To Mrs. Rich, wherever she may be

Thanks for taking us out past the playground into the warm, dim, shadowy woods so we could drink our cartons of milk on a carpet of pine needles while you read to us about The Little Red Hen. I really liked it.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Photo by Yogurt yeah [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Nervous about kids starting school? 10 things to remember

As I’ve mentioned a million times, we have tried nearly every form of schooling that is out there. The biggest change was going from home school to the classroom. Lots of adjustments, in our habits and our attitudes! Here are ten things we learned the hard way.

(Please note: this post is intended to help parents who have some trepidation about starting their kids out in school. All of the “lessons” in it come directly from my own family’s experience, and are not intended to mock, belittle, or stereotype anyone. If you insist on assuming that my motives are foul, just remember what they say: “assume” makes an “e” out of you and your, um, ass. Or something.)

1. A kid who is old enough to go to school is old enough to pack his own lunch. He’s also more likely to eat food he chose than food you chose for him; and food that gets eaten is always more nutritious than food that doesn’t get eaten, no matter what it is. However, an adult must inspect these lunches regularly to make sure they have more nutritional content than the bag in which they are packed. No, checking how heavy the bag is does not count.

2. Teachers do not want tea lights or magnets or paperweights or wreaths or adorably decorated clothes pins. They want gift cards to office and craft supply stores, or to Starbucks, and they want boxes of tissues and Clorox wipes. Or, they would settle for an involved parent. They would probably prefer an involved parent.

3. Being a Catholic means you’re going to be different, and kids need to learn, sooner or later, that it’s not the end of the world to be different. If your kids are going to be in an environment where they are the only Catholics around, they need to have constant reminders (in word and in deed) that Christians are bearers of Good News, not bearers of hostility and smugness.  Also, If you are a serious practicing Catholic, you’re just as likely to stand out in a typical Catholic school as you are to stand out in a secular school.  The wearin’ of the plaid is not a guarantee of an excellent faith formation and a wholesome environment, so pay attention.

4. Skip the personal bottles of hand sanitizer to be used every time your snowflakes come into contact with the outside world. We actually got sicker when I tried hard to sterilize everything, because kids do need to be exposed to some germs. Try and remind them to wash their hands before they eat, but just resign yourself to some sniffles and pukies, and get on with your life. But don’t let them share hats or hairbrushes! Trust LICE me LICE on LICE this LICE one. (If they do get lice, that’s not the end of the world, either.)

5. Most teachers are not the enemy. We’ve run across a few teachers who genuinely don’t like or understand kids, and sometimes a situation really is unendurable, and you need to switch teachers or even switch schools.  But generally, if a teacher is in the classroom, it’s because he wants to do right by your kid. So if there is a problem, start by believing that you can at least partially solve it together with the teacher, rather than by believing you need to protect your child from the teacher.  It’s much easier to communicate with someone when you go into it acting like you’re on the same side.

6. If you’re going to believe everything your kid says about what happened in school (“Mrs. Fleishhacker says that she was going to beat me with barbed wire if I didn’t wear matching socks tomorrow!”), then it’s only fair that your kid’s teacher should believe everything your kid says about what happens at home (“Here is my picture of my family eating breakfast! All those whiskey bottles are my mom’s”).

7. Yes, your kids will probably change somewhat when they’re put into a new situation. This is just human, and not necessarily a bad thing.  Be ready and open to embrace positive changes, as well as being on the alert to ferret out bad changes. Do be concerned about a kid whose behavior changes drastically — a cheerful, outgoing kid who becomes very quiet and withdrawn, or a cooperative kid who becomes defiant and obstinate. Some changes are normal when kids are adjusting to a new environment, but if you’re worried, trust your instincts and look into it. There could be any number of things going on: a bad teacher, a good teacher who is approaching your kid the wrong way, a bully, a character defect in your own child, not enough sleep, hunger, or any of dozens of physical, emotional, psychological, or situational problems that don’t have anything to do with school. Most kids go through rough patches at one time or another, so if this happens to your kids, don’t assume he’s lost or ruined or that you’re a failure; but do take it seriously if your kid is consistently unhappy for a long time.

