Monday, May 15, 2017

Homeschooling Thoughts After the First Year

We are almost done with our first year of homeschooling. Judah was in kindergarten and Elly tagged along wherever possible. We used Sonlight, although we ended up with P4/5 since my order for preschool was delivered a year late (long story). I added in Getting Ready for the Code for reading preparation, and Math-U-See Primer for math. After finishing with the Code, I ordered the Kindle version of "How To Teach Your Child To Read" by ___ and have been creating our lessons each day on my own.

Along the way I have done some reading and research on the Charlotte Mason method and Classical educational philosophy.

I've learned some. My own style is to be extremely flexible. If I look and see that the activities in P4/5 are a bit young for my guy and I'm not that interested in doing them, I throw them out. I look at a week's schedule for reading and completely mix it up. I start a book, decide it's a bit too advanced, and bump it back to the end of the year. I feel completely unconfined by the boxes and do not at all feel the pressure to get it all done at the exact time or in the exact way it is listed. However, I really like having a pre-set structure to begin with that I can modify freely.

My kiddo is a very active guy and I completely believe that is most healthy for him to have lots and lost of play time and outside time right now. Plus I've had a newborn this year. Free play is the vast majority of their time, especially building with legos, constructing forts, and running around the house and yard. We go on walks. My kids play with neighbor kids for hours every day. I totally encourage his activity, being outside, and free play.

However I am not an unschooler. I believe that because he's so active and not prone to sit down and color or read, I believe in building in bits of structured teaching. I don't want him to sit down and be forced to learn for hours and hours every day, but I want to consistently teach a bit every day so that the building blocks are being put in place for when his brain is ready to put the pieces all together. So yes, I do discipline him to sit and learn with me even when he's not inclined to.

I am not anti-technology. Judah LOVES movies and shows and the ipad and games. So does his daddy. I believe technology can be harnessed and used to teach as well as to simply have him exist as a part of this brave new world in which so much is technology. So, I am trying to find shows and games that are high quality and educational (but they don't have to be blatantly educational if they are well made). Then, the time watching and playing is limited. If it's unlimited, I think he'd be a total couch potato. So I try to make quality technology and media available and then be sure he's limited in his access.

In terms of curriculum, Sonlight has been good but not like I think it's the best ever and can't be topped. I have twice had shipping issues with them. For P4/5 I have grown to love some of their books that I didn't start off liking, and some of them I have LOVED from the beginning. There are some that I'd switch out and just don't care for much. Math-U-See has been fantastic for us. We'll be moving on to Math-U-See Alpha for first grade and Judah really enjoys math. So far although both the workbooks and my teaching book by ____ have been good, Judah doesn't love phonics and reading. I am not sure if that's just because he's an active kid or if I might find another curriculum that would hit that sweet spot. Some have recommended All About Reading?

I am just fine teaching my kids at this point. The main point to me is to get them reading and doing basic math, keep them active, expose them to lots of books and interesting things, and to teach them discipline and character. Now that it's summer we will continue on doing some basic teaching even though we are through the curriculum. I want to emphasize some habits and life skills. We haven't pushed a lot of chores yet except cleaning up their toys, but I want to get my kids in the habit of setting and clearing the table, sweeping the floor, and doing some basic cooking. And since daddy won't have the same work hours, we'll be doing more family walks. I love art, though I am not particularly imaginative, and I plan on doing more drawing and art this summer.

What is tough for me about homeschooling is the lack of a break overall. I love to read, to write, to walk by myself, to have adult conversations about politics and theology and how people are personally doing. I like quiet desk work, measurable outcomes, being part of a team. While I'm fine with homeschooling, the fact that I am a homeschooling stay at home mother with no end in sight is a bit dismaying. We might work here indefinitely, there is no quality school in this city, and at the moment there is no school for expatriate kids. I would not want my kids at a boarding school for quite a while, if ever. So, I am fine with homeschooling.... but I wish I had another option available for a few years from now so that I could expand other areas of my life and work eventually.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

My Thoughts Post-Election (from a #NeverTrump er)

Well. The internet in most (all?) of our province and most of this island ground to a halt … just before the US election. So while you all have gone to the net to follow news and then run to get away from the online chaos, we have been sitting in a blackout, reeling from the international call that told us Trump won, and wondering how everything was going down back on your side of the world.

Crazy. It was probably healthy to have silence and not be able to get all wound up by feeding off of the media and social media frenzy, but it didn’t take social media to make us horrified, shocked, and worried about the implications of a Trump presidency. In case you haven’t talked politics with me before, I’m a #NeverTrumper and I do indeed think he was a worse option for the country and for believers than Hillary Clinton would have been.

