What the Kids Are Reading

I’m planning a series of posts telling how each of my four children learned to read. Obviously, I don’t have time to tackle that project until after Christmas, but here’s a little teaser in the form of what they’re reading right now.

Nova (16)

The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
… yes, at the ripe old age of sixteen, Nova finally knows where her towel is.

Lock (14)

Ender’s Game series
: Lock started this series somewhat reluctantly, at my urging. Of course he was instantly hooked, as I knew he would be! He has read the first two books, Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, and is now in the middle of Xenocide. I myself have read (and reread) the four books of the original series, but there are quite a few other books in the Ender universe and he says he wants to read them as well, so I’ve been finding cheap copies of them for him.

Kyro (10)

Harry Potter
: Kyro, who skipped all the “little kid” books so determinedly I thought he was going to be one of those people who just doesn’t have a taste for fiction, dived right in when he discovered long, involved series with intricate plots and thick volumes.

Mink (8)

The Warriors Series
: I have my miracle and Minky, who absolutely hated to read, is now going gangbusters two grade levels above herself! Erin Hunter’s Warriors is four series with six titles in each series; she is currently reading the third book of the second series.

What I’m Reading

The Vegetarian Myth
is my choice right now (I’m also rereading Harry Potter myself) and it is a simply fascinating look at how modern agricultural practice is killing the planet (and us) by former vegan activist Lierre Keith.

Merry Christmas, Now Play Nice! (Or, Let’s Boycott the Boycotts)

No, I’m not speaking to my kids, actually. I’m speaking to both sides of the “culture wars” being fought in the U.S. right now. You know who you are.

The Religious Right is boycotting places like Home Depot for being friendly to gays or something like that. Tell me, American Family Association, who you are helping by this boycott? I thought the mandate to Christians was to spread good news and love, the love of Jesus. What good news are you spreading? Who is learning about love by your actions? Who ends up believing the gospel because of your boycott? Sure, that’s just what the gospel message needs: put a bunch of people out of work by shutting down their stores. No work? No worries, because at least Home Depot can’t be nice to gays any more! (Christians: go read What Would Jesus Boycott? if you need more convincing.)

On the other hand, we have the LGBT groups boycotting the Salvation Army for the reverse reason. The Salvation Army is one of the biggest charity organizations around. They help enormous numbers of people. They are have one of the lowest overhead cost of any charity, which means more of your dollar goes to actually help people (as opposed to going to advertising mailers and salaries), and they are extremely well rated at Charity Watch. But – sorry, homeless folks. No Christmas dinner for you, because we’re boycotting this charity.

We’ve already established that I’m not talking to kids, right? This is America and not everyone agrees on everything … and most of us think that’s a pretty good thing. If you personally don’t like the Salvation Army, or Home Depot, or the corner store, then don’t take your money there. But seriously, grow up and play nice and quit the boycotts. Quit trying to drive everyone out of business who doesn’t agree with you. Guess what, you’ll never have everyone agree with you! So quit the name-calling and the “you can’t just tolerate me, you must agree with me” crap.

Next time you’re asked to join a boycott, ask yourself: Who is being helped? Who is being hurt? Am I hurting real people just to make a political point? And, practically speaking: Is forcing my agenda onto people who don’t want it actually going to help or hurt my agenda in the end? Let’s boycott the boycotts, because I can tell you then end of this war if you want to hear it: No one wins.

Wordless Wednesday: Morning Has Broken

See the Wordless Wednesday hub for more wordless posts from other bloggers.

Take the Test!

Rick Roach took the test and started something. Roach, a four-time official on the Board of Education in Orange County, Florida, one of the largest school systems in America with 180,000 students, took the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test), Florida’s high-stakes standardized test for 10th grade math and reading. And he made the results public. I simply must quote Mr. Roach’s comments from the original article:

The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62%. In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.

It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate. I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities.

I have a wide circle of friends in various professions. Since taking the test, I’ve detailed its contents as best I can to many of them, particularly the math section, which does more than its share of shoving students in our system out of school and on to the street. Not a single one of them said that the math I described was necessary in their profession.

It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.

If I’d been required to take those two tests when I was a 10th grader, my life would almost certainly have been very different. I’d have been told I wasn’t ‘college material,’ would probably have believed it, and looked for work appropriate for the level of ability that the test said I had.

