Why Do We Have Schools?

Why Do We Have Schools?

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Have your kids ever asked, “But why do I have to go to school?”

This is in essence the same question that Seth Godin poses to us as adults in Stop Stealing Dreams. Godin is an avid believer that the modern education system was built to create products of the industrial age – compliant, productive, and processed members of society. He discusses how our children are trained to be consumers and are suffering from two natural inclinations:

If it is work our kids try to do less.

If it is art our kids try to find a way to do less.

By art Godin does not necessarily mean paintings and sculptures, but creatively using the brain – inventing.

So Godin asks us: What is school for?

As technology weaves its way into our classrooms, we are at an unprecedented crossroads in modern education. How will we use these new tools at our disposal? And what will education look like if we decide that the answer to Godin’s question isn’t about compliance or consumerism? I wholeheartedly agree with Godin that the rows of desks and formulated check-lists for treating children the same is not how we lead with innovation and it isn’t how we allow our children to become their own true selves.

8 Steps for Better Education

Godin lays out 8 major steps he believes need to be taken in order to turn education into more of an opportunity for kids to thrive on their own ideas and less of an environment where they learn to comply and fit in to predetermined groups.

  1. Do homework during the day and listen to lectures at night. This new trend is actually being used at schools across the country (although at a minimum). Our foreign exchange student’s chemistry class is arranged this way, and his teacher said that this is an attempt to allow for more freedom during class time for kids to explore ideas instead of sit passively. Lectures with graphics are made available online by the teachers and assigned for the students to watch before class. Class time is then a period to ask questions and do experiments.

    The obvious drawback is that not every child has access to internet capabilities at home, therefore putting uneven pressure on them to find other sources. Another hurdle for teachers using this approach is that some students will simply not watch the videos if there is no tangible grade that can be earned directly from watching them.

  2. Everything should be open book and open note because there is zero value in memorizing. While I can agree with the sentiment, this is not a practical blanket statement. When we send our kids out into the world there are certain things they need to have memorized – phone numbers, how to spell their names, etc. When we work, even at jobs we love, there are certain aspects that require memorization. I think that Godin would have made a stronger argument had he specified that technology is providing short-cuts so we need to make better decisions about what our kids really need to memorize, and what information is available at their fingertips.
  3. Students should have access to any course, any time. Godin’s argument is that we should get rid of prerequisites and the formalized order that by which we insist children learn. We need to allow them the freedom to learn about topics as they are interested and motivated to do so. Technology allows access to courses and experts that we have never had before.
  4. Provide precise, focused education and do away with mass education. This is one of my favorite points from Godin. Our kids aren’t all the same, so it does not make sense that we insist that they all learn in the same ways, at the same pace.
  5. Get rid of multiple choice exams. Godin firmly believes that these were only created because they were easy to grade.
  6. Measure experience instead of test scores. Here is another favorite of mine, but how do we transform the expectations of employers who have also been trained to look for test scores? I am starting small in my own home, providing as many experiences as possible so that at least my children will know what excites and interests them. Other education systems in the world value real world experience much more than the American system appears to do – it would be a valuable step to pursue systems where apprenticeships could be seen with higher value.
  7. End compliance as an outcome. Again, this is a wonderful talking point, but only something that can realistically be achieved when the other points are addressed. If Godin’s goals are reached, then this one is a side-effect.
  8. Put a priority on cooperation vs. isolation. Rarely in our adult lives, in the real world, are we isolated from the ideas and energies of others. Even I, as a writer (likely to be envisioned as a solo job) collaborate and cooperate with clients every day. Cooperative learning projects in schools can help teach the communication and cooperation skills necessary to succeed in relationships, education, and future careers.

Godin ends his presentation with three poignant tips:

  • Transform teachers into coaches.
  • Create lifelong learning goals (finish in-class working and have job experiences earlier in life).
  • Do away with “famous colleges” that charge money at astronomical levels for educations that are not inanately more able to land kids dream jobs.

So I’ll end this writing the same way Godin ended his presentation – go invent something. Challenge children to invent something. Figure it out. Get the wheels turning. Learn by doing. Imagine the possibilities of where we will go when we give our children the freedom to really learn.

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Put on Your Homeschool Hard Hat

Working through the Criticisms and Questions

The toughest job I’ll ever love – homeschooling. Not for the faint of heart. Not a decision to make lightly. And apparently, a decision that more and more families are making in the United States. I recently read an article with a statistic that shocked me about homeschooling – and I am a homeschooler – so not much surprises me.

The number of children who are in primary grade levels whose parents decide to homeschool them is growing 7 times faster than the rate of parents who are enrolling their children in public schools.

No wonder homeschooling has growing in popularity among families who choose this educational path by 75% in just the last 12 years. Suddenly homeschoolers don’t have to feel quite so alone.

Homeschooling is one of those things I never thought I would do. Then I had children and I realized that my vision of their lives far-surpassed what I wanted them to experience behind the walls of the same school building for 12 years. Plus – I was having way too much fun watching them thrive and seeing them grow at their own paces. I wasn’t ready to push their own interests aside when I received those sign-up sheets in the mail for preschool readiness. The interests and abilities of my kids don’t fit neatly inside 4 walls – maybe it was my claustrophobia – but I felt like I would be holding them in confinement instead of teaching them to go as far as they could.

