Check out the article on homeschooling in the August 1 issue of SLJ. My friend Cathy Henderson from the Greece Public Library is mentioned. Woo to Cathy! Her homeschooling programs have been innovative and popular.
Archive for the ‘Interviews’ category
I first became aware of homeschooling mother, author, and speaker Carol Barnier when I attended a presentation she gave on a game she developed to teach children how to read at the 2006 LEAH Convention at the NYS Fairgrounds in Syracuse. I was struck by her commonsense, easygoing, and humorous approach to speaking and educating children, and so I purchased her two books, How to Get Your Child Off the Refrigerator and on to Learning and If I’m Diapering a Watermelon, Then Where’d I Leave the Baby?, for the library’s homeschooling collection, where they’ve spent very little time on the shelf. Her books are popular, I think, because they offer good advice but also because they’re honest, warm, and unintimidating. Carol speaks and writes often about “highly distractible” children and adults, always in the spirit of creating understanding and accepting environments in which everyone can thrive. One of her newest projects, Sizzle Bop!, is an online community “where highly distractible people are celebrated, encouraged, and empowered.” Carol is a busy person, and she went to some trouble to do this interview with me, for which I’m grateful. I think you all will be, too.
Adrienne: I’ll begin with the big question: How did you and your family get started in homeschooling?
Carol: I would love to weave you a tale of lofty thoughts, noble ambitions and great foresight. But the truth is not so grand. Our son sort of flunked kindergarten. Flunked is too strong a word, but he certainly struggled, and he struggled in ways that the other kids didn’t. When it was determined that he was ADHD we began to look at options. Medication wasn’t one of them. It’s not that we were anti-medication, but he had other medical issues that precluded this choice. Next, we began to meet with each of the four possible first grade public school teachers in our local schools. Each one watched him interfacing with her students and her classroom and then declared that without medication, this child would not succeed in first grade. Strike two. Lastly, we checked out local private schools. But this was financially impossible. Strike three.
Adrienne: That sounds like a social studies curriculum I would have enjoyed. I was an avid reader when I was a kid, but I hated (and flatly refused) to read social studies textbooks in school, which led me to the mistaken impression that I wasn’t interested in history. It turns out that I just didn’t respond to that bits-of-information approach.
Valerie: Ditto. :)
Adrienne: Living in another country is an education in itself. Did your family factor it into your homeschooling in a big way?
Valerie: Yes. As a fun example, many times when I took my daughters to their weekly riding lessons (and then back home, of course) when we’d drive back over the Rhein river on the return trip, I’d pretend I was an airline announcer, hold my hand over my mouth as if I had one of those push-button microphones and say something like “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now leaving Gaul. If you look out the windows, you’ll see the Rhein river flowing under the bridge.”
We also visited museums and historic sites. Ones that come immediately to mind are:
— the Hochalpenstrasse (High Alpine Road) in the Austrian alps
— a paleontological museum in Munich where we saw the bas-relief fossils of archaeopteryx
— a reconstructed Roman fort at Saalburg north of Frankfurt
— reenactments of everyday life in actual castles
— castles and palaces
— an open-air museum of relocated buildings from earlier centuries
— cathedrals and old churches… made of stone and with no heating whatsoever
— the criminal museum in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which made us glad to be living nowadays because the public punishments for what we’d consider minor infractions (gossiping) were harsh
— battle sites and memorials through the centuries, such as the Butte de Lion by Waterloo. Napoleon’s headquarters is still there.
— the Somme, where my grandfather fought in WWI
— Nazi fortifications on the English channel
And of course, we familiarized ourselves with the language of the country we were living in.
Adrienne: How about libraries? Were you able to use libraries in the areas you were in?
Valerie: I used German libraries, the community libraries provided by the military system, and the resource library provided for the use of the Army’s commanding general in Europe.
The German library was mostly useful for language familiarization. I would check out audio tapes of stories that were internationally known. I specifically remember learning the German word for sidewalk from the German version of Pippi Longstocking (it’s “Burgersteig”). I found that listening to familiar children’s stories in another language eased the acquisition of vocabulary because context was already known. The learner doesn’t have to struggle to understand the action, and can easily pick up the thread again if the vocabulary temporarily disrupts the story line.
