Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Natalie and the Nomads

Is it the name of my midlife-crisis-induced garage band? No. The title of my first fictional novel based on actual events? Close. The alias my family has been using for the last five months? DING DING DING!

Finally, after living in three houses in less than three months, we have a home. A real home. We moved in last week. It's lovely.

PS. This is the house we found on Halloween.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

House Haunting

Guess what...We just made an offer on a house!

On Tuesday night, we did tricks or treats with a good friend (She's a homeschooler and hosts our local drama group). She and I along with her husband (a professional clown) and about half a dozen kids piled into the Inky van. Katie was a pirate (only because we couldn't find a Violet Parr/Incredibles costume in time due to all the house chaos). Dagny was Snow White, and I was the Evil Queen.

Anywho, while we were combing the neighborhood for snacks, we saw several homes for sale. I was there for the candy, though, and not interested in looking at houses. Then, we came upon a beautiful home with a lovely yard. A wrought iron balcony runs the length of the second floor, and it made me think of New Orleans. Evil Queen or no, I had to ask about this house (Can you imagine? "Trick or Treat! So...uh...what's the square-footage of this house? How old is the roof? Have any foundation problems? Thanks for the candy!").

The next day, I toured the house with our realtor. It is 32 years old and 70's galore on the inside, but some of it is kitchy enough to keep. Besides, cosmetic stuff is the easiest to change (yes, let the rationalization begin!). The kitchen is especially dated, althought the buttery-yellow double ovens and cooktop are almost charming. Overall, the house is in excellent shape. I was encouraged by the fact that the original owner--who died recently--was the builder and designed the house as a permanent home for his family. It's solid--over 30 years old and no foundation problems (I wish I could say the same--you know, for ME.). You can tell that this house has been well taken care of and thoroughly loved. Even the furry gold shag upstairs looks great!

Since I was worried that the retro-fabulousness of the house would turn Jack off completely, I pointed out that this was the largest house on the largest lot AND the lowest priced that we had looked at so far (and we've looked at about a dozen homes). I also told him that, unlike the newly constructed homes we've seen in the last week, this one is conducive to entertaining (which is important to us).

We just got back from looking at the house together, and he really liked it. We put in a reasonable offer. Now, we get to wait and see.

Isn't it amazing what one can find while trick-or-treating??

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"You'll get nothing and like it!"

no new bloggage until deadline

(which just got longer)

is over...

Saturday, July 15, 2006


...due to deadline and other momentary work commitments, bloggage will be light.

Rambling will resume on Monday.

[help me.]

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Have you two met?

Linda Hirshman, this is Judith Warner.

[These two are so filled with vitriol that, odds are, they'll attack and kill one another before realizing they're on the same side...Hey, I'm just here to help!]

More on Hirshman by Janine at Why Homeschool.

CoH: The Black Coffee and Plain Bagel Edition

No cream, no sugar. Just caffeine and conversation. Check it out at The Homeschool Cafe!

[note: we lost the "all-you-can-eat dessert buffet and coffee bar" edition in the wee hours of the morning just hours before the CoH was to debut. Hence, the plain Jane version. But, it's up and I'm fine now. Nothing a few weeks of therapy and a few shoe purchases can't cure....]

Can't we all just get along?

6/28/06: Useful discussion for an inclusive group at a crossroads...

NO. And here's why: Homeschooling is not homogeneous.

By design, homeschoolers are opinionated. Our reasons for homeschooling are as varied as our methodologies. Many of our choices are contradictory, which is why some militant unschoolers decry the use of curricula as a crime against children while sects of evangelical homeschoolers regularly take exclusionary precautions against non-conformers. Inevitably, friction happens, debates escalate, and lines are drawn.

I am not concerned with the homeschool methodology families choose (unschooling, CM, WTM, etc...just do what is best for your child and fits well with your family's lifestyle) unless their practices infringe upon my freedoms. Since Daryl, Chris, and Eric seem to have the cyber-school equation locked down (the well-justified war against governmental regulation--see comments at all of the above links), I want to address the deeply rooted differences in homeschooling philosophy, specifically evangelical homeschooling vs secular homeschooling (btw, secular is not a bad word nor is it synonymous with "anti-Christian").

No matter who you are, if you homeschool, you fall into one of those two camps. Period. Both are rooted in distinctly different philosophies, but overlap has more recently blurred the lines. Obviously, an atheist, pagan, Wiccan or other non-Christian homeschooler would encounter some form of conditional support from evangelical Christians (as a whole...just wanted to create that loophole for future reference). However, there are a lot of Christian families that homeschool for secular (read "not primarily for religious") reasons and are--contrary to first impressions--secular homeschoolers. These families have a tough time finding support that fits in areas densely populated with evangelical homeschoolers, because their common faith does not bridge their homeschooling differences.

In the South, the litmus test has become the Statement of Faith (SOF), a document which members of a evangelical group--sometimes just the husband as spiritual head of the household-- are required to sign. It offers proof that a member family conforms to the group's core beliefs and practices. It has nothing to do with why a secular family homeschools, therefore many Christians refuse to sign one, because these groups use the SOF as a means of control (there is a loose cyber g-school parallel here). Likewise, fundamentalists regard this refusal as suspicious. Hence the US vs THEM mentality.