Homeschooling is Hard

As wonderful as it is, homeschooling is hard. There have been days when the educational and life successes of my children has weighed so heavily on my mind and I wonder if I somehow forgot to teach someone to count by threes or how to identify prepositional phrases. These self-doubts weigh heavily enough. Then as homeschoolers we some days feel the added crush – from the in-laws, the neighbors, the clerk at the grocery store who wonders why you’re there with a full minivan at 9:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. That crush can sometimes make those challenging days of self-doubt squish you more than a minivan full of your own kids – plus their friends – all piled in for “park day”.

I used to memorize statistics of the benefits of homeschooling, armed and ready to tackle the critics and the questioners. Then I realized that in a way my family was a curiosity more than something people were criticizing. Sure – there are still those critics who feel perfectly justified telling me of the multiple ways my children (who are all thriving) will undoubtedly be ruined by homeschooling. But for the most part, people are curious and sometimes it just comes out awkwardly and uncomfortably for all of us. Which is why over the years I have tried to move from defense – relaying all of the positives about homeschooling, to humorous offense – having fun with my life and being proud of our decision to homeschool.

Top Questions Homeschoolers Hear Every Day

(and how to answer them graciously with a side of humor)

Are all of these kids yours?

My stretch-marks would confirm for you that, yes, these children are all mine. However, I don’t want to invade your personal space and comfort zones by showing you my mother-tattooed mid-section, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. My favorite one is the kid who brings me fresh coffee every morning (FYI – none of my kids bring me coffee in the morning so ergo I don’t have a favorite).

How can you stand spending so much time with your kids?

Before I know it there won’t be any choice and they’ll be off living their own dreams. Although, some days going to the bathroom without interruption would be ranked as a significant accomplishment. When I am older and greyer I will probably spend sad moments in the bathroom when no-one comes knocking, needing to know at precisely the moment I sit upon the porcelain throne what we are having for lunch, where he put his math book, and how many pieces of gum I guess he just fit into his mouth.

(This is the one question that actually bothers my children the most. They always remark about how sad it is to hear parents speaking of the relief they feel when fall rolls around and it is time to send the kids back to school.)

Do you work at a real job, too?

There is nothing more real than raising the next generation. I just don’t get paid to do it in cash or check – just love and fulfillment.


According to my coffee mug I am a domestic engineer.

How long do you plan to do that?

Make plans and God laughs. We “plan” to do this until it doesn’t work. Right now it works. It has worked for more than 12 years. I’m less worried about how long I plan to do this than I am with how can I make this continue to work for our family as long as possible?

No school today?

Oh my gosh – we forgot!!! (smile)


We homeschool – every day is a school day. Poor kids don’t even get snow days or time off for parent/teacher conferences – that’s just me talking to myself – again.

Are you worried that your kids won’t be socialized?

If you mean socialization by spending 8 or more hours a day with loud and sometimes obnoxious teenagers who text and drive, speak rudely to adults, and worry more about what their 549 friends on Facebook think of them than what they think of themselves, then, hmmmm. Nope.

Full disclosure – I know that there are wonderful kids who attend public schools. Some of the best friends of my kids (gasp – my kids have friends!) get on the school bus every morning. I just don’t think that my kids would thrive most on the socialization that occurs when kids are in age-segregated groups in a socioeconomically flat environment where the classmates are from similar neighborhoods. Although some days I do dream of a day when I could seclude my kids away from the rest of the world like those fake visions of homeschoolers so that I wouldn’t have to get out of my lounge pants and remember which activity needed the snacks and which community education class needed the samples of pond scum – you do not want to be the mom who messes up those two things. Socialization – check.

If you homeschool – how do you handle all of those questions from curious people?

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Tools for Better Writing

Tools for Better Writing

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Teaching Writing Skills to Kids

There are some frightening statistics about the abilities of students when it comes to writing. Even though writing is one of my passions, I know that it is not for everyone. However, it is also a needed skill in life – one that our kids can learn.

  • 80% of high school seniors in the United States are not considered to be proficient writers.
  • 20% of high school seniors in the United States are not considered to be basic writers.
  • Girls tend to outscore boys on assessments of writing skills.
  • It is estimated that American firms spend more than $3 billion each year as a result of writing deficiencies among employees.

So – with all of the research pointing to the fact that too many children, especially boys, are not acquiring sufficient writing skills, what can we do about it?

How Can We Help Our Kids Write Well?

We have to start earlier. We can’t wait until they are seniors in high school and then realize that they are not prepared for college courses or the expectations of their employers. As the mother of 4 children, 3 of them boys, I have seen firsthand how it can be more challenging to teach writing skills to some children. Writing is not a naturally occurring milestone – it needs to be woven into the activities in which children participate and it needs to become less of a chore and more of an extension of communication. Our children need to learn that writing (and not just LOL, IDK, or BRB) allows them to express themselves, helps them reach their goals, and is a tool they will need in their future.

Part of the challenge of teaching writing to children is that writing, unlike reading, can seem infinite. There are as many ways to write a paragraph about a monkey as there are words in your child’s vocabulary. This can overwhelm children and shut them down to the writing process before they ever even get started.

Printable Activities for Writing

Give tangible goals to your kids for writing. I use these tickets as a way to remind my children on what areas they need to focus. Each ticket has a short, limited amount of goals, appropriate to where they are with their writing skills.

