Home School and Poverty

As I read a recent story about home schooling, I was reminded that the quality of home schooling may very well break along economic and religious lines. I read many stories about students of economically secure parents who are home schooled because of the parents desire to teach Christian or higher educational values but few stories about those parents wishing to teach racism, religious intolerance or very little of anything other than simply the need for another pair of hands at home. We read many glowing stories about home schooling successes and the freedom it gives students to do and learn other things but few stories about home schooling failures, because the failures come back into the public schools a year or two later and a year or two behind their classmates and disappear into the drop out pool of the general school population.
I know that when I taught in a high poverty middle school many of my students missed class not because they were skipping or ill but because they were needed to babysit their siblings or they were caring for parents/ grandparents who were ill because the economics of the cost of child care, nursing home care and mom or dad having to work every day to simply survive is a reality. And the lure of free needed care provided by a son or daughter just too strong. Home schooling for some families in this situation is the perfect solution for the family but not a good situation for the child. I am not much of a fan of bigger government but dropping even cursory supervision of home schooling while it may indeed aid some of our economically well off children, will ill serve some of our most needy children.
As always in education the most important factor for success is not race, ethnicity, the common core, curriculum or the teachers it is poverty, grinding debilitating poverty. Maslo’s hierarchy is alive and well and living in the United States educational system.

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Interesting Times

picklesWould you consider the phrase, ” May you live in interesting times.” a curse or a blessing? I spent a couple of hours this morning thinking and researching about this after reading the Pickles cartoon shown below on-line. I was doing that not because I am a philosopher but because the burglar alarm went off at 3:00 AM indicating a security breach at the obvious darkest point of entrance to our house (back ground level patio door).

The internet seems almost evenly split on the question of whether the “Interesting times” phrase is a curse or a blessing. Is it . ” better to live as a dog in tranquility than a soldier at war?” During the research I found an Israeli blog about living in interesting times ( which of course in Israel is almost daily) the blogger noted that you should only read the newspaper until you have enough information, never to the point where you become pre-occupied with that information. While thinking about that little tidbit, because it is a problem I do have, I became aware that it would probably take me a full week of study and verify if just the front page stories in the average newspaper were biased or accurate. Whether I wanted to be or should be interested or disinterested?

I keep thinking back to Alvin Toffler’s 1970 book “Future Shock,” where he predicts that we will be overwhelmed not by what we don’t have but by what we do have. In short , “Too much change in too short of a time.” and ” Too many choices.”

What do you think? is it a curse or a blessing to live in ” interesting times?” Will it ever be 1954 again? Will the opinions of those who lived through the 50’s be different from that of those who did not?


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The Problem with Lies

As I listen to the drumbeat of half-lies told constantly and without apparent guilt from our politicians on both sides of the aisle I must wonder are they the idiots that they believe their own lies or am I?

some thoughts quotes on lying.

“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.”
― William Blake

“It is an occupational hazard that anyone who has spent her life learning how to lie eventually becomes bad at telling the truth.”
― Ally Carter

“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”
― Adolf Hitler

“Anyone who believes what a cat tells him deserves all he gets.”
― Neil Gaiman

Oh, what a tangled web we weave…when first we practice to deceive.”
― Walter Scott

“I have a higher and grander standard of principle than George Washington. He could not lie; I can, but I won’t.”
― Mark Twain

“The cruelest lies are often told in silence.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson

“The only thing more frustrating than slanderers is those foolish enough to listen to them.”
― Criss Jami

“One lie has the power to tarnish a thousand truths.”
― Al David

The most powerful of lies is the truth told in such a way that no one believes it.
―Rich Safris

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School Start Dates

At the present time here in Iowa we are experiencing a debate over when the school year should start. Unfortunately it has become politicized to the point that no one seems to be able to think straight.

It would seem that the major concern of school systems over the school start date is that student’s scores on testing will decline if tests are taken after winter break. Being of the old school of teaching three things immediately come to mind. First, if the students forget the material in two weeks they didn’t learn it in the first place. Second, If they did learn it and they can’t pass the test over the material after two weeks then the test was either poorly written or included such minutia that it didn’t really matter if they learned it anyway. Arcing over both of these points is the absolute truth that for many children not all learning takes place in school.

It is a terrible indictment of our schools that the driving force behind so many of our educational decisions are test driven rather than driven by real learning. It is not a coincidence that as the government gets more involved with education that the test scores have declined further. When did the decline in test scores begin to occur? What was the causative factor?

