the minor premise

the minor premise

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Same Song, Second Verse

The garden is coming along and things have settled down a bit, but as Holy Week is beginning I'm going to be extending my blog holiday for a while longer. I thought I ought to get in an addendum to D's comments below, however, before shutting down operations. I've been reading the continuing adventures of Sister and her motley crew of nuns for several months now, whereas he looks in only on occasion; lately I've been studying it and its companion site in depth, so I have a bit wider experience from which to opine.

I think D's assessment of the blog is basically sound. Sister, whoever she may be, is above all else a good storyteller.(I'm using the feminine article for convenience's sake here; she could be a middle-aged man in a wifebeater t-shirt for all I know. Her flair for detail makes me lean slightly in the direction of the author's being female, but that's a hypothesis I could easily revise. And while I acknowledge the possibility that she could be a nun, little would surprise me more than to be shown authoritatively that this is the case.) Her characters are not mere stereotypes; they are sympathetically portrayed and come alive in the stories. They could easily be real people, and may be based on real people.

The posts as a rule are not excessively long (the picture volume, however, can make for slow loading for those of us with slightly obsolete software; a skilled proofreader would moreover be to her benefit.) They generally blend some entertaining personal story or news item with a fairly basic catechism lesson or saint story; occasionally some contemporary church issue like the Medjugorje revelations is discussed. Sister seems to do do a respectable job of researching her material, as far as this spottily-schooled lay Catholic can see; on occasion a better-informed reader corrects a point. At worst, I haven't noticed anything that strikes me as disrespectful of the Church or outright heresy. The blog is funny and interesting and seems, understandably, popular. It is far from "deep" theology, mind you--it would never occur to me to ask Sister a Jimmy Akin-level question or to assume she was correct on a point that I couldn't independently verify. Most of Sister's lessons are the sort of thing that can be picked up at Catholic Online or similar sites, put into an entertaining story. When I taught middle-school religious ed, I'd have loved to have had a textbook formatted in this style. The comboxes are generally pretty friendly as well, and Catholics of various stripes often discuss belief and tradition or share advice with each other.

Sister is affiliated with an online purveyor of religious medals which sell for about $12 apiece and are attractively strung with colorful beads or macrame. They're pretty, but assuming they're garden-variety tin medals and craft store findings the price strikes me a bit stiff. Display pages include blurbs in the same slightly snarky but basically respectful tone of the blog posts. (I thought one play on the term "ball chain" pushed the envelope, but nothing else raised hackles.) It's a pretty good advertising scheme, especially if you're aiming at young Catholics of the 'Net generation. I could find no information on the sales site that would clue me in to who runs the shop or what affiliations they may have; paraphernalia typical of many Catholic sites and blogs--a dedication to a patron saint for example--seem to be absent as well. I'm not saying the proprietors are not Catholic; it's not as if anybody gets rich in the sacramentals business and there's little nonreligious motivation for going into it. But assuming they are, they're certainly not overt about it.

The blog is of a type I would call a "character blog" or "persona blog" and in that regard is one of quite a few I've encountered on the 'Net. Usually it is apparent that such blogs portray a character, although the bloggers, dramatic types that they are, often go to great lengths to stay in character. The author of another character blog I read, (unfortunately less frequently due to the enforced slower pace of reading Middle English) Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog encountered a problem because of this. It seems a magazine contacted him about using a quote for an article but needed to publish his real name. He insisted that his "real name" was Geoffrey Chaucer and refused to give any other; thus he was not published.

Sister, likewise, seems determined to be Sister and only Sister to the readership. This really wouldn't seem to be a problem; one wouldn't expect that any reader could pass the blog's masthead, with its snarky "Life is tough. But nuns are tougher..." motto and black-and-white photo of a traditionally-habited elderly nun that pretty obviously came from a pre-Vatican II-era Catholic school yearbook, and remain under the delusion that what follows represents reality. Unfortunately, in the world of the 'Net, all kinds of things one wouldn't expect seem to happen.

While I doubt that the most naive reader would presume that the 500-plus-years-deceased Chaucer has lately resurrected and taken up blogging, elderly nuns--even the traditional variety--are fairly common. Moreover, women religious and postulants are well represented in the blogosphere, as are monks. Thus a blogging traditional nun isn't a huge imaginative leap for a moderately 'Net-savvy Catholic. Add to the mix the fact that the 'Net is society condensed: skim Sister's combox for a few weeks and you'll find all kinds. [Full disclosure: Skim Sister's next-to-last post and you'll encounter Yours Truly at loggerheads with a particularly vicious species of troll. I must be a lightning rod.] There are seekers, trads who love Sister's pre-Vat. II mindset, and occasional anticatholics. Some of the lattermost clearly come in with an eye to thrashing some Catholics; a few are under the impression that it's the blog version of Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You. (I haven't seen the play, but reviews I've read indicate its contempt for Catholicism is pretty overt. If the Sister of the blog is trying to mock the Church in any way, she's being phenomenally subtle about it.) Among the Catholics, most readers seem to understand that they are dealing with a persona, (a few have thought it a con job, and indicated as much) and don't have any problem with that. Trying to sleuth out Sister's real identity with probing questions is an ongoing game, but as she has thus far been closemouthed on that matter little progress has been made that I can see.