Don’t ask for it all in one. If you’re a homeschool parent like me, you can do this more easily. If your student attends public or private school, consider talking with his or her teacher about the writing strategies used in class. Find out what methods are utilized, and gently suggest some of these ideas.

  • Limit writing to writing – especially for struggling writers. When you start to add grades for penmanship, spelling, and an accompanying picture to the mix it just gets to be too much.
  • Brainstorm with your child. Show him how to write down words that he associates with the topic. These words can then be “jumping off” points for sentences, and they help kids focus their ideas.
  • Try to help your kids create visual maps of their writing. For boys especially the writing process is not concrete enough to let them feel secure. When my boys were younger I used imagery like these worksheets to help them Build Great Paragraphs.

How do you help your kids learn to write?

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Easy Halloween Party Printables

Easy Halloween Party Printables

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Fun and Free Halloween Fun – Printables and Games

Goblins, ghouls, and sticky candy – what can be better than a Halloween party for the kids? Every years we like to welcome the day with bobbing for apples and a few games to kick off our trick-or-treating adventures. If you’re planning a Halloween party, or you just want to have some extra fun with your kids this year, try some of these spooktacular Halloween party recipes, game ideas and printable pages.

Games and Printable Activities

Start by printing these Pumpkin Points – instead of handing out individual prizes for games played, your kids can earn Pumpkin Points to go towards “purchasing” their prize at the end. I like to have non-candy prizes, such as headlamps or glow-sticks for them to wear trick-or-treating, Halloween tattoos or stickers, mini-flashlights, or fun Halloween books.

Let the Games Begin!

Halloween Word Bingo

This version of Bingo is great for early readers (but anyone can play). Take a look at the instruction sheet for how to use this at your Halloween party, then print cards for each player.

Pumpkin in the Dark

Print one template for every player. Take turns blindfolding one child at a time (it is fun for the others to watch each turn) and place the pumpkin template in front of the child and hand him or her a crayon or marker. Have the player design the jack-o-lantern face blindfolded – and then you can use these creative pictures for placemats.

Who Am I?

This game is great for all ages. You can print these easy Halloween themed words or come up with your own for older kids and adults. Each player should have one name card taped to his or her back (but they shouldn’t see which one they get). Then set the timer for 2-5 minutes and let everyone go around asking Yes/No questions. At the end, see if anyone could figure out who their Halloween character is.

Happy Halloween Word Creation

Print either one page for each player, or split the group into teams and have one page for each team. The goal is to come up with as many new words with the letters in Happy Halloween – you can give bonus points for Halloween related words. Set the timer for 3 minutes or so – depending on the age of your group.


Dim the lights for a spooky effect and don’t forget to try these fun and easy recipes for your little goblins.


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When Baby Wearing Doesn’t Work

Whether you’re on a dedicated attachment parenting plan, you have fears about morphing into Velcro with your baby, or are somewhere in between, there are great ways to build and maintain nurturing relationships with your baby through traditional attachment parenting methods. However, what happens when your baby doesn’t seem to prefer those methods like all of the other tots happily dreaming in the slings on their mother’s chest?

Real attachment parenting comes from recognizing the cues your baby gives about what he needs from you and finding ways to meet those needs. For many parents this includes things like baby wearing, but don’t get caught up in the hype if it isn’t working for you or your baby – sometimes the best way to implement attachment parenting is to let your baby have some space.

My Baby Doesn’t Want to Be an Accessory – When Baby Wearing Doesn’t Work

You bend over, barely getting the wrap secured over your baby (who you are balancing with the skills of a maternal ninja), and he lets out a scream that almost shatters your eardrum. Just when you thought you were going to get him wrapped on your back for a nap while you did the dishes and dusted the quarter inch of grime, he reminded you once again:

He doesn’t want to be wrapped and worn like an accessory on your back.

But all of those other baby-wearing moms are making it look so easy! You beg and plead with your 23 pounds of pure baby delight. But in the end you carry him in your arms for a bit, then let him explore at your feet where he seems most pleased with himself. You can’t move as freely, but he is happy.

Three out of my four children loved to hang out right next to me – they were more than content and happy to sleep against my chest or back, explore the world from the birds-eye-view they had atop their perch on me, or just be that much closer to my face (easier to blow kisses and whisper baby secrets this way). But then there was that one who detested being worn. It wasn’t that he didn’t seem to thrive on close attachment parenting – he just wanted his room to roam and wiggle.

This, however, isn’t always the easiest situation in which to just get some things done around the house or move through the grocery store. Sometimes attachment parenting works so well because it actually gives us freedom. If your baby doesn’t seem to enjoy baby wearing, you might be asking yourself: How am I ever going to get anything done around here?

Get Him Some Wheels

Get an umbrella stroller for the house. Your bundle of joy might want to be with you all of the time, but not want to be held. Umbrella strollers are inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to maneuver. Take him for a ride back and forth as you sweep, vacuum, or just move from room to room.

As soon as he’s able to safely use one, find a walker with which he can use to maneuver himself around the house. My son just loved the freedom of cruisin’ at his own speed.

