Saturday, January 30, 2010

Reptiles at Brooklyn Children's Museum

Mikro had a wonderful time at the Brooklyn Children's Museum. The program was on reptiles, a huge favorite of his. And we got to see friends that we haven't seen for a while (winter, bah humbug!) and meet some new friends as well. Our homeschool group rocks!

Homeschooling Update

We're still looking at oceans. Here are some resources we've used recently:

Bill Nye Ocean related videos: (Links are to the first of three parts for each topic. You'll find the links to parts 2 and 3 on the first video.)

Ocean Exploration
Ocean Life
Marine Mammals

My little reptile lover insisted on reading this book (which is mostly amphibians, but has some lovely lizards in it):

And then we watched the Bill Nye videos for reptiles and amphibians...

Reptiles (part 1)
Amphibians (part 1)

We are still reading about prehistoric creatures and dinosaurs (of course!), including this book and its prequel:

He has several more dino books from the library, including the silly picture book Dinotrucks, which he giggles over and reads and rereads to himself.

We've been reading poetry about winter, and weather:

And this beautiful book, with words of wisdom from Chief Seattle, accompanied by gorgeous paintings:

... and continuing the conservation theme, this book, about our planet's water supply:

We've had a fun look at some of our country's 50 states:

And learned a little bit about Chinese New Year:

We picked up a treasure trove of interlibrary loan books on ancient Egypt and ancient Greece. We are having a lot of fun reading the Greek myths, and the first Percy Jackson book, the Lightning Thief (which I have on my Kindle, and read to Mikro during train rides...) We've been listening to the Jim Weiss CDs of Susan Wise Bauer's Story of the World: Ancients, and are just starting the parts on Greece. Mikro loves these stories, and is over the moon for the Jim Henson Storyteller DVDs of the Greek Myths and classic fairytales.

We've already read these Egypt books (and my beetle obsessed boy, who wants to be a coleopterist as well as a paleontologist, particularly enjoyed The Scarab's Secret, which is narrated by a beetle.)

We've read about other insects as well. The silkworms reading was inspired by our visit to the Silk Road exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. Quite the contrast between beekeeping and silkworm raising-- the bees are left to do what is natural, with minimal interference, while the silkworms have been selectively bred into creatures who could not survive in the wild.

And we've even worked in a little math reading. He's really enjoying playing Sum Swamp and doing some math with playing cards, a la Dealing With Addition.

Best of all, he enjoys all of it!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tuesday Science, and More

At science class, the kids examined "evidence" left behind by burglary suspects and learned about truth tables. They also learned about using senses other than sight in detective work, and played a smell matching game.

Afterwards, we spent some time in the library reading poetry, then went to the playground across the street with some of our friends.

Mikro is really enjoying poetry at the moment. We read a bunch of Jack Prelutsky's work, including a haiku book (and we learned about how to count syllables by humming, and the structure of a haiku), and what boy could resist a book of poems about dragons?

After the playground, we returned to the library for a special presentation by Wildlife Conservation Society's Wildlife Theater on rainforests, featuring Captain Cocoa. It was lots of fun, and Mikro the Ham got to participate quite a bit. (And took a ridiculously theatrical bow at the end...) Then we picked a rainforest book to read.

Second Quarterly Report

SCHOOL YEAR: 2009-2010
GRADE LEVEL: Kindergarten
THIS QUARTER COVERS: 10/14/09 to 1/14/10
DATE SUBMITTED: January 15, 2010


Mikro is progressing at a satisfactory level or better in all subject matter. His handwriting still needs improvement.

We have had instruction in all the following areas, as per Section 100.10 of the Regulations of the New York State Commissioner of Education and Mikro’s Individual Home Instruction Plan (IHIP): Reading, Writing, Spelling, Language Arts, Math, History, Science, Health, Physical Education, Music, and Visual Arts.

Mikro had no absences from instruction this quarter, and has exceeded the required hours of instruction (225).

Highlights for the Quarter include:

Reading/Language Arts:

Mikro's reading skills continue to improve, and he has had great success with decoding multisyllabic and irregularly spelled words. He is reading short chapter books independently. His reading comprehension is wonderful, and he can narrate back a good summary of what he reads. He enjoys making up rich and detailed stories about dinosaurs, dragons, fairy tale characters and other imaginary creatures. He continues to participate in "Reading With...", our homeschool group's Book Group.

We have begun looking at the parts of speech using Songs for Teaching, and Schoolhouse Rock videos, as well as worksheets available online. Mikro can successfully identify nouns, verbs and adjectives.

Mikro's handwriting has improved, but still has a way to go. He is now drawing and writing on his own without prompting, and is far more interested in working on his skills in this area. He lacks confidence in his skills, but is fairly proficient with upper case letters, and is learning lowercase. He still struggles with proper pencil grip. We practice writing words relevant to our other studies and writing notes and cards to friends and family members.
We are practicing spelling simple words phonetically, and he enjoys watching the PBS show Word World, and making words with plastic letters. Other reading related programming that Mikro watches on PBS includes Martha Speaks (vocabulary), Between the Lions (phonics) and Super Why.

