Okay, I’m lying. I do mean to.

I don’t brag on my son much, because I know no one besides family really cares that much or wants to hear it. Plus there’s this parent paranoia that manifests whenever someone else talks about their kids. It’s like any deviation is a personal attack on how they are raising their own kids. I know I feel that way anyway… is it just me?

Well, if you tend to feel that way, skip this post (or brag on your own kid in the comments… I don’t mind).

I am just in awe of how much my son is responding to homeschooling. We went to the library today and we picked 13 books. About half of them 2nd & 3rd grade level chapter books, the other half various non-fiction books that caught his eye. He read a book on voting in the car on the way home and is right now reading 13 Buildings Children Should Know.

This is a benefit to homeschooling that I hadn’t anticipated, but I really appreciate. Nathan isn’t leaning that non-fiction books are boring like textbooks always were to me. I don’t even bother with textbooks. We have a couple reference books that we loosely follow when we need some direction, but then we go to the library for more information that is age appropriate. Nathan can pick whatever interests him from a variety of choices. He is way more likely to read something that he helped choose, and I can’t help but think he is more likely to remember ideas he is interested in rather than concepts being forced on him.

So here’s my big brag just to get it all out there:

In the last month or so Nathan has read almost 20 chapter books of at least 75 pages. (He also reads his 400 page children’s Bible from cover to cover about every other week.) He is over 90% finished with 2nd grade math and he keeps sneaking in “levels” from 3rd grade math because he is interested in the new topics. He often reads from our science encyclopedias to his brothers and they ask to try out the experiments. Also, because he is home with me all day, he helps with laundry, dishes, vacuuming, and general clean-up. His hobbies include programming using Scratch, keeping a blog, and writing comic books.

If it’s a nice day, he runs outside and jumps on his bike. He is allowed a break to run around and work off some energy between every task. He is healthy and fit and never has to eat crappy school lunches. He “sneaks” carrots and apples from the fridge before heading back to his lessons. Some days he dawdles over his schoolwork until 3 or 4. Most days he is done by noon and can spend the afternoon engaged in tinkering or imaginative play.

I found this comment from an article about the importance of play very telling:

As a public school teacher of 18 years I have been dismayed at the reduction of recess time and by the pushing down of inappropriate curriculum into kindergarten and 1st grade. In a 6 hour full-time kindergarten day, they get a total of 40 minutes of unstructured play. Gone are most the kindergarten “house” corners where kids “pretended”. You won’t find a block corner in many classrooms either. I believe strongly in public education…but couldn’t bare to put my daughter in that setting. She is now in a Waldorf school, where play in nurtured, and childhood is protected.

I haven’t thought about that in years, but she’s right. We did have a play house when I went to Kindergarten. At my local school, every minute of the day is structured for Kindergartners. This is not actually good for kids. Parents demand it, however, because they are under the misguided impression that education is in decline because kids aren’t being taught enough, soon enough.

I am here to say, please look at my son! Kids don’t need to be taught hardly at all! They just need to be exposed to wonderful resources. They want to learn. Nathan loves to learn and I hardly teach him a thing. He reads and we talk. It’s beautiful. I often overhear him sharing what he’s learned with his little brothers. This thing I have stumbled onto is amazing and I just wish we could take this little microcosm of learning that is my household and transport into the classrooms.

Okay mom brag over. I will probably post updates on his progress again though. I do believe this style of education could be a vast improvement for so many children. I would love to somehow be a part of the discussion for school reform to integrate what is being learned by me and over a million like me who perform this homeschooling experiment. I don’t think Nathan is gifted or particularly exceptional; he is just being given better tools. I want to shout our success from the rooftops without calling down judgement on parents who choose public schooling. Is that possible? How can I get these results out of my living room and into the classrooms for all children to enjoy?

Remember that time you were talking with your friends at work about the Boston Tea Party? You know that time, your one friend was saying how much she sympathized with the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Your other friend said she admired their ideals, but felt the Tea Partiers had a better grasp on practical ideas that could help our country. And then you said, “Yeah and speaking of the Tea Party, I didn’t get the importance of the Boston Tea Party in High School, but gosh, it seems so relevant now….”

You don’t remember saying that? Oh, you don’t actually know anything about the Boston Tea Party? How is that possible; American History is required in school?! Oh wait… yeah, no. I don’t remember either. I had to Google it just now to see what year it took place and my guess wasn’t even in the right century.
 
Well probably we were sick that day. Let’s talk instead about how Oliver Cromwell overthrew the monarchy. How this “hero of liberty” turned into a despised despot.  How is that champions of “hope and change” can become so reviled for their attempts to bring reform?