Most Babies Thrive on Rhythm – So Go Find Yours

The back and forth boogie. My son loved to sit on the floor while I did housework, but hated if he felt I was getting too far away (anything more than 8 inches some days). This is where I used the back and forth boogie, moving 2 steps back to complete a task, but then hopping forward 1 step with a huge smile on my face – he thought it was a game, but it actually let me get a few things done around the house.

Use music. One of the things that attachment parenting provides babies and toddlers is close proximity to your natural rhythm – your heartbeats can actually begin to beat in harmony when snuggled close. My son who preferred attachment parenting with wiggle room loved to listen to music with a good rhythm – it calmed him just like baby wearing comforted my other children.

Baby Wearing Basics

Sometimes there are just times when baby wearing is needed – we have to get something done during the day!

  • Use baby wearing sparingly for those resistant kids – you want to keep close bonds as positive experiences.
  • Have an experienced adult help you learn how to wrap quickly and safely – sometimes it is the slow process that frustrates little ones who always want to keep moving.
  • Try front facing wearing so your little one can see the world more easily and his legs and arms feel freer.

Don’t get caught up in the hype of baby wearing and think that you can only successfully practice attachment parenting if you wear your infant 23 hours of the day. Use baby wearing if it works for you and your babe – or find other ways to form close bonds and still move about your day. Just please don’t resort to the leashes! That kind of attachment our kids can do without!

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Changes in High Schools = Reduced College Debt

We need to do something different. Our children are leaving high school, feeling no choice but to attend college, and then many are failing to even be able to find a job to pay for the mounting student loans. Reports today illustrate just how dire the situation is for teenage children in America.

  • The average amount owed by college graduates is now $26,600 (a 5% increase from the previous year).
  • Only just over 10 percentage points of unemployment exists between college graduates (8.8%) and high school graduates (19.1%).
  • The latest figures show that the national student loan debt is more than $1 trillion dollars. That is 1 with 12 zeros.
  • Some figures place the number as high as 53% for those college graduates who are unable to secure a job that actually utilizes their degrees.

As a parent I have to ask myself: Is college good for my kids? As a homeschool family I already have seen the benefits of non-traditional education paths. I also have children who are attending college and planning to attend college. But I am also a college graduate and I don’t know that I would be able to do all of the work that I do without my degree – not necessarily because of what I was taught, but because my degree opened doors. The American education system doesn’t stop at high school. The entire plan is built on the idea that college is a necessary extension (at a high cost) of public high schools. It then begs the question: What can our high schools do differently to prepare our kids for careers?

We Must Change High School

In order to alleviate our crushing college debts, we need to find a better way to prepare our children for careers without forcing them to study for degrees they don’t know if they will use, and will most often be in extraordinary debt for as a result. I have had the absolute pleasure of hosting a foreign exchange student in our home this year – and learning more and more every day how ineffective the traditional high school system is in America, especially when it comes to training for life and careers skills. Instead of focusing on the details of typical American high school classes and paths, consider, instead, the educational system of Germany.

  • Students pursue different tracks in high school, depending upon their abilities.
  • The typical high school graduation age is 16 for the mid-level high school track.
  • Once students graduate from this mid-level (typical) school, they are encouraged to explore their options. This might mean studying abroad, getting experience in a trade, or going on to the next level of what would be the American equivalent of junior and senior years of high school.
  • Here is one of the key differences: Those last two years of “high school” – known as gymnasium – can be specialized and provide students with marketable skills, and it is all done without exorbitant tuition. For example, a student in gymnasium (junior year of high school) would select a school that specialized in a certain area of interest (business, education, etc.). During that year 3 out of 5 days of school would actually be spent in on the job training (equivalent to our college internships – some are paid and some are not paid positions). The other 2 days would be spent in the classroom. The last year of school would be on more intensive studying that pertained to that particular field of interest.

Drawback – students need to know a bit earlier what direction interests them

Positive – students don’t go into debt exploring their options and have real world experience that can help them explore career options

College is not the given – it is more the exception in Germany. Students who graduate from gymnasium and don’t want to go onto college often go on to a three year term of apprenticeship where they gain the skills they need to have for their career. College is still available and utilized by people who want to pursue specialized positions – such as doctors, teachers, and some specific business options. If students go on to college, the typical tuition averages between the equivalent of $1000 to $5000 each year.

While the college system in Germany is obviously different, both in types of degrees pursued and in much lower costs, what strikes me as the most important piece of the puzzle of high school. In Germany high school has directed, focused classes that do the work of some technical colleges, and do it without saddling children with debt. It in some ways seems to mirror the American trend of PSEO (Post-Secondary-Enrollment-Options), where high school students can attend college classes during their junior or senior years, at no cost.

Where Do We Go From Here?

If you ask the question: Are you satisfied with the American education system and the possibilities that college brings? – chances are that the majority of answers would not be affirmative. Perhaps, instead, we should be asking ourselves and each other:

How can we change American high schools so that they can provide trade and professional skills to students?

How can we incorporate job shadowing, internships, and apprenticeships at the high school level?

How can we encourage business owners to look beyond the degree and focus on the skill sets that are offered?

How can we encourage businesses to offer more on the job training, by investing in students who invest in commitments to their companies?


