Handcrafting High School: Year 2, Custer State Park
I think the year you study geology and environmental science, you should spend time outside looking at the subject of your studies, so we did. I did not keep a daily journal, because I had writer’s block. Something I had never experienced before. It gave me insight into what happens for kids who have good ideas but can’t get them onto a page. My writer’s block made me feel like my brain was constipated. I had so many ideas running around in my head I had trouble getting anything out at all. It made me scattered and feel a little crazy. By the time I would get to my computer to write something down, I would forget it in the jumbled, spaghetti noodle, chaotic manner that sometimes has plagued Sean’s writing. This led to a light bulb as I realized what part of Sean’s problem was. The other problem with writing all this down was that National and State Parks, for the most part, had terrible cell service and internet.
86 miles from Pine Ridge nestled in the heart of the Black Hills sits the absolutely beautiful state park, Custer State Park. Both the name of the park and the beauty of it are hard to stomach, especially when you realize the Supreme Court has agreed the Black Hills, including the land this park is on, was illegally taken from the Sioux, but they cannot have it back. Talk about historical trauma! The two photos are symbolic of this. The sign is in protest of the uranium mine built just outside the reservation that is polluting their water. In the park is the residence where Calvin Coolidge spent 3 months during one of the summers he was President, Summer White House in South Dakota. The water at it is not being polluted with radioactive waste.
8/21-22: Custer, SD
We went into the town of Custer, South Dakota to wash clothes, do a little shopping, and stock up on groceries. The people were lovely. We wondered though, how it would be if Sean and Sophia looked like a Native Americans. We had read about and heard so many stories about racist actions toward the Sioux in South Dakota, and they made us recognize and acknowledge the white privilege conferred on us. The kids began to think of stereotyping as a dangerous thing to do, even though Sean told us everybody does it, and you have to think about it not to do it.
This Park is has great wildlife viewing in it.
The next day we drove around the wildlife loop and to an area just outside the park where someone told me about a large prairie dog town.
Just outside Custer State Park is Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave is huge. In fact it is so huge that wind occurs at its natural opening. Whether the wind blows into or out of this opening depends on the atmospheric pressure outside of the cave. When the pressure is high, wind blows into the cave, and when it is low, it blows out of the cave. Wind Cave has over 100 miles of passageways. As you can see from the yellow tape our guide is holding, the pressure on this day was higher outside the cave than inside it, which is why the yellow tape is being sucked into the opening.
Native Americans consider(ed) Wind Cave a sacred place.Caves are fascinating examples of the geologic forces that shape Earth. The original cave began forming about 320 million years ago in a fresh/salt water zone. About 470,000 years ago the cave started draining, Wind Cave geology and more Wind Cave geology.
These boxwork formations are rare in caves, boxwork . Boxwork remains after the rest of the cave has dissolved away because of differences in solubility of the mineral calcite, which is what boxwork form from, and the minerals that surrounded them.
After two days at Custer we headed toward Jackson Hole, home to an old family friend of mine. There had been some discussion about seeing Mount Rushmore, and I said, “No Way!” I just couldn’t. The man who originally carved Mount Rushmore was in the KKK, Mount Rushmore, the KKK, and sanitized American history. After learning this, it was unanimous. We stopped outside of the Crazy Horse Monument, but we didn’t pay to visit there either. It didn’t look to me like that monument benefited the Native Peoples in South Dakota, and we were all done with supporting businesses in South Dakota that did not give back to the Native Community.
Check out our previous homeschooling high school post here.
The first month of tenth grade might have been the best month we ever spent homeschooling. You might be thinking, “Well, Yeah! You were traveling and hanging out. How could that not be great?” 🙂 That is true, of course, but it was more than that. The planning and intent for this trip focused on enriched learning. The choices for where we stayed and what we did were planned with the intent that what we studied on the road would enrich our understanding of a situation in science, culture, and/or history. We were not disappointed.
I am behind in my writing so I can tell you from perspective, that this year is the best example of what I mean by the statement that for our homeschool the method we use is the one that works. The factors that go into deciding the method or mix of them are
what my son is studying: different subjects require different methodologies.
the best materials and/or programs I can find for the course. Even for subjects I know well, I like to find materials to reference.
how he accesses information while studying the materials for that course of study. This is a mixed bag for him. Sean is a very creative person, and subject areas he considers creative he treats differently than those subjects, like math, that he does not consider creative endeavors.
how I am best able to present that material, in other words, “the best way for me to teach it.” You have probably noticed I usually talk about learning, but I am Sean’s primary teacher, chooser of materials, and chooser of core courses. So, the materials and courses have to work for me too.
and what comes along to be added in while we are engaged in the subject. This is the reason this blog post is late. Really cool opportunities keep coming up.
Each course of study gets its own special treatment. If my son and I think something is important enough to include in his academic journey, then I will work to figure out the best course of study for him for this subject. Sometimes this “best method” is universal for most students, sometimes it is specific to my son or people who access information similar to him, and sometimes what looks like the “best” on the outside does not end up being the best after we get started with it. If what we do sounds good to you I think there are two things to recognize. 1. It is a lot of work to give someone a handcrafted education, and 2. the results are so worth it! Over the years it has been hard to judge this from time to time, but now in tenth grade I am able to see I mostly got it just right.
There is also a big difference between mostly right and all right, when it comes to my relationship with my son’s journey through learning. I think a lot of problems can occur when homeschooling parents assume they have figured out a course that is all right. It is too easy to become attached to paths when that happens. Because I assume with a lot of work, the best I will ever attain is mostly right, I keep working hard to figure out what best is and what it looks like. This results in us adding and discarding parts without getting too attached to them as I continually work to get the journey mostly right. This work is where and when the magic happens.
Because we have already incorporated so many methods into this year’s homeschool journey, I will try to discuss them as I go along. My goal with my 10th grade blog articles will be to focus more on the process we use. I get a lot of people asking me for more information about that aspect of our handcrafted education.
A year or two ago I decided to start tenth grade with a service project, followed by a driving tour studying local history, conservation, and geology, especially geology. Plate tectonics is a core concept of geology, but tectonic plates are so big, it is hard to see how slow moving rocks can lead to the formation of something massive like the Himalayas. I wanted to follow the Pacific Ring of Fire down the West Coast of the U.S. so that Sean could get an idea how large tectonic plates are. Besides, I think the year you study geology and environmental science, you should spend a lot of time outside looking at the subject of your studies. This illustrates the most common learning strategy I use. I will ask Sean to study the basics of a core concept, like plate tectonics, just the basics at this point, nothing intense. Next we learn about those basics in a practical manner, as we did with our driving tour. At that point he is fairly literate about this core concept. Then we will return to our course of study, in this case geology, with an understanding of this core concept. This gives you a place to bring everything together and take learning to a new level. It turned out to be everything I hoped for and more. You might be thinking, but how can I do that. There is no way I can spend 5 weeks on the road. Just remember field trips will work too. 🙂
I am going to write this using photos and short blurbs about where we were and why. I did write a few blog pieces focused on location. I will include those links.
Getting to the Service Project
8/11/2015: We packed up and got ready.
Five of us left together on our grand adventure. In addition to me, there was my son Sean, his best friend Sophia, my husband Jim, and our good friend Michelle. I love to pack for our adventures. We planned on spending 5 weeks on the road, most of that sleeping in our pop-up trailer. We would sleep in the dorms and eat in the communal dining hall at Re-member, but the rest of the time we would sleep and eat primarily from food we cooked in the pop-up. This would save us a lot of money, but it also made it easier because of the 5 of us, 2 are vegan, 2 are vegetarian, and Michelle, the only meat eater of the bunch, was leaving us after Re-member. Getting vegan food on the road in the U.S. is not easy. It is so much easier to do in other countries!
8/12 near Great Basin National Park, Nevada
We started in Bridgeport, California at 5 in the morning. We packed up the night before so we could start early. We wanted to get on the road early, so we could find ourselves in the middle of nowhere a couple of hours before dark. We planned on waking up at 2 in the morning on 8/13 to watch the Perseid meteor shower, http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2015/11aug_perseids/. It was a long hot drive and everyone was a bit crispy by the time we got to a spot we liked, but it was well worth it. The Perseids did not disappoint.
A good place to watch a meteor shower, away from any light pollution.
Sean complains, but I still make him go to guided talks with us. Jim complains too sometimes, but they humor me! I tell Sean he may not thank me as a teenager, but he will thank me when he is 30!
Look at the uplift! This area might be quiet now, but it hasn’t always been that way.
There is evidence that these organisms once swam where we are standing now. Inland seas, dinosaurs, volcanic activity, uplift, and now us standing on the ever-changing Earth!
We saw petroglyphs too! Jim, my husband, and I love to hike and hunt out evidence of ancient civilizations. I was glad to see these on our way to Re-member. Too often the history of the North American continent is taught as if it started when Columbus “discovered” America. I wanted there to be a focus throughout this month on how history is interpreted and often distorted.
