Dali High

Today we took a field trip!  Really it was more for my benefit than Mr. S’s, though he did find it a little interesting.  We went here:

I have loved Salvador Dali’s works since I first discovered them in a gifted class in the fifth grade, so I was quite excited to learn that some of his work was being exhibited at a local art museum.  David was pretty psyched when I told him we were going on a field trip (though he would have preferred to stay home and play with our new trampoline), but he wasn’t overly impressed with the reality of the art museum – especially the part where he had to be quiet!  Overall, I think it was a good experience for him, and he did see a few paintings that appealed to him.  There were three video exhibits too, and he liked those – watching the funny man with the mustache on tv was definitely more appealing than looking at a bunch of weird paintings, in his 4-year-old mind!

To commemorate our first field trip, we got a poster to put up in the school room – it features this painting:

Entitled Santiago El Grande (Saint James the Greater), it was one of the largest paintings in the exhibit and reflected Dali’s return to the Catholicism of his youth once he was separated from the Surrealists.  He said he had no faith, which is odd to me; I don’t understand how someone can be religious without faith, but he said that science showed him that God exists but he didn’t believe it.  Anyhow, his interests in nuclear physics and Catholocism combined to form what he called “nuclear mysticism”, which colored many of his late works.

Anyhow, it was a fun morning, and it never hurts to get a little culture in your day – even if much of it goes over the head of a four-year-old!




Not just Mommy

I’m having one of those days today – you probably know how it is, you get wrapped up in motherhood and homeschooling and keeping house and then one day you sit up and think, there is more to me than this!  And although I am happy with being housewife and mother and home school teacher, today I’m going to write about my other interests.

First and foremost, I am a geek.  I love sci-fi and fantasy books and movies, I have played various MMORPGs over the years (though I haven’t really had time to indulge in that particular pursuit recently), and I even did a fair bit of table top RPG playing in the years before I had kids.  My husband has some geek tendencies as well – he enjoys Star Trek and Firefly, and loved the Lord of the Rings movies – but I’m definitely the geekier one of the pair of us.  So this weekend, I’ll be attending:

This is the first year I’ve attended, and I’m pretty excited!  I spent an hour this morning looking at the detailed schedule of events for the convention and deciding what I want to see and do while I’m there.  I’m only planning to go to on Saturday, though I might go on Sunday afternoon as well if The Man doesn’t mind (and he probably won’t, since he’ll be leaving the following Tuesday to go to Denver for a week on a business trip) since there are several things I’d like to see then too.   When the kids are older, I hope they’ll share my geeky interests and want to go with me – since it’s local, we don’t have to worry about hotels so it’s more affordable than attending other conventions like Comic-Con in San Diego.

In addition to geeky interests, I’m also an avid reader.  Since the kids were born, most of my socializing has been with other moms in playgroups, the church nursery, or home school events; and a few months ago I decided to look for a book club to join, just so I could have some periodic activity that wasn’t child-focused.  I was lucky to connect with a great group of women in my area, and now we get together once a month for great food and discussions of the book we read each month.  I don’t always love the books (this month, for instance, we read From Beginning to End by Robert Fulghum, which really didn’t interest me much), but it’s still nice to get together with a group of women from different walks of life who all share an interest in reading.

And now I need to take a break from relishing thoughts of my non-Mommy characteristics and go wake little T. up from her nap, else we’ll never get her to go to bed tonight!

Tour de Schoolroom

This entry was inspired by Mama to 3 Blessings.  I had originally planned to do this in a Wordless Wednesday fashion, but I wanted to include some explanation of what is where and why, so maybe I’ll go Wordless next Wednesday instead.

First, a brief word of explanation: our schoolroom was originally my daughter’s nursery, so the walls are painted lavender.  I like the color, so I didn’t see the  need to change it when we moved her into a big-girl bed (and into the room she shares with her brother).

Here we have the Pledge of Allegiance, our daily schedule (complete with Mr. S’s handprints), and the Morning Offering, which is the prayer we say at the start of our school day.

Underneath all that is our chalkboard.  I was going to paint part of the room with chalkboard paint, but my MIL said it was difficult to remove and paint over when you tire of it – so I bought this at Hobby Lobby instead.  It’s affixed to the wall with velcro tabs, so it will be easy to change the position as the kids get older (and taller).

Next is the Ikea table that we use for school work.  I set out all the books and papers we’ll need for the next day as soon as we finish the current school day, and the notebook is my planner.