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Helping Kids Set and Reach Goals

Last weekend provided one of those parenting moments for me that you need to tuck into your parenting suitcase to pull out when you need a boost. It has always been a parenting goal of mine to teach my children how to set goals that are important to them and then be able to achieve those goals. As my three sons all crossed finish lines in running races, I too felt that I was crossing my own mini finish line. And even though some days I wonder how they leave the house intact (race morning my son did forget his bib number and had to go back for it), watching them reach their running goals got me thinking: How do we teach our kids to set and reach goals?

Different Types of Goals

In order to help our children learn to set and reach goals, we need to know a bit more about this whole goal-making process. Researchers have identified different types of goals depending upon several different factors.

  • Absolute Goals – These are concrete, such as running one mile, reading 2 chapters, losing 10 lbs. etc.
  • Normative Goals – These goals depend upon the achievements of others, such as finishing the race in the top 100, reading the most chapters in class, or losing more weight than your partner.

Goals are also differentiated according to their time frames.

  • Proximal Goals – These goals are more immediate, such as running 1 mile today. These goals can be directly related to goals that are more long-term, and are part of the overall goal-reaching process. Children most often understand and achieve these types of goals more easily because they often have more difficulty delaying gratification. Therefore, children are usually more motivated to reach proximal goals than goals set further down the road.
  • Distant Goals – These goals often rely on achieving smaller proximal goals along the way as stepping stones to reaching a large goal in the future.

Goals can be even further classified according to the specific requirements and standards that are needed to meet the goals. Specific goals such as complete 20 math problems tonight are more motivating to kids than general goals such as put forth your best effort. When it comes to our kids it seems that there is a delicate balance between all of these factors and successful goal setting and reaching.

  • Specific goals are more motivating.
  • Difficult tasks are more likely to see more efforts exerted by kids unless the kids feel that the goal is so difficult that it is unobtainable.
  • Goals that depend on acquiring new knowledge, a skill set, or behavior are known as process goals. On the other hand, goals that relate to a task being completed are known as outcome goals. Often these two types of goals will work together – a process goal of learning new vocabulary words can help an outcome goal of reading something by Shakespeare.

What Can I Do to Help My Child Reach Goals?

Understanding the types of goals and the motivation and commitment needed to reach different types is important. We can help our kids learn to identify these types of goals and why they may or may not be beneficial in specific instances. Then, for parents, the next part is about helping our kids find the tools they need to reach their goals.

Whether it is running, learning a new skill, achieving an academic milestone, or just keeping a bedroom clean, goal setting and reaching is a tool that we can help our kids develop.

  • Teach kids that failure doesn’t mean the task is over. It simply means that there was likely something wrong with the process taken to reach the goal, or the goal wasn’t realistically set or clearly defined.
  • Encourage goals that are doable, as well as ones that you think are about as likely as not having any dirty laundry in the house. If our kids are only setting those really high goals, they can become frustrated and less likely to try setting goals in the future. But they do need permission and encouragement to think big!
  • Don’t take steps for your child. If these are truly his goals, he needs to be the one making the progress.
  • Help him monitor his progress. We kept a running training chart on the refrigerator for all the boys to see. Maybe you can create a behavior log or chart with your kids. Just make sure that your kids are the ones who are marking off the progress.
  • Encourage bite-sized goals. Running a 10K can’t be done well if you never run and then just one day decide to get up and do it. Help your child come up with smaller, proximal goals.
  • Praise the effort. Before and after each race for my boys we talked about how proud I was of their training, and I asked them how it felt to know that they had reached their goals – which was always an amazing emotion for all of them.

Building Goals

One son wanted to run a 10K race for the 3rd time and set his goal a year in advance, so it was definitely a distant goal. This goal, however, required many proximal goals – smaller goals in training, beginning months before the 10K with weekly training. It was also an absolute goal – he knew the time he wanted to have – 50 minutes would be an improvement from his previous two runs. (He came in at 47.01.)

My next son wanted to run his first 10K, and also set his distant goal the year before the race, and also with an absolute goal of 60 minutes or less. (He came in at 58.42.) However, we did provide him with a bit more support because he is younger and this was his first 10K.

Our youngest son decided he wanted to try his first 5K but he was unsure if he would be comfortable running it solo (and we agreed because of his age). So while the training and goal setting were his own, we provided the additional tools of having my husband also train and run with him, and spent more time discussing with him proper stretching, cool-down methods, etc. This son, however, also set a normative goal – run faster than Dad! (Those little legs sprinted to the finish and came in 0.1 second faster than Dad.)

As I stood with cow bells in hand (tradition for cheering them across the finish line), I was honestly overwhelmed with contentment and relief. They all surpassed their own goals, and they all had to do it on their own. Now they are planning goals for next year’s races – and trying to determine how to raise the bar for themselves. I just got one step closer to my own parenting goals, and I didn’t have to break a sweat.

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Should My Child Skip a Grade?

The Pros and Cons of Accelerated Learning

I remember sitting in the front of the class and working my own way through the math lessons. I was bored, felt insecure to be so different, and really just wanted to be normal because by 6th grade I had learned that normal meant that kids should be learning at a specified and pre-determined pace, all together.

While the modern American school system does now offer more higher placement level classes, where students aren’t always just sitting by themselves in the front of the room, there are many parents still looking for something more for their children. I recently read of one school district that is struggling to serve students who are bored, not challenged, and yet capable of more. Parents desperately want their children to have opportunities to learn at accelerated paces (without necessarily skipping a grade), but budgeting and lack of staff training are keeping kids in classrooms that don’t help them thrive. The American school system is heavily based on birthdates and grade levels – instead of abilities and interests.