Are private clubs and support groups legally allowed to discriminate? You bet. That's not the point. We're talking about divisions within the homeschooling community which are a product of philosophy and not subject to regulation. When perfectly motivated, well-adjusted Jews, secular humanists, Mormons (like the author mentioned above...yet another reason her lack of logic is disturbing), single/divorced parents and non-conforming Christians are denied support by a group that has the monopoly on resources (remedied by starting an inclusive group and creating your own resources...a la PEAK), divisions are inevitable and the results are often hurtful.

As long as we all passionately think, believe and live differently, these divisions will exist.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Silencing Homeschool Critics Without Statistics

The Revised and Updated Version!
[Originally posted March 2, 2005]
The following are excerpts of messages I posted to a homeschool group after several people asked for statistical information with which to convince or silence their critics. I thought I'd edit them together and include it here for others to read. My view was that homeschooling statistics are flimsy, especially when you're dealing with emotional family members, obnoxiously "friendly" bystanders or stat-wonky school professionals. This is long, so go get that cup of coffee, take that bathroom break and check on the kids...

It helps to understand what the critic is really saying and what these concerns and assumptions are based upon. Rather than immediately assuming that this common line of questioning is a personal affront to your intelligence, ability, or parenting skills, view this as an opportunity to expand their view. Some people sincerely lack knowledge (others are just plain jerks). By remaining level-headed and unemotional, you strengthen your case as well as lessen the risk of becoming defensive or feeling attacked.

Here are my stat-free responses to the top eight questions/comments confronting homeschoolers:
"I am a schoolteacher and I have to be evaluated periodically, as well as take continuing education. Why shouldn't you be accountable as well?"

Clearly, this isn't a stat question although newbies think they need to quote educational research here. Instead, think of it this way: Teachers are *required* to do this by the government. So ask:
1. ...if she'd feel confident in her abilities without jumping through those hoops (any teacher worth her salt would say yes),
2. ...if she'd participate in the re-evals and CE programs were these strictly voluntary (most would not and claim these are a waste of time and money),
3. ...if she felt she was learning practical, valuable information from these classes (no, see 2 above),
4. ...if she felt "bad teachers" were really being weeded out or improved by these evals, or were they just killing trees and pushing papers around to make the rest of us feel good (no, see 2 above),
5. whom she feels the highest level of obligation to do a good job (hint: not your children),
6. ...if she positively enjoys her job and the kids she teaches every year (my mom--a public school teacher--admits she doesn't, even dislikes some kids, and says most parents AND teachers learn to view the classroom as an assembly line. next!).

Chances are she resents the fact that you have this freedom of opportunity, feels threatened by invalidation if she accepts your choice, or just doesn't get it (and you can't make her). She also doesn't grasp that you are working one-on-one with your own children without a salary whereas she is entrusted with a larger number of others' children in an employee-employer relationship. By that very nature, your job is not the same as her job and shouldn't be subject to the same bureaucratic requirements. Even if it would make her feel better.
"There are a lot of parents out there who have no business teaching their children."
Not unlike "paper or plastic", complete strangers feel perfectly comfortable throwing this statement out there in the line at the grocery store. While true, this is a general assumption that can't be quantified. Stats won't work here, even if they existed. Whatever you do, DON'T answer it with this snarky statement:
"There are a lot of people who have no business having children."
(Most people will agree with you here, but they'll also assume YOU might be one of those people.)

What this person is saying is that they think there should be some standard (via regulation) to which homeschoolers should be held accountable. You can just say, "There are a lot of teachers out there who have no business teaching." This directly addresses the premise of this argument by pointing out that regulations don't weed out bad teachers in the present system, and they wouldn't weed out bad homeschoolers, either.

If they persist, ask if they'd welcome increased regulation to weed out the bad (fill in their job title) in the (widget) industry. Government intrusion sounds like a great solution to lots of problems until the camel's nose is in their tent, so that'll make them think. This is also a great one to use on school administrators and teachers, because they *know* teachers who shouldn't be teaching AND feel tied down by the regulations, whether they openly admit it or not. However, many don't think beyond the bureaucracy (See Comment 1).
"HOW are you going to make sure Kiddo learns SOCIAL SKILLS??"
This person is operating under an out-dated assumption. Schools aren't conducive to socialization like they were when we were in them (detail examples if you need to). Ask sincerely, "Do you really want your child to learn social skills from her peers? And since when did socialization trump education at school or in the home?" This will slow them up, but not shut them down, because then they ask...
"Well then, what are you going to do to make sure she has friends?"
This person is operating under institutional pre-conditioning, which results in a very narrow view of the world in which school is not the only place children meet other children and ignores the fact that not only can homeschoolers join homeschool groups, we (like other "normal" people) go to church, utilize library book clubs (some of which cater to homeschoolers, like ours does), take up ballet or karate, join 4-H. The list is so long, people will eventually feel stupid for asking for it.