We went to check out an old homestead before heading back to our campsite. My family is all from Colorado. Many of the summers of my childhood were spent in the town of Eagle, Colorado. This homestead made me nostalgic for those days.
Working on kendama tricks was a major theme of the trip!
Cleaning the dust off in the Green River.
You might be curious about the planning for all this. If it looks like I have everything planned down to the nth, you might be surprised. Most of this is done haphazardly. My son will tell you I am the free-spirited type and often when we travel, figuring things out on the fly, on the road is best. Plans like the when and where for our service project, are figured out well ahead of time, but the rest is not. For example, the plan to go to Dinosaur National Monument Park was figured out two days before we left. I happened to read about it somewhere, none of us had heard of it before, and away we went.
Check out our post on an eclectic and effective approach to foreign language studies here.
We school year round with lots of breaks. That doesn’t matter to a planner like me though. Every year I have a start date and an end date. The year-end date for this year was the day we picked Sean up from Stanford. Our life was a whirlwind during the time leading up to that. Talk about eclectic! And academic! And we always keep it secular! Science is not a small part of our life!
Planning for next year
The previous month I had Sean work on some short nonfiction essays. As he was working on these I realized the structuring of his ideas was chaotic. What he had to say was good, but often it felt like he had dumped all of his ideas on a plate in a way that reminded me of cooked spaghetti noodles. This is something we will focus on next year. One of the most important things I do during the last scheduled month of our school year is assess where Sean is in the core subjects, and what specific things he needs to work on the following year. From this standpoint my scheduling makes sense. Maybe I should think of it as an assessment period instead of an endpoint. Especially since I change, tweak, and update the plan regularly.
Assessment is an important part of the teaching and learning process. It’s gotten a bad name in recent years because of the testing culture at traditional schools, but it is critical to evaluate someone’s progress when you are teaching them, especially if you are an eclectic, academic homeschooler. You can trust your child is at grade level if you use a good, solid textbook or course that is at grade level, but you’re still going to need to assess them to make sure they have learned the material. We like to mix it up as you know if you’ve been reading about our handcrafted education this year. Some of Sean’s best and most meaningful work is done without any outside guidance. The problem with evaluating that work is there is nowhere for me to go to get a feel for where Sean’s work is as far as “grade” level.
Evaluating Sean’s progress isn’t as difficult as it could be, because I’m not holding Sean to a standard designed by someone who does not know him. I let the evaluation and the plan for next year reflect Sean’s academic strengths and weaknesses. I find challenging material for him in those areas where he is strong and I am thoughtful and careful when choosing material for the areas where he struggles.
The most intense planning is for subjects I think people should just know. In eighth and ninth grade it was computer programming. In tenth grade it will be American government and politics. The longer I homeschool the more comfortable I am when I design a course that is most likely different from any other student is studying. I no longer worry if colleges will like the courses. It just isn’t about colleges’ approval for us. I am guided instead by what I consider essential knowledge in today’s world. These courses often include knowledge of topics where I think high schools are dropping the ball by not teaching them in a meaningful way. The low-level to non-existent computer programming skills being taught is one example. Another example is that kids are getting out of high school, at an age when they can vote, without an understanding of key issues in the political science of today. Issues being decided that, because of the difference in age, will affect them much more than the people deciding them. Because these are unique classes they take a lot of planning, and it is important to me that they be academic in addition to being enriching, which takes even more planning. If possible I weave necessary skill-building lessons into these areas, which takes even more planning.
May 1 to May 26, 2015
We had three chapters of algebra to get through to be finished for the year. Math was a big part of this month. Algebra this year has been very interesting. My grandmother said to me once, “In our family math is either so easy you can work through it as easily as you can fall into a pool or you have to work at it.” Until this year Sean had to work at it. Something clicked this year. Math is still his least favorite subject, but he now thinks it is his easiest. If you think I am lucky because of this, I would agree with you, but you have no idea how much drama and angst there has been about math over the years.
Early this month Sean said to me, “I would like to write an article about programs teaching computer coding to help others who want their kids to learn to code. I have been so fortunate with the programs you have found for me, I want to give something back,” How to Get Started with Coding, Sean Lee. Sometimes there are glimmers of the adult he’s going to be, and then there’s the rest of the time. 😉
The rest of the writing for the month focused on politics, Spain, and the volunteer trip we would be taking in August on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Because Sean needed to work on structuring, I sent him a nonfiction article daily. I had him start his day reading this article. I would discuss the topic of the article with him, and the structuring the author used for the article.
I like to use other people’s writing when discussing Sean’s writing. We do not use these writings for copy work however. Sean has never enjoyed copy work. I am not a fan of it either. We both consider copy work drudgery. I understand that you can learn techniques from copying the work of others. Sean and I choose to learn those techniques in ways that do not include copy work though. I think of writing as a creative process. To me it is an art form. When you write something that comes from you, it is original. It is unique. It is something you created from your mind. I think creating your own original work is meaningful and special. I come from a family of visual artists and designers. I am the only member of my family who uses words to create their art. I am terrible at creating visual art. I do like to design things though. I want Sean to experience the beauty others use with the artistry of their words. I look for him to use some of the techniques he observes while he crafts his own writing instead of by copying those techniques directly.
Other writing techniques we will focus on in tenth grade are transitions between paragraphs, comma splicing, and concluding paragraphs.
Sean did not finish either of the Coursera courses he started. We ran out of time. Instead he spent his time reviewing the programs in his portfolio so he would be up to speed on these skills when he went to Stanford.
What a wonderful time to be studying astronomy. There are so many new discoveries in this field of science being made every day it is hard to keep up with all of them. We gave it a good try though. Sean took topics out of my book and learned more about them. It was exciting to hear what he was learning. He also used Khan Academy focusing on the math used by astronomers.
This was a busy month of rowing. There were away races and practices were mandatory. Sean has loved this sport. It is much nicer living within biking distance too. Sean hops on his bike, rides to and from, and rows in the middle of his ride.
Eclectic, Academic World-Schooling: Spain
Raising our child to be a global citizen is one of the things my husband and I think is essential knowledge for today’s world. We mainly use travel to make this happen. I cannot lie and say the travel is just for him. I am a vagabond at heart. I absolutely love to see people’s differences. Travel lets us see how those differences are reflected in different cultures. Because of rowing, our trips this year were during the summer, rowing’s off-season.
Our reason for choosing Spain was more eclectic than academic, not that this affected the things I dragged everyone to. My husband has always wanted to go to Spain, and the exchange rate this summer favored the dollar. Spain was fantastic. It was my husband, Jim’s, favorite place we’ve ever travel to. It was one of Sean’s favorites. My favorite is still India. I love Spain, but there is something about India and the people of India that resonates with me like nowhere else I have ever been. You can read about our trip to Spain here, our stay in Spain and India here, our stay in India.
HSC Campout, June 20 to 26
One of the homeschool groups in California, HSC, has weeklong campouts throughout the year. These are so much fun to attend. One of these campouts started a couple of days before we got home from Spain. Sean begged us to let him go. I was receiving emails from friends asking me to go as well. There was no way I was going to get home from Spain and immediately camp for a week. Sean on the other hand had someone pick him up the day he got back from Spain so he could go camping. I might just be raising a vagabond! Camping with HSC
The CHN Conference, June 27 to 28
I picked Sean up on the way to a homeschool conference where I was speaking. One of the perks of having a mother who speaks at homeschool conferences is that you get to attend them. I had heard from other homeschoolers over the years that one of the highlights of their year was attending an annual homeschool conference. I did not take that very seriously until we had attended our first. They are a blast for kids and their parents. In addition to being fun to attend, conferences are a great place for homeschoolers to meet other homeschoolers, make friends, and share ideas. Homeschoolers are a spread out bunch. It is rare to find a group of us together at the same time. I think conferences are important for homeschoolers with a homeschool related business or endeavor for networking. I also think the talks geared toward parents are a sort of academic enrichment. Of course you have to find talks on topics that bring something to your homeschool. If you can find those, you can learn new techniques and tips and gain insight into issues affecting your homeschool situation.
This conference I had a big surprise coming. In the middle of April, I started the Facebook Group Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers. I did not realize how many people were going to want to talk to me about the group and the content in the article I wrote that led to the formation the group. I brought 50 copies of the article, just in case someone wanted to read it. The copies were gone in a couple of hours. Honestly I was so busy at this conference I barely had time to go to or eat.
The attention I was getting did not go unnoticed by the conference organizers. They asked if I would help them arrange and find speakers for an academic track for their 2016 conference! How exciting! They are looking for talks about Science, Mathematics, Social Studies, Computer Science and other STEM areas, History, and Language Arts. The talks should offer practical information such as curriculum recommendations, online or outside resources (i.e. museums), why it is important to learn certain subjects and where this knowledge can take your child.
