Our Year Studying Politics

Our Year Studying Politics

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The next series of posts shares  part of our journey while studying politics. It is political, because we studied politics. We are using the eclectic methodology called Project-Based Learning to study politics. Here is an article I wrote, Project-Based Learning: through the Lens of Politics and Activism. This project will not be finished until November, 2016.

The planning for this week began over a year ago. Like many areas of study in a handcrafted education, the pre-planning was thoughtful and intense. The implementation and actual time spent learning, however, is free-flowing. What will happen this week, and what will we learn? I could tell you some of the big, obvious conceptual parts, but the truth is, I don’t know. I don’t want to limit our experience or learning by having preconceived ideas about how it’s going to go.

With a big project like this one, where we have studied politics in the US, it is important not to become too attached to a plan for how it is going to go and what will be learned. Doing that narrows thinking and can lead to missed opportunities. If I were to make the big decisions early on, it would also make the learning journey feel less collaborative for the primary student, in this case Sean. I try hard to keep that from happening, because one of the things I hope happens from this project is that Sean will become passionate about incorporating these profound, intellectual endeavors throughout his life.  I believe one way to achieve that is by making him a collaborator in his education. Stanford calls what I am after intellectual vitality, and like Stanford I am looking for Sean to feel comfortable taking academic risks and not to be afraid of failure. There is a free-flowing, unfurling of events applied to our learning journey that feels creative and artistic to me as we open ourselves up to the universe in a very holistic approach.

3:30 a.m: I wake up in time to have coffee. We spent the night with relatives in LA so we could take a non-stop to Philadelphia. I went to bed last night, leaving Sean and Gary, Jim’s brother, who is very conservative, discussing politics. When I hear how literate Sean is about politics, I am blown away! Free-flowing and organic it might be, but at the end of it, this project has led to just what I hoped it would. Sean understands how politics works and doesn’t work. He has formed his own views and opinions. He can have an intelligent, fact-filled discussion about this very important area.

6:20 a.m. Departure: I am not the only person on the plane wearing a Bernie t-shirt. The song that keeps going through my mind is Revolution by the Beatles.

T-shirt Day 1
T-shirt Day 1

When we got to Philly there was a text from Jim. “Had I heard that WikiLeaks released the information showing the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Hillary Clinton’s colluded to keep Bernie Sanders’ from getting the nomination?” What a week to be in Philly!

Christina Keller picked us up and drove us to our VRBO. The place is lovely, absolutely lovely! We ate at a wonderful vegan restaurant, Bar Bonbon, grocery shopped, and got back early to rest. The action starts tomorrow. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? All I know is that we will learn a lot & remember much of it forever!

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Our VRBO, home for the week


This Week in School, Day 2, 7/25/2016

We woke up to pouring rain, thunder and more news about WikiLeaks implicating Debbie Wassermann Schultz, and that she would have to resign because of them. I must be honest and say, I wish this year study politics was a little less over the top. Basically we learned that all the things Bernie Sanders and his supporters said occurred during the primary season, did.

T-shirt Day 2
T-shirt Day 2

The rain stopped and there was nothing for it, except to get going. We decided to start by heading over to FDR Park, the site of the Occupy DNC sit-in. There were a few tents, but not many. I am not surprised; it is really hot and humid. A chalk mural was being done filled with slogans, I added my bit.


It was pretty quiet here, so we decided to head to the convention center. While there we ran into some friends. This is one of the cool parts of doing this, because we have done a lot of volunteering, we run into friends everywhere. We went in to hear a talk about the TPP. The room was huge, and the sound was just okay. I don’t know how the delegates take it for hours. The energy and people watching was worth the security check, even though we couldn’t stay long. Bernie Sanders was coming to speak to the delegates, and without delegate credentials, we couldn’t stay.


Time to head over to Progressive Central and check it out. While there, I made a new homeschooling friend. She lives on Kauai. We were biding our time, out of the heat, until the March/Rally. Progressive Central is at a really nice LGBTQ Center. The venue and people there were warm and welcoming.

Felicia Alongi Cowden, Kauai, Hawaii

The Rally began at 3:00 p.m. There were a huge number of people there, Greens and Bernie Democrats mainly, but also some Libertarians. The speaking was good and impassioned. Then I turned my head and Cornell West was right there. He is a wonderful speaker.