It makes no sense to me that a test with the potential for shaping a student’s entire future has so little apparent relevance to adult, real-world functioning. Who decided the kind of questions and their level of difficulty? Using what criteria? To whom did they have to defend their decisions? As subject-matter specialists, how qualified were they to make general judgments about the needs of this state’s children in a future they can’t possibly predict? Who set the pass-fail ‘cut score’? How?

I can’t escape the conclusion that decisions about the [state test] in particular and standardized tests in general are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.

There you have it. An elected school board official from one of the largest school systems in the U.S., stating that standardized tests lack relevance to the adult, working world, and are perpetuated by specialists who lack perspective and are not accountable. There is actually a growing movement within and without the school system to opt out of high-stakes testing as irrelevant to any real-world application. In Fighting the Tests Alfie Kohn points out: “Don’t let anyone tell you that standardized tests are not accurate measures. The truth of the matter is they offer a remarkably precise method for gauging the size of the houses near the school where the test was administered. Every empirical investigation of this question has found that socioeconomic status in all its particulars accounts for an overwhelming proportion of the variance in test scores when different schools, towns, or states are compared.”

What Mr. Roach started by taking the test and publishing his results is actually a grassroots Twitterstorm tagged #takethetest: people are now challenging their own politicians to take their local standardized tests and publicize the result. Joe Bower actually managed to get Alberta’s Minister of Education Thomas Lukaszuk to respond to his challenge on Twitter (see a screenshot of the conversation); whether he’ll take the test or not remains to be seen.

Will you challenge your local politician to take the test? I wonder if any will respond?

Alfie Kohn The Case Against Standardized Testing
The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools
by Alfie Kohn

Movie Monday: Born to Learn!

Birds fly. Fish swim. People learn.
~ John Holt

It turns out that the above quote is turning out to be more true than we thought! You’ve heard that babies are born already recognizing their mother’s voices, sometimes their father’s, and things like a passage from a book that mother read over and over. Well watch this amazing video from TED to see what else babies learn while in the womb!

TED, a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading started out as a conference for people from three worlds (Technology, Entertainment, Design) but its scope has become ever broader since then. I love the TED Talks!

“He’s Bullied, But He’s Still Got to Go to School!” … Doesn’t He?

Jonah Mowry posted this video of himself about his fear and despair at the thought of starting 8th grade, because of the severe bullying he has experienced since 1st grade … and he started cutting himself in 2nd grade. At some point – at several points – during the ensuing seven years, he has contemplated suicide.

Jonah was fortunate to get a positive response to his video, and the kids at his school responded by befriending rather than more bullying. I am exceedingly happy for him that he’s got some friends now, that he garnered good feedback and his bullies realized what they were doing.


But I find myself in a real morass of anger and confusion because of this video, because this can happen to a child in our society. Here is a child who began cutting himself when he was just seven or eight years old. Cutting! This is incredible to me, and I can’t help wondering: when he came home crying, and beat up from bullies, and bloody from his own hand …

Why did his parents send him back to school?

I do not mean to imply that Jonah’s parents didn’t care or weren’t aware of what was happening to their son. I will work from the assumption that they knew and that they were trying their hardest to find the best help available for him both at the school and outside the school. But knowing that this is not a one-time scenario, that this is happening every day to children all over this country, I have to wonder how it is that so many of us have bought into the idea that keeping these bullied children in school is the most important factor to consider in this equation?

How has the institutional school system so brainwashed us all that we have reached a point where it is more important for a child to learn to add and subtract than it is to protect him from this sort of animalistic behavior? How can we – we parents, we teachers, we school bureaucrats – think that it is okay for him to despise himself, his life, and his peers, as long as he can diagram a sentence properly?

I’m filing this in the “Stupid School Tricks” category because this does not happen anywhere except in school (and if the school does nothing to promote it, it certainly does very little of real impact to stop it). If this were happening to your child anywhere else – anywhere else: church, the YMCA, the park – you would stop it. You would talk to the Sunday School teacher or church board or just change churches. You would go to the Y at a different time, or find another place to work out. You would stay inside, or go to the park only when the bullies were in school. You would find options.

You would protect your child.

