Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Columbus Day and Chimichangas

With all of the chaos involved in planning our move while spending much of our time commuting to Lexington for our homeschooling co-op and other activities, I didn't really plan anything school-wise for Columbus Day. A surprise visit yesterday from Kelly's parents on what is also Canada's Thanksgiving Day called for a meal out at the local Mexican joint, since Bonnie made a pretty reasonable argument that we needed to eat tacos to celebrate her Canadian heritage. Turns out that my idea of a reasonable argument is pretty much, "Hey, Mom, can we have Mexican food for supper?" But I digress...

So as I said, I didn't have much planned for Columbus Day, but being me, I still made time for Bonnie to read the chapter on Columbus's "discovery" of the Americas in Howard Zinn's A Young People's History of the United States.

In addition, I got my hands on a copy of Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, which contains many resources for teaching about the impact of Columbus's arrival in the Americas. As the editors state, "Our goal is not to idealize native people, demonize Europeans, or present a depressing litany of victimization. We hope to encourage a deeper understanding of the European invasion's consequences, to honor the rich legacy of resistance to the injustices it created, to convey some appreciation for the diverse indigenous cultures of the hemisphere, and to reflect on what this all means for us today." I'm going to use the book for a lengthy history unit.

Has everyone heard of the Zinn Education Project? It's a comprehensive, free resource for locating materials to teach the people's history in a worldwide context. There are free lesson plans and lists of resources. In short, it's awesome! I first learned about the Rethinking Columbus book there, and also found several appropriate books for Latino Heritage Month.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Blasphemy and Other Fun Stuff

I'm feeling better and better about our forthcoming move to Lexington. Yesterday was our first day of classes at a secular homeschooling co-op and it was AWESOME! The kids had fun, learned a lot, and got to hang around lots of other kids without any focus on religious beliefs. They are counting down the days until returning next week. We'll enjoy it even more when it's a short drive from our new home instead of the hour plus we have to drive each way now.

And speaking of new home, were getting closer to our actual move, as we now have both a buyer for our current house and a contract to purchase a home in Lexington. Now we just work through the processes to get both sales closed within the next couple of months.

Our family is excited to be more active in the growing humanist/freethinker community after we move. We're particularly looking forward to next month's first annual Kentucky Freethought Convention. Check out this list of amazing speakers lined up to speak! I still kind of can't believe an event like this is coming to Kentucky, and I can't wait to be in a whole building full of freethinkers and skeptics.

Though Lexington itself is far from nonreligious, it offers our family a network of other secular families and individuals who recognize that religious faith is not necessary for morality, who place value on critical thought, education, and reason rather than on faith (i.e. belief without proof), and who know that rights and respect belong to human beings, not to ideas and beliefs. 

This concept of rights belonging to human beings rather than to ideas and beliefs is very relevant in the aftermath of the US Embassy killings and continuing unrest in the Middle East in protest to a blasphemous movie. Let's reword that a little bit. People are being killed because other people's religious faith is being offended. Human beings are dying because someone offended an idea. A myth. A story. And anyone who thinks Islam holds some kind of monopoly on this kind of behavior needs to read a history book or two.

Long live blasphemy. The Onion does a wonderful job of it here. (Image not safe for work. Or kids.)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Science in the Bluegrass

Not everyone in Kentucky is an ignorant hillbilly, but there are some GOP lawmakers in the Bluegrass State who have done their part to help perpetuate that particular stereotype by suggesting we lower our academic standards in science. In other words, they want creationism to be taught alongside evolution in biology, and they want it stressed that evolution is "just a theory."


The last thing Kentucky students need is to have their science education standards lowered. They deserve a chance to be on a level playing field with kids from other states and countries. When I hear comments on this event by those outside of Kentucky, asking things like "what else would you expect from a state with a Creation Museum?" it makes me incredibly defensive. But it's kind of hard to defend my home state when some of our lawmakers actually want our students less educated than the national standards dictate.

This morning I watched this very timely video by Bill Nye (the "Science Guy"!) in which he expresses his views on teaching evolution.

Nye pleads, "And I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live your life in a world that's completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that's fine. But don't make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future."


Tuesday, August 21, 2012


I'm sitting at the kitchen table watching a pair of cardinals feed their three babies at our bird feeder. This is perhaps the third clutch we've had the joy of watching this year. My mom fed birds here, and sat in this same spot (different table and chairs) for years watching and enjoying birds. I'd like to think these cardinals are descended from the ones she observed years ago. Could one of these parents even have been a fledgling my mom watched? As Kelly and I prepare our house to sell so that we can leave this small town, my childhood home, for Lexington, I can't help but regret that I won't be watching more baby cardinals here through the years.

It's always hard when plans change, even when you know it is for the best, as we do now. This was our "forever" house. The peace I felt when we decided to buy it from my siblings after my parents passed away, the idealism of raising my kids on this beautiful spot of earth that helped form my childhood, is hard to let go.

We won't be giving up this idyllic setting for nothing. In exchange for the woods and the serenity, we will have access to a growing humanist community, as well the ability to join a large established secular homeschooling cooperative. And we will be able to put our money where our mouths are in regards to our carbon footprint. Kelly will work in the same city where we live, losing nearly two hours of commute time a day, and we plan to live in close proximity to a bus line, as well as within walking distance to stores and parks, reducing the time the kids and I spend in our vehicle as well.