Cornell West is an inspirational speaker
There are SO MANY people at these!


Cornell West was leaving to lead the March, when Jill Stein showed up. About half of the people at the rally had already left with Cornell to march. The rest of us stayed and listened to Jill speak. It is amazing when I think of all the people and issues Sean has learned about this year.

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The march, according to Sean’s phone, was over 3 miles long! The heat was intense. We were told, with the humidity, it was 108o! About halfway to our destination, there was a sit-in going on. Some streets are named after states. These streets intersect Broad Street, the street the marchers were walking on, and the blocks of Broad Street that intersected Mississippi Street had flags hanging that had the Confederate flag as a part of it. The protesters, who we joined, wanted the flags down. The sit-in had started in the morning. About 10 minutes after we got there, the flags were removed!

The night sky of Philly from the roof of our VRBO.
The night sky of Philly from the roof of our VRBO.



We were ready to get back to our VRBO at the end of the march. We were planning on watching the first night of speeches with friends. It was a good night to be surrounded by friends especially for Sean. Of course the entire thing was very disappointing and disillusioning in light of the WikiLeaks. Two years ago when I decided to have Sean study politics this year, I certainly had no idea it would be the craziest year of politics of my lifetime, and it isn’t over yet.


I won’t spend much time discussing our emotions and feelings publicly other than to say this. My mother was an alcoholic. I grew up with all the myriad issues and problems that entails. Listening to the speeches last night and the spin on the news this morning reminds me of growing up in an alcoholic family where there is a huge elephant in the room. The Democrats have an elephant in their room that is a bigger problem for them than Trump and the RNC could ever be. Bad things were done, and all the powers that be are not talking about them, including Sanders. The divisiveness is going to grow not shrink, as some Democrats refuse to acknowledge the elephant’s existence and others refuse to ignore it. Real healing cannot happen without an honest discussion, apology, and forgiveness. It makes me sorry to see us fight about how we are betraying each other instead of acknowledging the corruption and collusion that occurred as evidenced in the WikiLeaks, and then working to make sure it doesn’t happen again.


This photo is from Day 3. I guess I am not the only person thinking these thoughts.

This Week in School, Day 3, 7/26/2016


T-shirt Day 3
T-shirt Day 3


It was sunny and cooler today but still hot. You might be wondering why the daily weather update. Oh my, we are outdoors at events held on paved areas every day, and it is hot with so much humidity!

The real revolution, and it feels like there is one going on, is happening outside on sidewalks, in parks, and in the streets. I do not care who you support, the quality of the speeches we have heard have been superb. It is one person, speaking without a teleprompter after another. The speakers are articulate and impassioned. Their messages are so well packaged it is hard to believe anyone can speak that eloquently for that long without any notes. I am telling you this as an educator and a public speaker. No endorsements will be made here, but what we are learning every day about politics, activism, and varying ways of looking at situations is something most people are never exposed to. It opens you up to lines of thought, issues, and perspectives that never occurred to you before.

We were with friends who wanted to go to a demonstration, so we went back to where the march started the day before without knowing what was going on. It is hard to know where to go. It has felt like many of the events have not been well coordinated, with many similar events occurring at the same time. Many in the crowd think this is on purpose and meant as a way of dispersing the protesters by spreading them out. We found ourselves at the Bernie or BUST! Rally, which seemed as much of a Green Party rally as anything else. This link has the lineup, https://citizensagainstplutocracy.wordpress.com/2016/07/20/rally-in-philly-to-demand-bernie-or-bust/. Ultimate R.A.G.E. performed his rap song, Bernie or Bust, https://soundcloud.com/theultimaterage/the-ultimate-rage-bernieorbust.


After the rally I went back to watch the roll call with Mike Johnson. Sean was with John and Charlie watching it backstage at FDR Park. They came back to the VRBO dejected, hot, and tired. No miracles, or drama, depending on your perspective, happened.

As John and I were starting to make dinner, Charlie came in from a run and told us there was a Black Lives Matter March going up Broad Street. The VRBO is very close to the march route. I left John to make dinner, grabbed Sean, and we hurried to catch up to the marchers.

