Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Homeschool Friday

 On Friday we went to the beach. This is one of the advantages of homeschooling flexibility and part of why Julia loves being homeschooled. I've noted that homeschooling isn't for everyone. Then again, I can think of hardly any child who wouldn't love going to the beach on a school day.
The skies were phenomenal.
 And it was a school day, not a vacation day. She did science before we left the house, did two sections of Algebra in the car on the way, read her history assignment on the way home, and I read ten pages of Beowulf aloud in the car too. And she added a chapter from Ivanhoe that evening. A good school day!
But enough of school. This is about the beach!
 I always tell myself I will not pick up any more shells, and I never listen.
 A little watercolor, a little sand.
 It was a bit windy for painting, but I would try.
 This trip was Adam's idea. Last time he really (really) enjoyed sitting in the surf. After three hours of sitting there, being gently pounded by the ocean, his bad leg feels like its run a marathon -- a good workout.
They sat together. Every once in a while Julia would come tromping up to me and show me the treasures they'd dug from the sand beneath, once a solid piece of oil. Adam is a man who cannot ever stop learning, even if he wanted to. All of life is a private education for him, and if he's with a kid, he can't help sharing it. This is one of the reasons homeschooling works well for us.
 Probably hundreds of conversations over the years between us have begun with the words, "I just watched this documentary, and ..." from him.
I photographed broken shells on this day.
 I love their texture.
 I love how they look with the water's glisten still on them. They don't look this way after you bring them home.
 So delicate! I pick it up as if it were crystal, but it's survived pummeling from the ocean. What harm can I do it?

 I saw this and thought, "piano!"
 This shell is the universe. A gray swirl of galaxies. A vast blob of nebula. A sprinkling of stars.
 I finally decided these look like ice cream cones.
 This shell is such an orange! And if it were whole, I'm sure it would be identical to millions of others in the ocean. But its jagged brokenness, while marring its perfection, also makes it unique. Isn't that true of humans as well?
 A tiny black shell is imbedded in its end.
 Walking on sand is challenging for Adam, and he takes his cane.
Of the few humans on the beach, some were die-hard beach fans, some were skipping high school classes in thoroughly impractical bikinis, and some were fishermen.
 Julia and I were anti-fishermen. Once she felt something light glance across her shoulders -- a fishing line! (grrr -- they should be careful!) In her aggravation, she yanked hard on the line to give the fellow unsubstantiated hope. Ha! He stood up, looked alert, reeled in his line, was bemused and confused at the empty hook.
On my stroll far down the beach, I found a 5-gallon bucket with a tight lid snapped on and lots of holes drilled in the side. Upon close inspection I realized there were fish inside. Fish, dying, flapping, trapped on the beach. Where did it come from? Who would leave them to die? Why? I'm not a weird tree-hugger, but for goodness' sakes -- why catch them only to leave them to die? So I pried open the lid and tried to release the fish into the surf. They struggled. One fish I had to scoop up in a handful of sand and fling into the waves. In the end they all swam away. It was quite satisfying.
Only a certain amount of learning can be done with one's nose in a book. Books are quite valuable. But at some point we must put down the book and step out into the world to test the things we've read. I think homeschooling is rather good for this, although it can be done by any student. I love giving Julia the chance to dig in the sands of the world and find treasure.

Photos for My Mother (and Daddy)

My mother asked me to post these pictures here that my brother Mark took. They were all celebrating my daddy's 86th birthday. Happy Birthday, Daddy!!
Here's my daddy surrounded by children from Mark's and Marshall's families.
I love this photo of my daddy with my brothers: Mark, Max, and Marshall. Aren't they a handsome bunch? They all four live in West Virginia. Random strangers will occasionally approach one of my brothers and recognize him as a Robinson. It's fun to be part of a close family. We love each other very much. My brothers are precious to me.
Mother made TWO birthday cakes to feed that crowd! Both were "Mrs. Alberta Cakes" -- a rich chocolate cake (from scratch, of course) with seafoam icing and bitter chocolate drizzle on top, named for a friend we knew many years ago in Mississippi.
Mark took this picture of the moon that night (I think). It's lovely.
There you are, Mother!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Teacup Rescue

