Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why There Will Be No "First Day of School" Post Here

You see, there was no last day of school.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:

"place of instruction," O.E. scol, from L. schola, from Gk. skhole "school, lecture, discussion," also "leisure, spare time," originally "a holding back, a keeping clear," from skhein "to get" + -ole by analogy with bole "a throw," stole "outfit," etc. The original notion is "leisure," which passed to "otiose discussion," then "place for such." The PIE base is *segh- "to hold, hold in one's power, to have" (see scheme). The L. word was widely borrowed, cf. O.Fr. escole, Fr. école, Sp. escuela, It. scuola, O.H.G. scuola, Ger. Schule, Swed. skola, Gael. sgiol, Welsh ysgol, Rus. shkola. Replaced O.E. larhus "lore house." Meaning "students attending a school" is attested from c.1300; sense of "school building" is first recorded c.1590. Sense of "people united by a general similarity of principles and methods" is from 1612; hence school of thought (1864). The verb is attested from 1573. School of hard knocks "rough experience in life" is recorded from 1912 (in George Ade); to tell tales out of school "betray damaging secrets" is from 1546. Schoolmarm is attested from 1831, U.S. colloquial; used figuratively for "patronizingly and priggishly instructing" from 1887.

Let's take a look at some of this:
The original notion is "leisure," which passed to "otiose discussion," then "place for such." I love the idea of leisure as the original notion for school; in our house, since learning takes place all the time, at our leisure, we are truly living the original notion. We don't stop learning just because we are at the beach, having a picnic, or riding the subway. We don't begin to learn the day we walk into a classroom, laboratory or lecture hall. We can set up the finest room in our house and call it school, but this does not preclude learning in another room, or out of the house, or anywhere, for that matter.

Learning at our leisure is hardly otiose, however! In fact, while casual to a degree that would frighten a school district, it is usually quite purposeful, and rarely ineffective. Our conversational learning process and challenging discussions are the heart of a meaningful education in our homeschool.

I once had a discussion with some 7-10 year old children, the friends of my children, at the beach. They wanted to know how my children would learn anything if they did not go to school. I asked them if they ever learned anything outside of the classroom. They said , "No." I asked if they were sure. They insisted they did not ever learn anything outside of school. I rephrased the question several times, and got the same answer. It made me wonder if these children had been conditioned by school to turn off their brains when they were out of school, or if they simply did not understand what learning meant. Either way, they dreaded the end of summer, and, bemoaning their plight in early September, said goodbye to my children and left the beach. We continued (and still continue every year) to visit the beach until the weather turned cold. And even then, frequent visits to the shore after storms and during cold weather have revealed seasonal changes that the other children miss. The first day for
some includes learning where and how the lines are formed, where coats are hung, what time the bell rings, how heavy or long or hard-to-read the books are, how nice the teacher is...that same day we continue to read a great book, or look for coquina shells, or visit the home of a president who lived nearby, or study etymology, or head to a favorite concert or theater venue, or climb a mountain.

Those well-schooled school-children (skipping through the definition to the end:
used figuratively for "patronizingly and priggishly instructing") miss all this, and more. Without instruction, they insist that there is no learning. They have been taught that education is something that happens to them. Learning is a chore, not a joy. School has become to them a necessary severance from the real and natural world, and they accept that separation without questioning it, even as they complain.

The lessons the real world teaches elude these children. Their knowledge of the natural world is often two dimensional, limited by the scope and sequence, which often requires that children who cannot name the trees in their yard learn names of species in the rain forest (I once visited a school where principal proudly pointed to a rain forest display that the students had made--entirely out of Styrofoam; the irony was lost on him). They may do a report on a city 3000 miles away, and not know how to negotiate the streets in their own neighborhoods. They may do contrived demonstrations in a school laboratory, but never get their hands dirty looking under a rock. They will learn grammar from a workbook, instead of through the rich heritage of literature. The first day of school for these children is an end to leisure as they understand it, and an end to a real, natural and meaningful education.

A true education is multidimensional. It is a field trip that lasts for days, not hours. It is a book chosen because of personal interest, not enforced syllabus. It is immersion in Shakespeare, or music, or literature, or geometry, or beach combing, or Catholicism. Real education is driven by what matters, and by what is real, not by what is distant or required by a faceless board of advisers.

