The Orioles Are Coming

We have a small deck off of our kitchen where I hang our bird feeders. This allows us to draw them in close enough to actually see them when they come to eat. Visitors to our house in late spring and summer are often startled at the appearance of this fellow:

The Baltimore Oriole. Because of their extremely bright colors, these are some of the coolest birds to attract to your feeders. And of course kids are always excited to see a bright orange bird. Fortunately, it’s super easy to get them to come. We just put a shallow dish of grape jelly on the ledge of the deck around when the trees are just starting to leaf out and they show up within a couple of days. The brightly colored males show up first and the more muted females join them within a week or less. These birds tend to return to the same nests each summer, so once you attract a pair (or more) they will return year after year. Later in the summer, they will even bring their scraggly looking kids with them to nip from the jelly dish.

If you’re lucky, your jelly dish may even attract a gray catbird as the summer wears on:

These aren’t nearly as flashy as Orioles, but they’re so elegant. I just love them. They’re more reclusive than many other birds, so getting one onto your deck is kind of neat. Once they decide that they’ve found a safe source of food, they get kind of greedy and you’ll find yourself refilling the jelly dish more often. They also have an unusual call which you’ll come to recognize.

Aside from jelly you can also put out orange halves or buy feeders which take nectars for Orioles, Catbirds and the like. But grape jelly is much cheaper and works very well so I’ve never bothered.

You can watch the migration of Orioles and other migrating birds and insects here. That link is to the Journey North website which tracks signs of spring moving northward. It also has an easy form to fill out to report when various signs of spring show up in your neck of the woods, which can be a neat activity for your kids to participate in.


Is college worth it?

I have written before about my skepticism over the need for everyone to get a college education (here and here) as well as my extreme opposition to student loans and our current system of funding higher education (here, here and here). Today, via Joanne Jacobs, we find out that Charles Miller who led the Commission on the Future of Higher Education is now arguing that the earnings benefit for having a college degree is probably much less than has been previously stated.

Rather than being 1 million over a career, the number according to Charles Miller is more like $280K. Given that a private college education now routinely runs about $100K over 4 years with room and board and adding in the cost of interest on student loans, as well as the missed opportunity costs of having money which could otherwise be used to invest in a 401K or other investment vehicle going towards paying off student loans, this number really calls into question whether it makes sense to insist on a college diploma as a requirement for most decent jobs.

I have long thought that the credential inflation we have seen over the last couple of decades (requiring ever higher credentials for professional positions) is the result the failure of our high schools to adequately prepare students to enter into the workforce. Continue reading

This is fantastic!

I have become convinced over the last couple of years that we are facing a crisis of bad parenting in this country.  By which I don’t necessarily mean the usual complaints of overly indulgent parents or abusive parents, although these can certainly be a problem.  What I find particularly problematic is a lack of knowledge about normal human development and appropriate interaction with children.  It’s demonstrated by parents not knowing that they should ask their infants questions long before they can talk or that a 2 year old’s temper tantrum isn’t a sign of disrespect or that 5 year olds like rules.  It’s also demonstrated by parents who teach their kids to be quiet rather than engaging them in the everyday activities of family life and listening to them struggle to put their thoughts into words.

At any rate, a new program in Boston is working to teach low income parents to talk with their children from a very early age and to respond to their children’s conversational cues rather than shushing them.  You may have heard of the work done by Betsy Hart and Todd Risley which found an enormous gap in language exposure between low and upper income households with 9 month to 3 year old children.  Low income parents spoke far less frequently to their children and used fewer words and less variety of words when they did speak than higher income parents.  They also tended to issue 2 negative utterances for every one positive one to their  children.  In contrast, professional parents made 6 positive comments for every one negative comment to their children.  Long term studies found that this difference translated directly into differences in academic abilities in 3rd grade.  I have long thought that a program which educates the parents of at-risk kids in the importance of talking to their children needed to happen.

It’s not that these parents are bad people or even bad parents.   I have known low income parents who found it odd that I peppered my babies with questions as we moved through our day.  “He’s not going to answer you” was a frequent comment.  They just thought I was odd and would have felt dumb talking to someone they knew didn’t understand them and couldn’t respond.  I really think it’s a matter of education.  Parenting matters.  A lot.  It’s just fantastic to see that people are starting to do this important work.  Hopefully, this will be the start of programs which focus on families and parents over programs run by “experts” which can never hope to achieve what an engaged, knowlegable parent can do – no matter how much money we spend on them.