I love our local hospice store, a small, homespun thrift store that supports our county's hospice system with its earnings. Lovely things are donated there. The store is cozy, friendly. The ladies who work there don't like to mess about with change and pennies, so they don't charge tax. (Of course, it is tax-free, being a non-profit). They're adorable.
Anywho, months ago I noticed these cups and saucers there. But I'd just bought my very favorite set of four Syracuse diner cups/saucers, and loved them, and didn't need another set. So ... I resisted temptation.
And the yellow cups and saucers sat, and sat there. I noticed them week after week. The stack diminished a little. And then -- tragedy! Adam dropped and broke one of my favorite Syracuse cups! (Bwaahhhhhhhh! Why does that break my heart? Don't know.) I glued it back together, and set it on my dresser with its saucer to hold jewelry. (Sniff.)

I'm ashamed to admit it. But yes, I was hesitant to trust my husband with yet another of my Syracuse diner cups. I was left with only three cups and saucers, not a good set. I needed something else for him to drink his morning coffee in. And then I remembered those yellow cups ....

I stopped at the hospice store and was surprised to find that there was only ONE saucer remaining, but a stack of SEVEN cups. Hmm. Again, trying to resist temptation, I bought the saucer and only two cups.

And they're pretty! Adam was pleased with the size and shape.
But those remaining five, lonely, saucerless cups worried me. They seemed sad, abandoned. Who would buy them in that state? What use were they?
Then I found myself using the yellow cups. For coffee. For a scoop of ice cream. For a little soup. A cup alone is actually a very useful thing. It's the size of a large ramekin and good for plopping an egg in for whisking, or a little bit of leftover-something as you're cooking.
I told Adam he could call me crazy, but I was going to the hospice store, buying any unwanted yellow cups they still had, and bringing them home!
Of course, my big problem, in a little house, is Where To Put Anything New. I have zero kitchen space available. I even emptied a bookshelf (horrors!) of its books, and am using it to store casseroles and dishes. So I came up with this windowsill idea.
The five cups look pretty there, happy in the bright sunshine. They fit well. Julia says they look precarious, and she's right. She broke one in the first couple weeks, sadly. We will be careful as we draw the curtains. No saucers. Just cups. But I'm glad I bought them. If we break them, I won't cry. If we use them, I'll be glad. If I donate them again in a few years, I've lost 50¢, total. (No tax!) I do love the hospice store. I think that perhaps whoever bought the five saucers got the worse end of the arrangement.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Elephant in the Classroom

Did you know that North Carolina now has more homeschooled children than children in private schools? Yep. Here's an article on that. And that was last school year. The state (my state!) probably has even more kids at home this year. Homeschooling grew by 27% in the last two years.

It's bizarre. Homeschooling is now pretty mainstream. Granted, the movement will never, ever surpass the public system in numbers, but each year it grows. And grows.

Why? School violence. Large class sizes. Bullying. Common Core. Lack of creativity in the public system. A niggling, underlying insecurity about public schools in many parents' minds. As more and more of their friends and relatives dive into the homeschool pool, parents can't help wondering, "Maybe it's not a crazy decision after all?" Then ... something happens with one of their kids at school, something negative or scary. Perhaps they re-examine their kids and realize that Kid #2 is actually really unhappy at school. Maybe it's time to give homeschooling a try ...?

Before you know it, all three kids are home, the dining room table is stacked with books. The kitchen wall is covered with maps and charts. The computer is in the den and the kids are taking turns at Khan Academy. The mom is on a few online forums finding out which geography curriculum is best. Boom! You're a homeschooler. Shockingly, most families find it's challenging but doable. And the rewards are enormous.

