Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Tiger or The Baby

     Amy Chua's book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has created a buzz among the parenting set with its story of an awesomely ambitious mother forcing her children to achieve using harsh and sometimes heartless measures.  NPR likens reading her book to listening to Hannibal Lector "explaining how he's going to fillet his next victim."  Her daughter, Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, on the other hand, felt that her mother imparted valuable lessons of honest, hard work.
Everybody’s talking about the birthday cards we once made for you, which you rejected because they weren’t good enough. Funny how some people are convinced that Lulu and I are scarred for life. Maybe if I had poured my heart into it, I would have been upset. But let’s face it: The card was feeble, and I was busted. It took me 30 seconds; I didn’t even sharpen the pencil. That’s why, when you rejected it, I didn’t feel you were rejecting me. If I actually tried my best at something, you’d never throw it back in my face.
I remember walking on stage for a piano competition. I was so nervous, and you whispered, “Soso, you worked as hard as you could. It doesn’t matter how you do.”
Reading those words from the Tiger Mom's teen-age daughter warms my heart.  Colleen, the daughter of an Alaskan Tiger Mom, is learning the same lessons with, I hope, the same awesome results.

This is Colleen with the 2010 Anchor Point Youth of the Year Award.  When praised for her volunteer efforts she said, "I just did what my mom told me."  Doh!  It must be said that she does for others MUCH more cheerfully and thoroughly than she does for me!

     I'm the kind of Tiger Mom that is more concerned about her kid being able to cook for herself, do her own laundry, clean up the dinner dishes and sweep a floor than she is about her kid winning a medal or playing at Carnegie hall.  I'm more interested in my kid being able to haul wood, rake hay, pitch fish and pound nails than I am interested in her winning a gold medal in anything.  I've heard it said that "knowing how to sweep a floor isn't going to get my kid into college."  But it might be how she pays for college.  Or how she eats while she's at college or after she gets out.  Knowing how to sweep a floor might keep my kid off a stage, pole-dancing for 50-year-old truckers with sweaty handfuls of 1 dollar bills.

     And it's important to remember that not every kid IS going to go to "college."  Some may go to vocational or technical schools, some may get a great job picking trash off the tundra on the North Slope of Alaska.  Some may end up commercial fishermen.  Regardless, they are all going to need to know how to wash their sheets, keep their kitchens passably clean and, most importantly, put in a decent day's work.

     "Oh, I could NEVER get my kids to do that."  

     I'm not sure how to address that statement.  Try telling them to do it.  With, as I tell Colleen when she's dealing with the two overly exuberant Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, an EXCLAMATION POINT at the end of your sentence, NOT a question mark.  I believe every child will meet and exceed the expectations of the adults around them.  If we expect them to behave badly, perform poorly and quit before they've accomplished a given task, they will.  All of this, "They are just kids" is an adult's way of copping-out of the difficult and usually thankless task of educating young people.

     Obviously, children have to be taught how to do things.  Genetic memories of washing dishes aren't going to spring forth from the mind of an adolescent with just a prompt and a smile.  But, with persistence, any kid who can reach the sink can be taught to wash up the dinner dishes and stack them neatly in the rack to dry.  It is the same with any task, academic or manual.  If the child is physically capable of the task (size, strength, coordination), then they are mentally capable of the task...  Except for bearing and raising other children, perhaps.

     In order to show what a child, adolescent, girl, "tween" (shudder), kid can accomplish with a bit of direction, persistence and threat of dire and unpleasant consequences, behold the following:

Colleen's Keyhole Garden

Colleen collected stones and poles from our property and stacked them around in a semi-circle.  Morgan helped.

She dug an 18 inch hole in order to anchor the four poles which would serve as the foundation of the compost basket.
She put six inches of last year's Princess (the pony) manure around the bottom.  Morgan sort of helped.

Here the girls and Quinn pose with the finished garden.  We ordered a load of topsoil from Anchor Point Greenhouse and Colleen retrieved a load of beach rock with her Uncle Ben to finish it.
 The following are some artistic shots (taken by Colleen) of rhubarb we dug up from my dad's place in Ninilichik.  I did most of the digging while Colleen held Quinn.

Here's Colleen's garden at the end of the season:

Getting ready to harvest.  We mulched around the garden with our failed hay crop.  You see Quinn is considerably bigger in this picture.