Allowing my kids to have access to nature is imperative to me, and I recognize that this move will require a concentrated effort on my part for that to continue. There will be no more walking into the woods 30 feet from the house. This change is probably the aspect of the move that's most difficult for me, but our isolation up here is also a big part of why we need to move.

I'm so very excited for my family's future, one which includes my kids having much more time with their dad, as well as developing and sustaining relationships with other freethinking families. We've built an awesome little nest up here, but it's time to soar.

Friday, July 27, 2012

School Readiness

Has anyone read Penelope Trunk? She has both a career and a homeschool blog. Her strict unschooling is often a little more than I can handle. (For example, she doesn't limit screen time.) But occasionally her posts really resonate with me, as is the case with today's post about kindergarten readiness. (It's that time of year!) She writes:

Kindergarten is the first time that kids will have their creativity crushed in the name of following along with the group. Kindergarten will be the first time they will be part of a group of twenty-five or more kids who are supervised by only one or two adults. It's a different story with that ratio: kids need to fall into step to make things manageable. This is really what kindergarten teaches you.

This passage brings up images of Bonnie's kindergarten experience, complete with little painted lines on the hallway floors so the kids could literally learn to fall into step. I am so glad Jack didn't have that experience last year. In what should technically have been his kindergarten year, he spent most of his time running around outside and learning through play-based activities, mostly of his choice. He was obviously NOT ready to learn to read, and I didn't push it. Now, before what should be the start of his first grade year, he has told me he wants to learn to read and is making progress each day toward that goal. His goal. 

delicate little plant in need of freedom. Einstein quote at DailyLearners.com

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Life Lately

Summer seems to be flying by. Though we intended to have "school" throughout the break, reality kept us so busy that we have hardly done any school work. We're tiptoeing back in now, trying to find the happy medium between the unschooling I am drawn to and the structure that both Kelly and the kids need.

My biggest challenge is math for Bonnie. Saxon is definitely too rigid for our family, but we need something a bit more organized than what I was doing at the end of the school year, which was basically rushing through a few Saxon lessons and working on word problems with her each week. We're looking at Teaching Textbooks, which may just satisfy both Kelly's desire for structure and Bonnie's desire to be more independent. (She likes math, but doesn't like being told what to do. No idea where she gets that.) She's taken their placement tests and falls somewhere between level 7 and pre-algebra, so we are probably going to start with the level 7 and see how it goes. Trying as always to find that balance of challenging without frustrating!

Speaking of balance, I have quit my part time job that I'd had since last fall. I brought the kids with me, but the novelty wore off for them, and trying to get my work done with them in tow was becoming increasingly difficult. Next time I work outside of the home, it will be without my children, or risk losing my own sanity.

And speaking of sanity, I've been consumed with sibling stresses once more, as my sister relapsed and we had to have her hospitalized against her will a couple of weeks ago. In case anyone was wondering, the mental health care system in this country is completely and totally messed up. 

Has anyone seen Mr. Deity? Though this video does not particularly address the awfulness that is schizophrenia, it shows the absurdity in thinking that an all-powerful deity could allow so many evils in this world and also be good. Watch it and enjoy!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Born in the USA

When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

As we approach the celebration of the birth of our nation tomorrow, patriotism is on my mind. Bonnie and I attended a very nice service at a Unitarian Universalist church this weekend, and one of the topics discussed by the minister was about balancing being both liberal and patriotic. I have mixed feelings about this. I find myself generally turned off by patriotism as displayed by most conservatives in this country. I don't teach my kids the white-washed version of American history that I learned in school, nor do I have a national flag displayed in my house. And of course I don't force my children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

All that said, I am incredibly drawn to the secular values our nation was founded on. As I have begun reading the first chapters of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism , I'm learning how much thought and attention was put into crafting our secular American government. I love our Founding Fathers' vision for this country!

Am I proud to be an American? Sometimes, maybe. But I often find myself pretty ashamed of many aspects of our nation's history and current policies. I love George Carlin's words here on the idea of national pride:

...I could never understand national or ethnic pride, because to me Pride should be reserved for something you achieve on your own.

I am happy to have been born in and continue living in a country that was founded on secular values and reason by some of the most intelligent men in history. But I wish our nation lived up to those values more, and I don't pretend that being an American is somehow "better" than being from another nation, many of which are leaps and bounds ahead of us in things I strongly value, such as life expectancy, literacy, math, science, healthcare, not waging war, and women's rights.

When I am not waving flags and saying God Bless America tomorrow, it's not because I don't love this country. Really, I do. (Do I think Gob blessed it? Well, obviously not.) But I don't ever want to confuse patriotism with blind loyalty to the government, or to the military, or to upholding a false view of our national history, and I feel like the conservative definition of patriotism that's running rampant has done just that.

There's a really great quote that's incorrectly attributed to Thomas Jefferson and that appears to have conflicting views on its origin. Nonetheless, it defines patriotism simply in a way that makes sense to me: Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe Fourth of July holiday!