The march was huge. The final destination was FDR Park; we got there about 9 p.m. Jill Stein showed up again! We have seen her 3 times in two days. I admit to being worried for her. I got close enough to shake her hand last night. I am not big, only 5’4”.  I think she is smaller than me; she seems so vulnerable out here, with no protection, trying to change the world.

Jill Stein
Jill Stein
Jill Stein
Jill Stein

The overall effect of what Stein and the Green Party are trying to do is to end the two-party system. They have a specific agenda yes, and they are working to put that forth. In order to do that, because neither the Democratic or Republican Party will adopt their agenda, they need their party to grow as to the number of states where people can vote for them and that takes more supporters in the states where she is not on the ballot. One of the speakers from the daytime rally said a group of activists representing a wide range of progressive causes was going to join the Green Party. The goal was that the Green Party would become the party of the people and would come to represent core progressive values like social justice and climate justice issues and ending childhood hunger and poverty. It is absolutely fascinating to observe and learn from this committed group of Americans about grassroots activism and how movements build.  The entire situation with the Green Party is made even more fascinating, because while the Green Party is trying to build their party and bring the coalition built by Bernie Sanders into it, Bernie Sanders is trying to keep the same coalition of voters in the Democratic Party to vote for Clinton so Trump doesn’t get elected. There is a small presence from the Libertarian Party for Gary Johnson, but neither seems to engender the same type of attention from this group as Stein and the Green Party. It occurs to me constantly that this is what it must have been like directly before, during, and after the American Revolution.


It was interesting in the park at night. The crowd is younger, and the energy is different. The police are out in even greater force than they are during the day. The police have been really great by the way; everyone I have talked to has said this. There is a mix of people, of all ages and colors, trying to keep everything peaceful, and a very few people who seem to be trying to agitate. Even the agitating was low-key.

Friends in the Park
We met some friends who we had not seen in a while at the event.

Two fascinating bits from the evening: It seems at these nighttime events, when the group gets large, plainclothes police or FBI go through the group splitting the crowd by directing the group to another location through misinformation, like telling them delegates need to get out when in fact they don’t. This splits the group because only about half of the people leave.

I hugged him of course!


Friends in the Park
Friends in the Park

IMG_8541IMG_8516The other thing we witnessed was a television reporter who had told his audience that protesters were rioting and burning flags. We were there, and nothing even remotely like that went on. People were just standing and sitting around chatting. Two women overheard him tell his audience that, and they laid into him on live television, telling him he was the problem and that he was a liar (which he was). The women were about my age. The reporter was in his 20’s. The women, one black and one white, scolded him seriously like he was a kid who got caught doing something bad.

I had a conversation with a woman running for congress in Virginia. She was telling me the plan progressives have for how to get elected. They are running in this election, but most do not expect to be elected this cycle. The goal is to spend the next two years working on name recognition, running again, and then they expect to have a better chance at winning their seats.

Kimberly Lowe with Emily and me. She is running for congress in Virginia.

Check out our post on What Constitutes Secular Academic Materials here.

The Homeschool History Project: American Government

The Home School History Project: American Government

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana

Learning about other cultures in Machu Picchu, Peru
Learning about other cultures in Machu Picchu, Peru

I interpret this quote to mean that through studying history people are less likely to repeat past mistakes. I think this is an important reason for studying history. In the United States the best way to accomplish this is by participating in the election process and at least voting. It disturbs me that young people, those who are likely to live the longest and therefore be affected the most by voting decisions made now, are not voting. It seems to me, they are not ensuring that the world they’re going to get is the one they want to live in.

Roanoke, South Carolina
Roanoke, South Carolina

Kids who attend traditional schools have a hefty history requirement, but if you look at the statistics of how likely they are to vote, this doesn’t translate into them helping ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. I wonder if the reason for the disconnect between studying history and working to affect change through the simple act of voting is because of the focus on studying past events without applying the knowledge in a meaningful way to their own life.

Youth Voting

Registration And Voting Among Young Americans

A 2009 Project Vote report on voter participation in the 2008 elections shows how drastically civic engagement amongst young people, and especially among young people of color, lags behind other groups:

·         Though 21% of the eligible voter population, voters 18-29 made up only 17% of the actual voting population in 2008.