There will also be a Curriculum Library in the room where the Homeschooling 101 sessions will be held. I am a big fan of looking over materials before buying them. This is a great idea. I will make sure they have a full complement of Pandia Press’ products. If there are materials you would particularly like to look over contact Diane or Martin Forte, CHN curriculum library.
Stanford Pre-Collegiate Computer Simulations and Artificial Intelligence Program, AKA Where Sean Learned to Dance!
Yes you read that correctly! About 4 years into our homeschool journey, my husband remarked that, “One of the major benefits of homeschooling is kids grow up following their own interests. They do not have peer pressure, telling them something is or is not cool.” Sean has grown up being taught if you are interested in something, you should investigate and learn more about it. We believe the places your mind takes you are more than just your idiosyncrasies; they are part of the core essence that makes you unique. My one caveat to this is that Sean has to stick with something he has invested time in even when it gets difficult and complicated, as happened during this school year with computer programming.
I believe Stanford feels the same. When we took Sean to drop him off we attended a welcome dinner. At the dinner one of the speakers said this to the students, “There are no grades, so there should be no fear of failure. Dare to take risks. These three weeks are about exploring ideas and intellectually challenging yourself.” Which is just what Sean did, but not in the way I expected him to do it.
I do not believe language arts and math should be the only important criteria for measuring intelligence, as is often the case in schools today. For that reason Sean has not been raised to only value them. Many years ago I read about the theory of multiple intelligences, The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Wikipedia. I have a degree in evolutionary biology, and from the standpoint of evolution and natural selection this theory makes sense. From the standpoint of both a parent and an educator, this theory is observable. Sean has been raised with the understanding that bodily kinesthetic is a type of intelligence and should be treated and valued as such, which is probably why he did not think it would be an issue with his parents when he spent more time at Stanford learning to dance than he did working on computer programming. He was right too. Sean had never, and I mean never, ever! including dancing at teen dances, shown any interest in dancing, despite my love of dancing. I do so love to dance. Nothing structured, but when the music and mood strike, I can dance all night.
Sean had only been at Stanford a couple of days when he texted me telling me he had a new passion, dance. I was beyond surprised, and began peppering him with worried questions asking about the program, and whether he was studying computer programming. He was. It was just that he had a new interest, oh and by the way, he wasn’t going to do crew in the coming year, and I had to find hip hop dance lessons for him. LOL, Jim and I had a harder time digesting that then we did about him not focusing the bulk of his learning at Stanford on computer programming. It would not be until sometime in October that we got over him wanting to dance instead of row. He definitely dared to take a risk, did not fear failure, explored new ideas, and intellectually and physically challenged himself! I was very proud of him! That did not keep me from joking, though, that I sent Sean to Stanford to learn computer programming and he learned to dance instead. I hope Sean never stops dancing to his own drummer!
Check out last months post from handcrafting high school here.
We woke up late again. Even I didn’t get up early this morning. When I finally woke the kids up before noon they were STARVING! Even Sophia who almost never eats. Sean commented on the way over that the entire trip the 4 of us are looking for something to eat. LOL, that’s what traveling with a 15 year old boy is like. I get distracted along the way.
Sean need a pastry appetizer to eat on our way to the restaurant.
Sophia’s huge pot of soup!
There is a big soccer game tonight. The Bilbao fans have been celebrating since we got here. The red and white shirt are the Bilbao fans. The red and blue shirts are Barcelona. We learned today that Kate is having a boy, so we bought him a Barcelona team outfit, with Messi’s name on it!
The kids wanted to go back and nap (so did Jim).We came back and I washed the second load of clothes.They dry the old fashioned way! The photos are on the wall behind where I am hanging clothes out. The kids are napping on the sofa bed together but there are three beds and three bedrooms. There is also a kitchen with all the appliances. The location is 2 and 1/2 blocks away from Gaudi’s La Perdrera. It is in a great location. I originally wanted to stay in the Gothic District. I am glad we didn’t. Every time we have been down there it has been really crowded and noisy. We are in the Modern District (named for all the Gaudi buildings in it). It is a litlle over a km to the Gothic District. Perfect! Here is a link to the apartment, https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/308166.
Our host Carlos.
La Perdrera by Gaudi. The kids were seriously too hungry to go inside. They woke up from their nap starving AGAIN.
Casa Batillo, this is only about 4 blocks from where we were stayingg
Sean preferred the building next to it, below. He told us he likes symmetry.
Barcellona is a lovely mix of old and new. There are Roman walls with an oldchurch restored with Gaudi’s help alltogether. (Blair, “I will not stop sightseeing to eat, unless you let me get a photo of you two!)
Our table at the restaurant. I thought of Mark Klitsie! I should tellyou it is about 10 p.m.that we are eating dinner. It stays light until 9 p.m.here.
How much did we like dinner last night? Enough to eat here again on to night.
The owner of our apartment invited us to go listen to his band, Son de la Rambla play. They played traditional cuban music. There were some wonderful dancers at this. It got off to a slowish start because of the big game where Barcelona beat Bilboa 3 to 1. Everyone was watching it. It was the national championship. They play next week for the European cup against Italia. Once the game was over the party began! That is our host in red doing a rap number. It was a wonderful night. We got to sleep about 3 a.m. The band played until 4 a.m. The kids were tired and wanted to leave. I made them promise they would go to see Gaudi in the morning if we did!
We woke up feeling pretty good. Sean immediately wanted to go deal with tickets to Primavera Sound.
My shoes for the day. I would be back after getting the tickets to the concert. They looked so comfortable when I bought them!
We figured the subway out. Once again I understand the language better than anyone else. Sophia and Jim were both going to brush up on
their Spanish, but we are having to wing it on my high school and college Spanish. Jim and I like to take it easy the first couple of days, and then go like the wind the rest. When we got in the train we all were a bit grumbly and it was then I realized we were not quite as alive as we felt upon waking. (Dropping grumbly teens off in a foreign country at one of the largest music festivals with about 110 rules to follow seemed good in some ways and worrisome in others.)
There was tight security and the crowd looked nice. There were people from all over the world, judging from the accents we heard & many groups looked about the age of our kids. They did make Jim pay for a ticket and take the
kids in, but Sophia’s ticket was free so it worked out to what we expected in the first place.
With the kids deposited, Jim and I went back to the apartment, washed a load of clothes, and went to the Gothic District. The Gothic District is the old part of Barcelona built by the Romans. It has the narrow streets, cobbled walkways, twisty turns, and old buildings I love to see. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gothic_Quarter,_Barcelona
The lovely church spire was designed by Gaudi (more on him tomorrow).
Here is a photo of Roman ruins that are being excavated.
I am a vegan and a foodie. Before becoming a vegan, it was hard for me to figure out what restaurants we were going to go to. Now I have many fewer to choose from, so it is easier. We went to a superb!!! restaurant last night. I am known among my friends and family for my healthy eating. I cannot get too far off my diet when we travel if I want to feel good. I have found that none of us feel good after 1 week if we eat too differently. So we stick as close as we can to what we eat at home.
Barcelona is a good city to be getting over jet lag. It stays open late and doesn’t get started early. Every one but me woke after noon, and we are staying up until the early hours of the morning. The time in Barcelona is 9 hours off that in California.
Check out my post on the way from San Diego to Barcelona here.
The Home School History Project: American Government
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana
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.
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.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It feels a little funny to openly discuss our political preferences, but Sean doesn’t share my reservations.
If James, Sean’s 30 year old brother, gets his campaign finance reform NGO started, volunteer once a week for him.
Big History with online group – https://www.bighistoryproject.com/home – Sean will be doing a lot of history this year. I probably wouldn’t have him also do this, but both of us think he will enjoy and get a lot out of working with a group of homeschooled kids. So it is just a year with a lot of history!
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.
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.
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy – http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Meridian-Evening-Redness-International-ebook/dp/B003XT60E0/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1432508385&sr=1-1&keywords=blood+meridian – We are also going to look at how badly Native Americans were treated. I understand that some of the themes running through Beloved and Blood Meridian are for a mature audience. I decided with the first two books on this list that we would deal with the disturbing content when it comes up. They are a part of our history. One of the things we will study while we are reading these books is how government policies enacted at the beginning of our democracy and throughout the subsequent years that were designed to be discriminatory have continued to have negative impacts to the affected people and our country as a whole.
How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C Foster, http://www.amazon.com/How-Read-Literature-Like-Professor/dp/0062301675/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1435938339&sr=1-1&keywords=how+to+read+literature+like+a+professor. Early in the year we will read this book so that Sean can benefit from it as we read the other books. I think this book should be essential reading for teens who might take the SAT or ACT. I do not think that is the only reason to read it though. It is in interesting insight into the techniques and tropes used in literature.
