. Because you are certain that everything matters, that everything weighs a ton. It's easy, sometimes, as a homeschooling parent to think that school kids are getting superior stuff in their contained buildings.

But I want to remind you of something true: School is not perfect.
Teachers are overwhelmed and under resourced. Districts are tragically underfunded. Classrooms are packed. School parents are mired in district rules and school requirements. Students have to follow absurd rules and have to jump through trivial hoops. Kids are bored. Studies feel meaningless to them. And of course there are wonderful things about schools too.

I'm certain that millions of parents wish they could embrace the freedom, the earnestness, and the significant profile of the homeschool lifestyle. I'm sure that millions of kids who are in school would love to homeschool.

And John will be fine. He'll find his way around town one day...just like I did.


Apparently it is Ask an Atheist Week.
Please feel free to ask me anything!

In the meantime, please check out this blogpost
from a friend, Lori,
on her blog called On a Perfectly Lazy Day,
her answer to that common question that atheists get:

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Heretical Thoughts about College

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Some of my opinions on homeschooling, on education, might seem rather scandalous to some of you, Dear Readers and Friends. Although my children are well-educated and the recipients of tons of excellent homeschooling I am about to utter some completely heretical blaspheeeeeming, right here on my blog.

I don't believe in required, general studies in college.
I've thought very long and hard about this, so bear with my thoughts on this for a moment.

John sewing some buttons
Here in the United States our universities require two years of General Studies, General Education courses. Universities want their graduates to be well-rounded people, informed in many classical subjects, capable of critical thought, exceptional writing, and a fuller understanding of our world. Higher Math, Logic, Sciences, English and Literature, Economics, History, the Arts: these are the courses that make up most of the General Education courses that students are required to take in order to earn any Bachelors degree.

Students are required to take thirty or more hours of General Education courses from these variety of disciplines. That is the equivalent of nearly a third of all college undergrad credit requirements. While I would not give back my own general education courses in college for the well-rounded education and knowledge and interest that they sparked in me, I do not see them as essential. 

Excellent classes in major fields of study are far more essential. And so many would-be students are unable to attain a full college education because paying for this massive amount of tuition for general studies prohibits completion of a full degree. Would it be such a loss if some students went to college and got right into their major studies?

Investing major cash into a chosen field of study requires such discipline, determination, and focus. That focus in and of itself is truly an education. The various, unrelated fields of study required in the general studies may, most certainly do, help to create a well-rounded student, a more critical thinking human being, and, perhaps, better aware of the operation of the world around them. And that's cool. I had that. I'm glad I had that.

However, investing money and time in pursuit of a chosen profession takes people out of lower-paying jobs and prepares them to actually be able to afford living in the world. Degrees of high learning are essential in our technological world. Two years of focused, specialized knowledge in a specific field is priceless and completely transforming for a student. Even two years, rather than four years, of focused study matures a person, requires extreme personal contemplation, develops excellent thinking skills, develops intense self-discipline, creates opportunity for deliberation and mindfulness, and develops independence and hope and opportunity.

I'm willing to suggest a very unpopular opinion.
General studies are not necessary for a good college experience.
I, a woman with a masters degree married to a very educated man, feel that the long-time beliefs of college providing a well-rounded education is unnecessary and can also exclude so many prospective students who could rise in society, in confidence, in income level, etc.

I'm willing to entertain your ideas...what do you think?

Monday, April 18, 2016

The GRAND Canyon

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The Grand Canyon is TRULY grand!

Thursday, April 14, 2016


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We are, indeed, in Flagstaff Arizona.
It is our second full day here and we have some plans...information soon to follow.

Here are a few tantalizing pics from our amazing visit to Walnut Canyon, location of dwellings from the Anasazi and Sinagua tribes. I was THRILLED.

More to come...with stories!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Homeschool High School: Dual Enrollment

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My daughter has been dually-enrolled for the last year and a half in the local community college. In our state homeschoolers over the age of sixteen can enroll in college courses while still homeschooling and those courses can count towards their high school diploma. The term Dual Enrollment simply means that most courses from the community college count toward the homeschool diploma and also count toward college credit. 

One of my favorite things about Elizabeth being dually-enrolled (and John soon-to-be) is that those upper-level math courses that I am unable to teach can still be available to my kids. I'm so relieved for them to have competent, capable algebraic instruction, something I am entirely unable to provide.
Because I don't get it and don't care because I will never get it. I don't have to feel bad about that anymore.
Anyway, I have no idea how these dual-enrollment classes might affect a student's ability to get financial aid or admittance to an ivy league college. I only know that for a very reasonable price, my daughter has attained her high school equivalency diploma without being disadvantaged by my mathematical limitations.

During Elizabeth's dual enrollment period she took classes of Algebra, Theater, composition and English, Phys Ed, Music Theory, Psychology, various Literatures, and a few other courses, all of which assisted in her completion of her high school matriculation requirements.

And that means that the time eventually came when I had to create a high school transcript for her in order to make her a full-time student at the college. Enter, math. Drat, that stuff is always around...

High School Electives

Stay tuned, also, for suggestions for electives and life skill lesson ideas.

Creating a Transcript

Stay tuned for a future post explaining how to create a nice high school transcript for your child.