Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bitachon or caveat emptor?

While we wait for the final version of the psych report on the Things, I keep mulling over the information I got at the Small Modox Girls School interview.  Or rather, the information I didn't get.
There are two areas that I can claim expertise in, based on sheer experience.  One is moving (25 addresses in as many years on Earth.)  The other is school.  I went to eight brick and mortar schools in four states, six public, two private, before saying "the heck with it" and dropping out to DIY it when I was 16.  I have been to rich schools, poor schools, single-sex, coed, inner-city, suburban, magnet--you name it.  I have, however, never attended a parochial school or an "alternative theory" (Montessori, Waldorf, etc.) school.  Now, in my experience, school follows some basic protocols.  Students spend the lion's share of their days sitting in class either listening to a teacher or completing assignments.  Classes are based on the "textbook-worksheet" model, where the assignments center around either filling in a worksheet or answering questions in the back of a textbook chapter.  The only difference is in the teaching staff, and to some degree, in the curriculum.
While I was at the interview, I saw the Hebrew curriculum.  Obviously, the menahel is very proud to use Tal Am and teach Ivrit b'Ivrit.  However, I didn't get any information about the actual scope of the secular curriculum.  Nor is that information on their website.  (I'm going to go out on a limb and assume they actually have a curriculum.)  I also could not see a classroom.  I did, however, hear about all the "movies" (I've seen them--they're glorified PowerPoint slideshows), assemblies, and parties.  Great, but that doesn't tell me about what happens in class.  In other words, I have no idea how the Things would spend the majority of their time.  When I pressed for details, I was told to "have bitachon."
Now, we are not only talking about a place where my children will spend the majority of their waking hours ten months out of the year, but we are also talking about a financial commitment equivalent to buying a car.  Every year.  For the next decade.  Now, I have seen that there are cars on the lot.  I have heard about the leather interior, the sound system and the power windows.  I have even seen a picture of the car.  But I have not taken the car for a test-drive.  I have not peeked under the hood.  In fact, I have not even seen the physical car.  If I were to buy the car with that little information, I would be considered foolish and irresponsible.  So, why should I have that much faith and trust in the people who will be caring for and educating my children when I have no idea what they're doing?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

When school doesn't look like school

Earlier this week, Queen Mom came in, bearing gifts.  One was a card game where the players have to pick up cards based on matches or on arithmetic (for instance, if you have an 11 and there are and eight and a three on the table, you can use the 11 to pick up the 8 and the 3.)  So, since the Things played several rounds of this game, I let them skip math that day.  Hey, practicing addition with cards is math.
Or a belated present for my homeschooling comrade in arms N.  N. brought a paper-making kit, so I figured, "hey, it's sort of like science and art.  We're learning how paper is made, decorating it, and having fun."
Now paper-making, lemon batteries, and card games are not on my curriculum or IHIP.  However, they are a means to an end--learning.  Not to mention a great way to keep my kids from watching TV now that winter is here and it's too bloody cold to go outside.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Using a good idea

Last week, Chavie suggested that I have Thing 1 practice her Hebrew reading using perakim from Tehillim.  Just have Thing 1 read the same perek over and over again until she can do it perfectly.
Good idea.
So, we started with the 117th chapter (because it's really short--only two pesukim), and Thing 1 has read it three times a day for the past three days.  Today, she rattled the whole thing off without hesitation.
Good.  Now for step 2.
I decided to use a Charlotte Mason idea for this one.  Now that she can read it all and can sort of recognize the words, I copied the perek and cut all the words apart.  Then, I rearranged them into short sentences.  Thing 1 now has to practice reading the words out of context!  My  hope is that enough words from the siddur and the Chumash are in Tehillim that Thing 1 will have enough of a base of sight words to read without agony.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mental illness or terrorism?