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
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.
What a crazy month April was. We moved for the third time since the summer of 2012, and we aren’t in the military. First we moved from the mountains to San Diego where there is a larger homeschool community. That house was too far inland, so we moved closer to the coast. That house was too far from rowing and our adult kids, so we moved closer to both. As you can imagine our friends and family think we’re crazy, or that we really like to move. I feel the feather in Forrest Gump. In addition to moving, we spent time on the road at away races. We have a new granddaughter/niece (depending on who you’re talking to.) I wrote a blog article that led to the formation of a new group, Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers, which has kept me busy. I have also been working on instructions for the illustrator for Astronomy and Earth Science, and anytime I read over my work I edit it. It’s enough to keep even an energizer bunny like me busy!
Handcrafting High School: Computer Science
Last month Sean began writing the code to design a website. He continued working on and enjoying that project. He also signed himself up for the Coursera Course: Malicious Software and Its Underground Economy: Two Sides to Every Story, https://www.coursera.org/course/malsoftware. The professor teaching it, Dr. Lorenzo Cavallero, assigns technical academic reading from peer-reviewed journals each week of the six-week class. This gave me the opportunity to work with Sean on how to read technical academic writing. I had several professors in college assign scientific papers to be read and disseminated. It is a skilled type of reading that most people outside of scientific communities don’t have much experience with. That’s too bad, because many issues we make decisions about in our personal life are based on the findings of scientists. If you aren’t able to understand what scientists are talking about in their writings, then you have to rely on others to interpret those writings for you. That said, I’m a scientist, and it didn’t occur to me until this week that I should start working with Sean so that he has experience with this type of skilled reading. If you’re wondering what he thinks of the readings, he finds them dry, very dry. Sean is slogging through them though. When he finishes an article, I have him explain to me what the authors’ points are and what the focus of their study is. I was very pleased with his answers. (Even though, I didn’t really understand what he was talking about. Seriously, botnets?!?) Here is a link to an article someone sent me about how to read scientific papers. I didn’t use it, because I had already finished tutoring Sean on how to do it, but I read it and thought it was good. http://violentmetaphors.com/2013/08/25/how-to-read-and-understand-a-scientific-paper-2/.
Handcrafting High School: Math
This year math has clicked for Sean. He calls it his easy subject. It began when he started using a calculator for simple calculations. Once those sort of simple calculations were out of the way, Sean gained more confidence, because he could see he was good at the more difficult steps. It has been frustrating over the years to deal with this. I have told him for years he is better at math than he thinks he is. He saw that he got the problem incorrect without recognizing he did everything correct except calculate 5*7 correctly. (For some reason 5*7 is often a problem for him.) So he thought he was bad at math. The complicated, multi-stepped problems that he knows he has to pay attention to, he does well at. The problems that focused on simple calculations, he would often get wrong.
It took me a while, but I have come to be much more accepting of computerized systems in our homeschool. Why not use Dragon software for dictation if you struggle with handwriting, a calculator if you struggle with simple calculations, spell check or grammar check if those are weak areas for you? I’m not suggesting people don’t learn basic math, spelling, or grammar. I’m suggesting that if a student is struggling with a subject there is an argument to be made for eliminating the specific area they’re struggling with to focus on the larger picture. Students can continue to work on the areas they’re struggling with separately. Although you know if you follow this blog, I told Sean that unless he took the time on his own he was never going to have his multiplication tables mastered, and we left those behind. At some point, life is too short.
Handcrafting High School: Science
This was an interesting month in science for us. Last month we decided to spend the rest of this school year studying astronomy. At the beginning of this month I gave Sean a list of astronomy questions to answer. These were in areas he expressed interest in previously. He researched the answer to each question and then worked on writing strong paragraphs with good topic sentences to answer them.
While Sean worked on this, I looked over the text I am writing to make sure it was realistic to use it as a high school level course. As I have said before, astronomy, cosmology, and earth science could easily be called applied physics and chemistry. By including more applied math, and some more technical modeling exercises it was surprisingly easy to bring Astronomy and Earth Science 2 to a high school level. Interestingly, I found myself in conversation with someone who was a very well regarded high school physics and chemistry teacher. She is now running the science department for a private school in California. When I told her what I had been working on her response was, “That makes sense. There isn’t much difference between high school and middle school labs. If you included more math and focused on modeling and data analysis, you could definitely use a middle school course for high school.” It is interesting how often these sort of coincidences happen in life, isn’t it 😉
Sean spent the last part of the month reviewing the early chapters in astronomy, but this time with more math, focused modeling and data analysis, and with research questions woven through. We were both happy with the results.
Handcrafting High School: Language Arts
The focus of language arts this month was on nonfiction writing and reading. Most of Sean’s language arts has not focused on nonfiction writing, because he prefers fiction. I warned him the focus on nonfiction writing and reading would be the situation through most of 10th grade. As usual when asked to do something that is not his ideal choice, he grumbled a bit and then with his characteristic good humor got on with the task at hand. It helped that I had him focus on 3 areas that interest him.
Astronomy: He researched and wrote about parallel universes, dark matter, and black holes.
Volunteer/Travel: He spent time learning more about the Oglala Lakota tribe and the situation on the Pine Ridge Reservation, which is an interesting but depressing topic.
Politics: As with science, I gave him a series of questions to research and write about. Here is a list of the questions. I told him that if he had any problems filling these out, he should call the local Democratic or Republican headquarters and they would be able to help him answer the questions. (I am sorry to share these and not the astronomy questions, but I keep all my original work very close to my chest until it is published.)
What are the names of all the political parties who ran a candidate in the 2012 presidential election?
How many of these parties already have a declared candidate as of 4\16\2015?
What are the names of the candidates who have already declared their candidacy?
What is the procedure for declaring your candidacy for president?
Are there differences for declaring your candidacy depending on your party affiliation?
Are there differences for declaring your candidacy depending on the state you are from?
Does it cost money to declare your candidacy? If yes how much? If yes, what do you think about this policy? If no, do you think there should be a fee? We will be discussing your answer to this. I will be taking the opposite position, so be prepared to defend and discuss your position.
What does the term platform mean when referring to politics?
A lot of strategizing goes into how a candidate runs their campaign. What do you think the thinking is for someone who declares their candidacy early, or first?
Some candidates are predicted right away to have a good shot at winning, and others are predicted to have no shot at winning. It costs a lot of money, both your own and donated, to run for president. Why would anyone donate money to someone who is not predicted to win? (Hint: think about platform issues.)
This sort of spin happens to all candidates. What do you think the effect of misleading or untrue spin is on people’s attitudes toward the political process as a whole?
Sean also signed up for the Coursera Course Online Gamers: Literature, The New Media, and Narrative. He really wanted to take this. This course requires Sean to read Lord of the Rings, play the online game called LOTRO, and possibly do some writing. I’m not completely sure about that. This course started at the very end of the month. We will see how it goes. As long as he can get to all his other subjects, he can keep on doing this one, https://www.coursera.org/course/onlinegames. It’s a good course, but I think Sean might have signed up for it so he has an academic excuse to play video games 😉
Handcrafting High School: History, Law, and Unsolved Crimes
We continued to work on and review Pandia’s Level 3 American History course. We should have been done with it, but Sean got sidetracked studying about the plight of Indigenous People’s. We are taking this area of study slow; because the injustices done to them make him so angry, it can sidetrack the day.
Sean started a new course through Crime Scene Camps. We are going to be sorry when Sean has taken all of Thom’s courses. They are so good, and Thom is a master at focusing in and digging deeper. We use the courses for discussion purposes. I haven’t had Sean do anything beyond reading and discussing them with Thom and me. Sean has learned so much through them. The new course is Unsolved Crimes. So far Sean has learned about Jack the Ripper and Lizzie Borden. This class is fun! I am reading along with him!
Here is the description of the course from Thom’s website.
Unsolved Crimes: Update–In my work on the Zodiac case, I have uncovered new clues that have never been discussed previously. The first place I shared this information was with my current homeschool session of this course. This course is a homeschool version of one of my most popular college courses. We will look at iconic unsolved crimes and apply modern techniques to our analysis of each case. Each week, we will read about one of the cases, do our own research, and then discuss various hypotheses. The cases covered will include Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, The Black Dahlia, The Zodiac, the Lindbergh Kidnapping, and others. While some of these cases have a high level of violence, I tone it down, even in my college classes. I am more interested in solving the forensic puzzle.