·         Approximately 21 million citizens under the age of 30 did not vote in 2008.

·         If younger citizens had voted at the same rate as those aged 30 and over, 7 million more people would have cast ballots in the election.

·         As of November 2008, fewer than half (49%) of the 3.7 million 18-year-old citizens were registered to vote, a rate 22 points lower than the general population.

·         In 2008, non-white or Latino 18-year-old citizens were registered to vote at a rate six percentage points behind their white counterparts, 51 percent of whom are registered.


These numbers were even worse for the last election in 2014. That got me thinking about learning history and applying what has been learned in a meaningful way. This is how I believe science should be taught. Why not history?

In Gettyburg, Pennsylvania Memorial Day, 2013
In Gettyburg, Pennsylvania
Memorial Day, 2013

I was thinking along these lines when I came up with the idea for The Homeschool History Project. Sean has spent many years studying history. He has studied American History and World History. We seek out historical sites and living history museums when we travel. This year he is going to apply what he has learned about the past to the world of today. He will actively engage in the history of now.

Two of the basic premises for history this year are:

  1. Large scale changes in history often occur through government action. This is not the only way historical change occurs, but it is what we are focusing on this year.
  2. The best way to learn how government works is by participating in it.

How does a high school student participate in government in a meaningful way? The truth is there aren’t many avenues open to them. Working for a political campaign is one of the few. By working for a political campaign, Sean will gain a better understanding of the issues important to government and the electorate. He will gain a practical working understanding of how elections work and why it is important to vote. Perhaps even more importantly, by investigating and researching candidates, issues, and political parties, he will learn what is most important to him with respect to the issues he will vote on in the future.

The living history Lexington, Massachusetts
The living history museum Lexington, Massachusetts

What Students Will Be Doing in This Course: A Tentative Schedule

This is not a final schedule. Nothing is set in stone. I expect there to be revisions over the next year.

  1. As candidates enter the primary, listen to the speech where they declare their candidacy and fill out the form at the end of this post.
  2. Months 1 and 2:
    • Thinkwell American Government
    • Choose a candidate. If the candidate does not make it out of the primary, Sean will have to switch candidates. He will sign up for a campaign during the first two months with an understanding that he will start working in earnest on the campaign in December. Volunteering will be in addition to the assigned written work.
  3. Months 3 through one month after the election
    • Each month, look at a specific issue or set of related issues. For example, the different parties’ platforms on scientific issues. Issues like stem cell research and climate change. On week one of the month, fill out a questionnaire looking at the issues. On week two look at how each candidate aligns with their party’s platform. On week three, look at the facts, without the politics, of these issues. On week four, write or discuss orally our opinions about these issues. We will also look at unions, lobbying, healthcare, the financial system, the ongoing wars, money in politics, foreign policy, and any other issues that are important to the electorate. The goal is to have some understanding of these issues by the end of this process.
    • Write a monthly blog piece about the candidates, issues, and our volunteer experiences.
    • Watch and discuss orally all the debates. Focus on the discussions with Sean being cogent, while adequately supporting opinions about the debate and the candidate’s positions. Use social media such as Facebook and twitter to comment on the debates. Read factcheck.org after the debates to see who was the most honest about their positions and their opponents’ positions on issues.
    • Create a photo journal for the final month of the election. Sean will be working hard enough on the campaign this month and won’t have time for much more than photo journaling.
The Homeschool History Project: Handcrafting High School: Year 2: American Government
The Homeschool History Project: Handcrafting High School: Year 2: American Government

In case you are wondering, I am not an expert on American politics or American government. I know more than Sean, but for most of this we will learn together. I think this adds strength to this course of study. We will use the Thinkwell course to come to an academic understanding of American government. In addition, I want Sean to see my opinions and positions grow and evolve as I come to a deeper understanding of issues, and as I watch the candidates in the debates and read what is written about them. I plan on exploring issues with him and discussing and taking positions as to which we each care most about. I will not be looking for Sean to mirror my positions. I want him to come to an understanding of what matters most to him. I have been careful to this point not to favor any candidate. Does it mean no bias has crept in? No, that is inevitable. Both my husband and I have similar views on most issues, and we often discuss our views.

I am glad these went out of style, LOL!
I wonder why these went out of style? LOL!