There are things I don’t understand

As anyone familiar with this blog knows, I homeschool my kids.  I’m really not a fanatic about homeschooling, in general.  It’s something we do for many, many reasons, but I wouldn’t presume to tell other people what they should do.  I’m perfectly willing to accept the idea that public schools are the best choice for many families.  However, like many homeschoolers, I sometimes find myself completely dumbfounded at the fact that many people and their kids go through horrific things in schools – and keep sending their kids back!

I know that my perspective is different because I do homeschool and it’s for reasons far less pressing than protecting my kids from violence or sexual abuse or something like that.  So I suppose that having taken the step of removing my kids from the school system for relatively benign reasons it is hard for me to fathom why the parents keep sending their kids back to schools where there children are exposed to violence, educational malfeasance or damage done to children by the mind boggling lack of common sense sometimes demonstrated by schools.

Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about here are several stories which I have come across today:

A boy who has required repeated medical treatment due to ongoing bullying.

Children as young as four being labeled sexual predators.

Schools where violent assaults and robbery are daily events.

Students who spend 12 years in school without mastering 8th grade math.

Strip searching a 13 year old honors student to search for ibuprofen.

I could find more, but these are just the ones I happened across today.   I know that these sorts of things don’t happen everywhere, but when they do, why do parents continue to send their kids to the school?  I know people have jobs, but in some of these cases, you’re talking about things which go on for years – more than enough time to find a job on the swing shift or with flex time or whatever.  But to allow your child to be bullied for years and keep sending him or her back?  And if your kid’s not being taught reading and math at school – how much worse can you really do with them at home?  Or having your 4 year old labeled a sexual predator because he put his face in his teacher’s chest while getting a hug – and you trust these people with your child day after day and year after year?  I just don’t get it.

Unemployment Training

Joanne Jacobs directs our attention to a column published at titled “Unemployment Training (The Ideology of Non-Work Learned in Urban Schools)”. The author, Martin Haberman, identifies the following lessons which are inculcated in students who attend high poverty urban schools which make them virtually unemployable in the real world:

The “successful graduates” who carry this urban school virus are unlikely to get a job or keep one.In order for an individual infected with this ideology to actually work the job would have to be characterized by the following conditions:

1.There is no screening process for getting the job beyond showing up.

2.There is no previous training required.Whatever the job involves can be explained in a few minutes–certainly less than 45.

3.There is a “boss” who will watch what you do and see that you do it.

4.The “boss” is always there.

5.The “boss” is responsible for what you do.

6.You can come and go as much as you want and still keep the job.

7.If you are late or absent, you can simply start working again without having to make up for or even know what you missed.

8.You don’t have to talk to or work with anyone you don’t like.

9.You don’t have to listen to anyone but the boss.

10.There is nothing to do to prepare to come to work.

11.There is nothing to do after quitting time.

12.You get paid for the time you spend at work, not for what you accomplish.

13.No matter how long you work, the job never changes.

14.You can get a raise because of the length of time you have “worked.”

15.You don’t have to really respect anyone who can’t hurt you.

16.It won’t matter if the place is successful or the work gets screwed up; that’s not your problem.

17.It won’t matter how many mistakes you make; you’ll get another chance.

18.The work is fun.

19.You don’t have to remember or follow the work rules if no one tells them to you.

20.You don’t have to work (i.e., stay on task) more than a few minutes an hour.

Meeting these conditions will limit the jobs people can have to very, very few.These jobs would have to involve many others who do the very same work so that any absence will not matter.The job is likely to be part time, because staying on task as well as coming and going is a problem.The job is likely to be of little importance since how well tasks are actually done is not a primary concern.The job is likely to be menial since there is almost nothing to know.The job is likely to be one in which the success of the organization is not tied to worker effort.These and the other limiting conditions would even make a part-time job putting laundry into washing machines in the basement of a hotel problematic.”

You should read the whole article. It’s very interesting. One of the ideas which the author puts forth which I found particularly interesting is that schools make the situation worse by taking an authoritarian stance. In doing so, they re-enforce the street’s “might makes right” ethos. However, once kids get old enough to realize that the schools cannot inflict the sort of suffering on them which they experience on the streets, the authority of the schools takes a nose dive. By not challenging the street ethos of earning respect through the ability to inflict pain, the schools make it nearly impossible to maintain any sort of discipline over the long term. The author suggests that schools work from the earliest grades to model and train students to respect hard work, good communication and relationship skills as well as demonstrate a value for individuals in how they interact with and discipline students. I think that this model goes against many law and order type’s automatic assumption that the correct answer to difficult student behavior is to lay down the law, early, often and hard.