8. A lot of kids crash right after school. It’s partly being tired and hungry, and partly because they’ve been trying really hard to be good all day, and their tanks are empty. If possible, just be grateful it’s not reversed, and do your best to wait it out until the kid matures a bit. Have a snack ready, and be prepared to give even older kids some decompressing time before you expect much out of him after school.

9. Remember that you are still in charge of your child’s education. If there’s something they’re not getting at school, you give it to them. If they’re hearing something that’s not true, correct it. If you need someone else’s help to educate your kids, that is not an objective failure on your part!  Remember that they’re still your kids, and you can and must be the primary influence in how they see and respond to the world.

10. You’re not going to get an ideal education in a brick and mortar school. You’re also not going to get an ideal education by home schooling, or by unschooling, or by semi schooling, or co-schooling, or private schooling, or charter schooling, or attending-all-the-conferences-and-working-yourself-into-a-damp-spot-on-the-carpet schooling. Some schools are better than others, but since we are dealing with finite time and human nature, there will always be gaps. Expect this, fill in what you can, and remember that your kids are people, not empty mason jars waiting to be filled up with the perfect combination of ingredients. We’re making people, here, not soup.

***

A version of this essay originally ran in the National Catholic Register in 2014.

Dear Simcha: Some back-to-school advice

Dear Simcha,

I believe in predictability, order, and routine. The alarm goes off at 6:20. Breakfast is always ready on time. We’re well-stocked with clean clothes, toothpaste, and deodorant. I keep the kids’ shoes in labelled bins and their backpacks on labelled hooks. I give them a ten-minute and a five-minute warning when it’s time to leave. We’ve been doing this exact routine for three weeks, but we are still late every single day, and my children are often partly naked. And they all act like it’s my fault! What is wrong with them?

Signed,
Craves order

Dear Craves,

Well, it is your fault, you know. Don’t you know how important it is to have reasonable expectations?

For instance, you are expecting your children to act like rational human beings, even though the testimony of every mother throughout the course of human history, from the cave matron shooing her hairy little cavebabies off to twig-gathering school to the LuLaRoe’d, overcaffeinated yummy mummy weeping quietly into her suddenly deserted cul-de-sac, can tell you children are lower than the animals.

Animals, at least, respond predictably to stimuli and will act in service of their own self-preservation. Children, on the other hand, can zero in on the least helpful, most self-destructive course of action like a hungry pig after a truffle. Children crave order and predictability. Children are order and predictability’s worst enemy. You must know this.

Still, you have to get out that door. Your only recourse is train your kids to sing out adorably, “Daddy gets us ready every morrrrrrning!” According to the latest research, a kid who turns up wearing a stained leotard, Scooby Doo slippers, and grits in her hair is cute as long as Daddy got her ready.

***

Dear Simcha,

I make a point of serving my kids a balanced breakfast including protein and whole grains every morning. They also bring a full lunch and two snacks, and I keep cheese sticks, almonds, and dried fruit in the car for the ride home. Can you tell me why they are always hungry enough to take actual bites of each other’s arms by the time we pull into the driveway at 3:45?

Signed,
It just don’t add up

Dear It,

Well, I’ll tell you. On that very special day when a brand new baby first opens his eyes on this big, overwhelming world, a tiny fairy comes to him and whispers a very special secret into his ear:

“You’re not going to eat your lunch,” she tells him.

“Never mind why. Just know that it doesn’t matter what your mother packs. It doesn’t matter if she cooks it herself, and you requested it specifically, and it is monogrammed with a special lunch monogrammer purchased at some expense from Hammacher Schlemmer. None of this matters, for, o my child, you are not going to eat it! Your lunch is just there for the ride. It wants to go to school, and it wants to sit on your desk, and then it wants to go home again, to be thrown away completely intact, even unto the granola bar that was produced on machinery that does not also process tree nuts. It is the way of the world, little one. So shall it ever be.”

Your best bet, mom, is to buy a chicken, a goat, or some other non-discerning animal with a great hunger, so at least someone eats all that food. Then, when it’s nice and plump, you can sell it on Craigslist and buy some booze.