Handcrafting High School: Crew
Jim and I chaperoned one of the away races this month. It was a blast. I rode on the girls’ bus and Jim rode up on the boys’ bus. We left the clubhouse at 4 a.m. I sat right behind the driver. I should tell you that I am an early riser. I am also the type of person to ask about and honestly want to hear the story of someone’s life. While every other person on the bus tried to sleep, I learned about the driver’s interesting and inspiring life. He had been violent in his youth and had been in and out of prison because of it. Somewhere along the line he turned his life around. He has done a good job of raising his children and the children of his various girlfriends and wives. He is still close to all of the children even the ones that are not his. He helped any of them who wanted to go to college to do so. One of the times when he was in prison, one of his ex-girlfriend had twins without letting him know. When the twins were 3, he was contacted by the state of California to pay child support for them. At that time the twins were homeless. This was the first he knew about them. He fought for and was granted custody of them. Even as I realized that his voice was very loud, and that there was grumbling on the bus all around me, I did not stop him in his story. It really was that interesting, and I am not good at stopping people when they are on a roll. I lost my privilege of riding behind the bus driver forever! LOL‼
For the first time since he joined the team, Sean experienced burnout. It lasted about a week. The week before he loved crew and wanted to go to a college with a crew team. The following week he was done with crew and didn’t want to ever row again. The next week he loved crew and wanted to go to a college with the crew team. This used to happen toward the end of the ski season too. Crew has a nine month season. It is probably lucky that April was month eight of the season.
We have 4 weeks of school before we leave for Spain. Beginning on the 27th of May we leave for Spain. I will be blogging every day about our travels.
Some months a handcrafted education looks like a carefully detailed pattern has been followed as if I bought something from Butterwick, cut it out carefully, pinned everything meticulously, and sewed all the pieces exactly to Butterwick’s specifications. Other times a handcrafted education looks like a crazy quilt. It has a little of this and a little of that. It looks like I ran out of the fabric that I was planning on using and began to wildly improvise. This month looked and felt like a crazy quilt. It was productive, satisfying, and dizzying. We crammed in everything that we could, with some left over spilling out into the future. (There’s always the summer months, LOL!) But hey, that’s homeschooling! I worked hard with scheduling this month so that between academics and rowing Sean could still have time with his friends. Rowing is a big time commitment, in part because we live an hour away from where he rows. In fact, in April we are moving 55 minutes closer to rowing. We love the house we live in now. It is nicer than the one were moving to, but to cut 1 hour and 50 minutes of driving time out of our day 5 to 6 days a week is big. I can’t wait!
Part of the crazy schedule was because my husband, Jim, went to the Women’s Conference at the United Nations in New York City in March. Jim usually does most of the driving, taking Sean where he needs to go. Jim was at the Woman’s Conference because he believes that gender equality and women’s rights are critical issues that need to be addressed to solve many of the problems in the world today. He wanted to learn more about what women from different countries felt were the key issues faced by women. He thought this would be a good place to get a feel for that. Jim has been working on his Masters for a few years now. He is getting close to the end. His Masters is in International Relations. It may seem hokey but in our house we spend time talking about things like how to make your life matter and making the world a better place for our kids and grandkids (and yours too). My husband hopes to use his Masters as a way of doing that. I don’t know what we will do when Sean goes away to college. One of the things we’ve talked about is joining the Peace Corps.
Sean finished the second quarter of computer programming with C/C++. The first two weeks of March were the last two weeks of the class. The amount of work assigned for those two weeks was intense. There really was no way to get ahead in this class, because each week there were 2 to 4 programs to write and an open book quiz that was really hard. So each week you were writing programs for that week’s assignment. Sean put in 12 to 14 hour days 6 days a week for the last two weeks. I insisted that he take 1 day off each week. At one point we debated about having him take the next quarter of the series, and then decided we were being ridiculous about it. He needed to have time for his other subjects, and he was getting burnt out about computer programming.
I asked Sean to think of a project that he would like to work on in computer science to finish out the academic school year; something that he thought would be fun. He told me he wanted to design a website for a history project that we are going to do for the next school year. It is an idea that I came up with and when I originally suggested he design a website for it, it was as an academic exercise for him so that he could apply what he has been learning. (A Wordpress blog would suffice for the project, but I would have set that up not Sean.) I think the application of knowledge is an important step in the learning process and one that is often overlooked as we cram subjects with information that is supposed to be memorized without applying it. Sean told me he needed one solid day to work on the website every week. I am glad he picked this project, because the last half of March saw him becoming enthused about computer science once again. Yay, his passion became a passion again! As far as all the hard work and cramming, wow, does he know a lot more about computer programming! As he has been applying what he learned over the last year, I have been seriously impressed. Even though I have no idea what he’s doing most of the time.
When Sean and I realized the amount of time computer science was going to take we took a break from the rest of his core academic subjects. Sean continued taking Law and History in Context. The other two “non-play” related things he continued to do were rowing and working every other weekend teaching kids computer programming.
Both Sean and I had a big surprise when he picked his math text back up. For the first time in Sean’s life math poured out of him like water out of a pitcher. My grandmother once told me that in our family math either poured out of you like water from a pitcher it was so easy, or you had to work at it. Math has always poured out of me, and my grandmother and mother, like water out of a picture. Interestingly enough that is not the case for my sister, but it is the case for my nephew, her son. For Sean, he had to work at it just like my sister did. Not anymore, though. Now he can sit down and do what used to be two days’ worth of math in half the time it took him to do one day. Math is now Sean’s easiest subject!
I am so lucky that Sean did high school level biology in eighth grade. Because try as we might I cannot see how we are going to finish the entire astronomy and earth science course this year. Part of that is because Sean has become entranced with astronomy. The course opens as an astronomy and cosmology course and then moves on to become an earth science course. Whereas it is easy to move through math more quickly, it doesn’t make sense to do that with science when someone becomes interested in an area and wants to investigate further. Sean has gotten to the point where he is asking questions about parallel universes that I don’t know the answers to. He has taken all the knowledge I have about the subject, learned more, and is accessing what scientists know or think they know about parallel universes at a level beyond where I am on the subject. It is everything that a teacher could hope for. When Sean was little he used to tell me that I was so smart he was never going to be that smart. I used to tell him that I hoped that he would learn everything I knew and be smarter.
Writing this year is pushing my panic buttons. I need to go hang out with my dear unschooling friends more. Sean is a very good writer. His main problem with his writing is that he likes to take every writing project and turn it into a big project. Big writing projects take time, lots and lots of time. Something we have not had a lot of this year. Even when he stays within the confines of a five paragraph essay, he tries to cram in as much information as possible, spending hours and days researching the topic. Then me he works for hours trying to get as much of this information into his paper as possible. The problem with that is, the writing isn’t tight. It makes his papers feel like they are not cohesive. The way he puts words together is excellent. As a reader though, you start to lose focus because there is just so much there. It doesn’t sound like much of a problem does it. To become a better writer the formula is very simple level though; you need to write. That is the entire formula. It makes me nervous when we are spending all our time on computer programming and not taking time for writing. I bought the IEW writing program, and it was really simple for Sean. At the end of the day, I do not think it is the best program for someone who already is a good writer and just needs to work on some of the stylistic issues. Some of the stylistic issues Sean needs to work on are big though. Sean does not write a good concluding paragraph. His transitions going from one body paragraph to the next are nonexistent. And he is not careful about making sure that his introductory paragraph has a lead in to each of his body paragraphs. Just as I was starting to worry, along came something very serendipitous. This type of serendipity is actually been the hallmark of this year.
One of the only perks I have ever gotten from all my writing came along this month 😉 I had the opportunity to preview a section of the High School American History Course that my publisher Pandia Press is working on right now. It was not until we had been working with this course for a week that I realized in addition to teaching history the author of the course is attempting something ambitious. She is completely successful in her attempt too. In addition to teaching American history, the author weaves study techniques and the skill of writing nonfiction essays throughout the course. If you take the time to use the techniques she is presenting to students in the student guide and the teaching techniques she gives you in the teacher’s guide, the course can be used as a history course and the bulk of a writing course. The benefits to integrating writing with another academic discipline are similar to what I was talking about when I said it was important for Sean to apply the computer programming skills he learned. I think that to take interesting topics or even just those that are assigned and apply writing skills in a meaningful way is the best way to learn writing. It also makes the academics more integrated, which both Sean and I prefer. I also have Sean write lab reports, and take some notes in science. Sean really likes to write fiction, so I give him time each year to work on his fiction writing too.
2014 was the first year in a long time that we did not travel anywhere. We had planned on traveling in the fall of 2014, but rowing got in the way. One of the things we did this month was to figure out where we are going to go this summer. Rowing is a nine month a year commitment. And Sean wants to stay committed to it next year. So we have to do our travel during the summer when there is a break from rowing.
On May 27, we leave for Spain for three weeks. I will be blogging every day as we travel. There will be a couple of posts before we leave. We are also going to take the month of August and take a driving trip through the northern part of the United States. We will be stopping at some of the national parks along the way such as Yellowstone. We will be at the Oglala Lakota reservation called Pine Ridge in South Dakota in the middle of August where we will volunteer for a week helping to build houses for the residents there, http://www.re-member.org/. I will also be blogging every day of that trip.