We are not entirely immune to the school year. Our son is in high school (his decision) and our daughter is in college now. We still head to Staples for the school supply sales, and glance through those catalogs that fill the mail box every August. German and music lessons follow the school calendar. But we make sure we have leisure scheduled in well before we fill the calendar with classes. For it is in these times of leisure that we get down to real learning. When children in our neighborhood go back to school, when the beach is empty save for us and the retirees, and when the school buses rumble by, we keep doing what we have always done: Learn. We started our true educational journey with our children years ago, when our first child was born. Those days of infancy are our first days of "school." Everything else is continuity.

Monday, August 25, 2008

College Days

Well, orientation, anyway. Sunday was move in day, and the consensus is that it's less traumatic to send your child to college 45 minutes away than to send her to Colorado for 9 weeks every summer. Actually, it was fun. Here are some highlights:

A tiny room! Libby's roommate brought her siblings (the same ages as our kids) with her, and five girls in the room was just too much. It's a good thing we left Libby's sibs at home. The girls both have loft beds with little head room:

But the rooms are efficiently equipped. To accent the lovely decor, the new roommates bought a floor, how many college freshmen and sisters does it take to put together a lamp? All of them, apparently, but it looks great when they finish. It's fun and bendy!

What the rooms lack in space, they make up for in view...note the lovely ongoing construction site that used to be the pools, fountains and plaza of Lincoln Center:

The project should be done soon. On the other hand, or rather, out the other window, there's a lovely view of the Hudson River, though it was a bit hazy today:

Two more views--Fordham's Lincoln Center Campus and Law School:

And a view of a tiny sliver of central park in the distance:

The interior of the school is nearing completion, and it looks promising. The new lobby, though the stairway is still blocked off, has a state-of-the-art security desk in a lovely cherry wood, and check out those new-fangled electronic styles! No more fussing with getting instruments and bags through the old fashioned turn-styles. Now you can just pass the colorful sensor:

So, we left her in her own little slice of NYC, and all is well. More orientation this week, placement tests, then registration and classes!

I'll end with a few quotes:

Every time an elevator opened the first day, a chorus of voices screamed, "Hi Liz!!" to Libby. I think she knows everyone.

Overheard, when Libby was not with us, from one boy to another: "Hi! How are you? Remember me? I'm Liz's friend!" And yes, he did mean our "Liz."

Libby to me on our way into the president's reception: "I have the best life!! Thanks Mom!"

Yeah, sending her to college is easy. I can't wait until she comes home.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Five Days at Home

Day 1: After nine weeks in beautiful Colorado, where it snowed in June a week before she arrived, and snowed in August the day before she left, Libby arrives home for 5 days. After taking the red-eye from Denver, she lands at 6-something am. We pick her sleepy self up, but there is no time for rest. An 11 am doctor's appointment, a shopping spree and lunch with Granny, and a choral reading session in Manhattan keep her up until after 11 pm.

Day 2: I'm going to the beach, but she makes plans to visit friends, who are also going away to college. She and her two friends have fun visiting an elementary school playground and taking photos like this one. I am glad to have a digital film means no waste, right?

Day 3: She needs to go into a friend's house in Brooklyn to listen to some music that he wrote. Yes, they will be going to college together in a few days, but they need to listen to music now. Today, even. She underestimates the time it takes to get to and from Brooklyn via train and subway, so a half day adventure for her turns into a stressful driving session for me. I have to pick up the boys who are biking around Long Island, then wait for her pick-me-up call...which never least not when it is supposed to come. Meanwhile, Don acquires tickets to Fame: The Musical for this evening. Libby finally calls, and she and her friend laugh when they hear about the tickets, as he just graduated from the "Fame" high school. I rush to pick her up at the train in Queens, on the way to the play; despite the rush and stress, we make all our connections smoothly, arriving for the 8pm curtain just in time. And the play is horrible. The actors were great, the dancing was great, the singing was great...the play itself is dreadful and vulgar. Ah well, the tickets were free.