Here's another article. I post it for two reasons. First the expression on the mom's face in the top photo -- it's classic! Look at her mouth. That look does not mean, "What-in-the-world did they do to math since I was 15???" It's saying, "Huh. Didn't know that. Maybe I should go read up on Medieval architecture. That's fascinating!" Homeschooling is as much an education for the parents as for the children. Parents who love to learn love to homeschool. Plus, when was the last time you spent a full uninterrupted hour at home talking with your 13 year old son about what interests him? Would you like to do that several times each week, for years? How could it help your relationship with him?

Back to that article -- scroll down and watch the video by 15-year-old Trevor  Moran. He's become a Youtube personality. He touts the pros of homeschooling and claims public schools have almost no advantages. Realistically, not all kids are like Trevor. Some vastly prefer a classroom with 25 other kids. Some need lots of interaction and social time each day. Many kids desperately need imposed structure to help them perform and mature. Trevor doesn't; he's ambitious and independent, apparently. Homeschooling really works for the achievers, the performers, the innovators, the independent thinkers, the creative kids. In other words, homeschooling is vastly preferable for some of our best students. (Gulp) Yeah, it's true.

The elephant-in-the-room is this fact: the public system (because it is the public system) is cumbersome and slow to adapt, woefully unable to cope with the surge of homeschooling success. And yes -- it is successful, and fabulously so. The elephant-in-the-room is that the public system keeps its head buried in the sand. Read this resolution from the NEA (Nat. Teachers Association) in 2011:

"The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience. When home schooling occurs, students enrolled must meet all state curricular requirements, including the taking and passing of assessments to ensure adequate academic progress. Home schooling should be limited to the children of the immediate family, with all expenses being borne by the parents/guardians. Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used. The Association also believes that home-schooled students should not participate in any extracurricular activities in the public schools.  The Association further believes that local public school systems should have the authority to determine grade placement and/or credits earned toward graduation for students entering or re-entering the public school setting from a home school setting."

All of that drivel might seem rational if it were based on fact. Sadly for the NEA, it's not. All the current statistics (and lo, educators have many massive data banks from which to draw statistics) show that homeschoolers are outstripping public school kids at all levels -- assessment, grade performance, graduation rates, and college achievement. It's the very flexibility of homeschooling -- the parental choice, the student choice, the crazy curricula, individual schedules, homeschooling on a sailboat , the non-cookie-cutter life!  -- that produces homeschooling's success. When will the NEA see that? When will they reverse their lemming-to-the-sea mentality of making all kids the same?

For me, this quote says it all: "Homeschooling statistics show that those who are independently educated score between the 65th and 89th percentile on [standardized assessment] exams, while those attending traditional schools average on the 50th percentile. Furthermore, the achievement gaps, long plaguing school systems around the country, aren't present in the homeschooling environment. There's no difference in achievement between sexes, income levels, or race/ethnicity."

That's not a fatuous boast; there are independent studies and stats to back it up. Did you SEE that last sentence? "Achievement gaps," i.e., inequities, don't exist in homeschooling! Homeschooled girls do as well as homeschooled boys in math and science! Homeschooled boys learn to read and write more readily! Poor children do just as well homeschooling, with no disadvantages because there's less money in the home! Black children and Hispanic children perform just as well also! All the disadvantages and discrimination associated with being "less than" in the classroom vanish when the child is at home.

You'd think the NEA would adore a system that eliminated discrimination like that.

You can bet that the kids who feel discriminated against, or whose parents feel they are underperforming from no fault of their own, are being pulled home in large numbers.

And did you see the money? Each time a child comes home for his schooling, the public system loses $10,000. But his parents take on only an additional $500 cost. Education doesn't have to cost a fortune; we've always spent far less than that on homeschooling, per child, per year. The family's cost isn't in books and paper, or even online courses or soccer. It's in the loss of a paycheck when one parent stays home. But many families are finding flexible work-arounds for that too, with varying success. The explosion of online sources and tech-savvy kids has assisted home education. Some parents are working from home, working part-time. Lots of parents who've lost their jobs since 2008 (um, millions, yes?) have thought this: "Well, since I'm home anyway, and not getting a job anytime soon, I might as well teach my kids and have quality family time."