Can you imagine the outcry that would happen if children who were struggling in schools were left without extra classes and assistance? Schools and communities appear to be much more concerned with bringing struggling kids up to average than they are with providing kids who are ready for more with deeper classes. Communities like the one featured in the report I referenced are drowning in the struggles to make sure that kids are passing their tests, instead of worrying about if their students are learning as much as they possibly can. The traditional classroom isn’t modeled to handle any more – with 30 students of varying abilities, teachers often have the goal of getting everyone to average. This means the focus becomes bringing up the score of those who aren’t doing well, instead of continuing to improve the scores of students who are already above that average mark.

Some parents are requesting that their children be allowed to skip grades in order to have classes that serve their needs. However, in the typical American school setting, grade skipping can open a whole new set of issues for parents, students, and teachers. And not all parents want their children to accelerate – some are redshirting their kids in order to set them up to be at the top of their class.

Benefits of Accelerated Learning

I have the joy of letting my children learn at the pace that suits them as a homeschool family. They are all different, and they all benefit from the ability to move forward when they are ready, or remain on a plateau as needed. I am honestly not sure where I would want my children placed if they were to attend a traditional American public school system. But I do know that accelerated learning, or skipping grades, can benefit children.

  • Students who are in the top percentage in their classes are often underserved and can be left suffering with extreme boredom in classes. Accelerated learning can alleviate this.
  • Students who are allowed to move ahead as their skills and abilities allow learn that they have the power and responsibility to take charge of their own education.

Drawbacks of Accelerated Learning

I never could have imagined the excitement one of my sons would have for all things sports related. And when you’re a child in America, sports are regulated by birthdates, grades, and gender. I’ve even had to bring copies of my son’s birth certificate to baseball tournaments. However, I also never imagined the implications of bumping him ahead a grade. Instead of competing with other similarily aged students on the junior varsity team, he competes with boys one and two years older. Fortunately for my son (and my paranoid mom-heart), he is tall and athletic for his age, giving him an edge when his actual birthdate doesn’t.  Accelerated learning, when done in the traditional school system, can have several drawbacks (including the focus of athletics).

  • Social Differences – If your child attends a traditional public school but has been bumped up a grade there can be several social implications. Milestone markers for students, such as when they get their driver’s license and when they go through puberty can make accelerated learners feel, once again, different from the rest of their peers.
  • Academic Differences – Not all students who are in accelerated learning classes or who have skipped a grade do well. There is more to academic progress than just understanding mathematics at a higher level. True academic success includes the ability to put ideas and concepts into context. That context is sometimes only possible with maturity and experience, and age does influence maturity (although it doesn’t control it).

If my children’s lives are all about sports or keeping up with children who celebrated birthdays within 6 months of each other, then I should let this determine their grade levels. However, that is not how I parent – holding my children at levels predetermined by decades of institutionalized learning. If we hold our school districts accountable for teaching children according to interests and abilities, instead of only by ages, we can help all kids excel for where they are in life, even if they aren’t yet ready to accelerate.

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Cheating vs. Cramming

What is the difference?

I cheated. Those were the words I heard a high school student say yesterday when he heard he did well on a history exam. My stomach dropped. Cheating just won’t get you very far. Even though I dreaded the answer, I asked, “How did you do it?”

And then the answer became crystal clear – he hadn’t cheated in the sense of copying answers or stealing the answer key. He described how he had studied on the bus and all through study hall right before the exam, memorizing the terms long enough to regurgitate them in less than an hour. He felt he cheated because he had cheated himself – he did not fully learn and comprehend the information. He only stored it in his short term memory where he could summon it in order to pass a test.

Cheating and cramming – are they really very different? The differences appear to be in whom they harm. Both harm the student who does it. However, cheating harms the other students in the class, especially when they are graded on a curve (it also harms the teacher who doesn’t get an accurate picture of the classroom learning). Cramming harms the student – he cheats himself from truly learning the information beyond regurgitation.

Strategies to Improve Learning

Sometimes there are just things that need to be memorized in order to be able to use the information later. The alphabet, counting numbers, spelling rules, orders of operation in mathematics, and the capitols of states – these things often require memorization strategies. However, if we really want our kids to understand information, to learn on a deeper level, and to stop cheating themselves, we need to offer them some creative learning strategies.

Use Mnemonic Devices

Help your kids find mnemonic devices that already exist, or better yet, have them develop their own. One example of one used to remember the order of operations in mathematics is:

  • Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally – translates into Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction
  • For a great list of other mnemonic devices, arranged by subject, check out this site.

Make it a Game

Turn any subject into a BINGO game. Make a grid on a word processing program and add one term into each square. You can take one notecard for each term and write down the definition, or just type up the definitions and print, then cut each definition apart. Mix up the definitions and then randomly draw a definition and read it aloud. If a player recognizes the term that matches the definition, he can cover the square with a marker (coin, scrap of paper, etc.).

When my kids were younger they loved their Disney Memory game – where you draw and try to match pairs. You can use this premise for almost any topic. Create cards with terms or visual aids – I made a set of cards that had pictures of landforms, and the match to the pair was a card with the term (you could also just have a duplicate picture card).