Day 4: Stay home and pack. Laundry. More laundry. Finding favorite pants. Finding favorite shirt. Deciding what stays. Unpacking, repacking, stuffing, labeling, rediscovering. Pile of books she wants to take must be smaller. We finally decide on one milk crate worth of books. Later, we watch two episodes, back-to-back, of Maestro, a British "reality" show where 8 celebrities try to win the opportunity to conduct the BBC orchestra for the last night of the Proms. Funny--yeah, especially since one celebrity contestant is the "news reader" Katie Derham, who is not related (that we know of), but has our last name, unusual spelling and all. And it is way best to watch a show like this with a musician who can tell you all the details of conducting technique that the celebrities are lacking (if you see the show Maestro, be warned that the language is occasionaly rough).

Day 5: The Scottish Games. Libby took this amazing photo of Annika in a fencing match. There are many other photos, too, of fencing and caber tossing and pipers and falconry and all that fine Scottish playing around sort of thing. You can see more here, though they are a bit repetitive (more thanks for the digital age). But best of all, the games are crowded with our friends, who enjoy the gorgeous day with us. Plus, Libby gets to see many more of her friends before she leaves for...

Thinking about Pre-School?

Think again. From the Wall Street Journal:

Why don't preschool gains stick? Possibly because the K-12 system is too dysfunctional to maintain them. More likely, because early education in general is not so crucial to the long-term intellectual growth of children. Finland offers strong evidence for this view. Its kids consistently outperform their global peers in reading, math and science on international assessments even though they don't begin formal education until they are 7. Subsidized preschool is available for parents who opt for it, but only when their kids turn 6.

If anything, preschool may do lasting damage to many children. A 2005 analysis by researchers at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, found that kindergartners with 15 or more hours of preschool every week were less motivated and more aggressive in class. Likewise, Canada's C.D. Howe Institute found a higher incidence of anxiety, hyperactivity and poor social skills among kids in Quebec after universal preschool....

Kids with loving and attentive parents -- the vast majority -- might well be better off spending more time at home than away in their formative years. The last thing that public policy should do is spend vast new sums of taxpayer dollars to incentivize a premature separation between toddlers and parents...Yet that is precisely what Mr. Obama would do. His "Zero-to-Five" plan would increase federal outlays for early education by $10 billion -- about 50% of total government spending on preschool -- and hand block grants to states to implement universal preschool.

Read the rest.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dealing With It, NYC Style

So, the F train is running late. What do you do? One guy browses the music on his iPod. A young mother sits with her head in her hand. An older man screams into the intercom. Two women chat (note the amazing gold lamé bag!). Most folks just wait. I take this photo.

The temperature rises. The F train runs three storeys [edit: just caught this spelling error] underground; subway trains on the upper levels rumble above, giving us false hope.

The train arrives, 25 minutes late. Finally.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Libby is Home!

We picked her up at the airport this morning. It's so good to see her!

(note Buddhist monk in background)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The National Anthems we Don't Get to Hear

Except at this website.

Journalist Joe Blundo, inspired by the Olympics, has visited the site and has a few comments on anthems:

• Most fun title to say: Yumi, Yumi, Yumi is the anthem of Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific. The title means We, We, We, which is also fun to say.

I also like the lyrics, which contain this frank assessment of the place: "We know there is much work to be done on all our islands."

Alas, the melody isn't nearly as endearing.

As for the least fun title, that would have to be Uruguayans, the Fatherland or Death!

• Scariest lyrics: Algeria's We Pledge contains this vengeful sentiment:

"When we spoke, nobody listened to us, / So we have taken the noise of gunpowder as our rhythm / And the sound of machine guns as our melody."

The melody is suitably grim and militaristic.

• Most popular body part: Bosoms. Anthem lyricists love them. Hence: "Thailand embraces in its bosom all people of Thai blood"; "In your bosom, O Freedom, we are ready to die" (Brazil); and "Your bosom has become a battlefield" (Azerbaijan).

Read the rest.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Double, Supernumerary!

The view as we left church after Mass this evening:

That's our church, St. Hedwig's, on the left. Here's a bit of info on Supernumerary Rainbows. If you look carefully under the arc of the primary rainbow, you can see a few extra bands of color.

And yes, even at Mass, I had my camera!!