Another thing which I found particularly interesting about the article is that while this extreme combination of ideas is probably not found in better, safer schools, some of these ideas find their way in there as well (and into many homes, no doubt). I know that I had fallen for the “Excuses” misconception as a younger person (I couldn’t be held accountable as long as I had a good excuse). I know a man who to this day will argue that someone who can physically harm you deserves more respect, which I have always found profoundly bizarre. I would guess that most of us have bits and pieces of this ideology in our heads just waiting to expunged.

Things I have learned about homeschooling

This is our 5th year homeschooling. I’ve been doing it long enough that I’m now considered “experienced”. New homeschoolers will often eagerly ask my advice when I first meet them. Of course, many of them don’t seem to like what I have to say. 🙂 We use a rather unstructured, almost unschooling approach which I think freaks some people out. But whether you are more structured or more free-form in your approach, I have learned a few things during the last five years which I think are probably helpful for most homeschoolers to keep in mind. So here’s my list of some of the things I’ve learned so far:

1. You have more time than you think. Continue reading

Spilled Kool-aid and Montessori Education

Many moons back, we had our oldest son, and for one year, our younger son enrolled in Montessori schools. When I began homeschooling, the first books I bought were the Teaching Montessori at Home books by Elizabeth Hainstock and Lee Davis. (There is one for preschool and another for grade school. I think I lent my preschool one to someone, but I have no idea who. If I lent it to you, could you let me know? Thanks 🙂 )

Anyhow, as I went through the preschool edition, I was struck by some of the activities. In particular, the ones involving pouring activities hit me as very odd. Continue reading

Unpopular Public Schools in Nevada

The Las Vegas Review Journal recently ran an article about a survey of parents in Nevada and their attitudes towards the state’s public education system.  This is crazy:

Just 11 percent of Nevada residents who responded to a recent survey on educational issues said they would send their children to public school if they had the freedom to choose any available option . . . 48 percent, would choose a private school, 23 percent would select a charter school and 15 percent would opt for home schooling. Three percent chose a virtual school for their children.”

Just 11% would send their kids to public schools?  I would LOVE to see this survey done on a national level.

According to this information 95% of kids in Nevada are enrolled in the public school systems.  Which means that about 84% of the student population is being sent by parents who would prefer to send their kids elsewhere – so why don’t more of them do it?  I know, I know, people say they have no choice.  I have no doubt that some people have no choice.  But 84%?  Come on!

This brings to mind a conversation I had with my 8 year old son today about the meaning of integrity.  Integrity, I told him is when what you think, what you say and what you actually do are all in line with each other.   It’s really easy to say that you think something is important.  It’s not even that hard in your head and heart that something is important.  However, it takes real integrity (which comes from strength of character) to do the hard work it takes to live up to easy words.

I certainly do not mean to judge or demean all of people who apparently are sending their kids to public schools against their will.  However, it pushes credulity to think that it would be impossible for a good number of them to make other arrangements for their children’s education.  IMO, this is as good an example of how common it is for us to think that saying and thinking the right things are a good stand-in for actually being willing to make the sacrifices needed to do the right things.

HT: Why Homeschool 

Free is good!

A while back at Why Homeschool, Henry Cate mentioned that your satisfaction with curriculum seems to have an inverse relationship to how much you paid for it. What you shell out big bucks for rarely works, but what you get for free is usually just what you needed. I completely agree!

My oldest son Noah is moving into high school level work, and truth to be told, I just don’t have money for the sort of text books he needs. So, I went looking on that modern miracle of the internet and found some free resources I’m very happy with that I thought I’d pass along to y’all.

High School Algebra:

There is a good, old fashioned Algebra One text book which is found here. We’re about half way through this one and have been very happy with it. Click on the picture of the Algebra book and it will take you to a page where you can choose to view the book online or via a pdf file. You can download it by chapter and there are answer keys available as well.