As an added bonus, you can point out that the fact that you don't have to help with three hours of homework every night or spend weekends on a diorama of the life cycle of the wiki wiki bird (a winged animal that knows where to find information about anything...ok, I made that up) makes enriching your child's life with other activities even more possible. The average parents of traditional schoolers don't have that luxury, they know it, and this will shut them down.
"But don't you get tired of staying at home with your children all day?"
This question cracks me up. I just say with dramatic sincerity, "No...[hand to pearls]... I love my children" then watch them spin their wheels. Suddenly, they're doing all the talking and the focus isn't on my choice anymore. They also realize what a faux pas they've committed while they ramble about how they love their children, too. This is fun to watch.

You don't have to explain yourself further on this question, because the asker is rarely ever *truly* saying "but what about you and your interests and sense of well-being?" They're just being nosy, so don't humor them.
"Are you qualified to teach?" or "How will you teach?" or "Do you know how?", etc.
So far, I have resisted the urge to say "Golly. I dunno, I'm a moron like you!" and look completely bewildered or walk into a few walls... but that wouldn't be very nice. This asker is also operating under the influence of institutional pre-conditioning and shares the myopic AND misguided view that parents shouldn't, don't know how to and cannot teach. Therefore, they conclude, education should be left to the "experts."

Stop them in their tracks by asking if they knew how to parent when their first child was born or how to be a wife/husband when they got married. They might say, "No, but I had a mother/home life/childhood to model..." Bingo, they answered their own question: the most valuable skills for long-term success were learned, not at school, but at home...from Mom and Dad (What, like math is harder than marriage and raising children??)
Bottom line: Committed individuals can do anything they put their minds to and that includes teaching algebra.
"What do you teach?" or "How do you teach?" or "What resources do you have?", etc.
Sometimes, people who ask this question are genuinely curious. Other are extending the "You can't do that!" arguement. Regardless, most are operating under the false assumption that homeschoolers have fewer resources than schooled children. Be prepared to wow this person (and for their envy), because the options you have and the resources from which you may pull are beyond this person's grasp. From life to the library, list them and watch the looks on their faces.

They know the drudgery of homework and use internet searches and library visits to complete time-sensitive projects they care nothing about. That your children are so motivated by curiosity or that these resources have been integrated into your everyday life is unimaginable to families who send their kids off to apathetic public schools or rigorous private schools. School, to them, is like a job they wake up hating to go to everyday, something to get through. Not an adventure or a way of life like it is for most of us.

(Side rant: If homeschooling is not this way for you, you should change something you're doing. Obviously, your methods and your child's needs aren't on the same level, but it is fixable. Not a criticism, just more unsolicited advice from a know-it-all.)
"What are you going to do about college?"
This one used to be harder to answer, but this has changed in the last several years as both private and public colleges and universities have begun to recruit homeschool grads. However, this person doesn't know that and assumes it is more difficult, if not impossible, to get into any college, much less a good one. They also assume your child will have a hard time adjusting.

You don't even have to get into a discussion of state laws or college admission procedure or research studies conducted on the success rates of homeschoolers transitioning to college, though that's the first thing I thought of when someone asked me. Instead, tell them that many homeschoolers are actually more prepared for college because they have been integrating learning and life in a diverse environment for years. Many of them are independent thinkers who don't have to "find themselves" after years of assimilation.
Embarking on a structured "college track" isn't really even necessary, but the homeschool families who do put more time and effort into college choice and preparation than the average public-schooled child/family. Around 10th grade, lots of us kick into portfolio mode and begin researching colleges while most parents of (average) traditionally schooled children don't think about this until the latter part of their child's junior year. While they're trying to get Jr. to focus on bringing up his GPA so he can have a better chance at a scholarship (or even just get a letter of acceptance), our child has been in college mode for a year and a half longer, has been taking practice tests, has participated in researching potential schools (rather than solely leaving it up to mom and dad), has taken dual enrollment courses and usually understands what is at stake, the transition that must be made, etc.
If your breeeelliant logic and well-thought-out responses fail to beat stereotypes and change minds about homeschooling, know when to call it quits and just change the subject:
"...did you see American Idol? I'm so disappointed that Elliot Yamin was voted off. He had the most talent in the final three and now that Katherine McPhee girl is probably going to win. [sigh]. I just don't like her. She's like a high school diploma: pretty packaging, lots of fanfare, but no know, a dime a dozen..."
Smile, wait five seconds, excuse yourself and walk away. Your work here is done.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Toadily funny

You can't make some of this stuff up, really, so I had to share.

We have two frogs (actually they're toads--Firebelly toads) that we bought to appease Dagny, who really wanted a cat but decided she was equally thrilled with toads (we don't like cats, sorry, and toads are an easy enough starter pet.). Cherry and Hopper live in a toad haven in Dagny's bedroom. Not particularly exciting creatures, they mostly hop, eat crickets and hide in the toad house until evening. They're nocturnal, but until recently, had never made a sound.

In the two weeks they've lived here, we haven't gotten much rain. Therefore, the nightly cacophony of singing frogs and toads in our backyard has been silent...until two days ago. I heard an odd chirping sound. I thought, "What are those crazy frogs [in the backyard] croaking about? It hasn't rained in over a week!" then forgot about it. About an hour later, I went into Dag's room to put in her nightly pre-bedtime DVD. As she made her selection, I heard it again. When I turned toward the sound, I caught them: Cherry and Hopper were mating.