Homeschooling doesn't work for plenty of kids and plenty of parents. We will always have public schools. But it's high time everyone took their heads out of the sand and realized that homeschooling is mainstream, and it's here to stay. The public system must adapt permanently to the loss of a huge swath of its best members. Private schools must adapt to having a smaller place at the table. And homeschoolers must be unapologetic about owning their proud piece of real estate on the educational landscape.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sunday Evening Comforts

I've been waiting for the rain. I love rain. I knew it was coming today. After returning from church, the sky darkened ...
And began to boom and crackle ...
So I made tea. Ahh. (Deborah Montgomery, you are a good example!!)
Here's the pastoral scene depicted on the inside of my cup.
Soon the heavens unloaded their buckets.
I took a quick cat nap. Sometimes you just have to.
Do I want to read Ivanhoe now? It's so very good! We're reading it for school.
Or do I want to knit on the front left panel of Adam's sweater?
Or do I want to attempt doing both simultaneously, and badly, dropping stitches and rereading paragraphs? (Truthfully, I chatted on the phone with my dear mother for quite a while, and that was better than anything else.)
A friend at church was gifted with a box full of avocados.  Wow! I adore them! She made a "short-cut guacamole dip" at church for us. We brought home three of the fruit, and Adam just made some more for supper.
Scoop out the avocado and mix with part of a jar of salsa. Tada! Instant guacamole, even if you don't have sour cream or lime or anything. And it's pretty good. Have a pleasant evening. I'm going to read about the Lady Rowena and the jousting.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Big Sky

We have lots of sky here, big sky.

 Sometimes the combination of cloud and sunset and tilting masts lends a scene more glorious than its parts.

That's the steeple of the Freewill Baptist Church, leaning into the sky's gills.
Then we came to the river and viewed the long span from east to west. The east was darkening, fading into deep blue.
 These next two photos show a phenomenon Adam, the astronomy teacher, has spoken of -- the Earth's shadow. The Earth, when positioned between the sun and the palate of the sky, casts a massive shadow. See the slanting line between the blue and pink portions? The darker blue above is the Earth's shadow, cast by the sun that's setting to the right of this photo.
 A little further along, the shadow is still visible and rising, and fading.
 Elsewhere in this same sky the setting sun transmits an eery glow into a patch of cloud.

Today was hot and sticky, with a deluge of rain briefly this afternoon.
 What a sky!
 I always feel the masts are standing at attention like soldiers, waiting for their marching orders, eager to be at sea, wondering when their owners will come.
 The setting sun lit this boat against dark water and lowering sky.
Here's an update on the little cottage that's being redone. This is the back of the house, facing a small pond. Sometimes white ducks play here.
 Lest anyone think Oriental is a corner of Eden, I share the sad tale of two plants. They live at Whittaker Marina and belong to a boat. They live on the dock next to the slip. I don't think the owners have been here all summer.
 They looked so much healthier earlier this summer, but now both the pepper plant (which is simply at its seasonal end) and the rosemary (which is dying from living in that pot) look awful.
 This rosemary makes me a little grumpy. Maybe it's ridiculous, but it bothers me greatly to have such a noble plant dying a slow death from neglect. I could put it in the ground, and it would green up and recover. Its soil is hard. No one waters it there.
Nearby is this catamaran. It's a very tight fit, in its slip.
 Looking carefully down one side of it, you can tell it would not easily back out of here, past that piling at the back. But then, look at the other side ...
 On the other side of the catamaran (which is on the left here), you cannot even SEE the piling back there -- it's obscured by the boat! How did they get it in the slip in the first place? We haven't a clue. Impossible!
 We stared at this situation yesterday evening on our bike ride/walk on the dock. We studied the boat. Yesterday, I did not notice what was shockingly hanging from the life-line on the side of the catamaran today. See it?
It's only a plastic snake, but it gave me a scare! Somebody wired it to the boat's life-line. (Ugh!!) I know it wasn't there yesterday, that's for sure. Today, at some point, somebody attached it. Why? The owners aren't there. This little oddity of Oriental life, itself full of nautical crazies, shall remain a puzzle.