ETA: Here are the rest of the photos.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Baby Birds and Thunderstorms

It seemed like such a nice day to photograph those skimmer babies, now beginning to make a less timid appearance. But things turned grim pretty quickly...

The babies are so different from their black and white parents!

Of course, they targeted me immediately. So I left. But I got some photos first!

Meanwhile, back at the picnic tables...

Something seems to be brewing to the north...

It got very dark, very quickly...

Cecil B. DeMille dark.

We made it across the parking lot to the car just before the rain started. But I wonder what those little birds do in the rain...sometimes the beach floods.

One Year Later...

The Solemnity of the Assumption is not just a holy day of obligation to us any more. It is also the anniversary of our encounter with the Elk. About three weeks later, I started this blog.

It's funny how things turn out, isn't it? We checked out several churches while we were at Yellowstone, in anticipation of the Assumption. We decided on the church in Jackson, and called to confirm the time of the Mass. The secretary did not tell us the 5 pm Mass would be in Spanish, but, hey, Mass is Mass, and when you are on the road, you don't often have much choice.

We stopped at Wendy's for dinner, and began the ride back up to Yellowstone when Miss Elk sauntered on to the road in front of us. If we had chosen another church...

The most memorable part of the elk hit for me was the amazing noise my husband made as he gasped for air in anticipation of the impact. I'm so glad I was driving.

Music for the Assumption

Hear it at Aristotle's Blog.

Starry Sky Reflections on Curriculum

From Kim's excellent blog:

This seems to be the most difficult concept for most adults to grasp. Surely there must be a correct order in which to teach history? Nope. I tell you truthfully. Nope. If you are skeptical then order catalogs from several major publishers and compare the scope and sequence of each. You will discover that one begins with the beginning of time in grade one and moves forward in strict chronological order each grade. Another will begin with local and family history and move outward to more abstract information. Others begin with American history and give world and ancient histories a nod in junior high. All will assert that their way is critical to success and may even suggest that failing to adhere to their system will lead to disaster. This is just not so.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

An Addition to the History List

I just read Ana's review of A Little History of the World and was delighted to hear her recommend a book that's suitable for children and adults. I was doubly pleased to find it available from
, as we can listen to it on an upcoming road trip!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pauline Baynes

Requiescat in pace.

10 Minutes Into the 100 Species Challenge...

And I'm already annoyed...I have photos of 3 plants that I recognize, but I cannot recall their names!! Is it botanical Alzheimer's? Also (and you knew there'd be an "also"), out of the 100 photos the kids took, only about 45 are usable. I think we need a photography lesson!

That 100 Species Challenge

When I came across this on Lissa's blog, I cringed. First of all, I am not a botanist. Second, projects like this are like making a patchwork quilt: I admire the workmanship, but I would not have the time and patience to pursue the project myself. Best to leave it to others, I thought. Plus, the usual muddle about common names was off-putting; and anyway, I can never remember the names of half the plants I see; and how will I blog this without it taking over the whole blog? Nope. Not me.

Then I went for my daily 2 mile walk around the village. Despite my concerted effort to listen to the Confessions of Saint Augustine (unabridged, of course) on my mp3 player, I kept looking around and identifying plants against my will. I had just passed through the childhood reminiscences of the great saint when I realized I was up to a mental count of 57 species. And I wasn't even trying. But still...reading through the rules for the rest of the project, it just seemed a bit too much for me to take on.

Then, as so often happens when I'm walking, inspiration struck (Ha! I was so thrilled with the inspiration that I forgot to stop walking until mile 3!). Instead of taking the photos myself, I would hand my camera over to the two kids who would be studying biology this fall, and let them take the photos. We could work to identify each species together. And (this is the best part!!) it took them less than 20 minutes to take photos of over 100 plants!

Here are the rules:

1. Participants should include a copy of these rules and a link to this entry in their initial blog post about the challenge.

2. Participants should keep a list of all plant species they can name, either by common or scientific name, that are living within walking distance of the participant’s home. The list should be numbered, and should appear in every blog entry about the challenge, or in a sidebar.

3. Participants are encouraged to give detailed information about the plants they can name in the first post in which that plant appears. I'll take the easy way...I'll post a list of species in one post, and link to the photos with captions via Picasa. I may include info about the edibility of each plant, just to keep my own interest.

