Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Be back to posting next week

My in-laws are in town and my time has been focused away from the computer this week.  Next week I'll be back to posting.  I'd like to do a post or two on homeschooling and one on my apple cider making trip, so those will be for next week.  

Monday, October 20, 2008

Y'all tell me: homework around the world

I'm "borrowing" this You Tell Me...  idea from Nathan Bransford who has my favorite blog.  I wanted to get some feedback so... Y'all tell me...

Since my most read post is about homework, I thought I would revisit the issue.  I've been asking around to get some personal stats from people that I know in different countries to see what school is like where they are--how much homework there is.  So far I've gotten a little bit of feedback.  A friend's little sister is on an exchange in Spain for the year (11th grade) and she said that she generally has 15 minutes of homework a night there compared to 4 hours of homework a night here.  I figured the difference would be significant, but I was completely floored at how big it actually was.  The classes that she mainly has homework in?  foreign language.

A friend from Norway told me that they just lowered the age for school to start there 4 years ago from 7 to 6.  He doesn't have any kids but he said that he knows they don't have any homework that first year.   The reason they lowered the starting age?  Pressure to have as many years of schooling as the rest of Europe.  Most European countries have 10-12 years of school and Norway only had 9.  Will it make for more educated kids?  Will they be more well rounded?

I'm still waiting to hear from a friend in Switzerland, but I think they have a fair amount of homework there.  I'm anxious to hear what she says.  I'll let you know when I hear.

How about the rest of you who live in foreign countries or have lived there?  Becky, what was it like in France?  When I was there, I wasn't really aware of that kind of things, since I didn't have any kids then.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Feeling Frisky with Fall

With the cooler temperatures I've been breaking out the long sleeves and jackets.  Ahhhh!  I love this time of year.  It's my favorite season.   I didn't used to think so.  I always felt like I had to love summer, because we didn't have school.  I was glad for that, let me tell you, but I always felt like I was fibbing when I would say that summer was my favorite season.  It was so blasted hot in South Carolina in the summer without AC that I would long for fall--for a time when I could where a sweater or a jacket.  I'll grant you that 50-75 doesn't sound that cold to some people, but, hey, after 100 degrees with 100% humidity (okay maybe not all summer, but there were plenty of days like that), 50 feels pretty nippy around here and a jacket is in order.  (That's for you Alyssa and Hannah.  If anyone makes fun of y'all again for wearing a sweater, tell them to come to SC in August and see how they fare. Ha ha!)  

Fall makes me want to run and jump and kick my heels up and then I remember that I am not very graceful and am prone to injuring myself like last year when I came off of Roo, the horse, 
and slammed into a wall.  Very Ouch!  That was one of my more graceful falls.  I still think he's beautiful though and very sweet.  No hard feelings there, Roo.   I'm the klutzy one.  I can slam into a wall just walking down the hall at my house and injure myself or destroy a toe running up stairs.  So this year I will gently kick my heels up as the leaves fall.  

I feel friskier than usual (I want to set off doing cartwheels across the lawn), the dogs feel friskier (Buzz runs around like a crazy man), Roo feels friskier, and he has to be ridden down more or lunged to get out some of that excess energy.  Here's Elizabeth lunging Roo.  Now she's the only one riding him.  

I'll just get frisky kicking up the leaves and feeling the cold air against my cheeks--swirling with the leaves in the air to fly free. 

Enjoy the cooler temps y'all!  Be sure and bundle up, you girls in the snow.  I'll try not to fall down and twist a knee when I go out and twirl with the leaves.

Happy Frisky Fall!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Having it all!

My question is:  "Can we have it all?"  I wrote on a friends blog today that I just don't think having it all is possible.   I had been told so much of my life by teachers and friends and the media that I could have it all.  I believed it.  I thought it was all possible.  Career, happy children, spotless home, fulfilling relationships with friends and husband, side interests, hobbies, develop talents.  Whatever I wanted.  I could have it.

The sentiment makes for a great sound bite.  "Anything is possible for you!"  "Women can do anything these days!"  "You can have it all!"  

The reality of it is that we can't have it ALL!  Sure anything is possible and women can do anything these days, but not all at once.  

I was trying to come up with a good analogy. I was kind of thinking of life as an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Sure you could go in and gorge yourself on everything in the place, but is that the best approach and are you happy afterwards?  Isn't life ultimately about being happy and contributing to the world around you?  

Wouldn't it be better to choose a few things that are good for one meal and be happy with that at that time.  If you're dying for cheesecake tonight great, have it.  Just don't have cheesecake and banana pudding and key lime pie and ice cream.  You can save those for future visits--or in my comparison for later in life.