The Internet Grammar of English is a British resource which says that it is written primarily for university undergraduates. However, perhaps undergraduate means something different in Great Britain than it does here or perhaps it’s just a matter of how poor our education systems have become. My 12 year old son is not having any difficulty with the material which explains grammar much better than I could (not that that’s saying much!). This looks to be about a 2 year course to me.

AP Biology:

My son has an unusual interest in biology, and we had more than exhausted middle school science, so I decided to have him delve right into AP Biology. I found an online biology book here which overall I am happy with. It is up-to-date, well written and covers a very wide range of topics. Someone has put a lot of time into this one. HOWEVER, please be forewarned that the author is quite obviously no fan of religion. While I cannot abide creationist lies myself, I am also a devout Christian and some of his comments about religion and science in sections about evolution cross the line for me. I copied those sections into Word and just edited out the offending material. I was able to do this with no effect on the overall coherence or material presented (which only goes to show how extraneous this author’s beef with religion is to the topic at hand, but you know!).

A couple of other places to look for free texts for your kids that I found are:

Free Load Press has mostly college level texts if you are looking for AP level courses for your kids. There are many Computer Application texts available on this sight. There is a brief registration in order to gain access to the books. And there are advertisements embedded in the texts, so use your judgement. These texts open in Adobe.

Textbook Revolution is a more eclectic sight and there’s some good stuff there as well.

If you know of any good, free resources, please share! Because free is good 🙂  And sharing is caring ;P

Education and conservatives

If you are a conservative interested in education, you need to read this excellent column by Neal McClusky on conservatives embrace of big government education muddling on National Review Online. Mr McClusky starts of with this:
For decades, conservatives stood against big-government intrusions into American education. They defended local control of schooling, championed parental choice, and pushed to abolish the federal Department of Education. But then, tragedy struck: Republicans took power in Washington, and conservatives suddenly learned to love big government. Indeed, some are now so enamored of it that they are proposing what was once unthinkable: having the federal government set curricular standards for every public school in America.
As you may be aware, over the weekend former secretaries of education Bill Bennet and Rod Paige had a column in the Washington Post advocating for the creation of a national test for education. Because the solution to something government meddling has already badly screwed up is . . . even more government meddling.
This flies in the face of what we have learned from the few government programs which have had some success in reform; states, when given the freedom are excellent incubators and laboratories for innovative approaches to entrenched problems. Welfare reform and Medicare reform are two excellent examples. I am also willing to bet that in 20 years we will be looking at state experiments like what is going on in Minnesota and Massachusetts as the beginning of healthcare reform.
The idea that education can be improved by giving more power and influence to Washington politicians is laughable. In fact, I would argue that the growing influence and involvement of national politics in the education issue have served to thwart any meaningful movement in improving education. There are, in my opinion, 3 things which need to happen in order for meaningful education reform to happen: teachers must be treated as professionals and have control over the conduct and content of their teaching, parents must be free to make educational choices for their children including enrolling their children in their schools of choice and the influence of large national teacher’s unions must be diminished. The nationalization of education works against all 3 of these changes. More and more teachers are being treated like trained monkeys who are expected to jump and hop according to what bureaucrats demand rather than using their brains, experience and skills to meet their student’s needs. A national agenda for education makes it very easy for powerful, out of touch national education unions to influence any education reforms which are enacted (one big target is much easier to handle than tens of thousands of smaller, local targets which are less likely to be influenced by lobbying efforts). In contrast, parents find it very difficult to get the attention of national politicians as opposed to local school board members and administrators who might be willing to respond to their concerns (if their hands weren’t actively being tied by national politicians and teacher’s unions). Not to mention that as long as the national teachers union has a strong influence in the political arena, parent’s are unlikely to be given much leeway in determining where their children will attend school.
Although nationalized testing and curriculum are taking on an air of inevitability, we must resist the temptation to short-cut our way into further disaster by giving the federal government even more say over what goes on in the classroom. As Mr. McClusky points out in his NRO piece:
no matter how much conservatives wish it weren’t so, decades of monopolistic public schooling have proven that government will never provide desirable standards. Indeed, the numerous inherent problems of government are among the many reasons that the framers of the Constitution gave Washington no authority over education. . . As Congress moves inexorably closer to next year’s scheduled reauthorization of NCLB, conservatives must reject calls for federal standards and tests, and remember the principles that they once held dear. Politically compromised, big-government policies will simply never provide the education our children need and deserve. Only pulling government out of education, and empowering parents and families with school choice, will do that.