In the wake of the Newtown shootings, I am increasingly bothered by the turn the dialogue has taken.  Specifically the idea that the mentally ill should be locked up.
After the news broke that Adam Lanza may have had Asperger's Syndrome, the conversation turned quickly to the need to lock up the mentally ill for the protection of society.  Many lamented the dearth of mental health services (read: long-term institutional care).  "Drug 'em and let 'em go" is the motto.  And That Has To Change!
Two things bother me about this.
First of all, Asperger's is not normally associated with violence.  When I think of Asperger's, I think of the quirky accountant that obsessively plays World of Warcraft in his off-hours, not of the sort of violence that would allow someone to shoot 27 people, most of them small children.  In fact, the definition of "mental illness" is so broad, that I would venture to guess that we all qualify as mentally ill under the DSM-V.  Should we all be locked up?
Secondly, we only seem to reach for "mental illness" as a reason when the attacker is Caucasian.  Well, why not call it by its proper name--terrorism?  And, for those who think that "terrorists" are scary Arabs who blow up buildings, look no farther than Northern Ireland in the 1980s.  Or Waco.  Or Ruby Ridge.  Or Oklahoma City.  Or the Unabomber.  Or Charles Manson.  Even the recent mass shootings in a movie theater and a shopping mall were committed by Caucasians.  And, let's not forget that the school shootings in Jonesboro, AR and Columbine were committed by white teenagers.  In fact, the most common trait found among random killers seems to be a Y chromosome.  So, why not stereotype violence along gender lines instead of racial ones?  And call terrorists by their right names.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Skills for school

Well, we went to the interview for Small Modox Girls School.  As I suspected, they wanted Thing 2 to get some speech therapy.  (I have heard so many conflicting reports on whether Thing 2 needs it that I've taken a "wait and see" approach.  Her vocabulary and syntax are fine, but she sounds like Elmer Fudd.)  However, she also recommended OT.  Why?  Because Thing 2 can only form a few letters.
We are, of course, talking about a four-year-old.  How many of us could write when we were four?  My own preschool spent time and energy teaching me how to color and cut paper--and I've done the same.  Sure, we play with the Handwriting Without Tears preschool book, but I just don't make a big deal out of it.  Because she's FOUR!
Meanwhile Thing 1, who just turned six--literally, like three weeks ago--was able to read 96 out of 100 sight words, but her sounding out is rough.  (Yeah, she's a VSL--I could have told them that.)  They recommended enrolling her in first grade stat--otherwise she'd fall behind.
And here's where they raise the ire of the Queen.
The Powers That Be determined that Thing 1 functions on the level of the average first grader.  However, there's a jump in ability between first and second grade, and Thing 1 might not be able to bridge the gap if I kept teaching her.  OK, but, what if I put her in your program, and she still falls through the cracks?  "Well, you have to have bitachon."  Sorry, but I save my bitachon for Hashem.  In fact, aren't we NOT supposed to put our trust in people?  Moreover, if she already functions at the level of the average first grader (and we're in the month of December--so, not even the half-way point) then isn't there a good chance that Thing 1 will continue to progress and then be at the level of the average second grader by June?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tragedy in Connecticut

I could turn this into a "this is why we homeschool" post, but I won't.
Yesterday, a 20-year-old man broke into an elementary school and shot 26 people, including the principal, a school psychologist, and 20 first-graders.
That's right.  20 children the same age as Thing 1.  20 children who went to school expecting to color, practice their reading and writing, sing about Santa Claus, and hear their beloved teacher read to them.  20 children who wanted to play on the swings and monkey bars at recess and sit with their friends at lunch.  20 children whose parents sent them off with a good breakfast and a kiss good-bye.
20 families whose children will never come home.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Trimming the workbooks