The meal should be balanced.  Not all broccoli or all mashed potatoes.  Life should be balanced as well.  Not all work or all about the kids. (that may rankle with a few of you)  Life should be sometimes about your children, sometimes about your spouse, sometimes about the things you love to do.  (Lasagna, salad, and apple pie)

I think this is why there has been such a huge shift in the last decade of women choosing to stay at home.  The stress of trying to "have it all" was unhealthy.  It was killing them and their families.  Just like gorging on everything on the buffet or only one thing.  Were they happy?  I don't think so--at least not completely.  

A little bit of cleaning (okay so I admit at my house there could be a bit--okay, a lot--more of this), a bit of playing with the kids, a bit of going out with my husband, a bit of writing, a bit of music.  I'm not saying I have it all figured out by a long shot, but I hope I'm getting there. Giving up on the whole idea of having it all has sure helped make my life happier.  I don't have to do everything.  I just have to do somethings--the things that are the most important to me.  (well that and the laundry and cleaning before they take over the house--haha!)

What do y'all think?  Can we have it all?  Any other good analogies?


Monday, October 6, 2008


I decided to get off my soapbox today and just think in ordered patterns.  Here are some pictures to reflect my mood.  First from the gardens at Versailles:

A different view of a chandelier inside the Palais de Versailles:

One of my all time favorites--the ceiling of the Galleries Lafayettes in Paris (And to think--it's not a great cathedral or palace or museum.  It's just a mall.): 

We surround ourselves with patterns.  They help make life beautiful.  Happy Monday, everyone!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Can't reading just be fun?

In yesterday's homework rant I got distracted for a minute about the topic of all the assigned reading out there these days.  I thought today I'd give it its full measure.

I think there should be free time for choosing to read books that you picked out for yourself--books that are completely escapist.  If you love the stock market, read a book about it. Dragons? Spaceships? Magicians? Music? Foreign Countries?  Go for it!  Reading can be fun!  

Don't get me wrong.  I don't think kids shouldn't have any assigned reading.  For some kids that is the only reading they will do, but...

I think it should be varied.  Sure, study Faulkner.  (I loved Faulkner in High School.  I may have been one of the only ones, but hey! that class was for me too.)  Study James Joyce or the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen.  Flannery O'Connor.  Why not?  In an educated society we should be able to enjoy literary novels.  Just sprinkle in a little Sarah Dessen (still pretty literary but fun) or Scott Westerfeld.  Why not a little Ray Bradbury? or Orson Scott Card? or Ann Brashares? or Robin McKinley? or James Patterson (Sacrilege, I know)? or Louis L'Amour?  How about a few more books for the boys in the class!  I know most of the teachers are female, but still...

And then... Give the kids free time to choose to read or not if they don't love it.  Maybe they will love it when they get older.  Or not.  It's not for everyone.  I think, though, that more people will learn to love to read if they are exposed to things that they enjoy reading.

As much as I adore reading (and that is a lot for those of you who don't know me personally), there are certain things that I just can't make myself read (not many mind you but some).  I hate reading manuals.  After a few words, my mind starts to shut down.  My dad loves them though.  I just don't get it, but we are very different people.  He's a "doing" kind of person, and he loves to know how things work so he can fix them if they go wrong.  I'm more of a "talking" kind of person, a "describe what he's doing" person, a "call the repairman when something goes wrong" person.

I wonder how much I'd like reading today, if all I'd ever been assigned to read in school were manuals.  Heaven forbid.  I'd have flunked out of English.

Beware!  Personal experiences coming on.  In 10th grade we were assigned Moby Dick to read and study.  I think our edition had about 400 pages or so.  Well, I hated it.  I tried to force myself to read it.  I wouldn't let myself read other things because I felt guilty for not reading MD, and reading something else would have been a reward, and I couldn't reward myself for not doing my assignment, so...I read nothing.  I did everything I could think of to get out of reading MD (which wasn't hard because I had plenty to do.)  I think we studied it for about 3-4 weeks maybe longer.  I don't remember for sure.  It seemed like forever at the time.   I didn't read anything else and I only read 100 pages of MD (Sorry Mrs. 'Nab') which is way less than I would have read for the same time period normally.  I still have not gone back and read it, and I have absolutely no desire to either.  I swear I almost learned to hate reading, but the difference for me was that I already knew that I loved to read.  

At that time in my life so much emphasis was put on "the classics" that I thought that's what I had to read even in my free time. I'm so glad my mother forced me out of that mindset.  She recommended other books for me to read, and eventually, I followed her advice.  If not I'd have never discovered the engulfing story in Exodus by Leon Uris that was so amazing and opened my eyes to a whole nother world and started me on a reading jag of his novels, and then I moved on to Chaim Potok and on and on. 

In the summers of my sophomore and Junior years in HS I had reading lists for AP English and as a result all I read was what was on my reading lists.  I didn't read any books for pleasure those 2 summers.  I ended up reading less.  I definitely got less enjoyment out of reading.  It's a shame.