***

Dear Simcha,

Wow, you sure do complain a lot about school! It just makes me glad that we home school. So many people believe that home school is going to be hard, but in my experience, a full day of school work can be accomplished in mere minutes a day. I have never met a homeschooler who has regretted their choice or who has found their job difficult.*

Signed,
Just Sayin’

Dear Just:

I may have a public school education, but even I can tell one of two things is going on here. Either (a) You don’t actually home school, but you fully intend to, once you have kids of school age, once you have kids, once you get married to your secret boyfriend, Milo or (b) You do home school, and you do finish in minutes a day, but your kids can’t, like, read. Or add. And the youngest one is nineteen.

I have friends who home school for all sorts of reasons, but not a single damn one who will tell you that it’s always easy. Like every other kind of parenting, including parenting that involves a brick and mortar school, home schooling is sometimes easy and rewarding, sometimes hard and unrewarding, and sometimes easy and unrewarding, and something hard and rewarding. Sometimes it’s some combination of these things within a single hour. So say all my home schooling friends who are not liars.

If you have any choice at all (and not everyone does), you keep on doing it as long as the rewarding part outweighs the hard part. But saying it’s always easy for everyone? That’s just plain . . .

you know what, never mind. I gotta get back to that Craigslist guy about this goat. Baaaaa!
_____
*Actual comment I read on actual Facebook.

How ready are you for the end of school? A quiz

You check your calendar and realize there is yet another evening concert tonight. You . . .

(a) stride into the child’s room to make sure the concert apparel is clean and pressed, shoes are shined, and that the after-school snack you’re planning doesn’t include cheese, which can produce a phlegmy sound in the vocal cords. Oop, there’s just time to run out for flowers!

(b) sigh a little and adjust your schedule so everyone can get there on time. Maybe bring some work with you.

(c) barrel through the stages of grief as quickly as you can, then set to work figuring out why it’s definitely your husband’s turn to represent.

(d) contact your lawyer. This just isn’t right. This just isn’t right. 

As your child leaves for school, you notice that his shoes are pretty beat up. You . . .

(a) are relieved, because it’s been nearly four months since his feet have been measured and fitted by your on-call orthopedist. Optimal brain function is only possible when the body is cared for from top to toe.

(b) dig out a spare pair that are not perfect, but they’ll get the kid through.

(c) hope the gas station sells flip flops.

(d) growl, “Well, we got plenty paper bags. Here’s a marker; draw yourself a swoosh.”

You are packing a lunch for your kid and you make sure it . . .

(a) includes a lean protein, two servings of veg and one of fruit (local, obvs), a grain (because kids will be kids!), and . . .  let’s see, it’s Thursday, so that means the extra treat will be . . . cauliflower-based! Fun! Now, which mason jar conveys the most love?

(b) is reasonably balanced, won’t trigger anyone’s allergies, and may even get eaten.

(c) has some food in it, none of it used.

(d) is heavy enough to appear to contain food, for plausible deniability.

You are informed there will be three field trips next week, each one requiring a special lunch and extra snacks, early drop-off and late pick-up time, a sheaf of permission slips and release forms, and of course a check. And money for the gift shop. You . . .

(a) sprint to the phone to volunteer as chaperone. You always wanted to see how they sort industrial grit, and now you get to do it alongside a large group of middle schoolers! Win win!

(b) are just grateful someone else is organizing these things. It’s nice, really, that kids get to break out of the routine.

(c) shout, “FINE” and tear a check from the checkbook so violently that you accidentally clock the kid in the jaw, and when she stops crying, she admits that she didn’t want to go anyway because her best friends Braeydinn and Peyytun are being weird, so you decide to just skip it and get donuts together.

(d) take the kid by the hand and ask him if he really wants to go, grasping his hand tighter and tighter until he begs you to let go, I mean let him stay home and help you get caught up on laundry and really just be useful to you in any way you need, really.

You scroll ahead in your calendar to find out when the last day of school is, anyway. You . . .

(a) sit right down and write a thank-you note to the superintendent for all his hard work and wise and prudent choices over the year. Those guys just don’t get enough credit, you know? Six figure income, you say? That doesn’t seem like enough.