  • Use an old deck of cards, even with cards missing, and glue your pictures or terms onto the face of the cards for a sturdier study deck.
  • Laminate your cards if they will be used repeatedly or by several children.
  • You can also use the same cards to play games like “Go Fish”.

Learn Through Art

Even though subjects like spelling or mathematics might not seem to have anything to do with art, I’ve learned with my kids that practicing basic facts can be much easier when you incorporate the visual learning that art can supply.

If your child is trying to learn how to spell the word elephant, have her repeatedly spell it out in the shape of an elephant (it can be easier for younger kids to print a line drawing picture of the elephant that they can trace with the spelling word).

Go With What They Know

Take pop culture and modern media and have kids used those mediums to reinforce “dry” topics.

  • Have your kids take their favorite commercials and try to sell their subject. Maybe they are learning about women’s suffrage – have them imagine what the modern day commercials would be like for and against the movement.
  • One year my kids took the history topic of early American settlers and turned it into a script for a fictional newscast. My son acted as the reporter in the studio (Dan Rather-Be-Fishing), my daughter was the reporter in the field, and my other children were the Native Americans and Pilgrims. We videotaped their scenes and put together an entire news broadcast. The interviews were based on real facts, but they were also stuffed with tongue and cheek jokes and modern twists.

Until our classrooms get away from test-oriented regurgitation, we need to give our kids tools so that they can get back to the enjoyment of learning and stop cheating themselves.

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America’s Schools: Breeding Grounds for Compliant Citizens

I ran across this article yesterday and just had to share it with you.

You might not know me and the work that I’ve done with my Parenting 4 Success course… but I am adamantly against formal education.  When I hear presidents and potential presidents talk about how important school is in these recent debates, I literally want to puke.

Do you know who invented our school system?  Look it up, it was some evil sons of bitches who are on record for admitting that the purpose of our school system is to make compliant workers who won’t challenge authority.

“But studies show students who graduate and go to college make more money!” my critics say.

That may be true, but the studies also show that education plays NO major factor in a business man succeeding and pursuing his or her dreams in business.  In fact high school and college drop outs quite often do VERY well.

Education gets you a job, nothing more and nothing less.  Actually in this economy that’s not even very true as over 50% of college graduates are NOT getting a job when they graduate.

And in my opinion they shouldn’t!

Hell, I’m a small business man who needs good workers too.  But why would I hire a college graduate who has spent the last 4 years of his life NOT thinking out of the box, and NOT working in the real world developing REAL skills, when I could hire a high school drop out who’s had to master some skills on his own and think outside of the box to survive?

I’ll take the creative person every time who has proven they know how to get things done.  In fact everyone who works for me in one capacity or another does NOT have a degree, the topic never came up, and I never cared.  I only care if you know how to get things done and think out side the box.

To be fair… I don’t take this philosophy all the way to Doctors and certain specialized fields.  There are a few fields that education is needed, and that schools do teach skills to.  Doctors is one of those fields.

Although I have major problems with how their educated as well, that I won’t go into here.

Education helps you make more money because it trains you to shut up and take crap at a job.

Think about it, what percentage of people love what they do?

According to Forbes, 70% of people hate their job!

So What’s The Solution?

The only path that makes sense to me, it to follow your dreams and passions to the bitter end, to hell with what society says you should do… and to stay out of debt along that journey so you’re not forced to take a crappy job that pulls you away from your dream.

If you’d like my best work to date on how to teach young children how to start off on that path correctly, I’d encourage you to check out my Parenting 4 Success program.

But in the meantime, please read the article below, as it takes all the reasons I already hate schooling to a whole other level.

If you currently don’t hold this belief about schools… and I’m talking private and public here, then listen to an interview I did with the author of, “Weapons Of Mass Instruction” by John Taylor Gatto, a leading expert exposing the abomination that is our school system.

America’s Schools: Breeding Grounds for Compliant Citizens

John W. Whitehead
Rutherford Institute
October 16, 2012

“[P]ublic school reform is now justified in the dehumanizing language of national security, which increasingly legitimates the transformation of schools into adjuncts of the surveillance and police state… students are increasingly subjected to disciplinary apparatuses which limit their capacity for critical thinking, mold them into consumers, test them into submission, strip them of any sense of social responsibility and convince large numbers of poor minority students that they are better off under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system than by being valued members of the public schools.”—Professor Henry Giroux

photoBy Ildar Sagdejev (Specious) (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

For those hoping to better understand how and why we arrived at this dismal point in our nation’s history, where individual freedoms, privacy and human dignity have been sacrificed to the gods of security, expediency and corpocracy, look no farther than America’s public schools.

Once looked to as the starting place for imparting principles of freedom and democracy to future generations, America’s classrooms are becoming little more than breeding grounds for compliant citizens. The moment young people walk into school, they increasingly find themselves under constant surveillance: they are photographed, fingerprinted, scanned, x-rayed, sniffed and snooped on. Between metal detectors at the entrances, drug-sniffing dogs in the hallways and surveillance cameras in the classrooms and elsewhere, many of America’s schools look more like prisons than learning facilities.

Add to this the epidemic of arresting schoolchildren and treating them as if they are dangerous criminals, and you have the makings of a perfect citizenry for our emerging police state—one that can be easily cowed, controlled, and directed. Now comes the latest development in the sad deconstruction of our schools: “smart” identification cards containing Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags that allow school officials to track every step students take. So small that they are barely detectable to the human eye, RFID tags produce a radio signal by which the wearer’s precise movements can be constantly monitored.