Here are some thoughts I’ve been processing since the elections.

President Donald Trump:
He is going to be President. And so I will speak of him respectfully and disagree respectfully when I disagree with him. I will also speak publicly against actions of his that I think are negative. I wish him well because he is going to be the president of the country I am a citizen of and because that’s what Jesus told me to do. However I maintain my passionate disproval of much of what he's risen to power campaigning for. 

Donald Trump Supporters:
I have some serious disagreements with you all, but I do not think you are stupid or racist simply because you voted for Trump. There were two main candidates. I passionately disagreed with voting for Trump, but I understand that there were some rational arguments that could get you there. Now. Most of you told me that you had serious problems with things about Trump, but he was the better option. Now do the rest of us a favor and put pressure on him in the areas in which you disagree with him. Those on the other side have little influence on him, but he needs the support of those who voted for him, and therefore your voice has power (I hope). Speak out on what you want him to do or not do – your voice matters.

For Christmas last year I asked for a subscription to Foreign Affairs magazine, and I already had the latest edition downloaded on my computer when the internet in Manokwari died. That episode was dedicated to the rise of populist movements in the US and Europe, and it was fascinating. It was written before Trump was elected, and many of the writers seemed to be assuming Trump wouldn’t win. That he DID win bolsters even more the need to understand and address the rise of populist movements. For starters, read here and here. However you'll have to log-in (I recommend you do!). If you don't want to log-in, here's a NY Times article on our populist rise. 

I’m no scholar on this, but it really helps to understand the context and social movements that have brought us to where we are in America (and in England – Brexit, anyone? And all across Europe!). It wasn’t just Trump’s charisma (does he actually have any real charisma?). And it wasn’t purely the fault of the media and evangelicals. This is a movement that is happening in response to major social changes and massive population movement (immigration, automation, etc.) in the Western world. It also really helps to see the various ways populist movements have played out in the past in Latin America and in Europe.

So we have a populist movement on our hands. Now what do we do in response? I majorly oppose the xenophobia and racism that is present in this movement, and I will continue to oppose it in any way I can. I will oppose much of Trump’s rude behavior. I do not want to go the way of, say, Venezuela, which has gone up in flames economically after Hugo Chavez’s populist rule. I do not want to go the way of populism fanning the flames of fascism.

However it’s important to hear and fight for the good of people in our country, the very population that has elected this populist figure. Purely opposing or scorning a populist movement merely reinforces their conviction that the “elite” is out of touch and doesn’t care for them, won’t fight for them, doesn’t represent them. We have to clearly say that we care about people, we are fighting for the good of this nation, and then to fight for wise policies that will actually cause growth and good.

One of the biggest takeaways from this election is that this changing media scene is chaos. It feels like each side is an echo chamber. I wrote about the conservative media, but there’s also an outpouring of soul searching in the mainsream media that recognized that they did not see or understand or predict the results of this election so they must be missing something. This post by Brett McCracken is great about the changing media landscape, and the situation today with everyone sharing on social media and reading only headlines, which have to be catchier and catchier and therefore reflect even less of the actual usually-mundane truth, well…. What’s a responsible citizen to do in this day and age?

I am resolved to always look at the source when I click on an article or news link. I am committed to actually read articles rather than just the headlines. I am committed to seeking sources that have the capacity to report international news, and also some analytical sources whose presuppositions I think are founded in ideology I agree with. There are no perfect media sources.  I want to read more deeply in good sources rather than simply seeing a ton of headlines, but I also want to be exposed to a variety of perspectives, not just my own.

Evangelicals and Religious Identity:
I’m from corners of the Christian world that are frequently called evangelical. Technically evangelicals voted heavily in favor of Trump. My peers have been so awesome. The organizations I am associated with were pretty strongly speaking what I see to be reason. However,  despite the educated leaders, speakers, and public figures in evangelicalism being mostly anti-Trump, evangelicals as a broad social group voted for him. And truly, I agree with Katelyn Beaty (former head of Christianity Today)  and her article about being unable to defend the evangelical community. What this does for me and many of my peers is further identify evangelicals with things that I (BECAUSE of my faith) stand against. The political hypocrisy of the Religious Right, the racism of white nationalism, xenophobia, etc. The dilemma is complicated by the fact that this time, when we say, “Yes, things are messed up, but the local church is the work of God that is active in the world. Well… the local church in this case seems to have voted strongly for Trump for reasons I find unfathomable. 