Some of the books read independently by Mikro (in addition to those listed by subject matter in other categories below): Many books in Suzanne Tate's Nature Series, including: Izzie Lizzie Alligator, Sammy Shrimp, Pearlie Oyster, Spunky Spot, Lucky Lookdown, Lindie Lobster, Jenny Jellyfish, Harry Horseshoe Crab, Stevie B. Seahorse, Ellie & Ollie Eel, Perky Pelican, Oopsie Otter, Oozey Octopus and Great Sharky Shark.; several books in the Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant; Animals, Animals by Eric Carle; The Armadillo from Amarillo by Lynne Cherry; The Frogs Wore Red Pajamas by Jack Prelutzky, Nonsense Verses by Edward Lear; lots of Eric Carle, including: Twelve Tales from Aesop, Rooster Sees the World, Mister Seahorse, and Slowly, Slowly Said the Sloth; The Raucous Auk by Mary Ann Hoberman; Little Raccoon and Other Poems from the Woods by Lillian Moore; To Sleep, Perchance to Dream by William Shakespeare, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein; lots of Dr,. Seuss, including: Horton Hatches an Egg, The Cat in the Hat, , The Lorax, Sneetches and Other Stories, Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, and several of the Seuss-inspired Cat in the Hat Science Readers, including Oh the Things You Can Do that Are Healthy for You, and Oh, Say Can You Seed. Mikro also reads books online via the Westchester Library System's Tumblebooks program.

Read Alouds: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan; The Complete Tales & Poems of Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne, One Day in the Woods by Jean Craighead George; Petunia's Christmas by Roger Duvoisin, The Runaway Rice Cake by Ming Chang Compestine, several Nate the Great books, Como Cuentan Hasta Diez Los Dinosaurios by Jane Yolen; Un Dia Con Elmer by David McKee and too many dinosaur books to list.


We are working on one digit addition and subtraction, using workbooks, games, and both purchased manipulatives and found ones (Mikro likes to do math with acorns and sugar packets). Mikro is working on writing ordinal and cardinal numbers. He can confidently count to 80. We have explored concepts like sets, patterns, place value, estimation, graphs and charts, measurement, symmetry, angles, polygons, fractions, topology, and/or statements and truth tables, and very large numbers and exponential notation. We attended a Math Demo at the New York Hall of Science on topology and patterning, and explored the Mathematica exhibit there.

Books include: Mission Addition by Loreen Leedy, Each Orange Had 8 Slices by Paul Giganti, Jr.; The Action of Subtraction by Brian P. Cleary; G is for Googol by David Schwartz, How Much is a Million by David Schwartz, On Beyond A Million by David Schwatrz, Fractions by Penny Dowdy; Fractions Are Parts of Things by J. Richard Dennis, What is Symmetry? by Mindel and Harry Sitomer, Yes No Stop Go: Some Problems in Mathematical Logic by Judith Gersting and Joseph E. Kuczkowski, Measurement by Penny Dowdy, Estimation by Penny Dowdy, Estimation by Charles F. Linn, Graphing by Penny Dowdy, and Dealing With Addition by Lynette Long, PhD; Angles Are Easy as Pie by Robert Froman.

Games include: Addition Bingo, the Bug Collection Game (includes addition and subtraction), Math Dice, Math Spin, Measuring Monkeys, Sum Swamp, Bionicles and Dinosaur Dice.


We have discussed the history of the space program, gravity and its effect on tides; the seasons; solstices and equinoxes, the phases of the moon; navigation; constellations; magnets; the elements and the periodic table; acids and bases; water quality; biomes; habitats; climate; classification of animals; migration; hibernation; camouflage; animal communication; predators and prey; animal reproduction and life cycles; the water cycle; photosynthesis; plant reproduction; evolution; extinction; geology; cladograms; oceans; climate change, ecology and conservation. Mikro regularly watches educational programming such as NOVA Science Now, NASA TV, Croc Hunter, The Most Extreme, Walking With Dinosaurs, Walking With Cavemen, Zula Patrol, Dinosaur Train, Sid the Science Kid, NOVA, Nature, Wild Kingdom, Raw Anatomy, Focus Earth, and Stuff Happens. He also watches Bill Nye the Science Guy on YouTube, including the programs on Flight, Buoyancy, Gravity, Seasons, Climate, Climate Change and Dinosaurs. We have also watched science related Schoolhouse Rock videos on You Tube, including The Body Machine, Do the Circulation, and Them Not So Dry Bones. He has an extensive collection of science and nature DVDs, which he watches as a treat before bedtime.

Books: Evolving Planet by Erica Kelly and Richard Kissel; Paleo Bugs by Timothy J. Bradley; When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm by Hannah Bronner; When Bugs Were Big, Plants Were Strange and Tetrapods Stalked the Earth, by Hannah Bonner, Periodic Table by Salvatore Tocci; Atoms and Chemical Reactions by Suzanne Slade; What Is the World Made of: Solids, Liquids and Gases by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld; Let’s Go Rock Collecting by Roma Gans and Holly Keller; Looking at Ouranasaurus by Frances Freedman, Slippery Slimey Baby Frogs by Sandra Markle; The Sun, Our Nearest Star by Franklyn M. Brantley ; Sunshine Makes the Seasons, by Franklyn M. Brantley; The Planets in Our Solar System by Franklyn M. Brantley; Dinosaur Parents, Dinosaur Young by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld; Outside and Inside Dinosaurs by Sandra Markle; Forces Make Things Move by K. Bradley; Energy Makes Things Happen by K. Bradley; A Watertight Case (World Water Monitoring Day); Mariana Becomes a Butterfly (written by the Engineering is Elementary team of the Boston Museum of Science); Kwame's Sound (written by the Engineering is Elementary team of the Boston Museum of Science); Awesome Ocean Science by Cindy H. Littlefield; ABCs of the Ocean by Isaac Asimov; Velociraptor by Elaine Landau; Tyrannosaurus Rex by Elaine Landau ; Stegosaurus by Elaine Landau ; Triceratops by Elaine Landau ; Pterodactyls by Elaine Landau; Looking at Megalosaurus by Graham Coleman; Iguanodon and Other Spikey-Thumbed Plant Eaters by Virginia Schomp; The Seven Seas: Exploring the World Ocean by Linda Vieiera; Secrets of the Deep Revealed by Dr. Frances Dipper; Marshes and Swamps by Gail Gibbons; One Well: The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss; My World of Science: Magnets by Angela Royston; What Makes a Magnet by Franklyn M. Branley.