So many kids don't know how great reading can be that, when they start reading what's assigned in their classes and hate it, they come to think that they hate reading and won't do it at all.  Their mantra becomes, "I hate to read!"  And they read less and less.  I was seeing this more and more with David.  Right now he's finally reading something he enjoys, and he's discovering that sitting down with a book is not a punishment.   Cornelia Funke is his favorite author now.  He's never had one of those before.

One of my parents' favorite authors is Louis L'Amour.  I never read any of his books until I was in my late 30's.  (Silly of me really.  It was that being-educated-have-to-read-the-classics mindset rearing its evil head again.) His books are so engrossing and vivid.  I loved them.  They taught my dad in his retirement years that reading is not so bad at that, in fact, it can be quite enjoyable.  He'd thought his whole life that he didn't like to read.  Come to find out he had just been reading all the wrong stuff for him. (well except for those manuals)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Do I Still Have to do Homework?

I'm 43, for crying out loud!  I have completed a master's degree!  I'm not taking any classes of my own! Why the heck am I stuck here at the table every afternoon doing homework?!? Walking the homework beat as one of my friends calls it.  Why do I have to be the heavy, the nagging mom every day my children walk through the door from 7 hours of school by making him or her sit down and do another round of school work when I personally think they should have a break? When I think they should be out running around hitting a ball or riding their bikes or playing a game or helping me make dinner (which they like) or doing karate or gymnastics or riding a horse or watching tv and relaxing.  (I know that is pure sacrilege.  What could I possibly be thinking?  I should probably be burned at the stake!) 

No we're figuring out science or writing or vocabulary or a project (that I still haven't seen the assignment sheet for and it's due tomorrow.  Surprise mom!  And we need a poster board and pictures of Jupiter--good thing I have a color printer/copy machine at my home) or math of all things!  I thought I was finished with word problems when I had that last Calculus class in college.  Oh, I was so wrong!  I was so naive!  Can I work them out and get the right answer.  Yes, I can! (Usually, with a little annoyance) but can I teach my child how to get the right answer and show his work?  Not on your life, because I do it the wrong way--the way I was taught when I was little.  I want to scream at the teacher at the top of my lungs, "If you're going to be picky about the way it's done have the kids do it in your classroom while you are there to supervise and answer any questions they may have!"  

But I take a deep breath and try not to yell at my child that I love because he doesn't understand what I don't understand.  There goes my mood.  Deep breath!  Calm!  Think of nice things!  His dad can help him!  He's fantastic at math and so analytical!  Except there's that pesky little thing about it being done the "right" way.  I would have thought that someone who's been working in Finance for over 25 years would know the "right" way to do math, but I guess I'm just fooling myself.

Okay, so I've got the proverbial bee in my bonnet about homework and have to vent a little more or explode.  I'm sure you'd have never guessed.  I've facebooked about it quite a bit this week, but it's apparently not enough so I thought, "Hey, I have my own personal platform.  I'll blog about it."  Not that I have a huge audience or anything, but I just have to put it out there.  Hey, Karen!  Hey, E!  Hey, Daveman and Nathan!  This is for you! 

This week I've read several articles that have highlighted the pointlessness of homework and the possible detrimental effects that it can have on our students out there.  The Time article found here and the articles of Orson Scott Card found here and here and here are eye opening. It just kills me that in the study that proved that homework does not help elementary aged children at all there is a recommendation for doing 10 minutes of homework per day per year in school. So for 5th grade students it says they should do 50 minutes of completely useless homework every night.  That's just brilliant!  

The article about education in Finland was very intriguing.  Find it here.  Thanks for all the links Nathan.  Only 1/2 hour of homework even for high schoolers.  Okay, I can understand that and I can get behind it.

What college track high schooler do you know who does not have a barrage of homework every night? weekend? over holidays?  Even reading lists for the summer?  How about your middle schoolers?  Now it's even trickling down to elementary school.  

Homework in America has gotten completely out of control.   In my opinion it is a major reason for the decline of  America's ranking scholastically across the world.  People can focus for only so long.  They eventually burn out. 

There's no more reading for fun. It's all assigned.  No wonder people are reading less.  Kids start out thinking reading isn't fun.  It does not have to be drudgery.  Reading can be so exciting and fulfilling and informative. (gasp!)  Sorry this rant is about homework.  Back to my topic...

With obesity such a problem in the US, I wonder how much of a role homework plays in that equation.  Our children sit around all day at school (except for PE that's usually not everyday and recess that is getting shorter and shorter) and then are forced to sit around at home doing homework.  Sometimes that homework can last from the time they get home until the time they go to bed.  One friend was telling me that her high schooler is often doing homework until midnight or later.  When school starts at 8 AM, that's a 16 hour day--an 80 hour work week for a teenager.  That is INSANE.  That's 2 full time jobs.  And yet some people think nothing of our children working like that on homework.   

It's a wonder more don't burn out sooner.

I'd love to hear your feedback and feelings out there.  So my rant is over for the day and the platform is now yours.