It didn't look like a very friendly exchange. The female (formerly known as Hopper) had inflated her torso in an effort to loosen the grip of the amorous male (once named Cherry, but who knew? And who could tell anyway?? They've since traded names.). As she furiously chirped, "CALL 911!", he croaked like the amphibious equivalent to Pepe Le Pew, "Mon cherie, we can make beautiful music togetha. Mwah, mwah, mwah..."

Dagny asked, "WHAT are they DOING??"

I resisted the urge to say, "Their taxes, darling. Get back in the bed..." and went with a simple, "They're mating."

"What's mating?"

"They want to have baby frogs." [wincing as I realize my mistake too late.]


"No! We are not raising frogs in this house."

"Why not??"

"Because these toads (I remembered to say "toads" not "frogs") are from some place far away--not from here--so they need special care to lay eggs. Then they need more special care to grow from tadpoles to frogs. (pausing to reevaluate my words for simplicity that will pass 4-yr-old logic)...We just can't give them that kind of special care, so we can't raise baby toads."

"Well, you better tell Cherry and Hopper that."

If they lay eggs, we're making an omelet.

[note: The photo above is from the web. FBs have sensitive skin and secrete a mild toxin, so we don't handle them. But they're awfully cute, aren't they?]

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Coffee, anyone?

The 16th week of COH is up. Grab a cup and check it out.

Speaking of coffee, the Homeschool Cafe is open for business! Come on over. And be sure to tell Shannon what a fantastic job she did.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Linking Log: Jan 25

Carnival of Homeschooling: Week Four in The Common Room

Canstruction: Architectural and Engineering feats (pictured left: Manhattan Can Chowder)

Imagining the inner workings of a terrorist's mind: The War of the Hotels (TNR ID: ramblinblogger Password: bloggity)

Lots of governors mentioning pre-kindergarten in their state-of-the-state addresses (Ed Week--registration required)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

New Perspective on the SB 2514

Long overdue update: SB 2514 died in committee.
From H.S., a MS legislative committee volunteer:
I realize that this particular Mandatory Testing bill will probably not go anywhere (though what I've not yet figured out is how fast it might get anywhere if it does pass the Senate education committee this week or something). But I went and double checked anyway, and indeed, not providing "education as required by law" is considered neglect; hence, should the law pass, then in addition to registering with the SAO, you will be liable for neglect if you do not do the mandatory testing. This is smelling more and more like a teacher's union thing, isn't it - but that means trying to fight it means homeschoolers fighting teachers...

i) An absence may be excused when it is demonstrated to the satisfaction of the superintendent of the school district, or his designee, that conditions are sufficient to warrant the compulsory-school-age child's nonattendance. However, no absences shall be excused by the school district superintendent, or his designee, when any student suspensions or expulsions circumvent the intent and spirit of the compulsory attendance law.
(5) Any parent, guardian or custodian of a compulsory-school-age child subject to this section who refuses or willfully fails to perform any of the duties imposed upon him or her under this section or who intentionally falsifies any information required to be contained in a certificate of enrollment, shall be guilty of contributing to the neglect of a child and, upon conviction, shall be punished in accordance with Section 97-5-39.

§ 43-21-105. Definitions.
(l) "Neglected child" means a child:
(i) Whose parent, guardian or custodian or any person responsible for his care or support, neglects or refuses, when able so to do, to provide for him proper and necessary care or support, or education as required by law, or medical, surgical, or other care necessary for his well-being; provided, however, a parent who withholds medical treatment from any child who in good faith is under treatment by spiritual means alone through prayer in accordance with the tenets and practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by a duly accredited practitioner thereof shall not, for that reason alone, be considered to be neglectful under any provision of this chapter; or
(ii) Who is otherwise without proper care, custody, supervision or support; or
(iii) Who, for any reason, lacks the special care made necessary for him by reason of his mental condition, whether said mental condition be mentally retarded or mentally ill; or
(iv) Who, for any reason, lacks the care necessary for his health, morals or well-being.
I hadn't thought of that.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Carnival of Homeschooling: Week Three

At Why Homeschool. Looks great.

AND Daryl's post made this one!
Thank Noodliness for that (and Henry Cate).

Monday, January 16, 2006

Mississippi Bills (SB 2514 and HB 310)

SB 2514: "The State Board of Education may establish student testing proficiency standards for promotion to grade levels for students in home instruction programs which are equivalent to requirements applicable to public school students."

History: Introduced by Sen. Sampson Jackson and sent to Senate Education Committee on 1/12/06
Status: In committee

HB 310: Seeks "To clarify that any child who attains the age of 17 during the school year shall be required to attend school for the remainder of the school term, and to delete the provision allowing a parent or guardian to disenroll a child from kindergarten;" Note: Currently, compulsory attendance begins at six years old.

History: Introduced by Rep. Cecil Brown, Chair of the House Education Committee, on 1/06/06 and referred to House Education Committee
Status: In committee

Both bills are here:

HT: Hilary S.

The PBS post I neglected to finish

Thank Joe for the inspiration.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

MS Biz Column: Get back to work!