A few readers--most Catholics, some probably seekers, do seem to be under the impression that Sister is a 100% Real Nun. This is where the potential for harm is. The odds of encountering people with "issues" in a few months of blogging are high. One recently scolded Sister at length for her crusty answers to questioners, which he considered unsuitable to a religious. (He obviously never met Sr. Andrew, who taught at my school until it closed down in the early '70's.) I suggested he was taking the blog too seriously; I wish he had replied to me because my next comment to him would have been to direct him to the dictionary to look up "persona." I've had enough contact with amateur theater folks to respect their commitment to their characters, but there are limits.

Others ask advice on matters that are very probably beyond Sister's scope, and a few seem to hang on her words with just a little too much vehemence to be really healthy. I don't have a problem at all with someone, Catholic or otherwise, portraying a nun as long as it's in good fun and done respectfully. I don't care for Whoopi Goldberg's politics, but I thought Sister Act was kinda cute. I do, however, have a problem with anyone portraying a nun allowing that portrayal to go to a point at which it becomes messing with someone's mind. If Sister's creator is a Catholic, I can't imagine how she can post three times a week with that responsibility hanging over her head. I couldn't do it. I couldn't have somebody take my crusty act the wrong way (even if they hadn't been very nice to begin with) and not try to smooth things over. I couldn't keep up the act in the presence of someone who--as far as I could see--genuinely needed help. The Catholic training runs too deep.

Sister may be a good Catholic, or a good person who is not a Catholic, with good intentions. If I had ever gotten the impression that her intent was nefarious, I would currently have more time to read Chaucer. But what seems to have started out as a clever but harmless product-moving scheme is getting out of control, and needs to be brought back into line. Comment moderation is easily enough done, and can go far toward keeping troublemakers out and discussion civil. And if Sister is not doing so, she needs to consider seriously the need to occasionally drop character long enough to make sure her "act" will not lead to harm.

For the rest of us, what to do? It costs nothing to read, and as long as the stories continue to be good I intend to do so. For readers who get the joke, I think the blog is benign. I don't know that I'll be hanging around the comboxes much; the atmosphere in there has gotten too tense. As for the sales side of the operation: I don't wear much jewelry, have access to sacramentals shops locally if I need them, and am troubled by the lack of information available about the business. So I believe for now I'll just keep my credit card tucked away.


UPDATE 5/15/07: Just happened across Sister's Best Stuff in the World Page--One of her commenters addresses her thus: Jane, You’re still funny after all these years! Barbara Daly Fincher The Plot Thickens...

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

It's a Mystery

I have watched with interest some exchanges on Ask Sister Mary Martha, a blog connected with an online sacramental store, heavenhelpus. The blog is written in the character of an older Sister who teaches in a Catholic school, and plays upon the stereotype of the dour nun. One might think that flogging an old cliche like that would be a receipe for tedium. However, this is far from the case.

First of all, Sr. Mary Martha appears to be knowledgable about and respectful of Catholic culture and teachings. For example, when discussing the "Saturday promise" of the brown scapular, she correctly pointed to the necessary beliefs underlying the promise. I have seen no reason to argue with Sister's knowledge of the faith and doctrine. She does avoid deep theology, but that would be consistent with the persona.

Added to the interesting information, Sister is a likable persona who is reasonably well written. Her stories are subtle, amusing, and (important for a blog) not too long. When I read Sister's posts, I can hear her voice in my head (or, perhaps, the voices of some of the older nuns back at St. Anthony's).

The quality of the blog, however, is not what prompted me to write. Rather, it is the folks it attracts to its comm box. Generally, they come in two types: Catholics who appreciate the content and enjoy Sister's stories, and those who come to tear down and ridicule the faithful. Some of the latter believe that they have an ally in Sister, since she is a persona. I imagine that these are the same types who would have found the "Beverly Hillbillies"-based reality show amusing; the misadventures of the inferior put on display for the elite. I have a real distaste for that way of thinking.

Somewhere, there may be a man in a wifebeater teeshirt laughing at all the faithful, as he counts his earnings from selling religious medals. On the internet, you never can be absolutely certain with whom you are dealing. And that goes double when money is involved. It is hard to imagine, though, someone keeping up the pretense of respect for the Catholic faith apparent in "Ask Sister Mary Martha" while harboring animosity towards it.

I enjoy the blog, and I enjoy the earnest discussion that ensues. Folks appear to occasionally learn some things, and the discourse, save the trolls, is civil. Whatever the motivation of the author of the blog (and I have to believe that it is at least partly commercial), I believe the blog is, at its worst, harmless and, at its best, a worthwhile read.

For C's take on the matter, check out her post above.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

profound regrets

Last week, one of our pet rabbits died suddenly. It was unexpected and distressing, particularly for Baby and me as we had raised him from a little bunny. At three he was still fairly young; as far as we could tell he had been in excellent health, had had no recent accidents, and had been pretty chipper even the morning of his demise. I dropped him off at our vet's clinic for a gross necro; he found no evidence of disease or injury. We had to conclude, based on the rabbit's condition and my observations of his death that he had probably been felled by a stroke or some similar event.