Check out our post on teaching high school and middle school physics here.
Oh my goodness! What a busy month February was for both Sean and me. There were times this month when I felt like I barely had time to breathe. I actually realized TWICE! that I had showered and forgotten to shave. I remember being super busy close to the end with biology too. There is a point when writing a book where I can see the finish line, and I am ready to be there, so I work as hard as I can even at night. I did not finish it this month, in case you are wondering. (The book has yet to be illustrated or edited by anyone but my husband Jim, Sean, and me. So do not start looking for it soon.)
The photos are a series of memes I found on my computer this month. Put there I am sure because of a back and forth Sean and I have going on, “Is it meant to represent a prism separating light into its individual wavelengths, or Pink Floyd’s the Dark Side of the Moon?” This all started when I bought a pair of pajama bottoms for Sean, because I thought it was cool Target was selling scientifically themed clothes. When Jim and Sean saw them, they immediately said, “Dark Side of the Moon, cool!” I disagreed! Unfortunately they were correct about Target’s intent, but I didn’t give up right away. So… memes and a bit of teasing.
Sometimes this year the academics have come together and Sean has seemed to just “get” it. That was what it was like with computer programming and math in February. Everything just jelled. This was good because Sean needed lots of sleep this month. There have been many days when he was tired all day, ravenously hungry, and extremely grumpy. TEENS! He must be growing again.
On every level, I was happy with our handcrafted homeschooled education this month. I think of the process I use with Sean as similar to how I would create a recipe. I love to create recipes by the way. I almost went into chef school instead of becoming a chemist. There are a lot of parallels between cooking and chemistry. I cannot tell you how many times my family has told me that they love something I made, and I have said, “Hmmn, I’m not sure if I can re-create this recipe. I changed so much, and I didn’t write down the specific amounts for what I used.”
Computer programming is a good example of this. Sean was going to take 3 quarters of programming this school year. Last month I told you he was going to take a break, and not take a class in Spring Quarter. Then he changed his mind, and decided to take the class. Because he has been so grumpy this month, I sat him down and asked what was going on. (Besides the obvious, which is puberty.) It turns out, it was because he really didn’t want to take the class. He has a friend taking the class with him, which makes him want to take it. He thought I wanted him to take it, which made him want to take it. I told him I only wanted him to take the class if he wanted to, but I did want him to do something computer related. The upshot is, he will not be taking the class. He will be designing a website. It was time to tweak that ingredient, exchanging it for something else.
Sean has continued to enjoy the law class and the history class. For one of the classes, Thom, who teaches both, asked Sean to choose a historical event that interested him and learn more about it. From there they talked about the different ways that historical event is portrayed and perceived. It was a great lesson, made even more meaningful because Sean chose the event they focused on. He devoted a couple of days learning about the Watts riots. It is wonderful when Sean becomes captivated with an area of study, coming to me to tell me about what he has learned.
Sean suffered from migraines several days this month. It has been a couple of years since he has had so many in one month. We are lucky we homeschool. It must be difficult for kids who suffer from migraines, who have to attend regular school. One day Sean could not get out of bed. He wanted to lay there curled in the fetal position, sleep, and listen to a book on tape. So he did. On other days when he suffered from migraines that were not as bad we went geocaching or he read. He went to rowing all but one of the days. Rowing helps with the migraines. At first they were a trigger, but after a while they helped alleviate the symptoms and cut down on the incidence of the migraines. His doctor told us this would be the case, so we toughed it out for the period early on when they triggered the migraines.
We heard back from Stanford. Sean was accepted into their pre-collegiate summer session. He will spend three weeks studying Computer Simulations and Interactive Media. I’ll be honest and tell you, I’m excited for him. I’m not excited because I think this means he’s going to end up getting to go to college at Stanford. (Sean has no idea where he wants to apply to college, other than he wants to go somewhere with a crew team.) I am excited because of something I was told once about Stanford.
The daughter of a friend attended Stanford’s Online High School. They were not homeschoolers. Her daughter had always done very well in school. She was on the ski team, and wanted to have more time for skiing. She also wanted to challenge herself academically. Stanford’s online school gave her the flexibility to ski more, coupled with rigorous academics. I asked her what the teaching was like for the on-line classes. She told me that the teachers she was working with were the best teachers she had ever had. She said they made her think of things and look at topics in new ways. She told me that these teachers had opened her eyes to new perspectives. This is why I am excited for Sean. I hope he has a similar experience. I think it likely, given that Stanford cannot tell you exactly what your child will be working on, because they put together a planned project based on who attends. They look over the strengths and passions of the kids who will be in a session and plan what the project will be based on those students. It sounds like the homeschool version of learning, doesn’t it?
As I mentioned last month there were several essays as a part of the application. We went about this part of the application informally at first. Sean and I started conversationally without any paper or computer in front of us. I would ask Sean one of the questions he needed an essay for, and he would answer orally before writing them down. I used this approach because I wanted the real essence of him to come through. When Sean answered the questions on the application I did not want the focus to be on what he needed to write to get into the summer program. When Stanford sent us the invitation to apply, the only thing they knew about Sean was that he was a high school aged kid who had done well in a couple of computer science classes. They did not know one other thing about him. It’s possible that their summer program wouldn’t be a good fit for him. And if it wasn’t a good fit for him, it wouldn’t be worth taking three weeks out of the summer to go to it. I was completely surprised by some of his answers. I got to know him better through this process. There was no right or wrong answer, and I did my best not to steer him in any direction. If he was stumped on an answer I would say, “This is what I think they’re asking.” Then I would rephrase the question, but not in a way that introduced my bias. Again it was important to me to make sure Stanford was a good fit for him. If they didn’t want him because of something he answered in his essay, that would be okay. Whether a program or a college is a good fit works both ways, and not every place or every program is going to be a good fit for Sean or anyone else for that matter. I don’t care what the name is on the logo, if it isn’t a good fit it’s not worth spending the time, the money of life, participating in it.
Here are some excerpts from his essays. These are not all from the same essay, or for the same questions.
I thought this was a clever perspective
“When I was little, I loved building with Legos. Using algorithms and data structures is like building with Legos where you take one piece, add another in just the right place, and you keep adding pieces until you have built something from them. With programming it is even better than with Legos, because you take 2-dimensional characters on a screen, adding them to each other and putting them in just the right place, to build something important people can use.”
I was totally surprised by this one.
“In many ways I am your typical straight A student…” How would he know what a typical straight A student is like?
This is my favorite passage, and it blew me away. I flat out had no idea why Sean was always dragging us into art galleries. In case you are wondering, neither my husband nor I on our own visit art galleries or museums. Sean has always enjoyed visiting them, so we do. For a long time he mispronounced museum, musaam. He was constantly asking to visit “musaams”. One of the things my husband Jim values most about homeschooling is how homeschooled kids seem so much more comfortable exploring their passions and differences. Jim thinks this is because they do not have a peer group telling them something is uncool. How many 15 year old boys would admit to wanting to travel the world visiting art galleries and museums. I can think of some besides Sean, and they are all homeschooled!
“These are only a few of the things I have learned and seen while traveling. Every time I see or learn about something new, the world gets both bigger and smaller at the same time.
It is the same thing when I go to art galleries. In every country and town we go to, I visit art galleries, large and small. When I visit art galleries, I do not look at each piece for its beauty. I look at them to try to understand what the artist’s intent was. This is what traveling does for me. It is almost spiritual as it opens me up to the intent of other peoples, cultures, and times. To me the world is a rich tapestry that I am fortunate enough to be traveling through.”
I wanted to celebrate Sean’s acceptance. So we took a day to visit The Art Museums in Balboa Park, near where we live. On the way there we walked by an artists village. Sean wanted to stop there first to check out the living artists. We never made it to one museum. We spent the day wandering through the village, talking to artists, and watching demonstrations. Glass blowing looks fun!
I was too busy to read much this month that wasn’t research for earth science.
Both Sean and I read:
This is the second book in the Red Rising trilogy. It is even better than Red Rising. I can’t wait for the next book to come out!
Will Shortz Presents Challenging KenKen
I love KenKen when I am really busy. I like to read or work these sorts of puzzles to unwind. KenKen is better than reading if I have things to do in the morning, because I do not get sucked into them, staying up until 2 or 3 a.m. to finish them.
Crew: Once There Were Vikings, and that Is the Last Time Any of Sean’s Relatives Rowed!