Another remnant of the nursery – this changing table/dresser combo has now become my book, puzzle, game, and art supply storage unit.

And finally, our reading and free play area.  We usually curl up on this husband pillow for story time, and after his reading lesson Mr. S and I break out the blocks and legos for some much-needed free play.  The green hanging thing is a flash card chart that we’ll be using later in the school year.

So that’s it!  I’d love to see what your schoolroom looks like too, please leave me a comment if you have a similar post so I can check it out.

Creation cookies

My theme for this week is Creation.  I’m primarily using the theme for the first two activities of our day, story time and arts and crafts, but it’s easy to tie creation into science too (i.e., walking around the neighborhood looking at trees and flowers and talking about how God created everything).

I really want to incorporate more than just Bible stories into our story time.  I found some great book suggestions online and happily was able to pick up four of them at our local library to use this week:

  • The Dreamer by Cynthia Rylant
  • Mr. & Mrs. God in the Creation Kitchen by Nancy C. Wood
  • And God Created Squash by Martha Whitmore Hickman
  • In the Beginning by Rachel Isadora

Craft ideas to support the creation theme are also in abundance online.  Yesterday Mr. S made a cloud picture, which basically consisted of gluing stretched-out cotton balls onto a piece of blue construction paper – this delighted him to no end, as he loves all things glue-related.  Tomorrow and Thursday we’ll be working on a creation mobile, which will give him the chance to cut out a picture representing each day of creation, color or paint the pictures, and then assemble them into a mobile.  But today, the project was Creation Cookies.

The original idea was to make gingerbread men; we read Mr. & Mrs. God in the Creation Kitchen this morning, and then moved to the kitchen where we made gingerbread dough.  The dough needed to be refrigerated before we could use cookie cutters on it, and I belatedly realized I didn’t have a man-shaped cookie cutter, so I was happy to put the cookie-baking off until the afternoon.  (All I had were Christmas cookie cutters, and I didn’t think that really went well with the theme…)

After we picked up T from preschool, we headed to Target to look for a gingerbread man cutter.  Instead, I found a package of 101 cookie cutters for $9.99!  I took those home and washed them off while T napped, and when she woke up I selected several to represent creation and we got to baking.  There were so many designs to choose from in the 101 cutters, but I settled on shapes that represent the various days of creation – so we made stars, flowers, fish, birds, butterflies, rabbits, and men.

I was pretty impressed with how well they turned out!  I wasn’t sure the kids would like gingerbread, but T has eaten so many of them that I’m not sure how I’ll entice her to eat dinner.  Mr. S is much pickier, and he won’t touch them, but he was very interested in the process and that’s good enough for me!

On a completely unrelated note…

Check this out:

Latin Nights (I can’t figure out how to embed the video, have to work on my wordpress skills…)

It’s a San Diego event, but I thought it was a really great cause – plus, the flamenco dancer in the background is my best friend from high school!

Valedictorian speech

I’m sure many people have seen this on the internet, but it nicely sums up many of my issues with the American public education system.

There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master, “If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen? The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years.” The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast — How long then?” Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.” “But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?” asked the student. “Thirty years,” replied the Master. “But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?” Replied the Master, “When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.”

This is the dilemma I’ve faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn’t you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.

I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I’m scared.

John Taylor Gatto, a retired school teacher and activist critical of compulsory schooling, asserts, “We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness – curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids into truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then. But we don’t do that.” Between these cinderblock walls, we are all expected to be the same. We are trained to ace every standardized test, and those who deviate and see light through a different lens are worthless to the scheme of public education, and therefore viewed with contempt.

H. L. Mencken wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not “to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. … Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim … is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States.”

To illustrate this idea, doesn’t it perturb you to learn about the idea of “critical thinking.” Is there really such a thing as “uncritically thinking?” To think is to process information in order to form an opinion. But if we are not critical when processing this information, are we really thinking? Or are we mindlessly accepting other opinions as truth?

This was happening to me, and if it wasn’t for the rare occurrence of an avant-garde tenth grade English teacher, Donna Bryan, who allowed me to open my mind and ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine, I would have been doomed. I am now enlightened, but my mind still feels disabled. I must retrain myself and constantly remember how insane this ostensibly sane place really is.

And now here I am in a world guided by fear, a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside each of us, a world where we can either acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism or insist on change. We are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.