So, this is a bit of a crisis of religious identity for many in my generation. For me personally, I look back at my childhood and remember the voices of people like James Dobson and Rush Limbaugh and I am now horrified. I have moved, I have changed. The core of my faith, my theology, remains the same, but I don’t specifically identify as evangelical because of what most people think evangelicalism is. Eight years ago when I first voted for Obama I wondered if I was in some rebel swing and I wondered if at the end of his time as president I would regret my choice. I suppose what this election has done for me is that I am less likely to try just blend in or hide where I am different because of being afraid of being judged by religious and political conservatives that I respect (because there are many of those). I will speak honestly about what I think and hope that I will be given the respect that I am determined to give to others. 

The other thing is that the past 8 years since I first voted for Obama in the midst of a bit of a faith crisis, a deep love and commitment to the Church universal and the church local, in all of its beauty and brokenness, has developed in me. What this election did in the USA was to reveal more of that brokenness. I was surprised and sometimes disgusted. Now we get to work, faithfully loving and serving in this beautiful and broken Bride of Christ, knowing that the Spirit is working in and through her, locally and around the world. I have been listening to the podcast “Theology on Mission” from some professors at Northern Seminary and it has helped me to mourn where mourning is necessary and also to be committed to faithful presence, in the church and as the church in the world.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

On the "Conservative" Media

I am not here to add to the election noise, but while it's election season I am thinking and writing about what I am seeing and learning. 

Perhaps my biggest takeaway at this point in the election season is the immense power of the conservative media. I have come to believe much of the evangelical hatred of Hilary is a result of a “conservative” media industry that perhaps initially came into being to counteract the fact that most existent media has a liberal bias. However it is absolutely its own perhaps equally large and equally powerful industry now, and I would suggest that it is even more biased than the "liberal" media. Sometimes it’s like there’s no semblance of truth-telling, there is a worldview painted that has made a huge swath of America distrustful of anything not from the Conservative media, giving them immense power to spin a narrative. They are more about what they are against than what they are for, and so there is no base truth or reality, it is just.... anti. The narrative has been spun, and wow. The things said about immigrants, the Black Lives Matter movement, the “liberal media”, and of course Hillary Clinton… wow.

Let me say here that I totally get if you can’t handle Hilary Clinton because of her far left stance on abortion. She is about as pro-abortion as they come, and for a pro-lifer, even a moderate one, that’s impossible to stomach. And that is why I keep telling people about Evan Mcmullen. I do not believe that position is one that is spun by the media. Carry on. 

I knew the conservative media was biased, of course, all media is biased. And for years I have heard Glen Beck and Shaun Hannity and grown frustrated soon after listening to them. I try to read a variety of news perspectives but it is hard to read conservative sources when they refuse to report and dialogue in a reasonable, calm matter. I thought of them as talking heads for some extreme elements of American “conservatives”. I didn’t they had become the exclusively trusted source for so so many people. Ironically, they're not even really conservative in terms of policy usually. It's so strange. 

It’s not just the uneducated that are affected by these voices. One of the most disappointing Trump endorsements was from Wayne Grudem, a respected theologian whose Systematic Theology was a staple for students in our undergrad. He’s a thinker, and that’s why it was shocking that he endorsed Trump. In his endorsement Grudem brushed over Trump’s moral flaws as being unfortunate but also blown out of proportion. Later Wayne Grudem retracted his endorsement. His primary rationale for his retraction is that he said he had failed to look into the accusations against Trump, and when he did he was horrified and could not support him. “If I had known…” Man. Here’s the thing. There’s apparently a big section of American society who do not read the “mainstream media” because they don’t trust the liberal bias. They read conservative media, some of which is enamored with Trump (gag me) and therefore minimize or don’t report at all on Trump’s failings. So, when confronted with Trumps flagrant racism, sexism, etc…. and it turns out it’s actually true, not just vague accusations from the liberal media, these people are actually surprised.

Another professor I know who is incredibly suspicious of the “liberal media” and taken in by the super conservatives posted a rather suspicious sounding article about an international news issue from a random Christian source. A student asked them if the source was credible. The answer? “I don’t know, but it’s better than CNN.” Really? Random American Christian news outlet is going to have more credibility than CNN, which has reporters and fingers around the world? CNN is by no means perfect and I actually think they are rather annoying, but the idea that a random no-name news outlet is MORE credible simply because it’s not CNN is … wow. It’s what’s part of what has led us to Trump.