The veterinary clinic, always solicitous, sent us a sympathy card which arrived today. I'm sure their intention was to express their support and console us, but I honestly don't think they intended the actual result of the card: it left me giggling. Oh, it's a nice enough card, with a peaceful photog of a cat and dog sitting in front of a sunlit window and some nice consolatory thoughts inside. But on the front, in cursive script with the name of the originator and quotation marks as if enclosed within were some great profundity, is a quote. It reads: "A pet is never truly forgotten until it is no longer remembered."

It's hard to argue with that kind of logic.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

tunes for achtung babies

Recently I passed by the baby department at my local Wal-Mart and noticed a display of music CD's. On closer inspection, they turned out to be a collection of "U-2 Lullabyes." Yes, that would be U-2 as in Bono and the boys. I've read of U-2 masses being popularized among some segments of the Episcopal church, so I guess you could have U-2 lullabyes as well. Probably very popular among those parents of young children who attend U-2 masses.

I turned over the CD. Track number one was (guesses? anyone? anyone?)

...Sunday, Bloody Sunday. I didn't stick around to read whether the recording included lyrics.

Here I wasted my time as a new mom with the likes of Golden Slumbers and Hush, Little Baby. I could have been warbling Sunday, Bloody Sunday to my kiddos.

My elder kids are actually old enough to have caught the tail end of the Raffi phenomenon, so they grew up pretty well versed in Baby Beluga, Tingalayo, and the like. Rosenshontz, who I think are still around but finally grew up and went over to adult music, added a nice light rock touch but stuck to kid themes. Our public library had a decent collection of the records of both, which I copied onto tape cassettes (these were pre-iPod days.) Watered-down adult music wasn't nonexistent at the time, but what little there was wasn't very good. So there weren't any Eagles for Eaglets, LedZep Lullabyes, Black Flag Baby, or Kinks for Kiddies collections in our house, although Dad was known to occasionally entertain the neighborhood kids with his guitar and a little Jim Croce. (Take a deep breath, and two children's aspirin if needed. It was just I Fell in Love With a Roller Derby Queen. Really.)

The kinder of the (post-sellout) U-2 generation are bound to age and start picking their own music, though, and the next crop of young parents will doubtless want to share their faves with their own li'l darlins. So I thought I'd propose some ideas for kiddie albums featuring the music of current bands. Feel free to add your own in the combox, if anything comes to mind:

Panic! At The Daycare
Thirty Seconds To Grandma's
Death Trike for Cutie
Stone Sour Soup
Fall Down Boy
...and how about a Sesame Street retrospective, say...It's Not That Easy Being Green Day?

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Color Me Irish

Each year, I approach St. Pat's with some mixed feelings, given that I am a Catholic and I have Orange Irish heritage. My grandfather used to insist that his children wear orange on St. Patrick's day. A family story holds that my ancestor from the Emerald Isle, when she arrived in America and found anti-Irish discrimination, changed her surname to disguise her roots. She changed her name from O'Shaughnessy to Shaughnessy. I don't think she fooled anyone.

While this doesn't describe my circumstance, it is an amusing take:

The Orange and the Green
Traditional - recorded by The Irish Rovers

Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen.
My father, he was Orange and me mother, she was green.

My father was an Ulster man, proud Protestant was he.
My mother was a Catholic girl. From county Cork was she.
They were married in two churches, lived happily enough,
Until the day that I was born. Then, things got rather tough.

Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen.
My father, he was Orange and me mother, she was green.

Baptized by Father Reilly, I was rushed away by car,
To be made a little Orangeman, my father's shining star.
I was christened "David Anthony," but still, inspite of that,
To my father, I was William, while my mother called me Pat.

Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen.
My father, he was Orange and me mother, she was green.

With Mother every Sunday, to Mass I'd proudly stroll.
Then after that, the Orange lodge would try to save my soul.
For both sides tried to claim me, but i was smart because
I'd play the flute or play the harp, depending where I was.

Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen.
My father, he was Orange and me mother, she was green.

One day my Ma's relations came round to visit me.
Just as my father's kinfolk were all sitting down to tea.
We tried to smooth things over, but they all began to fight.
And me, being strictly neutral, I bashed everyone in sight.

Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen.
My father, he was Orange and me mother, she was green.

My parents never could agree about my type of school.
My learning was all done at home, that's why I'm such a fool.
They've both passed on, God rest 'em, but left me caught between
That awful color problem of the Orange and the Green.

Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen.
My father, he was Orange and me mother, she was green.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

my life as a homeschooler, part 2c: the end, finally!