A pilot program using these RFID cards is being deployed at two schools in San Antonio, Texas’ Northside School District. In the so-called name of school safety, some 4,200 students at Jay High School and Jones Middle School are being required to carry these “smart” ID cards embedded with an RFID tracking chip which will actively broadcast a signal at all times. Although the schools already boast 290 surveillance cameras, the cards will make it possible for school officials to track students’ whereabouts at all times.

School officials hope to expand the program to the district’s 112 schools, with a student population of 100,000. As always, there’s a money incentive hidden within these programs, in this case, it’s increased state funding for the school system. Although implementation of the system will cost $500,000, school administrators are hoping that if the school district is able to increase attendance by tracking the students’ whereabouts, they will be rewarded with up to $1.7 million from the state government.

High school sophomore Andrea Hernandez, who is actively boycotting the RFID cards, was told that “there will be consequences for refusal to wear an ID card.” Students who refuse to take part in the ID program won’t be able to access essential services like the cafeteria and library, nor will they be able to purchase tickets to extracurricular activities. Hernandez was prevented from voting for Homecoming King and Queen after school officials refused to verify her identity using her old ID card. According to Hernandez, teachers are even requiring students to wear the IDs when they want to use the bathroom. School officials reportedly offered to quietly remove the tracking chip from Andrea’s card if the sophomore would agree to wear the new ID, stop criticizing the program and publicly support the initiative. Hernandez refused the offer.

This is not the first time that schools have sprung RFID chips on unsuspecting students and their parents. Schools in California and Connecticut have tried similar systems, and Houston, Texas began using RFID chips to track students as early as 2004. With the RFID business booming, a variety of companies, including AIM Truancy Solutions, ID Card Group and DataCard, market and sell RFID trackers to school districts throughout the country, claiming they can increase security and attendance. For example, AIM Truancy Solutions, a Dallas-based company, claims that its tracking system boosts attendance by twelve percent.

RFID tags are not the only surveillance tools being used on America’s young people. Chronically absent middle schoolers in Anaheim, Calif., have been enrolled in a GPS tracking program. As journalist David Rosen explains:

Each school day, the delinquent students get an automated ‘wake-up’ phone call reminding them that they need to get to school on time. In addition, five times a day they are required to enter a code that tracks their locations: as they leave for school, when they arrive at school, at lunchtime, when they leave school and at 8pm. These students are also assigned an adult ‘coach’ who calls them at least three times a week to see how they are doing and help them find effective ways to make sure they get to school.

Some schools in New York, New Jersey, and Missouri are tracking obese and overweight students with wristwatches that record their heart rate, movement and sleeping habits. Schools in San Antonio have chips in their lunch food trays, which allow administrators to track the eating habits of students. Schools in Michigan’s second largest school district broadcast student activity caught by CCTV cameras on the walls of the hallways in real time to let students know they’re being watched.

Some school districts have even gone so far as to electronically track students without notifying their parents. In 2010, it was revealed that a Pennsylvania school district had given students laptops installed with software that allowed school administrators to track their behavior at home. This revelation led to the threat of a class-action lawsuit, which resulted in the school district settling with irate students and parents for $600,000. Similarly, in 2003, a Tennessee middle school placed cameras in the school’s locker rooms, capturing images of children changing before basketball practice. Thankfully, the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the practice in 2008, ruling that students have an expectation of privacy in locker rooms.

Clearly, there’s something more sinister afoot than merely tracking which students are using the bathroom and which are on lunch break. Concerned parent Judy Messer understands what’s at stake. “We do not want our children to be conditioned that tracking is normal or even acceptable or mandatory,” she shared.

“Conditioned” is the key word, of course. As Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham recognized in their book, Work Redesign, laboratory animals, children, and institutionalized adults “are necessarily dependent on powerful others for many of the things they most want and need, and their behavior usually can be shaped with relative ease.” Taking those ideas one step further, psychologist Bruce Levine noted, “Behaviorism and consumerism, two ideologies which achieved tremendous power in the twentieth century, are cut from the same cloth. The shopper, the student, the worker, and the voter are all seen by consumerism and behaviorism the same way: passive, conditionable objects.”

To return to what I was saying about schools being breeding grounds for compliant citizens, if Americans have come to view freedom as expedient and expendable, it is only because that’s what they’ve been taught in the schools, by government leaders and by the corporations who run the show.

More and more Americans are finding themselves institutionalized from cradle to grave, from government-run daycares and public schools to nursing homes. In between, they are fed a constant, mind-numbing diet of pablum consisting of entertainment news, mediocre leadership, and technological gadgetry, which keeps them sated and distracted and unwilling to challenge the status quo. All the while, in the name of the greater good and in exchange for the phantom promise of security, the government strips away our rights one by one—monitoring our conversations, chilling our expression, searching our bodies and our possessions, doing away with our due process rights, reversing the burden of proof and rendering us suspects in a surveillance state.

Whether or not the powers-that-be, by their actions, are consciously attempting to create a compliant citizenry, the result is the same nevertheless for young and old alike.

This article first appeared on the Rutherford Institute’s site Rutherford.org.

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