Thing is, each time I ponder this I wonder if somehow I think this because I have been taken in by the liberal media in the exact same way I am accusing people of having been taken in by conservative media. So I go to Trump’s twitter or whatever other direct-from-Trump source I pick that day, and I am reminded that it doesn’t take much spin to make me totally disagree with and be horrified by the man. It’s his own words and his own character, directly from his mouth, that have made me a #nevertrump er.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

On home-making without over-emphasizing home and family

I am currently reading (for a book group) the Sally Clarkson book “The Lifegiving Home”. I’m really struggling with it, which is no surprise I suppose since that’s how I approach ideas. I wrestle through them. Nevertheless, I keep struggling to put into words what irks me, so I am finding I really need to write this out.

Here’s the thing. If this were a book about how to create a beautiful and rich home environment as a home-maker, the book would be spot on. However, it is deeper than that. There’s a theological argument about homemaking being an act of incarnation, the incarnation of beauty and good and life in our homes. I love that, I really do. That’s the stuff I resonate with in the book, and it is my daily challenge in life right now. For instance, this quote: “We cannot change the world if we cannot incarnate God’s love in our own most ordinary spaces and hours.”

The hard thing is the marrying of the two – homemaking and daily incarnational living. I think we believers are to be living pieces of the redemption of Jesus walking around on this earth. It should be evident in all areas of our life. Most particularly, I believe the incarnational community is the Church universal, manifest through the church local. Because the home is a part of our lives, particularly moms of little ones, that is where we spend the most time incarnating God’s love. However, Sally’s book is so far entirely focused on the home. It’s always IN, providing a place of security, comfort.

So, although technically I agree with her, I think the book reflects an aspect of the evangelical church that I’ve grown really uncomfortable with. There’s an idolatry of family and home in the community. I grew up steeped in Focus on the Family, and marriage and kids was sort of viewed as THE living out of the Christian life. Whereas now I see that as being a distraction from the clear message of scripture, which is that the primary outflow of Christ in the world is the Church. Not the building, not the institution, but the community of believers around the world. Scripture is clear that in the community of believers we are unified in a deeper bond than anything else, ethnicity, gender, social class, or family. Jesus’ words are pretty clear that the living out of following Him sometimes comes at the expense of family (note- this can be twisted in terrible ways, I am just saying that the over-emphasis on family and home is not reflected in scripture). And nowhere in scripture do we see calls to create a beautiful home or to make sure we have a place of security and comfort. Quite the opposite in fact. Those who follow Jesus grow increasingly UNcomfortable and long for heaven. The comfort and renewal and hope come from intimacy with Jesus, not from a beautiful home or family.

So… that is what I am wrestling with. I think that having a life-giving home space IS good. I think that nurturing your family IS important, extremely important. However if we are talking about incarnating the gospel in our lives, I think we are frequently driven OUT of the home rather than in, and towards a broader community of faith and into a needy world. Much of what Sarah says describing what a life-giving home can give, I wish was the exact same thing except describing the work of Christ through the community of the Church.

And so I wrestle. Because here I am, actually a homemaker at this point in time so Sally's words about home are very practical and familiar. I am a foreigner in this culture, so yes, we LONG for a home that is a refuge of things that are safe and comfortable. And I am, like the Clarksons, a reader and lover of beauty. And what is said in the book is good. But I am afraid it misses the point in that the Church is central to God’s plan for the world. And I am afraid it points women more deeply into painting a perfect home life instead of pointing them out to live bravely in the world, not worried overly much about the details of running a home except to make it happen.

That’s my personality speaking some, though. I’m pretty utilitarian in my approach to home-making. And I’m living in a world overseas where the physical home is usually just a place where a family comes to meet their basic needs – eat, sleep, clean themselves. So much of what Sally describes, despite her having raised small children and lived overseas, would be utterly ridiculous if I translated it for the mothers around me here. Beauty and calm and candles and rocking chairs on porches and saving up for a beautiful big wooden table for tons of guests. Those are good things but … that is such a Western thing to say. From my perspective now I would say, couldn’t everyone sit on the floor and eat with their fingers and you still have just as much joy and beauty and security? Does the physical space and all the foofy details actually matter? It isn’t bad, it's very nice, but is it the point?

And so I’m trying to read the book to help me think through how to create a thriving environment in our home and family, and customizing it in my head as we go along (as they suggest).  Here are my primary questions. How do I create a home/family where we see and appreciate beauty IN simplicity. How do we create a home/family where we are engaged in the world and weaving our lives into the community around us? How do we create a home/family where we are intrinsically part of the body of Christ, the local church?

Those are my thoughts so far, four chapters into the book. If you've read it, I would really love to hear your thoughts or pushback or anything. I'm longing for some good discussion on this to help me process!