(b) sigh a little bit, but you have to be grateful there is such a thing as school. Some places don’t have school.

(c) massage your temples, breathe like your therapist wants you to breathe, and work toward a place of acceptance, by which you mean “only soft screaming.”

(d) decide that, as of this minute, you are homeschooling, dammit, and it is summer.

***

Scoring:

Come on, what do you want from my life? A+. You all get an A+. All right?

Image by Ian Chapin via Flickr Creative Commons

Dear Teacher

How I spent my summer vacation

How I spent my summer vacation

Alas. We spent our summer swimming, watching X Files, sucking down gallons and gallons of ramen, eviscerating countless watermelons, making a meticulous survey of the entire lifework of the master cinematographer Chow Yun Fat, and creating various kinds of heartache for your long-suffering soul sister, the public librarian.

Read the rest at the Register.

***

25 Back-to-school Items Your Kids Can’t Geek Without

Doing your back to school shopping online, maybe? Do me a big favor and usethis link.

It will take you to Amazon, and you’ll have the exact same shopping experience as you always do — only my code is craftily embedded in the link, and every time you buy something, I get a percentage. Easy for you, super super super helpful for us!

We are still in denial about school shopping, but there are a few items that caught my eye – things that will help ease the pain when we can’t put it off any longer.

 

25 Back-to-school Items Your Kid Can’t Geek Without

Message in a Bottle flash drive – about $6. An appealing mixture of old and new storage techniques. 6GB of storage corked away inside a little glass bottle. Perfect for kids who tend to drop things in the toilet a lot.

bottle flash drive

 

 

12 large beeswax crayons – about $7  Yarr, $7 for crayons. But what crayons. Silky, velvety, brilliant. Everyone should color with these at some point in their lives (and they come in a nice case).

beeswax crayons

 

Slingshot pencil – about $4 – How to make friends with your kids’ teachers.

slingshot pencil

 

Nose pencil sharpener – about $3.50 Tee hee.

nose pencil sharpener

 

Totoro messenger bag – about $10 Note that the model is a weensy weesny Asian model. For the typical causcasian American kiddo, this is more the size of a purse than a messenger bag! It’s not exactly sophisticated looking, but for the right kid, it’s the best ten bucks you’ll ever spend.

totoro messenger bag

 

Little Alchemy – free  Just a neat little game that you may actually want to play yourself, or at least it won’t make you feel horrible when your kids play it all the time. All you do is put stuff together to make more stuff, until you have all the stuff. It’s just difficult enough to be fun, and the breakthroughs are very satisfrying. I meant to type “satisfying,” of course, but they are also sometimes satisfrying.

little alchemy screen shot

 

Robot pencil sharpener – $13 Nicely made. You wind him up by sharpening your pencil (or by using the key), and his little head fills up with shavings. He can hold your pencil in his robot hands as he marches along, too. Sturdy construction; nice and small so you won’t feel the need to assert your human primacy.

robot pencil sharpener

 

Dinosaur earring – $6 (Note that this is a single earring, not a pair!) For an extra boost of confidence for the first day of school, know that you have a dinosaur sticking out of your ear. Also available in T-rex .

dinosaur earring

 

Totoro lunchbox – $12.99.  This lunchbag took a beating all year and held up really well. Cute and sturdy.

totoro lunch bag

Human organs lunchbox – $12.99 Boy stepped on it; lunch box still functions.

human organs lunch box

TARDIS dress – $35. Picture day!

tardis dress

 

I had to stop myself from linking to all the Peter Pauper journals. Dozens of gorgeous styles, and very reasonably priced for the quality, according to the reviews. Here are a couple that caught my eye:

Celestial journal – about $7

amazon celestial journal

Cosmology journal – about $12

amazon cosmology notebook

The cover design of our magnificent journal is adapted from the celebrated Catalan Atlas (1375), attributed to master map-maker Abraham Cresques of Majorca, Spain.