The Army community libraries were invaluable for money-saving (!) general information items. We ranged throughout the Dewey Decimal system in the books we used, from the 000 references, to the 900 histories. In Munich the military community was closing, so our library wasn’t linked by computer to other libraries, but the library in Heidelberg was well-linked. I spent many (off-peak) hours standing at the computer catalogue looking for items and making wish-lists for ILLs. After we moved to Belgium, our internet connection improved, plus I found the military library system’s Telnet URL so that I was able to work from home. To be clichéd about it: hog heaven.
Also, the librarians were always there if I got frustrated in my searches. They were great for bailing me out — and for handing me those Christmas-present ILLs.
The library specifically for the use of the Army’s commanding general, the USAREUR Library and Resource Center (ULRC), was a gem. I was overwhelmed by the variety of documentary video programs the library stocked. I was able to check out the entire series (week by week) of Cal Tech’s, The Mechanical Universe, which is now available from the Annenberg Foundation’s website: http://www.learner.org/resources/series42.html.
Another favorite series was a BBC series, Deutsch Direkt, a lengthy immersion course in German. Before we moved from Heidelberg to Belgium (French-speaking Wallonia), we were also able to complete Pierre Capretz’s series, French in Action (now also available from the Annenberg site: http://www.learner.org/resources/series83.html).
I [heart] the ULRC.
Adrienne: How did you get books?
Valerie: We got our books from libraries, catalogues, the Stars and Stripes bookstores (the Stars and Stripes newspaper operated the bookstores in military communities before the service was sold to the Exchange system), return trips to the U.S., and from European bookstores. Again for language study, I liked buying translations of popular American cartoons. In German, the Spaceman Spiff character from “Calvin and Hobbes” is “Raumfahrer Spiff.”
In our last year of homeschooling, I was able to use Amazon as well, but that was in a more limited way. I found that homeschooling catalogues, such as the Holt Book and Music Store (named for John Holt, and now FUN Books: http://www.fun-books.com) targeted our interests better than the more popularly-oriented mass-market suppliers.
I was already a biblioholic, so getting books was second nature.
Adrienne: And, finally, do you have any closing thoughts you’d like to share with librarians eager to serve homeschoolers?
Valerie: Thank you.
Without the librarians’ labor of love, my adventure in homeschooling would have been poorer, as would have I. Mark Hegener of Home Education Magazine puts it this way: “Homeschooling is love and a library card.”
Adrienne: You said that you used a boxed curriculum when you first started homeschooling and that things evolved from there.
Valerie: Yes. I liked the idea of unschooling, but it seemed too radical for me. I looked at the materials available at the time, and went with a mainstream provider.
Adrienne: What grades were your children in when you started?
Valerie: Our oldest son had graduated from high school and was in the Army, so he was no longer at home. The twins were 10 and their younger sister was 8.
Adrienne: How did things change as you went along?
Valerie: The structure of the coursework felt stifling, and by the end of the year we wanted to divorce each other. Each day’s work was scripted, and the learning wasn’t organic. I found the scripting interesting (despite the frustration) because there was nothing educationally mystical about the process — it was just proceeding from one step to the next. We read, we did, we learned. Same as with anything.
The item that convinced me to change from using a prepared course of instruction to putting together my own plan was the social studies book. The kids had been in “normal” school before we started homeschooling, and this provider used standard textbooks, so I assumed that the kids would be prepared for the next level of materials, but that wasn’t how it worked out.
In the social studies text the progression was manifestly destined: “American History: And god created Columbus and it was good,” and then move on from there. But that didn’t satisfy the kids. Now that they were in a “safer space” for questioning, they wanted to know some background. I think they usually phrased the question as, “Well, why’d he do that?”
I answered their questions by backtracking and doing something such as finding an encyclopedia entry about the time or persons immediately preceding whatever event triggered the “why’d he do that” question. After the answer, the twins would look at me, and ask, “Well, why’d HE do THAT?” So, we’d backtrack a little more. After a few backtracks, I realized that this process could continue farther and farther “back,” that is, if the twins didn’t lose interest, which they did. Social studies was a shambles and was the “subject” that provoked the most resistance.
At the end of the year, I said “enough of the boxed curriculum.” I found the process of starting in the middle to be flawed, so I decided that the next year, we’d start over… from the beginning, and that’s what we did. I’ve got some of the beginnnings at:
(This category has languished since I started blogging at Home Education Magazine, but I mean to add to it.)