In my last post, I asked the question why school can't be like kindergarten.  I think I know the answer.  And I'm working to remedy it.
Schools can't be like kindergarten because kindergarten teaches simple skills.  Letters, numbers, shapes, colors, how to hold a crayon, how to resolve differences without clocking the kid who was your best friend up until five minutes ago--stuff like that.  However, grade schools and high schools teach Complicated Skills.  Important things, like the Principal Exports of Brazil.  Or the History of the Peloponnesian Wars.  Or Chemical Bonds.  Or the Proper Way to Diagram a Sentence (seriously, does anyone even do that after middle school?)  Or even (wait for it) Quadratic Equations.  And, not only must you teach it, you must prove that it was learned.  But, if you're a history major teaching an algebra class, how do you do that when your own experience with math is limited to having suffered through it in tenth grade? 
Such is my problem.
Now, I can teach reading, math, history and science.  When we read about the Greek gods today, I decided to show who they were with some of the Things' Mitzvah Kinder dolls.  (I'm sure that was not their intended purpose, but I reeeeally don't care.  Queen Esther as Hera!  Bride doll as Aphrodite, with little Upsherin Boy as Eros!  King Achashveirosh as Zeus!  Black-coated Chassidic guy as Hades!  Kohen Gadol as Apollo!  Rebbetzin as Athena!)  I can do that.  I know this stuff.  However, when it comes to Hebrew, I'm lost.  I have to rely on the old "textbook-worksheet" method to cover the basics because I don't know what I'm doing!  Problem is, Thing 1 would rather hear stories about the Eskimo Twins than do a workbook page.  And I'd rather read her a story about Eskimo Twins than prod her through a workbook page.
So, bit by bit, we're paring away at the more "textbook" elements.  Thing 1 has finished her dikduk workbook, and has almost no objections to the Chumash book, so we're safe there.  I was going to introduce a vocab workbook, but decided to use it as a reference instead.  As for Hebrew reading, I scrapped our Behrman House book with its traditional exercises in favor of an immersion program which Thing 1 is taking to like a duck to water.  She'd much rather read stories about a llama in class, or a kid helping his baby brother stand while leaning on something not hinged, than have to plow through some long lesson and then do some exercise in the the back (fortunately, we've been doing the exercises orally--spare my kid's motor skills).
Which brings me to another issue.
As it is, Thing 1's writing is limited to answering math questions, copywork in English and Hebrew, dikduk translations, and labeling cities on maps or parts of a seed.  She's six!  Her motor skills are developed enough that she can write, but they're not as strong as an adult's.  So, why add to the fire by piling on more worksheets?  Why have her fill in the blank or do multiple choice?  It doesn't prove anything.  Not when I could just, I don't know, TALK to my kid. The only time she commits a summary to paper is in the form of a drawing.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Preschool--the ultimate bait and switch

Once again, Builder managed to almost wear me down on the side of at least considering a school.  So, today, I went to an open house for Small Modox Girls' School, determined to answer the two basic questions--what are you offering, and how much does it cost.  (Small Modox Girls' School does have a website--but neither curriculum nor hard tuition numbers are addressed.)  Since the orientation assumed that the parents are enrolling for preschool, most of the focus was on the preschool--meeting teachers, touring classrooms,  and discussing curriculum.  It Turns out that SMGS has dedicated preschool teachers, and a curriculum that even my happy creative self could envy--all for a price that, with extras, approached 10 grand.  Per kid.  A little too rich for even Builder's blood.
And then I got annoyed.  What an unfair rip-off.
These poor kids!  Here they are, given a beautiful classroom full of picture books, toys, hammers, nails, blocks, paints, glue, yarn and needles--and then, it's all taken away.  No more carpet.  No more little tables.  Few manipulatives, if any.  Instead of the hive of activity that is preschool and kindergarten, they have to sit in a desk, listen to the teacher, read the chapter, answer the questions, and fill in the worksheet.
Why can't all of school be like kindergarten?  Can't children of seven and eight benefit from the creative, kinesthetic curriculum of kindergarten?  Couldn't subjects like fractions and history be brought to life with cooking and crafts?  (For the record, there were a few slides showing classrooms for the older grades--and they were basically girls siting at desks either listening to the teacher or passively watching a demonstration.).  Why not teach geography through story?    Why not give older children open access to a science lab and make their own discoveries?  Pitch out the worksheets and make it fun!