The rhubarb gets a bath.
And gets mixed with sugar, cranberries, lemons, oranges, raisins and nutmeg for an AWESOME conserve.

Our little kitchen had a tough time making do.
We ended up with five varieties of goodies by the time we were done.  I told Colleen, "Be careful with those, packing them around."  She said, "Yeah, they represent like a week of your life."  I said, "You built, planted, watered and weeded the garden and held Quinn while I made the jam.  How much of YOUR life do you think they represent?"

     What is your kid doing right now?  Is it something that is going to benefit her in the future?  Are you sure?  Wii Mario Cart?  Really?  

    Our young people WANT to feel useful and have a purpose.  They WANT to know that they are leading meaningful lives.  Let's give them that and give them the skills and habits which will sustain them into their future regardless of what that future brings.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Can I take my Bible to school?

     Short answer:  No.

     If you look at Colleen’s learning plan for the Fall 2011 Semester (In my post “Apologia”) you’ll see that a significant portion of her time is devoted to reading the Bible.  Because she only needs to read it, a book at a time, without taking “reading notes,” it is the most convenient thing for her to pack around and read when she gets a few minutes here and there, which she explained to me when she asked if she could bring it to Chapman for her band class.

     I could say that the reason why she can’t take it to school is that she’s going to band, to play her flute, so she, therefore, does not need a book to read.  She needs to be paying attention to her instructor.

     That’s a plausible answer, I guess, but it is a total fabrication.  The real answer is that I don’t want her to offend anyone.

     I’m a big believer in the separation of Church and State.  I believe in a secular society and I understand the bloody and terrible reasons why our founders wrote that, first thing, into our Bill of Rights.  The Protestant Reformation, Catholic Counter-Reformation, the Inquisitions and English Civil War were horrible and very fresh in the collective consciousness of the sometimes Christian, sometimes Deist, sometimes completely Atheistic men who wrote our founding documents.

     I am not against prayer in school but I don’t think it’s something that ought to be written into the schedule, after attendance, just before the pledge, “under God” (Thank you, Senator McCarthy, that will really scare those Commies out!), or not.  Happily, we live in a pluralistic society.  Little Christian boys and girls are probably rubbing shoulders with little Muslim, Hindu, Confucian and Pagan boys and girls.  A silent “Please, God, let me pass this spelling test” is all well and good but how comfortable do you and I feel about busting out the smudge sticks, lingams and burnt offerings? 

     But why, in our conservative, working-class little Alaskan town would I be concerned about my daughter toting around a King James, Red Letter Edition Bible? 

She isn’t a Christian.  

She truly is motivated to finish her assigned work for the week but really, she’s looking to pick a fight.  She’s not so unlike her mother at that age, looking for adult approbation, looking to one-up her peers, looking to stand apart… and just slightly above.  I’ve explained to her that some people might not like it that I, a non-practicing Pagan, am teaching her the Bible as if it were “just” literature.  In my view it is very important literature, one of the four pillars on which our whole culture is built, but for us it is “just” literature.  I don’t want Colleen rubbing our secular humanism into her classmates’ faces.

When it comes to people's spritituality we abide by Rule #1 "If it isn't yours, don't touch it."  (Thank you, Backwoods Mom!)


     Despite my best intentions to keep a careful weekly log of our successes and failures over the course of the last year…  It didn’t happen.  I guess you could say that the dogs (and the baby) ate my homework.  Our homeschooling adventure has been wildly successful, however.

What worked:  My daughter is now a productive citizen.

Anthropologists consider the household to be a culture’s basic unit of economic production.  We should consider our little happy families, snuggled in front of the TV in their footie jammies as labor, goods and services producing teams that pull together to contribute to the Gross Domestic Product.  Without the help of little Timmy and Bobby Sue, Mommy, Daddy and Uncle Steve aren’t going to be as productive in the actual, make-a-paycheck work force.

Prior to pulling her out of school, Colleen was a lackadaisical contributor to our economic production.  Like many of her peers, it was often more difficult to get her to complete a task; quickly, efficiently and satisfactorily, than it would have been just to do it myself.  I spent the majority of our few hours together lecturing, yelling, cajoling, explaining, punishing and tearing my hair out trying to get her to do her chores. 