By Natalie Criss
Assistant Editor
Metro Business Chronicle
MS Biz Column: December 2005

In the words of Todd Rundgren, “I don’t want to work…I just want to bang on the drum all day.” According to a lengthy special advertising section in the December/January 2006 issue of Working Mother, that’s exactly what 700 attendees did at Working Mother Media’s Best Companies for Women of Color Multicultural Conference 2005. In celebration of diversity, tolerance, and trust, some of the country’s top female executives danced and banged on bongos.

The purpose was to set the tone for the entire conference, the theme of which was Trust: A Business and Cultural Imperative. Apparently, this was a bonding exercise (obviously because we women are emotional creatures who need to bond in order to trust) that served as an analogy demonstrating that the individual/drummer is the part of a whole/“drumming orchestra”.

The ideas and myths of multiculturalism spread far beyond the advertising section of a magazine and have made their way into boardrooms and classrooms across the country. Ask a middle schooler if he or she has an opinion regarding diversity and examine the origin of the answer closely. Likewise, compare the words of Working Mother conference attendants throughout this column with the views of homegrown family, friends and neighbors. For those who want to be fair-minded, the politics of diversity are accepted as common knowledge, conventional wisdom would have us believe.

Diversity, minority, and tolerance are all words that used to mean something laudable until leftist pundits hijacked them. Diversity, which once represented generic variety, as in diversity of thought, now means “different but equally important” and opens the door wide for relativism and subjectivism. Minority is now synonymous with special interest group. Tolerance has become a negative stand-in for courtesy and respect. Now trust is being twisted into a state of vulnerability that supplants reliability.

In results-oriented careers (which includes all private sector jobs), the outcome of such muddled language is confusion and entitlement. One returning attendee of the Working Mother conference remarked to panelists, “I followed what you said [last year] to a T, and it worked. I found a sponsor. I got a promotion, and I know it was only because the CFO knew my name and who I was.” Only because. How sad that this young executive doesn’t include her hard work as a possible explanation for her advancement; sadder still that others are left to wonder if she was promoted not for her track record but for her minority status.

With all this relativism, subjectivism, confusion and entitlement, who decides what is fair? What have we done to ourselves, our standards of excellence, our work ethic by buying into the politics of diversity? Initially set up to protect us and promote equality, are we getting what we deserve or shooting ourselves in the foot?

Some would argue that we deserve more simply because we are women or non-white. One conference speaker insisted, “White corporate America has a responsibility to do right by women of color. And women of color have a responsibility to exercise the power that we have to attack the issues that haunt our lives…to change our own condition. Corporate America needs to act and understand that if you’ve seen one woman, you have not seen us all.”

How many contradictions and flaws in logic are in that one statement? I counted seven.

Additionally, the politics of diversity does not unite women or minorities under a banner of equality as effectively as it divides us into rivaling, bickering groups. Another conference attendee and Director of Worklife Diversity at a large pharmaceutical company lamented that, during same-race discussions, the white women in her group were focused more on gender issues than on race. She then challenged “all white women who put their energy toward gender [to] put it toward race,” which is laughable. For whom should they advocate, their own white race or hers? It doesn’t matter.

The women at Working Mother Media consider their conference a success whereas I view it as a microcosm of the corruption and inconsistency inherent of the politics of diversity.

“Workplace diversity” does not have to be a controversial subject. As a matter of fact, the real goal—to remove barriers to productivity—is not controversial at all. But isn’t this issue far too complex for a one-size-fits-all plan of action? Not at all. Removing subjective criteria and relativistic expectations will reveal accurate, consistently true solutions. We may find that we had the answer to this equation all along.

The key to career advancement is work. It is that simple. Sure, networking is important, but it is only through consistent performance that reputations are proven and trust is earned. If a person works harder, better, and more efficiently than coworkers, competent superiors take notice. When the opportunity for advancement arises, candidates are weighed against a company’s results-oriented goals. In the end, either the productive worker wins or the company loses.

In a market driven economy, the odds are already in our favor. So please, put down the drum and get back to work. That is the real ticket to success.

Copyright 2005. Business Ink. For permission to reprint, email

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Bernstein on Book TV tonight at 10PM EST

From the website:

On Sunday, January 8 at 10:00 pm

The Capitalist Manifesto: The Historic, Economic and Philosophic Case for Laissez-FaireAndrew Bernstein

Description: Andrew Bernstein talks about the benefits of laissez-faire capitalism and gives an overview of the advancements created within capitalist societies. He argues that, unlike fascism and socialism, capitalism is beneficial because it embraces the idea that individual rights are paramount. During his presentation, Prof. Bernstein discusses the work of Ayn Rand, John Locke, and a number of other social philsophers and defends against critics of the late 19th Century industrialists widely referred to as "robber barons." Includes Q&A.

Author Bio: Andrew Bernstein is a visiting professor of philosophy at Marist College in New York. His work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Times, and several other publications. He is the author of the novel "Heart of a Pagan" and has written CliffsNotes guides for three of Ayn Rand's books. For more information, visit Professor Bernstein's website:

Publisher: University Press of America 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200 Lanham, MD 20706

Buy the Book

Saturday, January 07, 2006

What the Criss family will be doing this weekend:

Building this.