Field trips: New York Hall of Science: rocket park and space history, molecules, microbes, light and optics; Beczak Environmental Education Center: Beaks & Feet program; New York Botanic Gardens: Forest in the City program with our homeschool group and visits to the Everett Children’s' Adventure Garden; Central Park Zoo (especially snow leopards, polar bears, penguins); American Museum of Natural History: Journey to the Stars planetarium show, African Mammals, Birds; Hudson River Museum: Riverama exhibit; many nature walks where Mikro has observed such things as bird migration and behaviors, animal tracks, animals preparing for winter; stargazing with a telescope and following NASA's scheduled sighting opportunities for the Space Shuttle and International Space Station (which Mikro again saw arc across the sky together on Thanksgiving!)

Classes: Mikro finished his ten session introduction to chemistry called "Crazy Chem" by Mad Science at the Bronx Library Center. Topics included states of matter, sublimation (using dry ice), atoms, molecules and compounds, chemical reactions and their indications, pH testing, catalysts, luminescence, oxidation and reduction.. They have learned the basics of laboratory safety and use of lab equipment and have conducted hands on experiments including mixing acids and bases with indicator substances, making slime, inflating a balloon with a chemical reaction in which gas was released, and experimenting with blacklight. Mikro takes a nature class at the Croton Nature Center, which is currently monthly, though we have hopes it will be offered more frequently in the future (as it has been in the past two years that we have participated). Recent topics were: the forest floor and bird habitats. He also participated in Science Stories at the Croton Library. Mikro attended the first session of a ten week series of classes on “Spy Science” offered by Mad Science at the Sunnyside Library in Sunnyside, Queens, which he will be taking next quarter.

Projects: Project Feeder Watch through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology; water sample collection and testing in connection with World Water Monitoring Day; maintaining a compost heap and an indoor worm bin, maintaining a Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat.

History & Patriotism and Citizenship:

In this second quarter, we have continued our studies of the Quadricentennial of Henry Hudson's voyage up the Hudson River. We took a tour of the replica ship Half Moon at the Yonkers Half Moon Festival, went to a talk by Mitchell Bring, author of My Mighty Hudson, at the Croton Library, visited the Dutch New York exhibit at the Hudson River Museum, visited the Dutch New York: Between East and West, The World of Margrieta van Varick exhibit at the Bard Graduate Center with our homeschool group, and participated in the Quadricentennial Time Capsule buried at Beczak Environmental Education Center (writing and photos submitted). Mikro participated in NYCHEA's (New York City Home Education Alliance) History Fair, which was in quiz show format, wherein students portrayed a historical personage and gave clues to the audience regarding their identity. Mikro portrayed Henry Hudson.

We have also been studying Native Americans, especially the New York tribes, including the Lenape, Mahican and Iroquois. Some of the books Mikro has read include: Mitchell Bring's My Mighty Hudson; Rocky Landon's A Native American Thought of I;, If You Lived in the Days of the Wild Mammoth Hunters by Mary Elting and Franklin Folsom; and Tiphaine Samoyault's Alphabetical Order: How the Alphabet Began. We watched related documentaries including Dutch New York (PBS), Bill Moyer's America’s First River and Conquest of America: Northeast. We have also watched a wonderful program about Native American legends, called Dreamkeeper. We have continued looking at Ancient Egypt via books and documentaries and have covered ancient Egypt, Assyria, and Israel using The Story of the World: Ancients by Susan Wise Bauer. We have begun looking at the Greek myths.

We have had discussions about early explorers, trade routes, imperialism and colonies, feudalism, the Divine Right of Kings, the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution, how America became a country, daily life in the thirteen colonies (including what life was like for children, and hands on experience with many different varieties of old fashioned toys and toymaking at the Yonkers Half Moon Festival), European settlers and Native Americans, rights and responsibilities of family members, community members and citizens, good and neighborly behavior, the role of community helpers such as police and fire personnel, poverty and hunger, how government officials are elected, racism and other forms of discrimination, September 11, 2001, the United States military, war, nations/states/cities, and world geography. Mikro trick or treated for UNICEF. We have discussed the origins of holidays such as Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, Veteran's Day and Election Day. We have discussed our family history and interviewed grandparents about what life was like when they were children, and we drew up a family tree on the computer. We have watched American history and government related Schoolhouse Rock videos on You Tube, including No More Kings, The Shot Heard Round the World, The Preamble to the Constitution, I’m Just a Bill (How a Bill Becomes a Law), Three Ring Government, and the Great American Melting Pot.