  • This cosmological diagram places earth in the center, personified by an astronomer holding an astrolabe.
  • Around the earth, the elements, planets, signs of the zodiac, and moon phases are displayed within concentric circles, and the four seasons are portrayed in the corners.
  • Cosmology is enhanced with subtle iridescent highlights and embossed for a dimensional effect.
  • The journal provides 192 lightly-lined opaque pages for personal reflection, sketching, making

Drumstick pencils – about $6 I don’t hate teachers. Honest, I don’t.

drumstick pencils

Clip-on adipose for backpack or zipper – about $8. A nice little companion. Clips on so it won’t just walk away.

adipose clip on

Luffy T-shirt – about $15  For those kids who are – *sighhhhhhhhh* – really, really into One Piece, especially that one time when they were all in a ship, and Luffy was sitting on the figurehead, and he ate the gum gum fruit, and if you eat any kind of devil fruit, the price is that you can’t swim, and everyone was telling him he shouldn’t sit there because he might fall in the water, and he was like, “No, it’s my special seat, you can’t have it!” And then one time Luffy fell off into the water, and there are two other devil fruit users on his crew, and they’re the ones who jumped in to save him! Also there was one part where he was trying to get this guy who was a shipwright to join his crew, and this guy only wears a Speedo and a Hawaiian shirt, and he wanted to join, but he also wanted to stay where he was, so Luffy stole his Speedo and told him he couldn’t have it back unless he joined his crew, and it was the only one he had, and so he was running through the town to get his Speedo back, and . . . it was just great.

one piece t

 

Super Mario earrings  Oh my gosh, are you kidding me? – about $10 (Note: these are from China and will take forever to get to you unless you pay extra for fast shipping.)

polymer mario earrings plants

 

Zelda ocarina and songsheet – about $8  You certainly won’t regret buying this for your kid so that you can hear those Zelda songs all the time even when they’re not playing video games; you certainly won’t. (There are a great number of Zelda ocarinas available on Amazon. This plastic one is the one my kid happens to have, and it’s fine. I started to plow through the reviews of the higher-quality ones, thinking I would find a better product, but I started to feel kind of sad about humanity.)

zelda ocarina

 

Terrifying owl backpack – $49 Whoa. If you are worried about your kid being a little bit frail and puny and maybe not ready for the wilds of the hallway, it might help to send ‘em out wearing one of these.

owl backpack

 

Set of 6 sushi erasers, about $10 Tip: never make back-t0-school lists for your blog when you’re hungry.

sushi erasers

 

Zita the Spacegirl graphic novel series – about $9 each. I’m getting my kids to write a proper review, but in the meantime, I can’t say enough about these books, which are clearly a labor of love, written by a dad who really knows kids. So funny, weird, sweet, and exciting – and fairly back-to-schoolish, if you kid feels like she’s been catapulted out of her familiar world onto a strange planet on the first day of school.

slingshot pencil

Musician’s transposition ring – about $15 Useful and pretty. Does this count as cheating? I’m not sure.

amazon musician ring

This ring helps you transpose musical notes into different keys! It is a simple way to pick the number of steps or half steps you’d like to change for any musical sequence. Want to move a score up a major 2nd? Just turn the top band two position over. Works for any transposition you need. You can also use it for more complex variations such as descending 5ths root movements. One example is ii-V-I’s which are the basis for most jazz tunes.

 

Finally:

Lovingly handmade bags and pouches in awesome fabrics from Door Number 9 on Etsy. A few samples of the pouches, wallets, and mini bags for sale:

star wars pencil bag

Sherlock Holmes

sherlock holmes letter bag

My daughter has this one: the One Ring Tea Wallet. Gorgeous, one-of-a-kind.

one ring tea wallet

 

Okay, I think that’s it! Happy shopping!

My book’s first review, and a giveaway!

My book isn’t even available for pre-order yet, but it already got a good review!

Bearing of Bearing Blog read The Sinner’s Guide to NFP, and she wrote:

[E]ven if I am not the target audience, I am maybe the target reviewer, because I wholeheartedly endorse the attitude in this book.  The truth is that even when you’re both totally on board, NFP has features which, well, you might as well laugh at them so you don’t

(a) cry or

(b) throw things at each other.

As for the state of NFP discourse, even (especially?) among faithful Catholics?  Well, it can be even worse.