Apparently, Santa thought we'd have a much better time assembling it together than having the children experience the letdown of seeing it completed under the tree. Just so you know, this is an exercise in family bonding that has nothing to do with anyone's inability to manage time.

After the paint dries, we get to decide if we're competent enough to wire it, then furnish and decorate the interior.

ETC: A week. Or two. Three, tops.

Friday, January 06, 2006

"Capitalists are often the worst enemy to capitalism."

...says Dr. Andrew Bernstein (author of The Capitalist Manifesto), in reference to Microsoft's action against a popular freedom blogger in China. This story surfaced last week and Microsoft is experiencing quite a backlash. Google and Yahoo! have been cashing in on the Communist giant as well.

Just another example of how brilliance and innovation can easily be turned into weapons by those with the wrong philosophy. It's enough to make me join the Open Source movement.

Don't do anything "drastic"

See note below.

For heaven's sake. According to Cathy Hayden, education columnist for the Clarion Ledger (Gannett), homeschooling in Mississippi as a response to anything but extreme cases is "drastic." Excerpt from her Aug. 15, 2005 column:

Q: My son was expelled from a public high school last spring. I thought I was going to be able to enroll him this month but I was told he has to stay out for a year. What am I supposed to do with him until the school says he can come back?

A: Peggy Peterson, director of compulsory school attendance in the state Department of Education, said a lot of parents who are able to do so will home school, if they can't get the child in a private school setting.

Otherwise, they have to wait out the expulsion until the child can go back to school.

Please note, I personally know of two families who are homeschooling children who were victims of school violence but were suspended just like their attackers due to the schools' zero tolerance policy.

HT: Valerie

Update: Here is the letter sent to Ms. Hayden by PEAK member, Vonda Keon:

Ms. Hayden,

I read your response on Jan 2 and the reference to homeschooling options as being "albeit a little more drastic." I have been homeschooling since 1998 and I didn't consider it a drastic decision then nor do I now. I saw some things happening in the public school system that didn't please me therefore I exercised my right as a responsible and capable parent and made the decision to homeschool my daughters.

They are not sheltered nor are they behind the times. My 'drastic' action has resulted in two extremely intelligent young women whose national tests scores are high off the charts compared to their conventionally schooled counterparts.

People homeschool because sometimes that is the only option when their child is the one being 'LEFT BEHIND' and no one will do a thing about it.

Mrs. Vonda
Bruce, MS

And here is the response she received:

I consider hiring a lawyer and homeschooling as a response to a principal refusing to move a child to another classroom drastic in comparison to going to the school board.

Cathy Hayden
Education reporter
The Clarion-Ledger
Jackson, Miss.

Sure, lady, going to the school board is a piece of cake. And I'm sure the parents would consider hiring an attorney as a mere formality since this *obviously* wasn't a big enough deal to warrant homeschooling.

NOTE: After another email to Ms. Hayden, in which Vonda described several "drastic" incidents in public schools that have led to parents' decisions to homeschool, Ms. Hayden remarked, "I agree. But I was responding specifically to that person and not in general about home schooling."

While it's not the most ingenious defense, it's not exactly damning either. Ms. Hayden isn't a threat to homeschooling; she's just not informed. Although I do have a hard time believing that a writer would target specific individuals when answering letters in a column published in Mississippi's largest newspaper, rather than taking an official stance on home education, I think her response indicates that she doesn't get homeschooling anymore than the average public school supporter.

And that's ok.

Obligatory ID post

It's been a long time, but this is a must-read. Binswanger does a great job of dissecting the PA judge's decision as well as providing context and background for those less familiar with the ID debate. Binswanger notes:

By any rational standard, Darwin's theory of evolution is perfect. And "testability" is not the criterion of science. But kudos to the judge for putting his finger on the main issue: certainty without omniscience. The strategy of the ID movement is to argue for the injection of the irrational based solely on the (often spurious) claim that there are a few cases in which we don't yet know the full evolutionary story.

The argument of the ID people goes this way: we don't yet know how the bacteria's flagella evolved, therefore we don't know Darwin was right, therefore we can equate Darwin and the supernatural.

The judge's whole opinion is quite long, and so are my excerpts, but they are well worth reading: it is inspiring to see what an honest, clear-thinking individual can figure out.

Indeed. Check it out.

HT: Mr. Criss

Space travel technology

Update: fixed link. (Singing: I get no kicks from free forms. Liability risk doesn't thrill me a bit...)

This is off-topic, but I get a charge out of these things:
The hypothetical device, which has been outlined in principle but is based on a controversial theory about the fabric of the universe, could potentially allow a spacecraft to travel to Mars in three hours and journey to a star 11 light years away in just 80 days, according to a report in today's New Scientist magazine.

The theoretical engine works by creating an intense magnetic field that, according to ideas first developed by the late scientist Burkhard Heim in the 1950s, would produce a gravitational field and result in thrust for a spacecraft.

Also, if a large enough magnetic field was created, the craft would slip into a different dimension, where the speed of light is faster, allowing incredible speeds to be reached. Switching off the magnetic field would result in the engine reappearing in our current dimension.
Can you imagine? How fast would that be (in layman's terms)? Anyone...Anyone...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Shiny thing alert! Shiny thing alert!