To re-start our trek through history, I collected materials about creation stories from various cultures and information about scientific theories about the start of the universe. Through the following years of our homeschooling, we continued through prehistory into history and up to the present. In this way, we didn’t have loss of interest because of lack of preparation, and we didn’t have any more “why’d he do that” questions.
Adrienne: Wow — an interesting story that prompts a few questions. Were your children in a DoDEA school?
Adrienne: What kind of legal requirements were there when you pulled the kids out of school?
Valerie: None. DoDEA has no “jurisdiction over all military kids.” The schools are a benefit, not a requirement.
Adrienne: My understanding is that military families are often required to follow the education laws of the country in which they’re residing: was that the case for you?
Valerie: It’s very long and drawn out.
In the United States, military family members – who are civilians; only the servicemember is a part of the military – are under the jurisdiction of the state’s education laws, just like anyone else who moves to the state. Confusion arises because the servicemember’s pay is taxed according to the laws of the state he or she claims as a home of record; ditto for voting (for husbands and wives as well), and the driving license of the servicemember. Some states also allow the husband or wife of the servicemember to keep the driving license of the home of record, but it isn’t universal. Education is not one of the areas in which military family members are exempt from local requirements. Just as children who are in local public schools follow the policies of those schools, so, too do homeschoolers follow the state’s laws.
Overseas, though, status of forces agreements (SOFAs) are in place to govern the relationship between local law enforcement and servicemembers, DoD civilians (civilians employed by the Army, Air Force, Navy or Marines), and their family members. All the “members of the force” are (usually?) still under the jurisdiction of host nation criminal law (which is why when those Marines raped that Japanese girl years ago, there was such an uproar in Japan when the Marines retained custody. We’ve never lived in Japan, so I’m not as familiar with that SOFA as I am with the NATO SOFA.).
Social services laws, though, seem to be in a different category as in the NATO SOFA, members of the force from a “sending state” are excluded. Therefore, members of the force do not pay host nation income taxes, are not eligible for host nation social security or medical insurance, and do not acquire any right to vote in host nation elections. I’ve never seen education mentioned in any SOFA, but it seems to fall into the ‘social services’ category as DoD schools have no affiliation with host nation school systems. I also doubt that the local towns would not appreciate paying for the education of foreigners who pay no taxes to support the schools.
Civilian-civilians who are overseas on a tourist passport without a SOFA stamp are expected to follow local education law. Military people are usually ignored.
I have a much longer version at:
Adrienne: What were the laws like when you were homeschooling? I know that today the German government is fairly anti-homeschooling, but perhaps things were different when you started.
Valerie: They were the same as they are now. Homeschooling was illegal for people who were either citizens of EU countries living in Germany, or “ordinarily resident.”
Local friends warned me that I’d be fined, arrested and have my children taken away, but I assume they were unaware of the SOFA. I homeschooled the kids in Germany from 1990 to 1997. We moved to Belgium and homeschooled there for the one year the kids had left until they received their diplomas.
Adrienne: I was really surprised when I first learned about the legal status of homeschooling in Europe. I think I had assumed the laws would be very similar to what they are in the US, but, as you note, that’s not the case at all.
Valerie: No. The culture of compulsory schooling has a longer history in Europe than it does here, and the cultural rationale and development was different than the course followed in the United States (“200 years of compulsory schooling in Bavaria“).
I first became aware of homeschooling mother Valerie Moon via her excellent website, The Military Homeschooler. Homeschooling families in which a parent is an active member of the military face particular challenges as they deal with homeschooling laws in different states and even different countries as the family moves from station to station. Even though she’s done homeschooling her children (through two different countries!), Moon has continued to maintain her site, a wonderful resource for military families contemplating or actively homeschooling, and her family’s story is an interesting one. Here we go:
Adrienne: My first question is the big one: What got you started in homeschooling?
Valerie: Working in school.
Our oldest son attended public school (and parochial school for two years), so I knew the drill from that angle. In 1988, his senior year and the year our youngest started Kindergarten, the overseas military newspaper, The Stars and Stripes, published an article about some new fad called homeschooling. This was the first I’d heard of it. It was intriguing, but I didn’t rush out and disenroll the kids from school. This was also pre-Internet for Germany, and no one at our (civilian) church mentioned it – Episcopalians aren’t the tip of the homeschooling spear – so my information on homeschooling was just that one article. Still, I remember the room where I sat, and the light glowing through the plants in the window as I read the article. It made an impression.