We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special, every human on this planet is so special, so aren’t we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for creativity, rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more, and more still.

The saddest part is that the majority of students don’t have the opportunity to reflect as I did. The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it. I will never be able to turn back these 18 years. I can’t run away to another country with an education system meant to enlighten rather than condition. This part of my life is over, and I want to make sure that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be – but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation.

For those of you out there that must continue to sit in desks and yield to the authoritarian ideologies of instructors, do not be disheartened. You still have the opportunity to stand up, ask questions, be critical, and create your own perspective. Demand a setting that will provide you with intellectual capabilities that allow you to expand your mind instead of directing it. Demand that you be interested in class. Demand that the excuse, “You have to learn this for the test” is not good enough for you. Education is an excellent tool, if used properly, but focus more on learning rather than getting good grades.

For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, I do not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system. I know that you did not become a teacher or administrator to see your students bored. You cannot accept the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Our potential is at stake.

For those of you that are now leaving this establishment, I say, do not forget what went on in these classrooms. Do not abandon those that come after you. We are the new future and we are not going to let tradition stand. We will break down the walls of corruption to let a garden of knowledge grow throughout America. Once educated properly, we will have the power to do anything, and best of all, we will only use that power for good, for we will be cultivated and wise. We will not accept anything at face value. We will ask questions, and we will demand truth.

So, here I stand. I am not standing here as valedictorian by myself. I was molded by my environment, by all of my peers who are sitting here watching me. I couldn’t have accomplished this without all of you. It was all of you who truly made me the person I am today. It was all of you who were my competition, yet my backbone. In that way, we are all valedictorians.

I am now supposed to say farewell to this institution, those who maintain it, and those who stand with me and behind me, but I hope this farewell is more of a “see you later” when we are all working together to rear a pedagogic movement. But first, let’s go get those pieces of paper that tell us that we’re smart enough to do so!

Planning and Daily Schedule

I suppose at some point I might start planning more than a week at a time, but right now I’m still figuring out what works for us.  Today I sat down and planned our school activities for this week – we’ll be doing four days of school this week, since we don’t have anything else on the calendar (and Mr. S was so eager last week that he was upset we only did three days of school).  I’ve read so many books on homeschooling at this point that I can’t keep them all straight, but the schedule I’m using is modified from one I found in a book – it’s intended to divide the school day into 15-minute segments, but I’ve found that some segments (such as math & reading) don’t really take up the entire 15 minutes, so we just go with the flow.

Here’s how I have our day organized:

  • Pledge of Allegiance & Prayer
  • Story Time – I had planned on using Before Five in a Row for this, but this week I had inspiration so I’ll be using some books from the library instead
  • Arts & Crafts – I’m trying to use crafts that tie into the story we read, but if I can’t manage it he loves to paint or play with markers
  • Reading – one lesson a day from Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
  • Pre-writing – I found a website called KidZone that has free printable worksheets for pre-handwriting skills, so I’m going to start using that this week; last week, I tried letting him trace his name using a dry-erase marker and a piece of paper covered in a sheet protector, but observing him I noticed he needs to develop some understanding of basic skills like drawing straight lines & curves before he’ll really be ready to learn to write
  • Free Play – I have some toys that I only let him use during school hours, such as legos, magneatos, and a set of wooden blocks
  • Religion – I read him a story from the Loyola Kids Book of Saints – it’s a little above his head, and he’s usually running around or climbing on me while I read it, but I think it’s good exposure for both of us
  • Math – three pages from the Math U See primer curriculum
  • PE – I just want him to be active, so we use this time to go outside and ride his bike or scooter, or kick a soccer ball around in the yard
  • Free Play – we have a lot of puzzles, and also some easy board games that I can play with him, so that’s what this segment is for
  • Science – I’m using a book called Science Play for ideas, but mostly we just walk around outside and look at bugs or flowers or trees and talk about what we see
  • Music – I got a Mother Goose Songbook from the library and am using that right now, but I’m not really sure what direction I’ll go with this in the long run
  • Muzzy – we watch this for about 15 minutes at the end of our school time while he has a snack

And that’s it.  Really the only things I have to plan for are story time and arts & crafts, and I’ve just discovered how having a theme for the week can really simplify that process.  I’m not a terribly creative person, so I scour the internet looking for good ideas and piecing it together with good books and activities that won’t overwhelm me or Mr. S!

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