No! Don't click it! Wait! Come baaaaaaaaack!

Well, I tried. To those of you who have no idea what the hell I am talking about, welcome to the insider politics of homeschooling. For the rest of you, I think we know what we're up against.

It seems that while Scott was busy defisking HoNDA at CODs place, Section 522 was getting settled into its new digs in the hopper as part of HR 1815, courtesy of HSLDA. I hear it's enjoying the view of the Oval Office from the President's desk right about now.

Newbie translation: HSLDA wrote a bill that was homeschool specific alleging that it would help eliminate discrimination in universities and the military against homeschoolers. While it was in committee, we regulatory opponents thought we'd successfully killed it (again. First time was in 2003). In the meantime, HSLDA had slipped the military section of HoNDA into a 700+page long defense bill. We were distracted and didn't pick up on it until it was too late. Now that bill will pass with a section granting homeschoolers special status (click here to see why that's a bad thing).

As a result, several homeschoolers who firmly believe that ANY federal regulation regarding home education is a threat to that freedom in this country have decided to band together. The goal is to help streamline communication and align our resources so that this kind of thing doesn't sneak up on us again. Similarly, homeschoolers in Mississippi who realize that we are the only people who can truly protect our rights are organizing on a statewide level.

I think it is very important to note that neither of these is an anti-HSLDA effort. Our common goal is to secure and safeguard our freedom to homeschool by opposing state and federal legislation that will directly or indirectly place limits those rights. Since HSLDA writes federal legislation that puts homeschoolers in the crosshairs of the federal government, we are--by the very nature of our actions--working against each other. That's an irrefutable, undeniable fact of reality.

Because homeschoolers tend to be opinionated cusses, we argue a lot amongst ourselves. We push each others' buttons and get personal. However, when it counts--just like family--we come together and we get it done.

Unless we get distracted.

And there's the rub. Some people are very crafty at orchestrating distractions (shiny things, as someone recently called them). Others wear their personal causes on their sleeves and dare their allies to insult them, resulting in a feud that diverts attention, energy and resources from an already precarious attempt to this effort aiming to provide solutions to issues that plague us all.

I'm not into issuing ultimatums, but I will say this. If you're not part of the solution, you're contributing to the problem. Suck it up, people. Get over yourselves and think about what's at stake. Choose your friends and allies carefully, because--to continue the analogy that got this most recent mess started--the fox is in the hen house. And he's not looking for eggs.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Eat at Olga's

For my birthday, we took the whole family out to eat at Olga's, a family-owned restaurant that serves authentic Russian cuisine. Located in a small strip next to a scrapbook store, we'd heard that it's elegant with dim lighting, candles, a piano player and less than a dozen tables were one of the best kept secrets in the Metro. Olga, the owner, is the cook at one of the large country clubs that Jack's investor frequents. Olga always speaks highly of Jack and his publication, so we'd been meaning to stop in for some time.

We'd never been, and I'd never had Russian food, so I ordered the three-course Russian meal. The first course was a crab meat salad, the second was borsch, and the third was my entree (a filet with a Russian flair). I discovered that I actually like cabbage, I love beets, and I only thought I'd had a great filet before I tasted Yuriy's (Olga's husband is the cook). It was divine, perfectly seasoned and cooked to specification: between medium and medium rare. Everything was so fresh and felt so light (even after an appetizer, bread, three courses and dessert, I was pleasantly full...not miserable). Just simply wonderful. It is my new favorite place.

While we were there, the International Space Station was expected to pass right over Jackson. Another group just a few tables from us informed their waitress (bless 'er heart) that they'd be getting up to go outside to see the ISS pass overhead and joked that they didn't want her to think they were skipping out. We announced that we'd be following them (it's a small restaurant, so the word "announce" implies that we were speaking loudly or eavesdropping. Of course, we did nothing of the sort. Hrmph.). The waitress headed back to the counter to inform the owner that some satellite was passing over the restaurant and that everyone would be leaving afterwards, which brought a curious and anxious Olga out to mingle after having just mingled moments before.

At around 5:42 pm, there was a mass exodus outside as we all--waitstaff included-- gathered in the parking lot looking skyward. Upon locating Venus, our reference point, the waitress said, "That's a planet? I always thought they were BIG like THIS" (hands cupped and held apart as if describing the size of a basketball). Suddenly, there it was--a small, shiny disk gliding across the dark blue background of space. It was awe-inspiring. The girls thought it was neat. Jack smiled contently, no doubt thinking of the incredible minds (past and present) that contributed to such a technological feat. I was struck by the thought that I was in a Russian restaurant standing next to and laughing with its Russian owner in Flowood, Mississippi looking up at a space craft that was home-away-from-home to both Russian and American astronauts. If I'd been drinking, I'm sure I would have thought of something profound to say here. Unfortunately, Rankin is a dry county.

After reseating ourselves and finishing our meal between warm chats with the owner, the piano player stops mid-song and does this flourishing cadence up the keyboard and ends in a rolling chord...yes, it was time for the Birthday Song. I usually hate this part, but I have to tell you, it was touching. There was no hokey version or obnoxious clapping rhythm; just the traditional Happy Birthday accompanied by a piano. It was like having family gathered around singing. After the English verse, Olga sang to me in Russian while holding my candle-lit cheese blintz. It was beautiful. And delicious.