Get the government out of the classroom and let the teachers teach and test scores will improve, until that happens, no matter when school starts, test scores will continue to decline.

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Faith, Hope, Reality and Despair at Walgreens

I received an e-mail yesterday saying my prescription was ready at Walgreens. I faithfully got in my car drove the 5 miles and after seeing 5 cars in the drive through, and knowing that at least one, had someone my age, who would be confused or argue with the window flunky that the prescription was too expensive I decided to go inside hoping to save a few minutes. Once inside passing by several inmates who had mistaken Walgreens for Wal-Mart I made it to the pharmacy counter hoping for a quick turn around. Upon reaching the counter I was filled with despair when I was told that the prescription they had e-mailed was ready, was not ready and it would be a few minutes. So I sat down wondering exactly what a few minutes meant but sure that it would be defined by my stay. I sat down in the “comfortable” plastic chair they so kindly provided in the waiting area, I sat in the faith that they would indeed fill the prescription in a few minutes. 27 minutes later, my hope almost gone after listening to 12 adults who had just been breathing on me pick up prescriptions for anti-biotics and while sitting next to 4 obviously sick kids I still had hope that I would get the prescription rather than something that required a new prescription. Now after you have sat for 27 minutes the issue becomes that you have already spent 30 minutes plus drive time. Should you leave in despair of ever being served or wait another 5 minutes and if you wait another 5 minutes would not logic indicate that you should stay another 5 minutes after that until you get what you came for. Reality sets in so you decide to set up an artificial zero tolerance guideline. You decide that the guy in the leather jacket is your limit, currently 5th in line behind two people who should have known better than to buy a North Slope jacket in that size. You think I’ll let fate decide, if he gets to the cash register before they call my name your leaving and so he made it to the cash register and I left facing the reality that tomorrow was another day and that they probably called my name just as I opened my car door outside. I wonder is this an allegory or parable for my life or simply how infectious diseases actually spread.

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Teen-wolf, A parable in too many words

The young wolf was concerned. He had noticed that the alpha female was ignoring him and the alpha male spent most of his time making the young wolf’s life a living hell. Slashing, taking his food, snarling when he came close. The rest of the pack was following the lead of the alpha wolf, because that was the way of wolves and to do otherwise was too dangerous socially to contemplate. The pack wolves had learned through experience that conflict with the alpha would lead to banishment, injury or even death. As it was winter the young wolf both literally and physically felt the alpha and the rest of the wolves giving him the cold shoulder coming between him and the food and social contact wolves innately crave. He was aware of the situation even though he did not exactly know its cause.
Wolves are a social animal they live and work together as one. It seems a foundational need and skill for wolves to be with other wolves. Every animal is a piece of the dynamic whole. But wolf packs are not a democracy running on consensus they are a despotic monarchy that runs largely on fear, the alpha male/female or both make the decisions, eat first and control the rest of the pack with slashing claw and intimidating growl. Communication between members runs through and is controlled by the alphas. It is sometimes said that in order to understand the actions and the personality of the pack you must simply observe the actions of the alpha wolf.
The young wolf was at first confused by the aggressive actions of the alpha and could feel that the rest of the wolves in the pack were following suit even as he became aware that he must have done something to offend the alpha. He understood pack dynamics and had participated in the past in driving unwanted pack members from the fold, pack members driven out because they were the wrong color, wrong size, lacked intelligence, were disabled, or had simply offended the alphas in some way. He knew that the process was slow but inexorable, as the control of the alpha was exerted more and more the position of the offending wolf became more and more tenuous in the pack. The young wolf was relegated to the rear of the pack, given no respect even from those who were lower in the pack pecking order, he soon noticed that the only communication he received from any of the pack was in the form of snarls and disrespect.
The young wolf had a decision to make, he could stay, fight, snarl and attack back, in the hope that the pack would change but he knew from experience that was very unlikely as it was 1 against many and as long as the alphas were in charge. He could strike out on his own, going against the very nature of wolves and become a lobo or lone wolf a wolf without support social contact, or anyone to aid him should there be trouble or lastly he could begin searching for another pack who would accept him as a member. All of these pathways were fraught with danger. He thought if I stay they will destroy me either mentally, physically or both. He then worried that If I strike out on my own I may be too weak to thrive in a different, sometimes harsh and tumultuous world. Just as the young wolf was thinking these thoughts he heard for the first time, because normally his own pack made so much noise it was impossible to hear anything else, in the distance the sounds of another pack, different in some ways, but in many ways, much the same. Together they were praising the moon in many new and different voices. He had never actually heard these voices before because he was too busy listening to the voices of his own pack. He considered the pack sleeping together from his place just at the edge of the pack and realized they had lost his respect by their refusal to give respect, his decision had already been made for him. He got slowly to his feet. Looking back just once he trotted off in search of a better place, a new pack, a place where he might be accepted for what he was, not what he was not. As he trotted away slowly from the past and the only home he had ever known, sadly leaving what had been his best friends, in search of his own future, he slowly but carefully blocked each and every one of his old pack from his mind and his cell phone.