--Miquon Math and Cuisenaire rods, which I've described before. The workbook set covers grades 1-3.
--Saxon Math,4/5 and up. I haven't seen the Grades 1 & 2 books but have used Grade 3 some. Unless you're working with a child with difficulties in math, it seems a bit slow paced and probably more appropriate for one grade down. Saxon has a pretest for ascertaining the student's math level. The books have a 25-problem set per day and a lot of repetition, which is good for some students but may be exasperating to others. Since the arrangement of the problems allows it, I have, in the latter case, alternated evens and odds on daily work.
--The Key to...workbook series. These are step-by-step series of workbooks that lend themselves well to self-teaching as skills are broken down into steps. Topics available are Fractions, Decimals, Percents, Measurement (English units only, unfortunately,) Algebra, (mostly pre-algebra--it's a 4th-8th-grade course,) and Geometry. I think the geometry course is really cool, especially for visual and kinesthetic learners. No numbers are involved; students learn to construct and compare lines, angles, and different kinds of plane figures using only a compass and straightedge. Many homeschool suppliers sell these by the bundle along with Answers and Notes books, but Christian Book Distributors sells them either bundled or individually.

--DK, Eyewitness, National Geographic, and some others have published really cool books on different topics in Natural History. Your library probably has some.
Usborne has some really cool science books written at different reading levels. Lots of pictures, which we like.
--The Way Things Work, by David McCauley
--The Backyard Scientist series is good for younger kids. Experiments are designed to use readily available household materials, so you don't have to go all over town chasing down some obscure chemical. Most of the stuff you probably have in your kitchen cabinets.
--You Can With Beakman and Jax (not sure if they're still around, but selected columns from the Sunday Comics series have been published in book form.)
--There are some more advanced level books of experiments and projects out there, but I haven't got a lot of practical experience with them. We have D's old Mr. Wizard book around here from when he was a kid, for instance. Right now, I'm using the McGraw-Hill general science books that came with the Calvert packages we bought for Son #2, which have "Quick Labs" that are usually pretty simple to put together.
--Most homeschool suppliers and some museum shops and educational toy companies have lab kits on specific topics, say, light or basic electrical circuits. Moderately-priced ones can be found, with a little diligence. These make good gifts as well, if the kid is motivated in that direction.

Other Stuff I Missed:
--Dictionary Skills workbooks from Weekly Reader were pretty good.
--English From the Roots Up is a really nice introduction to Greek and Latin roots that can be used in early or later grades. There are some spin-off products, like a set of flashcards (OTOH the book has instructions for making your own) and a game called Rummy Roots
--Where in the World? No, Carmen Sandiego doesn't figure in this one (although our kids used to enjoy her show.) But it is a really good game for teaching countries and their capitals and, if you stick with it long enough, facts like imports, exports, currency, language, and religions. Plus each country card has a flag on it.
--The Horrible Histories and Nasty Nature books are treatises on icky, yecchy, obnoxious facts that kids (especially boys aged 7-12) love. Good for keeping a pack of Cub Scouts quiet while waiting in line.
--Critical Thinking Press has really good critical thinking and logic workbooks. Scholastic and those companies that publish newstand puzzle books have cheap knockoffs of some of these that have the advantage of being, well, cheap.
--WFF 'n' Proof has for years produced some good logic games. They can be found online.
--In recent years there has been a proliferation of easy-to-read, illustrated biographies of people of note, which are very much enjoyed by kids once they have some basic reading skills. One we have is Theodoric's Rainbow, which tells of the monk Theodoric's (Dietrich of Freiburg) experiments to explain the visible spectrum. The illustrations provide a detailed and humorous look at life in a medieval monastery. Check your library, we've found quite a few there and new ones seem to come out regularly.

What I Think of Calvert:
--Since three years of Calvert is the only packaged curriculum I've ever used (Grades 5-7) I might as well put in a word about it. In general, I liked the program. Son #2 wasn't so crazy about it as there was a lot of work in it for him, but he learned from it in spite of himself. I chose Calvert school to begin with for several reasons: I had heard a quite a bit about it, I knew it had been around for a long time and was structured and traditional, The cost was acceptable, and I had a few options as to how to use it. Curriculum packages can be bought with or without teaching support; we forwent the teaching support but took the included tests (which I graded) anyway. Math can be bought separately, so we tried it the first year but soon went back to the Key To series (Son #2 maintains that I'm awful at explaining math, so the less I have to say on that subject, the better.) In general I would call Calvert a pretty good curriculum. It is highly structured and the work load is heavy enough that Son #2 was pretty much putting in a full school day by 7th grade--you don't slack off with this course. The reading load can be pretty heavy as well, so some modifications might be needed for kids with reading problems. Some of the textbooks I've reviewed positively above (though their U.S. History can't hold a candle to Joy Hakim's!) Son #2 was less than thrilled with some of the reading selections (for some reason, Anne of Green Gables just didn't speak to him,) but most selections were good. We tried their Spanish package but weren't crazy about it (I didn't care for the audio course speaker's accent) and as it is expensive I would suggest looking elsewhere for foreign languages. In short, a good curriculum, (skip the foregn languages,) but highly structured and work-intensive. Be sure that's what you're looking for before you write out the check. It probably works well for a self-motivated student (Based on what Darwin has said about his homeschooling experience I'm guessing that would be him,) or one who needs structure, but I could see it being onerous for a kid with learning difficulties or a more freewheeling learning style.