Mikro visited Fraunces Tavern Museum with our homeschool group and saw the Magna Carta as well as a very special facsimile copy of the Declaration of Independence. We also visited the National Museum of the American Indian and saw the following exhibits: Beauty Surrounds Us, Identity by Design, A Song for the Horse Nation, and a presentation/demonstration about the Taino culture. Mikro made a corn husk doll at a program at the Croton Library. We learned about holidays in early America at the Holiday Weekend at Van Cortlandt Manor, and about September 11, 2001, the US military and the ongoing conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan by touring the recently commissioned USS New York, the bow of which contains steel from the World Trade Center. We learned about trade routes and the cultures, stories and crafts of civilizations along the Silk Road at the American Museum of Natural History’s Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World exhibit. Mikro was especially captivated by the live silk worms and their cocoons and the step by step tour of silk making.


In our other studies, we have incorporated songs relevant to the subject matter, including, for example, Here Comes Science, Here Come the 123s, Science Songs, Chemistry Songs, Ocean Songs, various ecologically themed albums including Earth Mama's Under the Rainbow, Around the World With Earth Mama, Love Large and Grass Roots!; Kids Saving the Earth; Walking Jim Stoltz's The Web of Life and A Kid for the Wild. We have also introduced and continued to sing patriotic songs and anthems, such as the Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, This Land is Your Land, Yankee Doodle, Grand Old Flag, God Bless America and God Bless the USA, along with folk songs and protest songs. We have introduced Mikro to country music, rock & roll, classic rock, Native American music and Christmas music.

Mikro has attended musical and dramatic performances at venues including the Paramount Center for the Arts, the New Victory Theatre, the Tribeca Performing Arts Center and local libraries, including: Red Hawk Native American Dancers (Mikro participated in the Iroquois Smoke Dance, onstage at the Paramount); Arm of the Sea Theater's City that Drinks the Mountain Sky; Chestnuts Roasting on the Flaming Idiots; Pigeon Party; and The Frog Prince (Mikro attended a drama workshop and participated in two scenes during the performance at the Croton Library) ; and the Big Apple Circus at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park.


Mikro finished up his class with Private Picassos at the Bronx Library Center, in which the students viewed the works of famous artists and created their own work in a similar vein. Some of the artists studied include: Andy Goldsworthy (natural materials collage/assemblage), Robert Sabuda (pop up pages), Frida Kahlo (self portraits), and Keith Haring (murals). Mikro has also participated in art projects in connection with programs at Beczak Environmental Education Center in Yonkers, and at the local libraries, including candlemaking, painting, drawing, collage and assemblage. At home, he has experimented with collage, watercolors, clay, crayon, oil pastels and colored pencil. Mikro saw the Kandinsky exhibit at the Guggenheim and was very interested in the recurring symbols in the works, especially the ones that looked like microorganisms. In one painting, he described what he saw as "a dinosaur detecting sound waves" and, in another, "fertilization in action."

Phys Ed:

Geocaching, hiking, hoppity-hopping; soccer and basketball informally; trampoline.


We have discussed good nutrition, the basic food groups, the food pyramid, safety issues related to food allergies, basic human needs, maintaining adequate hydration, dressing properly for expected weather conditions, frostbite, personal hygiene including tooth care, first aid for bleeding, choking, respiratory and cardiac issues, head lice prevention, sun protection, why drugs, alcohol and smoking are unhealthy, and the perils of drunk driving.

Traffic, bicycle and general safety:

We have reviewed Traffic Safety materials from the New York City Department of Transportation and public transportation materials from Metro North Railroad's 2008 Harmon Yard Open House. We have also discussed gun safety.

Fire Safety and Prevention:

We continue to discuss what to do in a fire emergency, and role play calling 911.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tuesday Science

Behind a bit-- this is from last Tuesday's science class: fingerprints, blood types, and other personal identification information.

Pressing an inky fingerprint on a balloon made it possible to *enlarge* the image so the kids could see the details of common fingerprint variations like loops, whorls and arches.

They also got to test fake blood samples to determine their Types:

They also learned a bit about deductive reasoning, and making inferences from incomplete data.

Afterwards, Mikro and I stayed at the library and read some science and some Greek mythology.

Hudson Valley Climate Change Article, Eagle Fest & Birds of Prey Videos

There is an interesting article on Climate Change in the Hudson Valley up on the Teatown Blog.

Any local folks-- don't forget that Hudson River Eagle Fest 2010 is February 6th! We can hardly wait. This is a great family friendly, educational event. We highly recommend it to anyone in the NY metro area.

Mikro and I have been watching eagle and bird of prey videos on YouTube. Here are some of our favorites:

Birds of Prey Are Cool: a very educational music video!

Assignment Earth: Hudson River Eagles

Hudson River Eagle Fest 2009


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hudson River Eagle Watching at Homeschool Nature Class

Homeschool Nature Class today was about migratory birds, especially eagles. We first looked for them on the point where our Nature Center stands and out on the ice nearby, but had no luck until we were about to leave for our second site, when an eagle flew by. From there, we headed to the Echo Canoe Launch behind Croton Harmon train station, where we saw three more eagles: 1 adult and 2 immatures. I got a very distant photo of the adult eagle.

We also saw swans.

We headed back to the nature center, and were inside chatting when a local bird watcher and photographer stopped in to tell us that there was an eagle hanging out up in a tree near the park's main parking lot. We quickly headed over to take a look. There was an immature eagle perched within feet of the parking lot, looking out over the Hudson River. Out on the ice in the middle of the river were two more eagles- an adult and an immature.