After 6 months of maintaining a list of inside, outside and academic chores with the help of a watch and a carefully orchestrated schedule (down to the half hour), Colleen is productive, motivated, on-task and responsible about completing her assigned chores, academic and otherwise.  I no longer have to monitor her every move.  I no longer have to “fact check” her statements and constantly check the quality of her work.  On top of that she is mindful of her 3-year-old sister, her now 6-month-old brother and the various and sundry activities that happen around here in the course of building and maintaining our household.

What didn’t work:  Grading papers.

Teachers will laugh and laugh at that one.  Despite a growing familiarity with research-based “Best Practices,” I went ahead and did exactly what I shouldn’t do and started Colleen off with a schedule of busy work designed to do the instruction for me.  Colleen dutifully trucked through her reading and worksheet assignments, placing her finished work in neat piles that grew and grew and grew.  With everything else going on in the house and my own peri-partum ickiness, grading Colleen’s work took a backseat.

After her grades were turned in at the end of the quarter, we continued with her curriculum WITHOUT busy work and grades.  It has been more enjoyable and productive for both of us.  While this obviously isn’t an option for classroom teachers, for Colleen it means more time to read course material, watch videos and complete projects when she doesn’t have to spend time completing worksheets.  For me it means that I can sit and watch a movie at the end of the day without a pile of papers to grade.  (Or, more accurately, a pile of papers to stress over and NOT grade.)

     This Semester:

     I plan to homeschool until January of this year.  I feel it is important for her to maintain her connection with Chapman school and her classmates so I am going to re-enroll her for the spring semester.  I would hate for her to miss all of those lovely bonding and scarring rituals that happen around 8th grade graduation.  This year, instead of assigning worksheets and busy work, Colleen will take reading notes and complete 5 paragraph essays, a few of which I'll edit to "publishing perfection."  She will also participate in Battle of the Books and Future Problem Solving with her Chapman class.

     Here’s our plan for this semester.

Language Arts
Literature:   Gain a familiarity with the Old and New Testament of the Christian Bible.  Gain a familiarity with the historical context leading to the development of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and their subsequent similarities and differences.

  • Illustrated Family Bible, Claude-Bernard Costecalde
  • Holy Bible, KJV
  • A History of God by Karen Armstrong
  • The Red Tent by Anita Diamante
  • The Rabbi’s Cat by Joann Sfar
  • The Rabbi’s Cat 2 by Joan Sfar
  • The Moon Under Her Feet by Krista Kinstler
  • The Gifts of the Jews by Thomas Cahill
  • Desire of the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill
  • The Gnostic Gospels by Alan Jacobs
  • The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
  • The Gospel of Judas by Rodolphe Kasser
  • No god but God by Reza Aslan
  • Various video supplementals

Writing:  Practice the creative, persuasive and academic writing process using literature, social studies and co-curricular texts and topics.

  • They Say, I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein
  • Future Problem Solving International Scenario Writing Competition

Prepare for 9th Grade Algebra 1

  • Saxon Math 8/7 with Pre-Algebra
  • Saxon Math Algebra 1/2

Gain a familiarity with physical science curriculum. discoveries in science timeline and environmental studies and compete in Future Problem Solving.

  • Physical Science curriculum
  • Living in the Environment by G. Tyler Miller
  • The Science Book by Susan Greenfield
  • KPBSD Discovery Education links
  • FPS activities

Social Studies
Gain a familiarity with Geography as a discipline and the geography, history and cultures of North America emphasizing the history of The United States and its method of governance.

  • Geography Realms, Regions and Concepts by de Blij and Muller
  • First Peoples by Colin C. Galloway
  • A People’s History of The United States by Howard Zinn
  • The Story of American Freedom by Eric Foner
  • Various supplementary video material

Work through beginning French materials in order to enter 9th Grade French with a basic vocabulary and understanding of proper syntax and verb conjugation.

  • Rosetta Stone French
  • Discovering French 1 by Vallete

Physical Education
Participate in Chapman Athletics through the 2011/2012 including Soccer, basketball, volleyball and track as well as horseback riding and other outdoor activities at home including hiking and snowshoeing.

Regular practice a variety of mediums and styles and gain a familiarity with art history.  Weekly Lessons with Dana Bakeake.

  • Instructor dependent

Attend classes at Chapman, participate in Chapman music program and practice flute daily.

  • Instructor dependent