Hopefully, there are some ideas in all this text that will be useful. None of this, of course, is written in stone (duh! it's written in electrons!) Different kids have different learning styles, interests, strengths, and weaknesses. You are the expert on each of your children, and therefore the best judge of whether a given book or program is suitable. Homeschooling can give you a lot of freedom to experiment with different styles and learning materials, and choose what works. Along the way, you will undoubtedly discover your own favorites.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

my life as a homeschooler, part 2b: more stuff we liked

On to the other subjects--

English Grammar and Composition:
--Mad Libs. Great for car rides and D has even used them for adult writing students.
--The Easy Grammar books. Start out by teaching you the prepositions (ideally to be memorized, although some of us here fall short of that goal) then, with minimal fluff, take you through the rules of grammar. Grade level about 3-6.
--Daily Grams. Quick drills in grammar; good in conjunction with Easy Grammar series.
--The Great Editing Adventure, if I could figure out what I did with it after our last move.
--A good spelling program. I have Dr. Fry's Spelling book, which has its weaknesses but is all right for building spelling vocabulary. Calvert was pretty good at middle school level, although we found flaws in some of their review puzzles. I got an early-level BJU book used from somebody that if I recall was phonics-based. It seemed like a terrific idea, except that I happened to have one of those oddball kids for whom any concept of phonics will always be foreign. Probably works for about 80-90% of the population, though. There are a number of programs and kits out there that look promising. Check out some homeschool supply companies' spelling sections and see what you like!
--Writing. I really, really like the Italic series, but there are a number of options out there to include traditional fancy-schmantzy Spenserian. (Most of my kids would lack the fine motor skills, I suspect.) If somebody gets really excited about handwriting, there are calligraphy kits! With my LD kid I ended up using a looped cursive course from Therapy Skillbuilders. I will probably never learn to love looped cursive, but it worked with what his occupational therapist was doing and did improve his chicken scratch somewhat. That and it was probably the most sensible method for looped cursive I've ever seen.
--Keyboarding. A good computer course is a must. I think all of ours are way out of date, so you'll have to check out the software stores on this one.

Social Studies--World History and Geography:
--The Usborne Time Travellers' Omnibus (Also sold as separate books) Illustrated tours of four differnt places/times in history: ancient Egypt, imperial Rome, Viking Scandinavia, and Medieval England. Simple language works for younger kids, but the material is not dumbed down.
--David MacCauley's books such as Castle,Cathedral, and City, which give in construction details and other facts about the times in which they are set.
--Stephen Beisty's cross-section books. (Can you tell we're visual thinkers?)
--Dorling-Kindersley's History of the World by Plantagenet Somerset Frye. Almost worth having for the author's name alone!
I've noticed that there seems to have been a proliferation of books on similar themes in recent years, written at different reading levels. I haven't checked them all out, obviously, but they seem fairly similar in terms of design and information. The good thing about this is, it shouldn't be hard to find good materials and the public library will probably have books you can use.
--Weekly Reader used to have a good set of map skills workbooks. They'd be worth checking out.
--The Calvert School curriculum uses Houghton Mifflin's middle school world history books A Message of Ancient Days and Across The Centuries, which aren't bad as textbooks go. They also have a set of world geography books for the same age level, by Silver Burdett and Ginn.
--A good world atlas. A "for kids" one is nice, but even one designed for adult use has its merits. We have a kid one, but when Baby wanted to look up the location of the Bavarian town where her violin was made, it was our 1970 Britannica ox-stunner that saved the day.

Social Studies--U.S. History and Geography:
--I could go on all day about Joy Hakim's series A History of Us. Baby just finished the last book, but I ain't sellin' these! They are by far the best, most thorough, most thoughtful and most interesting books on the subject out there. Their only negative, and what probably keeps them from seeing much general school use, is that the set of ten books would normally take about two years to get through in a classroom setting. (I think it took us slightly over a school year and a half.) The positives make the time spent worthwhile. Hakim, a journalist, loves the U.S. and loves history--that much is clear from her books. She was inspired to the task when on reviewing one of her kids' school history texts, she was appalled by how dull it was. She began to work on her own book, which grew like Topsy.
Hakim writes in an informal and witty tone sprinkled with funny observations and asides. From the first she makes clear her belief that the U.S. is "the most remarkable nation that has ever existed." She doesn't whitewash the bad, though; no kid who completes this series will be Pollyannish about his country's past. Nor, however, will he be cynical or pessimistic about its future.
Young factoid buffs will love this series for the many profiles of people and incidents that most school history books gloss over. Kids who read it through will learn about the Zenger libel case, the War of Jenkin's Ear, and the battle of Ft. Sullivan in Charleston Harbor; they will become acquainted with people like Eliza Pinkney, James Forten, Deborah Sampson, "Ox" Knox, "Box" Brown, Wilmer McLean, Ely Parker, Charles Eastman, and Mary Antin. The books are an embarrassment of riches when it comes to information.
Hakim's politics are probably a bit more liberal than my own, but with few exceptions (sorry, Joy, but I'm really not convinced that Ronald Reagan was a better actor than he was a president!) she makes a concerted effort to present history in as factual but as fair a manner as she can. Thus I've read a review of her books by a southerner who thought she did a pretty good job of chronicling the War Between the States (theah was nuthin' Civil about it) even though he didn't agree with all her conclusions about its root causes. Hakim acknowledges bias in writing with a frankness all journalists in the business today ought to have, yet manages to keep her own in check to an impressive degree.
The appendix at the end of each book is an extra bonus. Each appendix has a year-by-year chronology of events taking place during the time period covered and a list of suggested readings (I think her choices are very good.) Some volumes also have important documents (like the Bill of Rights) and personal remarks by Hakim about writing and studying history.
I would call these books a "definitely buy" even if your library has them. There is a softcover binding available if the hardcover cost seems daunting. Although they are written for fourth or fifth grade readers, your kids will not outgrow them, and you may find yourself reading them. I'd recommend them for older students taking GED or college placement tests.