4. Participants are encouraged to make it possible for visitors to their blog to find easily all 100-Species-Challenge blog posts. This can be done either by tagging these posts, by ending every post on the challenge with a link to your previous post on the challenge, or by some method which surpasses my technological ability and creativity.

5. Participants may post pictures of plants they are unable to identify, or are unable to identify with precision. They should not include these plants in the numbered list until they are able to identify it with relative precision. Each participant shall determine the level of precision that is acceptable to her; however, being able to distinguish between plants that have different common names should be a bare minimum.

6. Different varieties of the same species shall not count as different entries (e.g., Celebrity Tomato and Roma Tomato should not be separate entries); however, different species which share a common name be separate if the participant is able to distinguish between them (e.g., camillia japonica and camillia sassanqua if the participant can distinguish the two–”camillia” if not).

7. Participants may take as long as they like to complete the challenge. You can make it as quick or as detailed a project as you like. I’m planning to blog a minimum of two plants per week, complete with pictures and descriptions as below, which could take me up to a year. But you can do it in whatever level of detail you like.

Thanks for this, Lissa! 8-P

And away we go!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

18 Years of Dreams, Part II

Instead of all that, she had one thing in

She played violin...

And cello...

and piano.

First conducting class was fun!

She got to lead small groups,

and orchestras...

and bigger orchestras...

and she played in famous places as a soloist...

and in a duet.

When she wasn't playing music, she hula-hooped with friends at 12,000 feet.

Today, as she turns 18, the stars are falling, so she'll stay up late and watch them.

Happy Birthday Libby!!!
We love you!!

18 Years of Dreams, Part I

If she wanted to be a paleontologist, we'd help her find dinosaurs to dig.

If she wanted to be an ornithologist, we'd get her some birds to observe.

Maybe she'd be a biker babe!

Or a goat herd!

Or a professional softball player...

Maybe she'd be an entomologist...

Or a Jedi!

There was even a time when we thought she might be a luger!

But her dreams were different...(see next post).

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Water reCycle or "Toilet to Tap"

Interesting article on where your water might come from, especially if you live in California and other dry areas:

When you flush in Santa Ana, the waste makes its way to the sewage-treatment plant nearby in Fountain Valley, then sluices not to the ocean but to a plant that superfilters the liquid until it is cleaner than rainwater. The “new” water is then pumped 13 miles north and discharged into a small lake, where it percolates into the earth. Local utilities pump water from this aquifer and deliver it to the sinks and showers of 2.3 million customers. It is now drinking water. If you like the idea, you call it indirect potable reuse. If the idea revolts you, you call it toilet to tap.

Fascinating. And, for those who are homeschooling, a visit to your local waste water reclamation plant is an educational and enlightening experience. Give them a call and schedule a field trip.

Extreme Birding at Your Own Risk

Birdwatching can be hazardous. I did manage to snap this photo before the skimmers forced me to retreat.

Friday, August 8, 2008

History, Geography, and Politics?

Gosh, I love Google Reader. Just when I need to find a binding force for my "social studies" course this year, I stumble across today's post (a thoughtful rant) on Mere Comments by Anthony Esolan, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (released on my birthday, so it has to be good). I see it is also available from Audible. We have enjoyed other PIGs, including English and American Literature and American History. These are typically full of book recommendations themselves, and the funny thing is, most of the recommendations are already on my shelves.

The Truth About (my) Curriculum Choices (9th Grade)

While I was joking about the "everything" books in this post, I am easily choosing books from my bookshelves this year. And because Cay has always wondered (hi Cay!), I'll fess up to our plan publicly.

First, I will use the 9th grade literature course I designed a few years ago for Libby. It was fun and educational then, and I am looking forward to revisiting it.

For math, we will use several algebra books, including Jacobs' , Algebra Unplugged, and a few other interesting math books that are kicking around the house (most are on my math page).

Biology is always fun here. I have so many resources that I could not possibly list them all, but a few worth mentioning are What is Life?, Darwin's Black Box, The Amateur Biologist, and assorted books on individual life histories, like The Earth Moved, which is the natural history of earthworms, and Red-Tails in Love, concerning a certain pair of hawks in NYC. Of course, I'll add other books as needed, or as interests turn to certain specific areas of biology. And field work...did I mention field work?