When I first came up with this idea I thought I would put together a group to do this. We will be doing this with or without a group. One other homeschooling mom is going to do this with us. If anyone else wants to participate in this, great, but it will definitely be a group effort. Frankly, I am too busy for it to be anything else. Here are the guidelines that must be met for participation with the group.

If you want to participate in this with us:

  • All political and religious affiliations are welcome. However, every person will have to sign a statement at the beginning of this course that they will be respectful of other’s differences. No flaming or bullying will be tolerated. We will leave that for political attack ads. If we can’t celebrate each other’s differences, we will need to at least respect them.
  • There will be some requirements for the parents of each student. Do not sign up for this unless you, the parent, are willing to do some of the teaching of this course. You will also have to commit to either working on the campaign with your student, or at a minimum, making sure they get to their commitments over the course of the year. It is also expected that you make sure your student is doing the work. It is up to the parent, not me or the other students to make sure your student is doing the work.
  • Even though I am the person starting this group, I am not in charge of this group.
  • You do not need to know me personally to be considered for this group.
  • It is a requirement for this course that all adults the student lives with commit to voting in the 2016 election. Because this course is about American government and how it functions, it is critical that you as a parent set a positive example for your student.
  • Students can choose any candidate they want, with the exception of candidates who support voter suppression of any kind. Voter suppression disillusions and disenfranchises young people. The purpose of this project is to empower young people not the opposite.
I think the Founding Father’s would be shocked by the low voter turnout in the United States.

It feels a little funny to openly discuss our political preferences, but Sean doesn’t share my reservations.

candidate form

Check out my post on handcrafting 10th grade here.

Handcrafting 10th grade: The Plan for 2015/2016

Handcrafting 10th grade

Eclectic? Absolutely! Academic? Of Course! Innovative? You Know It!

It’s Organic, Too! (I am a chemist, after all! ;-))

History: American government & politics with writing

History and the upcoming election will be the main focus this year.

Computer Science

  • Work for Thoughtstem, http://www.thoughtstem.com/home
  • I let Sean choose between designing a website by himself that will be live by the end of the school year, 2016, or take a series of three courses at UCSD Extension focusing on learning to program in HTML and CSS. He chose designing a website. He already has put in some time on The Homeschool History Project website, and he is enjoying the project. It was getting to be too much to do everything and something had to give. He wants to focus on politics and crew this year, and I can’t blame him. I do to, at least the politics part.

Lit analysis

These will be in addition to the book club books. These are not in the order that they will be read. Before I tell you what the list is, I thought you might be interested in the process I use to decide what books are going to read over the course of a year. I look for books with content that is relevant to what we are studying. I narrow these down based on the quality of the writing, and how likely someone of Sean’s age is to get through the material.


Write a weekly blog post for Sean’s blog WiseBread, https://wisestbread.wordpress.com/2015/05/, about the following topics

  • Once a month – the election and volunteering
  • Once a month – homeschooling
  • Twice a month – Sean will choose the topic

Thinkwell geometry



It is the first year on the varsity team! http://www.sdrcjrs.com/


There are several components to this.

  • We will be using my text along with a text I found that uses data analysis for situations in geology. The book has students work through and interpret the data. This logical analysis of science data will be a great compliment to what we are doing in politics.
  • Sean will be scripting, producing, and directing 10 min. videos of me going over the more difficult topics from each chapter.
  • Sean will be editing my final draft of Astronomy and Earth Science 2 as he works through it.

There are four academic pursuits that will be woven throughout all of the above

  • Analyzing written material and pulling meaning from it
  • Tight writing
  • Being able to formulate an opinion and state that opinion clearly while using supporting statements
  • Work on the skill of logically analyzing written and oral arguments where someone is trying to convince you of something. Try to ferret out when someone states an opinion as if it is a fact. Pay attention to the logical process used to form the opinion and how well the facts support the opinion. Study the quality of the sources used to support the argument.

I am not sure exactly what, but something with Thom Jones at Crime Scene Camps, http://www.crimescenecamps.com/onlineclasses.html. I promise you, I am not getting free classes or materials from Thom. His classes are that good!

 FYI, Homeschooling High School Rocks!

Check out this Real Science Odyssey Lab Photo Journal here.