Now that I'm done rhapsodizing, back to business.
--We have an old copy of Geosafari software that the kids have enjoyed. It had U.S. and world geography and history games on it and was really handy on days when I "just had to get something done" and needed not to be on lesson call.
--A Blank U.S. map. Websites that post curriculum helps often have these.
--Workbook publishers often have U.S. states books that can be incorporated into a U.S. geography study. We used one once, (which we no longer have, so I can't give publishing info) that had the states arranged by region. Thus the task could be accomplished in sections which simplified things considerably.

This is getting long again (one would think I'd have learned to edit by now!) and lunch must be fixed. Math, science, and whatever else is left next, same bat-time, same bat-channel! (Or thereabouts.)

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Monday, March 12, 2007

my life as a homeschooler, part 2a: the age of reason!

In part 1, I discussed some of the techniques and materials I liked for early education. This post will focus on students past first-grade level, or so.

A child who can sit still and focus on a task without assistance can begin the process of taking ownership of his (or her, but for the purposes of this post I'm using his) education. This isn't going to occur magically, and doesn't mean by any account that your kid can be expected to singlehandedly educate himself. As I've already mentioned, there's a lot of work in it for you; if you accept that, however, it can pay off academically and personally.

"Taking ownership" in the form of doing some work independently is a necessary skill if you have several children schooling at different levels. As in the old one-room schoolhouse, some kids are going to have to be working at their lessons on their own while you assist the others. At this point in his life, it doesn't hurt a kid at all to start doing some things in workbooks; still, it's one of the advantages of homeschooling that workbooks shouldn't be all it's about.

I understand that there are (were? I'm afraid I haven't kept up) some curriculum packages, like Konos and Weaver, that are designed for out-of-the-classroom learning by kids working at multiple levels. Some packaged unit studies are also designed this way. (Never having been able to justify the expense of these nifty packages, I pulled together my own stuff and tried to apply this concept as I could.)

Disparately-aged children may all study the same subject--say, the American Revolution--together, but each at his own level and depth. That way there's some unity of curriculum in the family, which makes life easier for the primary teacher and facilitates outside learning experiences. A young child can read Sam the Minuteman, sing or play Yankee Doodle, and learn about the Boston Tea Party; an older one can study the root causes of conflict and the decisive battles in depth (or if that's not her cuppa tea, research the role of women in the conflict) and read the Declaration of Independence; everybody can go to Living History Days and watch and talk to the reenactors.

I did most of my educating at this level in two blocs, as I had two kids fifteen months apart, followed by one four years later and one three years after that. The two eldest did a lot of things together, working separately in areas in which their developmental abilities differed. (The eldest, by the way, is LD, so we were using some techniques and materials with him that weren't necessary with his sibs.) Subjects like science and history were pretty much done together, which enabled them to collaborate on lab science projects. They had fairly free rein, within reason, to choose independent reading so there was some difference there: the eldest went in for things like Classics Illustrated comics and Heinlein's juvenile fiction whereas his sister preferred the Childhood of Famous Americans books (caveat: some of these are pretty fictionalized!) and period fiction, especially that with female protagonists. The Little House books and E.L. Koenigsburg's fictionalized biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine, A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Minever were among her favorites around the age of ten.

At one point in our adventures I did cave in and buy a packaged curriculum. Kid #3 by around fourth grade level was slacking off considerably and giving every indication that he would benefit from a higher level of structure than he was getting with my do-it-yourself methods. We bought Calvert packages for him for the next three years (more on them below,) without the teaching service. It's a rigorous course and he did his share of complaining about it, but I think it was overall the right thing for him at the time.

Things I used for primary-level education (first to sixth grade) are below. I'm sticking mainly to things we all liked although there may be some things that were controversial, in which case I will make a note of it.

--The E. D. Hirsch Core Knowledge books, which I mentioned in the previous post. As I mentioned then, these are handy general resources for things a child should know. (Note to the Darwins: I think these could be a good reference for some of those "great stories and histories" you were seeking. Each book has some very good short historical accounts and excerpts from good literature. I'm looking at the 4th grade book now; some selected topics are: "A Voyage to Lilliput," "On Thin Ice" from Little Women, Sojurner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" speech, a selection of King Arthur stories, and in the world history section, "The Byzantine Empire," "Charlemagne and the Growth of Learning," "Where English Comes From," "A Bad King and a Great Charter," and "The Travels of Ibn Battuta," to name a few. Check 'em out.)
--A copy of your state's curriculum requirements, so you can check off the boxes and have something to show for if anybody wants to know what you're doing.