And that is why we need Fisher’s book.  It’s frank, it’s conversational, and it’s funny.  What’s possibly most important: it firmly rejects the nosy judgmentalism that pervades the conversation today, choosing instead to emphasize the great variety of good paths that a couple may find as they discern together the right decisions for their family.

You can read the rest of her review here.  Thank you very much, bearing!

I was extremely pleased and grateful to be able to also include blurbs from Brandon Vogt, Dr. Janet Smith, Msgr. Charles Pope, Jennifer Fulwiler, Leila Miller, Elizabeth Scalia, Kayla Peterson, Elizabeth Duffy, Marcel LeJeune, Erin Manning, and Gregory Popcak.

I know it’s kinda early to do a giveaway for a book which won’t be out until November, but I’ve been meaning to do a mini fundraiser for my kids’ charter school.  Here is where I describe the school in particular, and here is where I describe what I’ve learned to look for in a school in general.  I can guarantee you that every cent of your money will be spent wisely and well!  This school is like what I always wanted my home school to be, except with friends, and I don’t have to do the work.  Fantastic.

As I did last year with Style, Sex, and Substance, I’m going to combine a giveaway with a fundraiser, and will be giving away free copies to three winners.  So if you would like to pre-win a copy of my book, which of course you do, here’s the deal:

OPTION ONE:  Leave a comment, any comment, in the comment box here, and you will be entered into the drawing — easy peasy.

OPTION TWO:  Make a contribution to the Surry Village Charter School, and your name will be entered in the drawing ten times. 

To  contribute, click on this PayPal button

make a donation in any amount, and your name will be entered ten times into the drawing (no need to leave a comment unless you want to!).

If your name is chosen, you can choose either format:  ebook or audiobook.  I will select three names randomly next week, on Monday, August 19, and will announce the winners on Monday or Tuesday, depending on how together my act is.

Remember:  it’s free to enter; but if you want to increase your chances of winning tenfold, make a donation to the school.

Good luck!

Support for former homeschoolers?

A reader writes:

I know you used to homeschool but you do not anymore. Since stopping, have you found any blogs or support groups or anything of like for Christians with kids in public schools? Our kids are going to school in the fall and I am NERVOUS.

Oh, yes.  Nervous. The decision to stop homeschooling was one of the hardest ones I’ve ever had to make.  Lots of nightmares about whether it’s worse to send my children off to be eaten by wolves, or simply to cut our losses and eat them myself.

 

We’re very, very happy with our charter school, and more or less happy with the public high school, but it wasn’t easy to figure out how to get what we needed, appreciate the good things we hadn’t anticipated, fix the things that weren’t working, and let go of the rest.

I have written a bit about our transition.  First, there was Why We’re Dropping Out of Homeschool, which includes a photo of something that would make Charlotte Mason herself make tracks for the admissions office of the nearest Stefani Germanotta Memorial School.

Then I wrote one actually useful one for the old Faith and Family Live: From Home School to the Classroom:  Tips for Transition.

And then I wrote this quiz for the Register: Home School to Classroom:  A Quiz for Anxious Parents, which I intended as a self-deprecating jaunt into the realm of parody, but which many homeschoolers took as proof that I’m anti-homeschool, as well as anti-education, anti-child, and plus I make yearly pilgrimages to poop on the grave of Elizabeth Anne Seton.  (I’m not, and I don’t.  I’m just anti-sticking with things that just aren’t working anymore.)

So, back to the reader’s question.  Have you made this switch?  Do you have any advice, or do you know of a discussion group or something for people dealing with the transition?  Or at very least, can you offer a prayer for the reader’s peace of mind?  Thanks!

A little blaze

In discussing history with my older kids, I always try to hammer home the following point: when someone tells you that this or that issue is perfectly simple, then that person is either stupid or lying.

Here’s a satisfying case in point:  a recent Salon article (h/t to Kevin James) reminds us that, despite what renowned scholar Dan “I know how to type” Brown tells us, it wasn’t the mean old misogynistic Church who led those infamous European witch hunts.  More reliable sources show that women were accused of, tortured and killed for witchcraft because of  “squabbles among neighbors, resentments within families, disagreeable local characters, the machinations of small-time politicians and the creepy psychosexual fixations of magistrates and clerics.”