Back at the Nature Center, we saw other, less exotic birds, too:

So seven eagles total, though I missed the flyby, so I only saw six. How strange it feels to write that sentence, when not too long ago, New York came perilously close to losing these beautiful birds altogether.

Friday, January 15, 2010

In Response to the Supposedly Scholarly Critique of Homeschooling...

Have you seen the utterly horrendous diatribe against homeschoolers that masquerades as scholarly critique in a public policy journal? If you haven’t, you have missed out on one of the most stereotype-laden, wholly unsupported by citations to authority, self contradictory, condescending, fear mongering rants I‘ve ever seen. Check it out for yourself, here: The Harm of Homeschooling.

According to its author, Robin West of the Georgetown University Law Center, homeschooling used to be illegal in all 50 states (legal citation, please? Oh, there isn’t one, since this is patently untrue!), except for circus freaks, child actors and special ed kids who apparently don’t matter anyway. Way to promote diversity and tolerance, lady! Oh wait, that’s what you accuse homeschoolers of attempting to destroy, because we are all raging religious fundamentalists (hereinafter ”fundies”) with an anti-secular, anti-diversity and anti-feminist agenda. Or else, we are secular, anti-schooling, overeducated and under-employed suburban divas with too much time on our hands, and we are setting women’s rights back by choosing to devote our energies to our families and children. (Beware feminists who want to take choices away from women, I always say.) Sentences later, she mocks unqualified, uncertified homeschooling parents. Which is it? Does mere consanguinity render us overeducated types unsuitable educators? Or does lack of a paper credential, possession of which clearly didn’t prevent the author of this piece from delivering herself of a of a rambling, bumbling and ignorant screed, render them thar hillbillies “on tarps in fields or parking lots”, and fundies living in quiverfull squalor in “trailer parks”, unfit? And who is this woman to judge?

As I see it, the public school system in this country can be likened to a leaky lifeboat, overcrowded, understaffed, its crew’s hands tied by administrative requirements that fail to take into account the very dire straits the boat now finds itself in, and lacking any useful navigational equipment (to ensure that it meets its stated goal of a free and appropriate education for all students, including the special needs and gifted and talented cohorts), as it paddles around in circles, with its occupants and the shipping line powers that be demanding more of the same failed strategies (just throw more money at it, test more, teach to the test, hold the bored and unmotivated kids hostage for longer hours or an extended school year) which brought it to its current predicament. Homeschoolers are those confident enough in their own swimming skills to strike out for shore, leaving seats in the rickety boat for those who cannot or will not (because of temperament, life circumstances, or an “I could never do that” attitude) do the same. When we give up our seats on the lifeboat, rather than being thanked for the additional resources available to those who remain (and to which our tax dollars contribute), we are often condemned as selfish louts who have “abandoned public education” because we do not stay aboard, emulating the little Dutch boy at the dyke, and attempting to hold back the waters of ignorance by jamming a finger into the gaping hole in the ship of state funded and controlled education. The little Dutch boy wasn’t being chased away, told his concerns were unfounded, or called a helicopter parent by a system that talks favorably about parent involvement, while doing everything it can to discourage the same. The “experts,” who sunk the ship and are in danger of foundering the lifeboat, want no interference from “non-expert” parents. Are we supposed to sit there until they drown our children’s chances for the future?

It’s funny, I almost never hear homeschoolers say that public school should be abrogated, or illegal, or that their chosen method of educating their kids is the one and only right way to do things. But I’m inundated with that particular hymn coming from the pro-school side, which strikes me as more than a tad fundamentalist in its zeal to promote itself as the One Right Way to Educate. Please note for the record : I believe there are schools out there that are not abject failures, and teachers who do not fit the wretched stereotyping of the author of the article I’m discussing here, but are instead wonderful and caring, and I think there are kids who are well suited to learning in a traditional school environment, and who thrive there. I do not subscribe to the one size fits all, government knows best school of thought underlying the article in question.

The author’s prejudices are on full display here, and she does not shrink from misrepresenting reality or the law to make her “points.”

She states:

First, courts, and particularly
the federal courts, have never granted the
existence of the “right to homeschool.”

Contrast her statement with this language from the United States Supreme Court, quoted on my blog’s sidebar (Should there be any doubt, the US Supreme Court, well, that’s federal, lady.):
The United States Supreme Court long ago recognized the "liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children, " holding that:

"The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations."

Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35 (1925). While not a direct holding that there is a constitutional right to homeschool, it is clear that, as far as the Supreme Court is concerned, the state is not the final arbiter of a child’s education, parents are.

Next, after blasting home educators of every stripe, she claims that she is only against “unregulated homeschooling”. She claims that, in its present form, all homeschooling is by and large unregulated, but then recognizes:

I do not mean to deny for a moment that homeschooling itself is
often—maybe usually—successful, when done
responsibly. Passionately involved and loving parents,
whether religious or not, can often better educate their
children in small tutorials at home, than can cashstrapped,
under-motivated, inadequately supported,
and overwhelmed public school teachers with too
many students in their classrooms. Results bear this
out, as homeschool advocates repeatedly point out
(and as critics virtually never deny): the homeschooled
children who are tested, or who take college boards,
whether or not religious, perhaps surprisingly, perhaps
not, do very well on standardized tests, and on
the average, they do better than their public school
counterparts (though it must be noted that the parents
and children who voluntarily subject themselves to
testing are the self-selected educational elite of the
homeschooling movement).