Social Studies is always a problem...not that there are not enough books here, it's just that it's my husband's area of expertise. We'll probably use a combination of biographies, documentaries, dad's brain, and field trips to bring history alive. Also, we will all be working on a congressional campaign, and that's more than enough to satisfy the requirements of "government" during an election year. I'll post a separate social studies plan once it's ready.

German-American School will take care of German language and culture, and The Suzuki Program, plus lots and lots of concerts, will take care of music. In the spring there will be a Shakespeare production, and there may be other plays in the fall. We will continue our study of ecclesiastical Latin. My highschoolers volunteer with my CCD class, and our religion reading includes the New Testament and the early church fathers, plus we will be reading through B16's Jesus of Nazareth.

I guess that wraps things up. All selections are subject to change, and change again.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Can Good Taste Be Taught?

Music critic Justin Davidson takes his son to you?

The article gets a bit muddled in the middle of the first page, but overall, Davidson is asking the right questions, and makes the keen observations of an involved parent (though he is way more musically permissive than I am):
I trace a strain of my adult tastes to a string-quartet concert I attended at 15, featuring a late Beethoven masterpiece, a few hushed, strangled utterances by Anton Webern, and George Crumb’s Black Angels, a work of somber electric beauty from 1970. The three pieces, from three different eras, share a compressed rhetoric of morbid dissonances that landed on my ears with an explosive force. But that was no accident: I was primed for revelation. I had spent time studying the composers on the program; I tried to follow the common thread of weirdness. No doubt I was also plumbing my own inner well of darkness at the same time, an exploration that Milo started much earlier than I. He recently spent months immersed in the acrid tang of Sweeney Todd, memorizing the morbid lyrics and watching the original Broadway production, clip by YouTube clip. That’s my boy.

Read the rest.

Never, Ever...this Time I Mean It!

I did it again. I left the house without my camera. This time, it was totally by accident. And this time, I missed a perfect photo of three brown pelicans flying over the beach. On Long Island. Yeah. I have not seen brown pelicans for about 10 years here, though we saw some white pelicans two years ago in January out on Jamaica Bay.

Didn't have the camera with me that day, either.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Worth Reading Today

Just a few links to online reading for today. I wonder, though...does online reading count as reading? They are questioning this at the NY Times, too.

Either way, check out these interesting news bits:
Take a Look at the New New Mass
Little House: The Musical
Make the Election Come Alive with Paper Dolls? (Dover Books)
Haystack Full of Needles Discussion
Brideshead Eviscerated

'Nuff for today, I think.

Monday, August 4, 2008


Annika took a break from Shakespeare this summer, and got a taste of musical theater in a local production of Godspell. She had a fine time, and the show was great...but hot! The gym/auditorium at the local parochial school had no air conditioning. Still, the singers and dancers held it together, and the audience got a treat. Luckily there were beverages for sale. Congrats to the cast and crew!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

British Paper Notes Lack of Nature Literacy in Children

"Children have lost touch with the natural world and are unable to identify common animals and plants, according to a survey.

Half of youngsters aged nine to 11 were unable to identify a daddy-long-legs [what we call a crane fly], oak tree, blue t*t or bluebell, in the poll by BBC Wildlife Magazine. The study also found that playing in the countryside was children's least popular way of spending their spare time, and that they would rather see friends or play on their computer than go for a walk or play outdoors." Read more.

Take the quiz on the paper's page. These are British animals and plants, so don't get too upset if you are in the US can't identify them--I missed two myself. What it does show, though, is that the problem that so many of us see right here in the US is not unique. When 5th grade students pile off a school bus and enter a nature preserve, see a chipmunk and yell, "Beaver!!" there is something very lacking in their education. These same children will see a toad, call it a frog, and have no interest in learning what it really is. They will, in fact, argue that it is a frog...their father told them so.

More troubling is that the children in the British survey said that playing outside was their least favorite thing to do. Is it the lure of electronic gadgets that keeps them inside, or is it fear of strangers, wildlife, the unknown? Lack of control over what they do...?

The cure? Get out. Often.