Rowing, or crew as I am just beginning to call it, has been the surprise favorite this year. My husband’s grandparents emigrated from Norway, but they were farmers there and in North Dakota where they ended up. The last relatives in our family that we know of who rowed were Vikings. In fact, everything I know about this sport I have learned from watching my son compete and reading the book The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown, which is a good read. Honestly I don’t even know the prow from the stern (I think I got those terms right). 😉
Crew is a physically intense, demanding sport, something we have learned Sean likes very much. The harder the coaches push him, and the tougher they are with the workouts, the happier Sean is. Sean likes everything about rowing. He likes the camaraderie with the other kids. He likes how it is a team sport but that it asks a lot from each individual in the boat. He likes his coaches. He likes the venue in Mission Bay. And he likes the club, The San Diego Rowing Club, SDRC, http://www.sdrcjrs.com/. He has even come to like the nickname his teammates gave him, Broccoli, because of his curly hair.
Rowing was not a planned class. Another homeschooling parent posted that there were free rowing tryouts for 1 week to see if kids liked the sport. I had been trying to get Sean interested in something athletic for the better part of a year, ever since he got healthy again after breaking his ankle. Sean is a person whose mental psyche benefits greatly from regular exercise. I know everybody benefits, but with him it is immediately noticeable, and he’s an awful grump when he is not regularly exercising. He told me he would try rowing, but then changed his mind. Luckily, I forced the issue.
Since the beginning of September, rowing has become a part of our life. Most of the kids who do what is called crew, not rowing, are not homeschooled. Crew practice is from 4 to 6:30ish every weeknight, with an optional practice from 8:30 to 11 most Saturdays. Several of the Sundays have races on them. Sean is on the Novice Men’s Team. It is a team of boys who are high school freshman or who are in later grades in high school but have never rowed before. Next year Sean will automatically graduate to the Varsity Team.
My husband and I took him to the first tryout. We sat in the car and watched this crazy, intense, challenging workout. About halfway through, the two of us looked at each other and said, “Oh, he must be hating this. We should make him stick with it for the first week just to see if he likes it though, okay.” When Sean got in the car the first thing out of his mouth was, “Best sport ever!”
It might surprise you to find out that athletics is a reason we are lucky that we are homeschoolers, but not for the reason most people mean when they say that. For many years, Sean was on a competitive ski team. He was on the race team, then after much begging on his part he moved over to the Freeride team, what a lot of people call the trick team. Sean was very injury prone. Sean has broken his nose, his ankle, both his heels, and the pinky fingers on both hands. More significantly, Sean has also had two complex concussions. You might think from reading this that we are negligent parents who just kept throwing him back out there, but some of these injuries are from things like hopping across a creek while playing tag with friends.
The first complex concussion he suffered was in an event where he was jumping and he over rotated on the jump. He landed on his nose, breaking it, and suffering a complex concussion. It was the worst thing I have ever witnessed in my entire life. The second complex concussion was a freak accident where he turned out of the way to avoid a snowboarder and into a tree. Once you have one complex concussion you are much more susceptible to others and you get them from a much lower force of impact. I won’t go into the details of what it was like having a child with a complex concussion. (It was a dark time for us, though. I could relive it in talking if it helped someone, but not in writing.)
When Sean went to the concussion specialist, the doctor asked me how good Sean was at school. I replied that he was a good student. The doctor told me that was good because Sean needed to take the rest of the school year off. Sean injured himself in the first week of February. Your child can’t do any academics if you want his or her brain to heal completely. Sean wasn’t allowed to read. He couldn’t exercise. He was unable to do simple math tasks. He couldn’t even play video games. According to the doctor, all Sean could do if we wanted his brain to heal completely was watch TV, and only if he was watching shows that didn’t require any mental focus. If Sean went to traditional school he would have missed so much school, he would be a grade below the rest of his same age classmates. Between the two complex concussions, Sean took almost a year off school. The only left over effect from Sean’s concussions is trauma induced migraines. That and he cannot participate in any sport where there is a risk of getting another concussion.
It’s hard to imagine how you could get a concussion participating in crew. (Now I am imagining how a boat could fall on his head while carrying it to the water!) I have been skiing since I was two years old. Sean also started skiing when he was two. Sean, my husband, and I really, really love to ski. I was lucky enough with my skiing that I never seriously injured myself. My son wasn’t so lucky. Sean’s mental health is linked to his participation in intense physical activities. When he is not participating in them, he gets very down. When he is participating in them, he is sunny, joyful, and very humorous. If you have a kid who needs this sort of physical activity then you know what I mean. It is like turning a light switch on and off. Crew is the first sport he has tried since skiing that he loved enough to want to participate in on a regular basis. We are lucky to have found it.
Read about handcrafting high school language art here, and about learning science here.
My son Sean was an early reader; I was an early reader; my father was an early reader; my paternal grandfather was an early reader. We all started reading at about the same age, between three and four years old. I’ve been told by someone who seemed to know what they were talking about that early reading, just like early walking and early talking, is a trait that runs in families. In addition to coming from a long line of early readers, I love to read. When people remember me as a child, the thing they’re the most likely to remember is what a bookworm I was. I still am. When Sean looks back on his childhood, one of the things he will probably remember is all the time I spent reading to him. I would still read to him even now, but he would rather read to himself these days. 😉 You might think that being an early reader would make kindergarten at a traditional school easy. If you think that, you would be right and wrong. Any class is easy if the other students are learning what you already know how to do, but you miss out on the essential skill of learning how to learn, which to me is the most important thing to learn during your school years. If you don’t learn how to learn, when you do get to subjects that are hard, you will not know how to learn the material in them. I volunteered in Sean’s classroom and was bothered when the teacher would call the rest of the class up to the front to do work and would leave Sean sitting working on a coloring page. I didn’t blame her. When Sean started school No Child Left Behind was the law of the land, and she was doing what she had to do. No other child in his class knew how to read. Obviously that was where her attention needed to go. From my standpoint though, Sean didn’t need any more work on coloring. At the first parent-teacher conference his teacher told me, “Well, you have nothing to worry about.” Whether that was true or not was a matter of perspective. His teacher was pretty awesome actually, don’t get me wrong. She followed that comment up with a discussion of what she would do to develop some academic tasks that were meaningful for Sean. At the second parent-teacher conference his teacher said to me, “Aren’t you a stay-at-home mom? Why aren’t you homeschooling? If I didn’t need to work, I would’ve homeschooled my kids.” Before going on I should digress a bit and tell you that I had thought about homeschooling Sean, but I got cold feet worrying that I would fail him somehow, so I put him in traditional school instead. I owe Sean’s kindergarten teacher a debt of gratitude. She is the person that gave me the courage I needed to homeschool Sean.
That Was Then. What about Now?
I break language arts into two main categories, the mechanics and the craft. The mechanics includes spelling, grammar, and writing. The craft includes writing and reading.
The Mechanics: The least favorite, the most favorite, and something new
Spelling, the least favorite subject for both of us: Over the past 9 years I have come to HATE‼ spelling. I hate this academic subject with so much passion, heavy sigh just thinking about it. 🙁 Being a strong reader does not guarantee you will be strong at spelling. My guess is that most high school students do not have spelling as a separate class. Sean still does. We have been working through Sequential Spelling for the past four years, and I highly recommend it if spelling is a problem area for your child. It has greatly helped to improve Sean’s spelling. Even with this effective spelling program his spelling is just okay though. Do not use the IPad App btw. It is terrible, and is coupled with even worse customer service. The DVDs are much superior.
Grammar, the most favorite of one of us: Grammar is Sean’s favorite subject of all time. The laugh is on me, because this was my least favorite subject (until I started homeschooling my son in spelling that is)! Sean has always loved diagramming sentences. Grammar this year started with Sean reading through The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Sean reviewed the rules for punctuation. “Where is the diagramming, Mom?” “Sorry Sean, there isn’t any this year.” Going forward he will only work on grammar as it relates to punctuation. He does miss the diagramming, but I noticed at the end of last year that he was weak on some of the punctuation rules. I know he misses diagramming sentences, but that particular skill wasn’t improving his punctuation!