But then she goes on to argue that:

My target is not the practice
of homeschooling, whether religious or secular.
My target, rather, is unregulated homeschooling—the
total abdication of responsibility by the states for regulating
the practice. The right to unregulated homeschooling
visits quite concrete harms on the
homeschooled children themselves, the mothers who
are teaching them, and the often rural and isolated
communities in which they are raised and taught.

Where, if the outcome for homeschooled children is a better education (as measured by the very standardized tests which the educational powers that be hold up as the benchmark of success) than the public schools are managing, is this “concrete harm” she imagines? Can she not see that any benefit of a different method will be regulated out of existence if states decide that homeschooling must look like a clone of public school? And in what world is homeschooling unregulated, anyway? I doubt anyone from Pennsylvania or New York will agree with her characterization. Even in states that do not specifically regulate homeschooling, all parents are subject to educational neglect laws. The freedom to:

teach nothing but the Bible, and nothing but a
literal interpretation of that, and secular anti-schooling
parents can allow their children to skateboard, dance,
or play video games to their hearts’ content, free of
any dull training in reading and arithmetic

that this author posits as the terrifying and abusive reality of homeschooled families, is just absurd, although it should of course be noted that plenty of children do learn to read and do arithmetic without compulsory resort to her self described “dull training” and the drill and kill methodologies employed by public schools.

Just like the idiotic attack on home education presently being mounted in the UK by a government functionary who likens homeschooling parents to those suffering from Munchausen’s by Proxy, our author here holds up the bugaboo of abuse as a justification for involving the state in people’s home lives prophylactically, absent any cause to suspect abuse:

First, children who are homeschooled with no state
regulation are at greater risk for unreported and unnoticed
physical abuse, when they are completely isolated
in homes

Are there really homeschooled children out there who are “completely isolated in homes?” If there are, that says more about the mental health situation in the particular family than their choice to homeschool.

If you look at statistics for abuse, poverty is one of the leading correlations to physical abuse. But you don’t see the Nanny State advocates declaiming that poor families must be subject to additional state scrutiny because of the specter of abuse. The hypothetical abuser argument gets reserved for the homeschoolers, because of the misguided perception that the kids are chained to the kitchen table doing workbooks (or else left to skateboard, obsessively game and generally run wild. Which is it, anyway? I’m confused.) We already have child abuse laws, and they are not used as prior restraints because some hypothetical harm is imagineable in any other situation. To claim homeschooling per se is an indicator of abuse is offensive and unsupportable by any credible evidence. If child welfare authorities are required to have probable cause to suspect abuse in order to intervene in any other context, why are homeschoolers not entitled to the same constitutional protections as every other citizen? Since when does educational choice equate with criminality of loss of liberty?

But wait! The author isn’t satisfied with government control of our children’s minds: It must also control their bodies, because the evil homeschoolers don’t vaccinate!

Second, there’s a public health risk. Children who
attend public schools are required to have immunizations.
Without the immunizations they will not be
allowed to begin classes. In only a few states have legislatures
written their homeschool statutes in such a
way as to require that homeschooled children be
immunized, and that the immunization be verified in
some way. Thus, deregulated homeschooling means
that homeschooled children are basically exempted
from immunization requirements. They are more susceptible
to the diseases against which immunization
provides some protection.

Yes, and they are also not confined to huge institutional germ factories day in and day out, hence their exposure and need for protection is actually lower than that of kids warehoused in schools. Not to mention, even school kids may go unvaccinated in states that allow philosophical, religious and medical exemptions to vaccination requirements. This straw man fails.

Third, public and private schools provide for many
children, I suspect, although I have yet to see studies of
this, a safe haven in which they are both regarded and
respected independently and individually. Family love
is intense, and we need it to survive and thrive. It is
also deeply contingent on the existence and nature of
the family ties. Children are loved in a family because
they are the children of the parents in the family. The
“unconditional love” they receive is anything but
unconditional: it is conditioned on the fact that they are
their parents’ children. School—either public or private—
ideally provides a welcome respite. A child is
regarded and respected at school not because she is her
parent’s child, but because she is a student: she is valued
for traits and for a status, in other words, that are
independent of her status as the parent’s genetic or
adoptive offspring. The ideal teacher cares about the
child as an individual, a learner, an actively curious
person—she doesn’t care about the child because the
child is hers. The child is regarded with respect equally
to all the children in the class. In these ways, the school
classroom, ideally, and the relations within it, is a
model of some core aspects of citizenship.

So conditional love (assuming that is what the student receives, rather than being patronized and forced to conform) of a governmental authority figure is superior to the unconditional (oh, sorry, genetically motivated) love of a parent? The same teachers that she describes above as “cashstrapped, under-motivated, inadequately supported, and overwhelmed public school teachers with too many students in their classrooms” are a greater boon to a child’s self esteem than a loving and involved parent? This is nonsensical, and it fallaciously assumes that homeschooled children have no access to interaction with supportive adults who value them, other than the parents who presumably keep them imprisoned at home. This woman has no concept of what homeschooling actually looks like, or how involved homeschooled children are in their communities. Or does she? Because with the next stroke of her pen, she condemns homeschoolers for their noxious political engagement. (How they manage all that while never leaving the house and while lacking the benefits of some school created safe harbor for growing self esteem makes you wonder, doesn’t it?)

Fourth, there are political harms. Fundamentalist
Protestant adults who were homeschooled over the last
thirty years are not politically disengaged, far from it.