And yet, when a child is bullied to the point of self-mutilation and thoughts of suicide, rarely is the first thought of pulling him out of school. Nor the second, third, or fifty-second thought. It’s just not on the table. Parents, I know you are trying to help and protect your child, but you are thinking inside of a square whose lines have been drawn for you by people with a vested interest in keeping your child in school.

I admit I do wish that more parents would simply realize that removing school from the equation is a viable option, but I realize that they will not. They can’t think outside of that square because they don’t even realize the square is there, hemming them in. So what outrages me is not so much the parents as it is the system that drew us into the square and has us all brainwashed into thinking that no matter how bad it is inside the square for your kid, leaving the square – leaving school – is worse.

Just think: a whole bureaucratic system with a vested interest in keeping your child in school, no matter how bad it is for him there. How bad must it be when a bullied population has as its slogan “It Gets Better”? That is an awful sentiment! “Stick it out, kid, because someday you won’t be bullied any more.” How about not being bullied now, in the formative and most tender years? How about protecting our kids?

So, if you are the parent of a bullied child, please let me reassure you: pulling your kid out of school is not the worst thing in the world. Watching him go through seven (or more) years of hell on earth; watching the professionals paid to educate and guide him through his childhood sit back and say, “Hey, don’t worry, it gets better after you’re gone from here”; watching him lose his sense of himself as a person of worth; perhaps walking in one morning to find he has taken the next step and eliminated himself from the equation …

Please don’t watch your kid be bullied and think there’s nothing you can do because the system tells you “he’s got to go to school.”

NO, he doesn’t. Pulling him out of school and teaching him nothing would be a step in the right direction, would help him turn out to be a better person than letting him live through this sort of agony day in and day out and realizing that, to his parents and teachers, his mental state is of less importance than the fact that he must be educated so he can “make something of himself” at some hazy future date. How about helping him make something of himself right now, instead? How about helping him make himself into a whole person?

There are options. There are always options. One counselor might say, “Stick it out, it gets better.” Another counselor might say, “This other school is better, try it out.” But if your child is at this point, I have to say I think finding another counselor or switching schools is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Parents of bullied children: I know you want to help. I know are trying to help. But moving his chair to the sunny side of the deck doesn’t change the fact that his ship is going down. Be brave for your child. Be brave with your child. Try something different. Bring him home. Bring him to the safest place on earth for him, and let him heal.

Severe bullying is an excellent reason to try homeschooling. Think of it this way: even the schools are saying, “it gets better once they’re out of school.” Listen to them and take those words to heart. Get your child out of school now. Homeschooling is not the only option, but it is a good option to take into consideration.

I know single parents who make homeschooling work. I know two-working-parent families who make homeschooling work, or who find a way for one parent to quit and be home with the kids. I know homeschooling families who use grandparents or neighbors or friends from church who can be with the child during the day if he’s too young to stay alone. I know homeschool parents who need a little extra income and will sit for and teach the child of working parents, taking him to homeschool group meetings where he can make friends who won’t bully him.

No, homeschooled kids aren’t perfect, and of course there is some teasing, but that level of bullying just doesn’t happen in homeschool circles. It can’t. No homeschool parent would stand for it. The homeschooling parent already pulled her kid out of school; she isn’t going to hesitate to pull him out of a bad situation with a homeschool group.

And you shouldn’t hesitate to step outside the lines drawn and enforced by the institutional system, and pull your child out of a bad situation at school. It won’t be the worst thing in the world. Instead, it might be the best thing you ever do.

P.S. to the parents of the bullies: I’m talking to you too. Do you want to stop your child’s bullying behavior? Take him out of the situation that gives him that power, or that environment that makes him feel he needs to assert power over other children. Let him start living a real life without fear, which is often what prompts that types of behavior. Let him be safe too.

Jonah Mowry: A Typical Teenager
Does Homeschooling Prepare Students for the Real World?
Rebecca Black (YouTube Viral Video “Friday” Singer) Bullied into Homeschooling
Bullying: A Reason to Homeschool – series of posts looking at short-term homeschooling

Making the Choice: When Typical School Doesn’t Fit Your Atypical Child
by Corin Barsily Goodwin and Mika Gustavson: A look at the perceived barriers to homeschooling for children who don’t “fit” traditional schools, and how to find educational options that fully address your child’s academic and emotional needs.

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