The Mechanics of Writing, something new: Sean is incredibly creative with his writing. In the past he has fought any type of writing program that did not focus almost entirely on the creative side of writing. I have been fine with this. The craft of writing, in my opinion, is much harder to learn than the mechanics of writing, but you do need the mechanics. In the past Sean used Michael Clay Thompson’s language arts series and Bravewriter, both of which he (and I) loved and learned a lot from. This is not to say these programs do not focus on the mechanics of writing, but I do not think that is their primary focus. At the beginning of December, Sean and I discussed what to do to make sure he has a good understanding of the mechanics of writing. He needs to make sure he has the skills necessary for the writing portion of the SAT and for his college classes. I was really worried and was going to do something really structured. Sean talked me into compromising and letting what was supposed to a three paragraph essay be a three page story. It turned out my worrying was for naught! The paper was great. LOL! I could have worse problems; I am sure some of you are not sympathetic at all! The Craft: Two beloved academic pursuitsThe Craft of Writing benefits greatly from a focus on reading: Writing and reading are intertwined at our house. I tease them apart to think of the scope and specifics, such as what books Sean will read, then weave them back together. Writing to me is an artistic endeavor. It is individual, meaningful, and fulfilling. It is also hard. Writing something that others want to read is harder than chemistry! I think it is the hardest subject we work on in school. It is hard to assess as an educator too. Like science, I think the homeschool setting is the best academic environment to work on the craft of writing. To improve your craft with writing, you need time to write without artificial deadlines. I think working on becoming skilled at timed writing (which we are going to work on over the next school year) is a ridiculous waste of time. It is an essential skill because of the SAT, but an irrelevant skill when it comes to crafting writing pieces worth reading! My absolute favorite book about the craft of writing is Wondrous Words by Katie Wood Ray if you are into that sort of reading. So what did we use these past 4 months, you are probably wondering…
Comics and Graphic Novels (CGN): This is a Coursera Course, https://www.coursera.org/course/comics. Someone recommended it on the Secular Homeschool Teens Facebook group. This course turned out to be much more than I expected. When I signed Sean up for the class, I thought it would be a filler class to get him started. The class turned out to be much more in-depth and meaningful than that. It was an excellent course. Sean and I both really liked the teacher, William Kuskin. Sean spent the first four months of the school year reading the comics and graphic novels recommended in the course.
The specifics of why I was so impressed with this course. It focused on
Structure: All good writing has structure. I do not mean, though, that it is formulaic. I mean, all good writing has a structured reasoning for what goes where. Writing is art, so the structure might not be obvious. I have always loved the poems of e. e. Cummings because of the artistry with his structuring of the words he writes. With Sean my favorite author to use when we discuss structure is Gary Paulsen. He is an absolute master at structuring words and sentences to enhance the story. Kuskin spent part of the course discussing topics like the weaving of the illustrations with the words, the panels, the gutters, and shading and the use of color. Then CGN had Sean analyze specific pages of text from comic books and write about what he noticed about their structure. Sean hit his groove with this, noticing things that I did not pick up on until Sean pointed them out. Sean is much more in tune with visual art than I am. I come from a family of visual artists. I am the only writer in the family. Growing up, my family considered me the least creative member of it. My number one fan, my husband Jim, begs to differ with them, LOL!
The evolution of the genre: Genres of writing evolve and change. This is not easy to show with most genres. CGN is a modern enough genre that the change and growth, the history, can be studied effectively over a four month period. I think it is good for young writers to learn organically that there is growth and development in all writing including their own.
Literature analysis: There was also a discussion of different genres within the larger, more encompassing, genre of comics and graphic novels. This coupled with the focus on structure led to a decent amount of literature analysis in this course, at least the way we studied it. Sean and I read and discussed several comics and graphic novels over the four months. Some, such as Maus, Planetary, and Hush, he loved. Others, such as Saga and Funhouse, he felt more neutral about. I thought they were all great. He just likes certain genres of CGN better than others.
Editing the work of his classmates: Many of the students in the class wrote their own short comics as a final project. I printed them out and have had Sean, he is still working on this, critically evaluate each as he reads them.
My writing: There is nothing quite as satisfying to Sean as to go through and critically edit my writing. I make sure and save an early draft. I have read many times that the best writing teachers write. I use my science texts unless he gets stuck. When that happens I write along with him in the genre he is writing until he gets unstuck.
Reading the books I love this year: This summer Sean picked up a book from my night stand that I had not yet read. I was working through my stack and had not gotten to it. It was Room, by Emma Donahue. Sean loved the book. He insisted I read it right away, it was so good! When I did I realized I would NEVER have given it to my 14 year old to read.
But it did get me thinking about reading choices this year. I decided to depart from a scripted list of books for him and have him read the books I read and love over the year. That is how Sean came to read The Martian. He is about to start reading Me before You, by Jojo Moyes. He reads them, and then we discuss them. I have him send me one email about a technique he notices and likes each day that he reads. It is quite fun and enlightening for both of us! It is very possible none of these books will “stand the test of time as modern classics”, but they will all be really good reads.
This is my book pile for this year. Sean will not read all these, but I will. Sean will only read the best of the best. That part is very subjective. I will be the one to decide which are the best of the best, someone else might disagree with me. How this pile is selected is that all year, when I hear of a book that sounds particularly interesting to me, I put it on my Amazon wish list. At Christmas time I go through this list and choose books from it. My big present from my husband is the stack of books from the wish list that I decide I want to read over the course of the year. This year I was surprised to find so many books on the list. It was because we spent last December in India, and I didn’t get any books from last year’s wish list. I ordered some from that list too. Some of these books are even from three years ago. We moved about a year and a half ago and some of these books were packed instead of read. I found the box at Christmas time and added them to the pile to be read this year. I love to read. Did I say that already? I will put the names of the books at the end of this for those of you who are curious about the titles. The reason for getting these books in print, not as e-books, is that when books are great I like to share them with my friends, and I hope many of these are great.
Sean and I particularly like writers (and singers) who are what we call wordsmiths. One of my favorite books for this discussion is Jay Z’s book Decoded, where he decodes the meanings, stylistic nuances, and history of hip-hop music as well as telling some of his own history. Decoded contains some adult themes. I did let Sean read it, but if you would not let your child listen to rap music, this book might not be a good fit. You could always download a sample of the e-book and see what you think. This link will take you to a two page spread of a song that he decodes.
History: A Repeat of a Favorite Class and Volunteering
The Course: A Brief History of Humankind: This is a Coursera course, https://class.coursera.org/humankind-002, that repeats regularly. It is the best history course I have ever taken. The instructor, Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem comes across as brilliant, even as he makes history accessible to a lay person! There is a book as well, but Sean did not use it. I did though, http://www.ynharari.com/sapiens-the-book/short-overview/. I read it, referred to it, and made a series of questions from it to accompany each lecture. Sean got a lot more out of the class that way. I did not have him write the answers, instead we would discuss them. Some of these questions took us far afield. It was a thought provoking quarter for history. The class is about the big picture not the memorization of dates and facts. Most people I know do not remember much history, probably because they just learned it for the test. History taught the way Dr. Harari teaches it is memorable.
This was the second time Sean has taken this class. I was surprised when Sean asked to take it again at the start of this year. He took it a year ago! He wanted to work on the skill of note taking, and he felt he could get more out of this class a second time. His main reason though was that he liked this class that much! After giving it some thought, I decided that it would be like rereading a book you loved. You do get much more out of the book the second time reading. Both Sean and I have gotten much more out of this class the second time through.
The course is free so even with the book this is very affordable. There are quizzes for the class on the Coursera site. (Sean is working on the skill of test taking this year. Sean is not an experienced test taker, and suffers from pretty severe test anxiety, so he needs to work on that skill.) http://www.ynharari.com/
I thought about having Sean write 4 research papers for history over the 4 months that he took to complete A Brief History of Humankind. I opted for him to volunteer instead. There are only so many hours in the day, and he didn’t have time for both. The way we scheduled the class, without a writing component, was not time intensive. Sean and I watched the video lectures in the car on the way to crew practice. We discussed the salient points covered in the lectures using the guided questions I had put together. We (yes we) took the quizzes. By the way, I read over the quizzes when I was making the guided questions, after I had taken the quiz myself, to make sure we covered everything, and that Sean was very familiar with the terms Dr. Harari tested. I felt it important that I take this class with Sean so that he had someone to talk with about what he was learning. I think history lends itself to intellectual discussion, and this provided a way for us to have intellectual discussions about topics I did not know much more about than Sean did.
Every election cycle we include the election in our history. I have been corrected by some people that politics are civics not history, but I do not agree with that distinction. Aren’t our political choices a big part of what drives history?
We feel strongly about voting at our house. I think it is important to raise Sean in an environment where he is aware of what is going on in politics. I am raising a voter. I am also trying to raise him to be a critical thinker. I am not looking for him to agree with me on everything, or even vote as I do. I want him to come to his own understandings and beliefs about what is the best course. Democracies work best when all citizens vote. The issues and candidates you support might not win every time, but you will live in a more equitable and peaceful nation, because the majority of the people living in it voted, which means the majority of the people spoke about what and who they wanted for their nation.
I could not wait to vote as I approached the age of 18. I grew up in a family whose members voted, often for different parties and differently on issues. We discussed our reasons, we talked about the issues, and we did not let it become divisive when we disagreed about them. I have voted every voting cycle since I was 18 years old, except for one when I could not make it to the polls in time. I want Sean to take voting as seriously as Jim (my husband) and I do.
I think the best way to make sure Sean cares about voting and the issues facing our country is by participating in the process. This year Sean, Jim, and I volunteered on the campaign for a candidate running to keep his house seat. We watched the debates, learned about the issues, and paid attention to the results of the election. It made a difference to volunteer for a campaign because we were much more vested in the results.