--Edgar and Inri Parin D'Aulaire's wonderful and gorgeously illustrated books, especially Greek Myths and Norse Gods and Giants (back in print as D'Aulaire's Book of Norse Myths.) By far the best of the genre IMHO, though there are plenty of imitators out there today. We had a tradition of reading Leif the Lucky every Leif Ericson Day, which is, of course, the day before Columbus Day when we read about Columbus. Naturally, we'd read Jean Fritz's Brendan the Navigator the day before that.
--The Book of Virtues by William Bennett. Lots of "great stories" here, too. I think there's also a young reader's edition of this book.
--The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder; also Caddie Woodlawn and its sequel Magical Melons (currently in print as Caddie Woodlawn's Family or some such.)
--The Wizard of Oz and other books by L. Frank Baum. We borrowed some of these on tape from the library for a trip once; the repartee in the books is clever and hilarious and will keep the adults as entertained as the kids!
--Astrid Lindgren's books, especially the Pippi Longstocking trio.
--Madeline L'Engle's Time Quartet, and some of her other books. I wasn't crazy about some of her later works and would caution that parental prereading and discussion are imperative for these as mature themes come up. Many of her books are unsuitable for kids still in the single-digits ages and iffy for 'tweens. Consider yourselves warned. A Wrinkle in Time, however, is a must-read. As a nearsighted nerdy kid, I adored Meg Murray.
--Kids' Sci-fi. Heinlein and Asimov wrote some good books for kids. Be wary; they also wrote adult works that you don't want to mix up with the kids' books. Particularly Heinlein--oh, la la. Group marriage, anyone? Bradbury's a little weird for younger kids, but Farenheit 451 ought to be read by everyone before he's gone too far into high school.
--Nat Hentoff's The Day They Came to Arrest the Book. Civil libertarian Hentoff usually writes for adults but has published a few works for young teens. All are fairly good; this is certainly the strongest. It deals with the issue of book censorship in schools and argues eloquently for the freedom to read.
--Biographical works (like Brendan mentioned above,) or historical fiction (like The Cabin Faced West) by Jean Fritz. Fritz's works on the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers, with titles like Can't You Make Them Behave, King George? are quick but thorough reads and excellent additions to younger kids' history studies.
--A good collection of Shakespeare stories for children. Throughout English literary history, such notables as Charles Lamb (with his gifted but tragic sister Mary) and E. Nesbit have turned out excellent volumes that are still in print; there are also some good collections of more recent vintage.
--The Childrens' Homer by Padraic Colum (sp?), or some other version depending on individual taste (like Hawthorne's A Wonder Book or Roger Lancelyn Green's The Tale of Troy)
--King Arthur. Sometime Inkling Lancelyn Green published a good selection of tales; older kids might go in for T.H. White's The Sword in The Stone, but should have some background in the old tales first. Also the Robin Hood tales. We liked Howard Pyle's collection, and a British one we found once at a library and have never seen again. That one included the story of the unconfirmed "find" of Friar Tuck's remains by a pair of 19th-century coal miners!
--A good general collection of poetry.
I could go on and on, so I'll leave the reading section at that. Public libraries often have "suggested reading lists," as do many homeschool resources. These days I seem to be down to the Christian Book Distributors catalog, but I've found that browsing the literature section of that or any good homeschool supply catalog is a great way to get reading ideas. Dover Press, a book company that publishes a lot of "dollar editions" (they may have gone up slightly since I last saw their catalog) of public domain literature is a good place to get ideas, and cut-rate volumes. (Read the fine print, though; they also do abridgements and adaptations so you might not get the whole book.)
Finally, the appendix to Marva Collins' Way, the story of the notable educator who founded an inner-city preparatory academy, includes her recommended reading list.

This is getting long and unwieldy, so I'll post the rest of the list, and perhaps some more Adventures in Homeschooling, tomorrow.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Factional Account

I caught a post at Darwin Catholic discussing the candidacy of Rudolf Giuliani for the Republican presidential nomination and the fact that he is not pro-life. He concludes with the following:

So even though I would find myself in agreement more with Giuliani than with Hillary or Obama, as of this point I have to think that it would be better for the long term political landscape for Giuliani (if nominated) to lose to the Democrats, underscoring that a conservative coalition without social conservatives doesn't work.

So, is self-sabotage good for the Republican soul? Can we really predict the impact that a president will have before he is elected? Can we, with any real certainty, know whether the damage done by an unfavorable candidate will be outweighed by some long-term gain? I postulate that we cannot know what shaping events will come in the next two years, let alone the next four. Can we really make a long term cost-benefit calculus when future events can be so unpredictable?

It might be instructive to look at what was believed about previous ascending presidents, and how they actually turned out. One of the major issues of the Kennedy-Nixon campaign was the protection of the islands of Kemoy and Matsu. These islands played little or no part in the Kennedy presidency. Instead, a recently "liberated" French colony, Viet Nam, ended up being part of the lasting legacy of his presidency. Theodore Roosevelt was supposed to be a Republican lightweight, but he turned the big business practices of the time on their ears. And who, in the election of 2000, would have believed that a global war on terror would be the central issue of an 8-year George W. Bush presidency?