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Pumpkin Pie and the Future of America

When pumpkin pie was invented it was more like apple pie. The pumpkin was peeled, sliced and baked in a crust and eaten not for its palatability but largely as a prevention for scurvy. Later in history it was stewed, pureed and spiced to give it the modern flavor. In the last 100 years things have changed for pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie used to be hard work, growing, harvesting, peeling, seeding, cooking pureeing. Making the crust out of lard and flour (I would guess a large number of you reading this have no idea how a pie crust is made)

When I was a kid the high point of Thanksgiving sadly was not dinner with the relatives, it was the tablespoon of real whipped cream centered perfectly on the one slice of pumpkin pie you were going to get to eat. You carefully ate around the little dab of whipped cream saving it for several tiny bites at the end when you could savor it fully. Pumpkin pie is not sweet by today’s standards and most kids today will only eat it because it comes covered with sweetened fully hydrogenated coconut and palm kernel oil , commonly called cool whip. Often times kids are observed today eating only the Cool Whip garnish and leaving the pie abandoned on the plate awaiting the whirling knives of the garbage disposal. Perhaps my appreciation of pumpkin pie is a result of the totally unfair sugar deprivation I suffered in childhood due to my parents. Deserts just didn’t happen except for occasional ice cream in the summer, pie at thanksgiving and Christmas cookies. It may indeed be true that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

The downfall of pumpkin pie as a tradition started with frozen pie crusts and Reddi-whip. I am sure that many of you have never made a pie crust and in fact would have no idea how to do so. Indeed there is an art to making a good crust. Foremost , a good crust is made using lard ( another thing many of you have never seen) but it takes a special tool, time, and a good feel as well. I can make a passable crust but my mother-in -law had the skill which reached its pinnacle in her rhubarb pies. Sadly, even she at the end found that buying the crust was a lot easier than spending ½ an hour making it.
Many years ago pumpkin pie flavor was not as uniform as it is today each cook bought canned pumpkin or stewed and pureed their own and added the nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, sugar, ginger, eggs, milk or cream, and cloves to their own taste so every pie was a new savory ( at times unsavory) surprise based on the cook. Later the stores started making pumpkin spice and allspice and the flavor of the pies began to become the same ol same ol.

Now to that hydrogenated coconut and palm kernel oil. Cream doesn’t come as a solid it must be made into one by the application of force. Now an electric mixer is used but some years ago the cream was whipped using an egg beater by hand. Not too stiff and not to liquid, supervision was required while forced labor (the kids) whipped the cream. Too much and you ended up with butter, too little and you ended up with a watery mess.
So you were wondering when I was going to get to the point? Pumpkin pie was valued for its scarcity and the hard work that was put into it, but the final reward for eating the pie was that you worked your way through the pretty good stuff on the outside to get to real good stuff, the tablespoon full of whipped cream in the very center savoring that magically flavored moment that made the rest of the pie worthwhile.

Today we seem to start to often at the good end and quit before we work our way all the way through. In short we want the topping but not the pie. We used to make our own pumpkin pie, now we only use it. Libby makes the pumpkin, Pillsbury makes the Crust, Kraft makes the topping and Alcoa makes the pan so we don’t even have to clean up our own mess. The foundation, the soul of the pie, the love and work that went into it, is often forgotten as consuming the fluff on top becomes the most important thing, consumption that too often leaves the reality and value of pie making behind.

This entire piece was hypocritically written while eating the next to the last piece of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie made from store bought pumpkin pie mix resting in a Pillsbury crust entombed in Cool Whip. But even so I long for the joy and anticipation that the little dab of whipped cream in the middle of a piece of pumpkin pie used to give me. Evidence that little things were very important before we had so much, I wish it could be so again.

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