A year later I worked at the school in the glorious position of playground monitor. The vice principal recruited me after I showed up daily at school one week to give our youngest daughter some medicine. Tony, the school’s vice principal, said that I could put my lunch time to good use making money – five whole dollars an hour – wow, an offer I couldn’t refuse (and the school needed the help). I’d already been a “room mother,” I was writing a monthly magazine for the schoolkids to take home, I’d been on the School Improvement Plan committee, and was an elected member of the School Advisory Committee. Anything for the kiddos. So there I was, a playground monitor with a daily view of school socialization… that occurs outside the 25-foot portable no man’s land that surrounds playground monitors as they stroll around the playground. The hard-case kid said the f-word every ten seconds during a football game. I timed him one day.
I did this work to fulfill the prophecy that children do better in school when their parents participate in school activities. Maybe so, but my kids just avoided me on the playground as if I had a 100-foot force field around me. Still, their grades and standardized test scores were such that they all were in the “talented and gifted” (TAG) class so I figured that what we were doing was working well. Despite their TAG designations, there were still pressures and problems, but I saw these as normal given our experiences with our oldest son. It’s just the way it was.
The clinching moment came when I was asked (probably out of the art teacher’s desperation) to join two other ladies in judging an art contest sponsored by the PTA. This was after my own kids had come home telling me that they had to do pictures about “where the sky ends.” I told them “in the back yard” and didn’t think any more about it.
The two ladies (neither of whom I knew, and one was visiting the other) and I showed up at the art room. The art teacher gave a martyred sigh, waved at the seven stacks of 18×24 sheets of paper, said he was tired of the whole business, and left us to Judge. Well, how to proceed? I suggested we do a “quick and dirty” flip through with the stacks of pictures on the floor (and the kids’ names on the backs) to separate the yeses from the noes, and then pick three from each grade level. The two ladies agreed, and we started. We decided to go from “easy” to “hard” as the sophistication level increased, and so we started with the kindergarteners’ paintings.
The kindergarten pictures were so easy, and so sweet. The first graders’ techniques improved, as did the second graders’. The third graders’ were showing originality and verve, but the fourth graders’ pictures didn’t improve over the third graders’, and some looked … worse. The fifth graders’ pictures showed a lot of copying, and the sixth graders’ were worse than the kindergarteners’ but without the sweetness.
I was disturbed by what I saw, so after we finished my footsteps echoed up the stairwell as I trotted to the TAG teacher’s room to Let Her Know (!) what happened to the kids in the school. Rosemary sat cutting out construction paper manipulatives in her room, and she listened to my tale of woe, calmly snipping. When I finished she looked up and said, “In self-contained gifted classes, the kids peak even earlier. There it happens in first grade. Studies have shown that people usually don’t recover their childhood creativity until their 40s.”
“You mean people KNOW about this?? So I’m showing up every day, and going on field trips, and helping with science experiments, all to improve my kids’ school performance while the teachers know not much is going to change? And nobody told ME?”
I left the school that day, disheartened. (Plus my three kids’ pictures didn’t make it past the ‘quick and dirty’ cut – it wasn’t about not ‘winning,’ as it was that their pictures sucked.) What could I do to help my kids?
Serendipitously, I had recently received a new listing of children’s magazines that accepted articles. In that listing was one magazine whose name caught my eye: Home Education Magazine. I sent for a sample. As they say, the rest is history. Before the end of the school year we’d ordered our boxed curriculum (a strategy that lasted for one year). I couldn’t fix the system as my kids grew through it, but I could help my kids.
Adrienne: Last questions for you: How did you come to write Pagan Homeschooling? I know you’ve written other books on Pagan topics, but have you done other professional writing on homeschooling?
Kristin: As I did my own research and developed a curriculum for my son, I needed to pull together so many different things. I realized that there was a real need for such a book so other parents didn’t have to “reinvent the wheel.” So I wrote it.
I am currently working on a secular book on homeschooling and have considered doing another Pagan one, building on the first. I’ve also written for Home Education Magazine twice and for a couple of Pagan homeschooling newsletters.