So, what's a pro-lifer to do? First of all, it is imperative that you cast a vote in the primary election for the pro-life candidate of your choice. If you are indeed a one- issue voter, this is your chance to have your say. At the general election, the parties' positions have already been set: the primary is where the partisan electorate has a chance to influence those positions. For a one-issue voter and for the voter who has strong opinions on an issue, the primary vote may be more important than the general election vote. Be heard in the formation process. Many a "frontrunner" going into the primary season has lost his place by the time the voting is done -- just ask Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter. By the time the general election campaign is set, the one-issue voter will, most likely, have one or no candidates for which to vote, and, thus, the campaign speeches, rhetoric, and commercials will not be aimed at them. To be heard, vote early.

Now, what should you do if a pro-life candidate is not nominated by any party? What other issues matter to you? Could you live with socialized medicine, further restrictions on free speech, or coercive union practices? Do you believe that money should be donated, rather than coerced, for worthwile charitable projects? Do you believe that what happens between a man and a woman is marriage, and other partnerships do not deserve the label? Do you believe the defense of the U.S. is a worthwile pursuit? If these issues matter to you, you will cast your vote based on them. An unfavorable candidate can do a lot of damage on other issues in four years while the party is being "taught a lesson."

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I give up

All right, I know it's been awhile and I'd committed to a couple more posts on education matters. Unfortunately, it's also Lent, Girl Scout Cookie season (they manage to make those coincide here,) Violin Workshop weekend for Baby, and time to get the garden in. To accomplish the latter will require the moving of considerable soil and creation of a raised bed as over the last couple of years the garden has been gradually shifting against the property fence and may end up, with the chain link, in the neighbors' yard if we don't do something about it now. I'm plotting to put the boys to hard labor this weekend, but am still going to have to manage the operation. (Please visualize a scene from O Brother, Where Art Thou? at this point.) So posting is not going to be happening at least through the weekend. I do intend to get back to the homeschool posts, however, and will shoot for having something up sometime next week.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

still busy...

...below is a very good short biog of Mary Wollstonecraft authored by Cat Clark of Feminists for Life (see note below.) It is part of an email tutorial series the organization offers members. Feminism is historically pro-life: for more profiles of ahead-of-their-time women who espoused a pro-woman, pro-life worldview see this link or the articles listed below.

Early British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was a revolutionary thinker who sought to become “the first of a new genus,” a new kind of woman. Her life, though short and tumultuous, was characterized by an Enlightenment-inspired passion for reason unusual among women of her era.

Historically, many people have been more interested in Wollstonecraft’s unusual personal life and associations than her writing. Raised in a financially unstable home dominated by a violent, alcoholic father, she was no stranger to hardship. Later relationships would also prove difficult, as when the father of Wollstonecraft’s first child abandoned her with the infant in France in the midst of the French Revolution (1789-1799). But Wollstonecraft’s vision of a social order founded on reason and women’s education would become her lasting legacy.

Though denied educational opportunities beyond the superficial schooling allowed to girls at the time, Wollstonecraft loved to read and yearned for intellectual life. Dissatisfied by the restricted career choices then available to women, she made the radical decision to support herself as a professional writer, something very few women of the time could do.

Wollstonecraft’s career choice, and especially her decision to write about political and philosophical issues, was not merely unconventional, it was perceived as “unwomanly” and “unnatural.” She, on the contrary, would argue that both women and men should be educated rationally, allowed to exercise their natural abilities, and held to the same reasonable standards of behavior, because women share the gift of reason and have the same innate human value as men.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, her most famous work on these themes, was a remarkably cutting-edge book in 1792, arguing, for example, that girls and boys should be co-educated and that women and men should share parental responsibilities.

Wollstonecraft also presented abortion and infanticide as negative consequences of moral double standards and women’s submission to sexual objectification and exploitation by men:

“Women becoming, consequently, weaker, in mind and body, than they ought to be, were one of the grand ends of their being taken into account, that of bearing and nursing children, have not sufficient strength to discharge the first duty of a mother; and sacrificing to lasciviousness the parental affection, that ennobles instinct, either destroy the embryo in the womb, or cast it off when born. Nature in everything demands respect, and those who violate her laws seldom do so with impunity. [emphasis added]”

In 1797, Mary Wollstonecraft died from complications following the birth of her second child, also named Mary. “And like her mother,” Feminists for Life President Serrin Foster has pointed out, “she became a great writer. Using her mother’s philosophy, she wrote what has become the greatest novel about what happens when the laws of nature are violated. The book is entitled Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.”

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman became an inspiration for later generations of feminists. Susan B. Anthony serialized it in her own newspaper, The Revolution, and Anthony’s personal copy of the book resides in the Susan B. Anthony collection of the Library of Congress.

Related articles:

Herstory: Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-1797, by Mary Krane Derr

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Reviewed by Elise Ehrhardre

Cat Clark is author of "The Truth About Susan B. Anthony: Did One of America's First Feminists Oppose Abortion?" the feature story in the Spring 2007 issue of The American Feminist,® and Herstory on Pearl Buck and has served as a past editor of The American Feminist.®

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