And because she dislikes the politics of one segment of an extremely non-homogenous sector of society, it is appropriate to restrict the freedoms of us all? If the political flavors were reversed, that would smell like McCarthyism, wouldn’t it?

The remaining three sorts of harms—ethical, educational,
and economic—are much discussed in critical
literature both on homeschooling and on child-raising
in devout households, and I won’t belabor them here
other than to note them Child-raising that is relentlessly
authoritarian risks instilling what developmental
psychologists call “ethical servility”: a failure to
mature morally beyond the recognition of duties of

We nonconformist, authority questioning, educational do-it-yourselfers are, in this woman’s mind, authoritarian bastions of conformity, I guess. Maybe this applies to some percentage of her bogeyman fundie homeschoolers, but to homeschoolers in general? Nonsense. Yes, those people whose kids are out there skateboarding and playing World of Warcraft all day are ethically stunting them with their rigid authoritarianism…

The educational harm is the most immediate, direct
risk of unregulated homeschooling. It is also the only
one in this litany of possible risks adamantly denied by
homeschooling advocates. There is indeed no credible
evidence that homeschoolers as a group do worse on
standardized tests, but contrary to their claims, there is
also no credible evidence that they do better. … Nevertheless, it is
clear from both anecdotal accounts, memoirs, and trial
transcripts that some homeschoolers are suffering educational
harm which would be avoided or minimized,
were they either in public school or were their homeschool
subjected to decent regulation.

And some public school children are shuffled through the system and graduate unable to read or do basic math. A woeful percentage drop out. Colleges are recruiting homeschoolers, because they are self directed learners, while at the same time, they are running remedial classes for far too large a percentage of their incoming public schooled students. There are always anecdotes to refute anecdotes, and the very existence of trial transcripts indicates that the child welfare system has in fact functioned in identifying children who are being educationally neglected. What would happen if the schools were subject to equivalent scrutiny? How many more kids are suffering worse fates under the state’s tutelage? And when will the Nanny Staters recognize the fundamental fallacy underlying their quest to render non-abusive individuals accountable to them? The state is accountable to its citizenry. Schools are responsible for demonstrating that they are performing, because they are creatures of the state, funded by tax dollars, and are responsible to the public. Families are not required to jump the same hoops because they are not publicly funded state institutions. And what is decent regulation anyway? With all the regulations imposed upon them, the public schools are still failing. Regulation is not a guarantee of quality, just a full employment act for bureaucrats.

Some children are less educated than they
would be, were homeschools either regulated or
banned. Also sacrificed is their exposure to diverse
ideas, cultures, and ways of being.

Some public schooled students are less educated than they would be if their parents were in a position to be able to homeschool. As for diversity, this assumes that the school that a homeschooled child would otherwise attend is more diverse than the opportunities he is exposed to out in the world at large while being homeschooled. That is far from a safe assumption.

Finally, the economic harms. The average homeschooling
family may have a higher income than the
average non-homeschooler, as was recently reported
by USA Today. The radically fundamentalist “movement”
family, however, is considerably poorer than
the population, and it is the participants in these
movements—the so-called “patriarchy movement”
and its “quiverfull” branch and related groups —
that are the hardcore of the homeschooling movement.

So, forget that you are talking about a small minority of homeschoolers, let’s tar everybody with the same brush, despite acknowledging the fallacy. There are plenty of families living in poverty who don’t homeschool. Is the government being invited into their business as well? Of course not. And the author falls back on homeschooling as the thing to regulate, because she knows that arguing that the government should regulate desperately poor quiverfull fundies because they are fundies is absolutely destined to fail. Rather than enforce existing child welfare laws insofar as people may actually be living with their children “on tarps in fields and parking lots”, let’s just sacrifice the rights and liberties of all homeschooling families because the author doesn’t like those rightwing fundies with the herds of children.

Nevertheless, the author concedes:

Even given these potential harms, there remain good
reasons to permit homeschooling, in plenty of circumstances.

She seems unable to accept that both the US Supreme Court and the states have all recognized the right of parents to educate their children, and would like to cast it as a privilege for which permission is required instead, but she is ignoring both history and legal reality to do so.

Parents, both religious and secular, often justifiably
wish to shield their children from public
schools. Public schools too often ill serve children
who are at risk of bullying, or who are hurt by the
overly sexualized culture of middle and high schools
in many parts of the country, or who have special
abilities or needs, or simply idiosyncratic learning
styles or habits. Many of these children can best or
even only be educated by those who know them best.
The children well served by homeschooling might
outnumber the children who are badly victimized by
the practice. The lessons given homeschooled children
by those who homeschool responsibly are also
often of very high quality. The gains to these children
may be such as simply to outweigh the lack of socialization,
diversity, training for citizenship and so on,
for those who do so badly. Because of the lack of
notice, testing, and review of homeschoolers, it’s hard
to know. But the evaluative question, for practical purposes,
at this point is largely moot. Homeschooling is
now such an entrenched practice, recriminalization is
not a viable option in any event.

It’s hard to know, says she. Who has the right to know, I ask. Homeschoolers are private citizens, not government agents. Under what twisted version of reality and law does she think private citizens are answerable to government in the absence of abuse or criminal behavior? It doesn’t work that way, despite all the Nanny Staters’ rhetorical prestidigitations.

However, even if we assume that the benefits of
homeschooling when done well are quite substantial,
and even if the harms of public school when done
poorly are equally so, nothing follows regarding the
wisdom of deregulating homeschooling.