So there’s a good lesson there:  when something really big and awful goes on for 300 years, you can’t sum up its cause or significance in a single sentence (unless that sentence is “It’s a fallen world”).  Nothing is that simple.

For younger kids, though, I am in favor of teaching the simple, mythologized version of history first, and then refining it later (as long as you don’t get your myths from a dumbbell like Dan Brown).  Kids should understand the basic truth of what happened, and then discover the details when their minds become more subtle.

Thus, we teach the little ones that Columbus was a hero, Lincoln strode into battle to free the slaves, and God made the world in seven days.  All of this is true.  The details are more subtle, but the basic myth tells you something important that the details can’t convey.

Modern history books for children will have none of this fairytale foolishness.  They want to paint a truer, fuller picture of history by debunking myths — but they do this by oversimplifying in the other direction, and they end up telling an equally false story.  By insisting on the deary, mitigating details, they teach children that no one ever fights to the death for justice, and that no one is really courageous, that nothing is noble.  What a terrible lesson — what a lie!

So now school children kids believe that Thomas Jefferson was, above all, a famous racist; that Columbus’ main goal was to find some peaceful natives to slaughter; and that the liberated Israelites merely trudged after Moses through a swampy area during low tide.

I don’t lie to my kids.   Soon enough, children learn that there are details, there are complications.  But I know they haven’t lived long enough to understand that sin and weakness go along with courage and nobility — that they can exist in the same man.  This subtle understanding is something they will need to have eventually.  But trying to teach it prematurely doesn’t give you educated students, it gives you ignorant cynics.

When you’re building a fire, you have to start with a little blaze. Sure, the fire is more useful and productive when the flames have died down.  You can get some even and steady heat then, and glowing coals are easier to control and maintain than the leaping, unpredictable tongues of flame when kindling catches fire.

But you can’t just skip to the steady heat stage.  That’s what these myths about history are–they’re a little blaze to get things going.  You have to start with the blaze.

(cross-posted at The Anchoress)

Why we’re dropping out of home school

A couple of people have asked why we’re not home schooling any more.  We will be, a little bit — my six-year-old son will be at home for first grade, and my four-year-old daughter keeps handing me notes composed of random letters, in a pathetic plea to be taught how to read and write.

And of course we’ll keep our feral three-year-old, whom no school can hold, and the smartest baby in the world (16 months old), who is not only putting together two- and three-word sentences, she can say “Come ON!” just like Gob Bluth.  So clearly, we will be maintaining a richly educational atmosphere, even though I’m sending the oldest four off to a classroom.

I don’t know, is it too passé to say I’m burnt out?  It wasn’t the hard work that wore me out; it was the crappy job I did, and the worrying about it.  That’s what was so exhausting.  And then there was this:

(This was the first day of school last year.  We wondered why she was letting us get math done.)

We had nice times,  when the kid would have revelations about free will, or when they’d groan because it was the end of our Latin lesson.  The dining room is still decorated with the heraldic coats of arms we designed for our Medieval unit, and there were some thrilling moments in stovetop meteorology experiments.

But I was sitting here ordering the math books for the school year (yes, now.  Shut up!  It isn’t even labor day yet) and feeling nothing but weariness.  We enjoyed some of the benefits home schoolers promise:  the closeness, the leisure, the freedom, the intensity, the depth.  But really just not often enough.  We did it for six years, and I’m about ready for something different (not necessarily easier!) for a while.

If I’ve learned anything in the last twelve years (and I haven’t), it’s that you never, never know what your life will look like this time next year– so who knows?  Maybe we’ll go back to home school next year.  Or maybe the world will come to an end, and I won’t have to explain place value again.

The four oldest kids have a lovely, rural charter school to go to, and I want them to be happy and busy.  Also, a couple of them turned out to be more complicated than we thought.  And I’m not the kind of mother that it’s okay to be around all day.

I do know that all my kids have learned that reading is a wonderful way to spend your time, and that figuring out things and hearing new ideas is thrilling.  They aren’t embarrassed to talk about ideas, and they have no idea how dorky they are.  So I feel more or less okay with the start I’ve given them.

Boy, I wish I still had that gin in the photo.