As we left, Katie told Olga how much she loved hearing her sing in Russian. Dagny hugged her and said she loved hearing Olga sing in Spanish (because--thanks to Dora--if it's not English, it must be Spanish). And we vowed to come back soon and often.

I smile every time I drive past it.

[Click here for Olga and Yuriy's story. This article is over two years old. They no longer serve lunch, and their menu is dominated by Russian fare. But I think it captures an essence of who they are. Maybe I'll write one soon!]

Happy Chri-bir-anni-new-year!

And I don't say that in the spirit of political correctness. Christmas may be over, but I still had a birthday and wedding anniversary (34 and 5, respectively) to celebrate before we kissed in the New Year. Having a post-Christmas birthday used to be a drag, but I now see it as an opportunity to "allow" my loved ones to combine my birthday and Christmas present...but only if it's a really big gift. I'm accommodating like that. :D

We had a beautiful Christmas that consisted of three days of gift-giving, two large meals, and lots o' familial love. I received several beautiful things, but one of my favorites is a pink T-shirt with the following quote from Ayn Rand: The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me. Love it. Among other things, I got a year membership to the local Y (for the whole family) and a nice, big gift certificate for a local designer shoe place (yippeee!!!).

Things aside, it was our best December yet. This is the first year that we pre-planned where we would spend what holidays and with whom, which allowed us to see both sides of our family while significantly reducing last-minute guilt/stress and the need to travel. Jack's office party was well-attended and much fun. Earlier in December, PEAK successfully pulled off its first fundraising event in the form of a Holiday Open House (ours), which meant the house was clean, organized and decorated early (unprecedented!). We took the girls to see the puppet guild's performance of Peter and the Wolf. And Jack surprised them with a limousine tour of the Metro area's Christmas lights, which was relaxing, romantic, and beautiful. We all loved it. All in all, this is the first Christmas that I was able to focus on my family without being distracted by too many commitments or my inability to manage time. By this point, I am usually exhausted, but it felt (and feels) wonderful.

I believe it is an adequate reflection of our whole year. 2005 has been quite eventful and fulfilling. For example, Jack's paper--Metro Business Chronicle-- and my homeschool experiment--PEAK--both turned one year old. Jack has made the Chronicle quite successful, and PEAK has become a statewide homeschool network. Both are promising to keep us busy in 2006 with new projects and broader focuses (that's all I'm at liberty to say...[EG]).

On the personal front, Jack set out to realize two dreams in 2005. Unfortunately, he was unable to speak at TOC's Summer Seminar due to health concerns, but he considers it an honor to have been invited. He did, however, successfully train for and complete the San Diego Rock-n-Roll Marathon with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's TEAM in Training before his 40th birthday--resulting in a thousands of dollars raised for LLS and a 47-point drop in his cholesterol! He will continue his Objectivist studies and marathon training next year, because it makes him, I do enjoy being married to a man with such a fit mind AND body. Additionally, he has talked me into training to walk a half-marathon and raise more money for LLS, so have your wallets ready, folks.

Due to my sister's post-Katrina six-week stay, which ended on the heels of the holiday season, homeschooling has been hit and miss at best. However, both girls are pursuing their own interests vigorously. Dagny believes herself to be a prima ballerina and has embraced tap (which I think she didn't care for initially). She is also showing all the signs for "reading readiness,"which we believe will take off in the coming months. Her current obsession is Sue the T-Rex (awakened after we saw the traveling Sue exhibit at our local science museum) and all things dinosaur. She also excels in impersonating animals (her turtle face continues to crack us up, no matter how many times we've seen it!). In 2006, she will participate in an upcoming homeschool drama workshop that will, no doubt, further add to her unique expressiveness.

Katie loves electronics, science and horses. This year, Katie will participate in PEAK's first science fair with a project on the sound barrier. She will also begin learning about computer programming and robotics at home, which is also a new fascination (and quite foreign to me, so it will be interesting for all of us). Our plans for riding lessons were put on hold after Katrina damaged several barns on our neighbor's farm, which will take several months for him to rebuild. In the meantime, we will visit two new stables and finally fulfill our summer promise of riding lessons. At a glance, it may look like we're on track, but we truly need to recommit to a more purposeful home education in 2006.

Other than our lack of disciplined learning, I met and exceeded my goals for the year. First of all, PEAK has outgrown me. We currently have seven branches located across the state, something I did not set out to accomplish and certainly didn't do alone. In 2006, we are filing for non-profit incorporation. I maintained my column in Jack's paper without getting kicked off for screwing up deadline (this year, I'll be better at managing my time. That's my only resolution.). I made friends both far and wide and made connections in the homeschooling world while the girls have established relationships with kids across the Metro area.

I've learned and grown in many unexpected ways due to homeschooling, group management, writing, and of course, through endeavors with my husband and children. All give me an immense sense of accomplishment and satisfaction I could never have imagined or achieved "out there." I hope to continue that in the new year.

May 2006 be a good one for all of us.
Here's to your health!