Homeschooling hasn’t been deregulated. It has been codified and subjected to regulations in many states, and there is a colorable argument that all such regulation is unconstitutional. That’s for the courts to decide when presented with a test case… But the reality is, homeschooling has always been out there, and until fairly recently, was not regulated anywhere. In trying to reframe reality into a “deregulation” context, the author invokes the bugaboo of all recent failed deregulation schemes. But unlike the banking industry, homeschooling is not an area previously highly regulated and then set free to implode based on corporate greed. It is a historic right, a fundamental liberty, which people like the author would squeeze into a straight jacket so that it can be brought down to the least common denominator culture of our public education system. The very benefits she concedes in the paragraph below will be eliminated when homeschoolers are required to teach to the test and drill and kill in order to satisfy her vaunted bureaucracy. That is a bogeyman worth fighting.

Special needs kids, vulnerable or sensitive children,
parents of children who are for very good reason fearful of bullies,
children and parents who rightly or wrongly are
repelled by the sexual and misogynist propaganda that
proliferates in middle and high school culture, parents
of kids who are preternaturally curious and gifted kids
themselves, children of the over-educated and underemployed
suburban mothers who simply would prefer
to do this work themselves than delegate it to the
state, all of these children and parents would not be
hurt, and would likely be helped, by reasonable state
regulation. Annual standardized testing is not the bane
of all existence it is often made out to be, and it would
give rightly proud parents and children alike a
record—and evidence—of their accomplishments. It
would also make clear where they had slipped, and
where there is need for correction.

Homeschoolers, who are not overburdened with a chaotic roomfull of kids they hardly know, are perfectly capable of assessing their own children’s progress without the state’s stamp of approval, or a standardized test, the efficacy of which as an assessment tool is questioned even by the institutional educational establishment. Even the NEA states that such tests are not an effective measure of a student’s knowledge. See, e.g., Fact Sheet on NEA's views regarding multiple measures for educators. (“Standardized tests are imperfect measures that assess student's memorization skills, rather than the ability to think critically and demonstrate 21st century skills.”)

As the political philosopher and homeschool critic
Robert Reich has persuasively argued, curricular
review would give the state a way to ensure that the
academic content is such as to protect the children’s
interest in both acquiring the necessary skills for active,
autonomous, and responsible citizenship in adulthood,
and in being exposed to diverse and more liberal ways
of life.Mandatory testing would give the states, and the
parents, a way to ensure that the students are performing
at a level consistent with their own abilities, and
consistent with the abilities and performance of their
public and private schooled peers. It would give the
parents and the state a way to ensure that the children
who should be college bound are being prepared for
that path, or at least, it would ensure that the parents
are aware of their children’s capacity for college level

It sounds relatively benign, if misguided, until you get to this:

Periodic visits would open the door to college
and career counseling, of benefit to both the children
and their parents. They would give the state a window
into the quality of home life, and a way to monitor signs
of abuse as well as immunizations. The sanction for failure
to comply with minimal curriculum, content, visitation,
and testing requirements would simply be
enrollment in a certified private or public school. The
benefits of homeschooling are now protected through
legalization of the practice. Deregulation, however,
serves no one’s interests and harms many. Many of the
most serious harms could be prevented through its
responsible regulation.

Last time I checked, we still had a Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures in the privacy of our homes. The government is not making “periodic visits” to my house unless it makes a showing of probable cause, thank you very much! The government does not own me, or my child, and no homeschooler I know will ever consent to the abrogation of our parental and constitutional rights. We have become a nation of sheep, afraid of our neighbors, thinking that the government is going to save us from imagined evils, when the author and her Nanny State colleagues are setting us up for tyranny by a government with unfettered power to invade our families, our privacy, and trample our freedoms. While the assumptions, skewed interpretation of history, questionable legal analysis and stereotyping going on in this article are so absurd as to be amusing, the threat that such thinking presents to our liberty, not just as homeschoolers, but as Americans, is frightening.

Clothe an elitist and discriminatory agenda as an attack on those crazy nonconformist homeschoolers, imply that there is a thread of racism or sexism involved, invoke the specter of abuse, and the Constitution disappears? What offends me most is that this screed originates from a law school, where apparently its author learned to value her own fears, assumptions, elitism, and politics over the law. And that is a particularly scary commentary on institutional education, as far as I am concerned.

~Chele, retired lawyer, homeschooling mother, tilter at windmills, and, if Ms. West, the author of the above-referenced anti-homeschooling diatribe masquerading as a journal article, is to be believed, anti-feminist, over-educated, bored suburban housewife.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

More Dutch NY and the Silk Road for Good Measure

More Quadricentennial: We toured the Bard Graduate Center's Dutch New York: Between East and West, the World of Margrieta van Varick exhibit with our homeschool group. It was wonderful, and I wish I could show you photos, but alas, the objects were on loan from other collections and no photography was permitted. Mikro enjoyed it very much.

Of course, he also enjoyed playing in Central Park with a bunch of the kids. Afterwards, when we were all frozen popsicles, Mikro and I walked to 81st Street and visited the AMNH again! We saw the Hall of Reptiles, and then took in the new exhibit, Traveling the Silk Road, which was fascinating. Mikro especially enjoyed the live silkworms and the description of silk making. He also loved the video of stories from the Silk Road, and the lifesize camel models. He was fading a bit by the last section of the exhibit (Baghdad). If we get a chance, I'd like to go back. Again, no photos allowed, unfortunately.