That doesn’t ring a bell either? Missed that day too? What’s my point? I am not trying to make anyone feel bad. I am trying to make people feel mad. I didn’t know who Oliver Cromwell was either until some vague reference made me Google him the other day. Dude was so hated, he was dug up after he was buried and strung-up for all to see because he wasn’t executed properly the first time.

I used to be embarrassed by what I didn’t know. I guess I still am. But at least I can feel better by comparing myself to modern kids. They don’t just suck at history, most American 18 year olds today can’t find Japan, France, or the UK on a map! A third can’t even find the Pacific Ocean!! I am sure you all know by know that we barely rank in the middle and sometimes even at the bottom in international surveys, but here’s the government report just in case you want to see it in writing.

Why is this bad? We are an ignorant people and only getting more so. We can’t engage in meaningful discussions. We certainly can’t engage in a rational debate that doesn’t deteriorate into name-calling and mud-slinging. What’s the saying? If we forget our history then we are doomed to repeat it? We can’t keep taking away liberties and spending out of control and expect it won’t lead to our downfall.

If 90% of children can’t find Iran on a map, how are they going to form an opinion on whether or not Iran is a threat to Israel? Okay maybe you think it’s about time we got out of the middle of that conflict anyway. Fine. If we don’t care if the middle east blows itself off the map (solving a part of that whole geography ignorance problem BTW), then should we care that Iran and Venezuela are building a joint base that will allow Tehran to deal with “Iran’s enemies“? Care to guess who Iran considers its enemies?

So do I think my homeschooled kids going to retain historical facts because they are reading about them at the kitchen table instead of at a school desk? No, actually, I don’t. My point is that none of us remembers those things because we didn’t care. Nobody bothered talking to us about these concepts. They made us read dry textbooks then lectured at us.

My sons and I talk about these issues. We don’t use textbooks. I don’t lecture. Why waste time on textbooks and lectures when we know kids won’t retain the information or learn to do anything with it beyond test day? We aren’t even testing well!! 

I don’t mean to harp, so here’s my suggestion. Lets just sit the kids down into small groups, give them a short lesson to read on Oliver Cromwell, the Boston Tea Party, or whatever, and have them discuss how the events relate to what’s going on today. Whatever they get from that will stick with them much longer than those notes copied off the overheads.

OJ Bites the Dust

April 4, 2012

I had a drink of my husband’s Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice this morning and it tasted like ass. I used to love that stuff. Another vice loses it’s hold….

If you want to know why I gave up the “zombie juice”, read this.

(source)

Also I would like to note that I add these “journey” posts to document the effect of clean eating on a regular person. I know it’s easy to read a blog like this and think, “Oh great, if eating right means giving up everything I love, then forget about it!”

I often felt that way too. So instead of “giving up” foods, I am replacing them with different options. I did not ever officially make a decision to “never” have OJ again. I told myself I could have orange juice whenever I wanted, but it had to be freshly squeezed from real oranges. Now, that process is no fun, so I don’t do it every day. I don’t even do it once a week. Once a month or so I bust out the juicer and make enough for the whole family (and then make orange-craisin muffins from the pulp).

I haven’t even felt too terribly deprived by this. I knew a glass of orange juice was always just a big ol’ mess away. I didn’t not drink it because I wasn’t allowed, but because I didn’t have the inclination right that second to mess with the juicer (juicing by hand kills my wrists). That’s an important distinction for a junk food lover like me.

So when I do let a little of the “bad” stuff slip back in, I am still surprised to find I don’t even like it anymore. And this is why I don’t like skinny people giving me diet advice. It’s easy for them to pass up the OJ (or pop, or store-bought cookies, or deep-fried, then frozen, then reheated nuggets) when they never learned to like that sort of thing in the first place. But it’s overwhelming to change your eating habits when you think you have to give up all the foods you love.

So these are supposed to be posts of hope. Posts that remind me that these choices do get easier. Posts that say, “If I can do it, you can too.”

Don’t think about it as “giving-up” foods. Give them a break while you explore new options. Revisit them 6 months down the road and see how you feel about them. I was not expecting to dislike that juice this morning. I was indulging in a moment. But instead I happily discovered that I am free of one more burden.

(I had a terrible time with grammar in this post… talking about things with all those double negatives and in dangling past participicular tenses (or whatever) is confusing).

My dad saw this guy on 60 Minutes the other night and told me to check him out.

He proceeded to tell me about this hedge fund manager turned YouTube tutor gone viral. This guy is not at all what I expected. Meet Salman Khan.

That’s his TED Talk. Seriously watch it…. It not only inspired me, it made me laugh as well.

Some of his ideas fall in line perfectly with the suggestions I proposed in Parts I & II. Technically he said this first, but I think if people from different backgrounds and walks of life are coming to the same conclusions about ideas, it indicates that change is in the air….

Here’s some more points from this talk that really struck a chord with me:

  • Reverse the method — watch the lecture on your own time, do the work in class when a teacher is there to help
  • Don’t move onto a new concept until you understand the one before — you can’t ride a unicycle until you master a bicycle (there is no such thing as 75% mastery)
  • Keep kids of different ages and skill levels together — let them help each other (I made this point as well)

Sometimes I feel like a frickin’ genius. My mind is churning out ideas that are in sync with what the best minds are proposing at the very same time. But then sometimes I feel like a hopeless fool. What good are dreams that will never come true? I homeschool… so why do I even care? Well, it’s not just about my kids. They are going to get a great education; I have no worries there. What about the kids who have two working parents? What about the kids who live one block over in the “bad” school district?  What if I get in an accident? I just can’t help but want more for all of us.

When I see talks like this, it feels so close.

Body Shaming

April 2, 2012

How many of you hate your body? I’m on the fence. Most days I don’t think about it. But sometimes I catch a glimpse of my baby belly in the mirror at Old Navy and scream in my head!

And I am certainly no stranger to that cruel internal voice. You know, the one that says, “For crying out loud, put down that third piece of cake already, you heifer!” Do I even need to discuss the message that society broadcasts about body image? If Michelle Obama can be called fat, then there isn’t much hope for me.

Google “body shaming” and you will see that people (especially women) are getting tired of these messages. They don’t want to hate themselves anymore and they sure as hell don’t want other people judging them. I support this movement. Hate is never the answer.

We have to face facts though. Being fat is not just another acceptable lifestyle. It is the symptom of a whole myriad of conditions that reveal a broken society. Learning to embrace this symptom is like choosing to embrace the lump that is indicative of cancer. You shouldn’t welcome it or ignore it; you examine it, search for the cause, and strive to reverse or eliminate it.

We have to learn to fight the disease instead of the symptoms. Right now, the disease is the saturation of our food supply with non-nutritional food-like substances. Obesity is just one symptom. We have to fight for a society where everyday, normal activities result in health and well-being. Fit should be the default.

By default, a person should be able to walk into a grocery store and fill their carts with nutritional food without scrutinizing labels. By default, a family should be able to eat at a restaurant and not wonder if they are being served food made from natural ingredients.  We should not have to petition for the right to buy milk straight from the source. And we sure as hell should not have to wage a full scale war to stop pink slime, sugared milk, and heavily processed fruits and vegetables from being served to our children at school.

I don’t think these battles will be fought by people who are only looking inward and hating what they see. Certainly the battle won’t be fought by people who don’t even recognize the enemy (and instead blame only themselves or fat people in general). I think these battles will be fought by people who love themselves. Who are sick of being lied to and deprived of good food choices. In that respect, fat acceptance is a good thing. A step in the journey, even if not the ultimate goal.

I choose not to look in the mirror with loathing. This body got me through all-night study sessions fueled by Coke and Twix bars. This body made it through Operation Enduring Freedom subsisting on MREs (possibly the world’s most processed “food”). This body gave birth to three beautiful babies. So I choose not to hate the body that brought me to this point.

But I can decide that from now on that I will take better care of it. I am not going to do it by forcing it to survive on 1,200 calories a day or wearing out the cartilage in my knees at the track. I am going to keep tweaking the food I feed it until I find a natural balance. I am going to move it and use it in ways that are productive or that I enjoy. Like swimming with my boys. Or playing racquetball with my husband. Weeding the garden, taking walks, riding my bike and living life out in the world (and away from this computer).

That’s the bottom line I think. If we are going to turn this obesity epidemic around, then we need to create healthy living conditions. Dieting is a band-aid. Going to the gym turns us into hamsters on a wheel. Can’t we figure out how to be active as part of living life? Can we think big? re-engineer our lives and communities in such a way that demands healthy choices? Let’s plan community bike paths. Plant gardens on school grounds. Spend our food dollars on CSAs and Farmer’s Markets. Walk to work. Bike to the store. Throw the kids outside.

Convenience has made us lazy and entitled. And being lazy and entitled has made us fat. Should we be ashamed? Yes, but not of our bodies. We should be ashamed that we crowded out small farmers, drove out local grocers, and now worship a body image that is unattainable without Photoshop.