Our Immigration Mess

One of the biggest problems with our immigration system is that we do not have a coherent process for people to follow towards citizenship. Let’s examine this more closely. We treat immigration law as though it were the same as making a purchase. People go to a store, choose what they want, wait in a checkout line, and pay for their items. The whole system is orderly. Going through a crowded four-way stop is similar. There is an order to the process, a set of rules that (almost) everyone knows to follow. So people reasonably believe that the immigration process also involves following an orderly procedure that is the same for everyone. Even people who have immigrated here feel this way, particularly those whose process was straightforward. They take their sample of one and assume that everyone else simply has to follow the same procedure to immigrate to the United States. But nothing could be further from reality.

In both the written and practiced immigration laws, things are complicated. Some people are furious about illegal immigrants, a term that has no legal basis. The phrase “illegal immigrant” has been used to refer to people who have come here without inspection (that’s the actual phrasing used by ICE) as well as people who have overstayed their visa. The problem with such terminology is that it conveniently ignores many paths to lawful citizenship. People applying for a refugee visa generally have to come here first and THEN apply. So while they are waiting, what should we call them? People who came here to work and live without a visa, after they have been here long enough, can become lawful permanent residents but only if ICE catches them. Following graduation, students will often have one visa expire before they are able to acquire the requisite H1-B for employment, leaving them in a veritable no-man’s-land while they wait. Even marriage visas, which are truly the easiest path towards citizenship, have differing processes depending on the country the person is immigrating from.

A better analogy for immigration, then, would be a store that has many policies for making purchases. Customers are given store ID cards that have different stipulations attached. If you do not have an ID, you can come in the south door, and you have to wait in a line outside the store. The store management allows one or two people in at a time while the line continues to grow. If you are coming from the west, you can come in the store freely without an ID, but you can’t purchase anything without first filling out a stack of forms and waiting for approval. If you are coming from the north, you are allowed to enter freely and purchase as much as you like by showing your ID from another store. If you are coming from the east, you are allowed to enter freely, but your purchases are limited to a certain amount. What’s more, you can sneak into the store through the loading dock, though you then run the risk of being banned forever if you are caught. Once inside, you can only make purchases by pretending to have entered from the west and filling out the same paperwork. No one runs a store this way because that would be insane. So why do we run our immigration system this way?

A better approach would be to have one process for anyone entering the country. The first visa would be simple permission to enter and would be granted after criminal background checks and basic health screening. This visa would allow the holder to enter the country freely, travel, shop, live, and work. These people would be required to pay any applicable taxes and follow all local, state, and federal laws or risk deportation. They would qualify for protection under all workplace regulations, and would be able to file complaints against employers or sue for damages. The second visa would be for those wishing to pursue citizenship. This visa would require demonstrating community involvement through work, volunteer activities, and family presence. We could require some competence in English at this stage, and some civic education. The second visa would qualify the holder to purchase land and to participate in government programs (think school scholarships, tax credits, social security, that sort of thing). Once a person earns this visa, they can then apply for citizenship after a given amount of time, perhaps three years. Citizens have the right to vote, and the responsibility to serve in the armed forces and on juries.

The benefits of this sort of simplified system would be numerous. The labor market would be more competitive, and employers would not be able to take advantage of depressed immigrant wages. In the current system, both undocumented workers doing low-wage work and H1-B visa holders in highly specialized fields provide reduced-cost labor to employers. By removing the fear of deportation, undocumented workers would feel much more secure in demanding competitive wages and safe working environments. Similarly, companies would not be able to take advantage of the desire of most H1-B visa holders to stay in the country, since they would be able to remain under the proposed system, even if they lose a job. The government does not need to place artificial pressure on them to work; their own humanity and natural economic pressures will accomplish that aim.

If communism has taught us anything, it is that centrally planned economies do not function. Why do we accept this as true within our system, but do not see that it is also true in regards to immigrant labor? That is, the government is highly inefficient in determining which workers we need to maintain a healthy economy. The competitive market is much better at such determinations. Allowing people to come regardless of employment will lead to improved market outcomes, in large part because they will then have more flexibility within the labor market to respond to shifting demand.

The economic strength of the US is due in large part to the fluidity in markets across state borders; that is, people and goods can move freely from place to place. Free trade economics has a basis in the reality of our own open interstate commerce. But many free trade agreements ignore the fact that labor is an essential part of a competitive market, and that without freedom of movement, the economy will endure multiple inefficiencies. Let me make a concrete example using farming in the US and Mexico. Under NAFTA, the US could import cheap produce from Mexico, but cheap labor from Mexico could not enter the US, at least not easily. Farms in the states were therefore unable to cover their production costs with the lower produce sale prices, which had a negative impact on many small farming communities. Imagine if, instead, workers from Mexico had been able to enter easily to fill the jobs on the farms in the US. In addition to preventing US farms from going out of business, the competitive wage for farm labor would have likely stabilized at a rate higher than that in Mexico, while produce prices would have dropped, though not as much. But because the free trade was one-sided, we caused harm to both economies.

Our immigration system is a complicated bureaucracy that harms both immigrants and our economy. Reforming the system must include simplification. I propose a three-phase visa process. The first visa would prevent criminals and people with contagious deadly illness from entering the country while allowing workers to come and go easily. The second visa would provide a stepping-stone for people interested in becoming citizens, and provide some additional filters for ensuring that we cultivate an educated citizenry. Finally, after an appropriate period, these people would be able to apply for citizenship and participate fully in our government. This system would improve market outcomes while preventing harm to citizens. The current immigration system is in desperate need of an overhaul. I hope that when we do overhaul it, we replace it with this sort of simplified process.

To the Electoral College

We are facing down the barrel of the shotgun of history. The people of the United States of America, the most powerful country in the world, are on the brink of electing our first despot leader to office. You might think that this is an exaggeration, but I greatly fear that it is not. I am not any kind of authority on world politics, but other people are. We must listen to the people who study the rise and fall of authoritarian governments when they say that Donald Trump is raising a sea of red flags. Having this man as our president poses an existential threat to our nation and our concept of civilized governance. I implore you to step in and prevent this from happening. You have the power to vote for someone else. Hamilton might even say you have the obligation, as evidenced by his words in the Federalist Paper No. 68. I do not know how much contact you have with each other, but the ideal scenario would be for you all to agree on another candidate: Rubio, Cruz, Kasich, or Pence, perhaps.

If this is not possible, I implore you to consider voting for Clinton. While she is far separated from your preferred policies, she will work with you, and she will not lead to a dismantling of everything we hold dear. I myself found her a distasteful candidate, but I do not think that the portrayal of her as evil is truthful. Does she lie? Yes. Don’t all politicians? But what is more important? Her lies, or her truths? Do not be distracted by the Benghazi and email red herrings the media has been feeding us. When in office, Clinton always manages to garner high approval ratings, because she truly works for the people. She is known for her listening, perhaps to a fault. Faced with Republican control of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and a majority of state legislatures, she will spend her time learning who you are and why the people elected you. You will be able to put through legislation. She will likely support the vast majority of it. And when you do not have her support, Clinton will not have enough power to prevent you from accomplishing the things you want to accomplish. You can legislate around her; will you be able to legislate around Trump?

I do know that you are concerned with her potential selection of Supreme Court Justices. I understand that this is important, and this is the one thing where I do not see a path to getting what you want. Consider for a moment, however, that Trump will not appoint an impartial judge, but rather a judge who will rule in the favor of Trump’s best interests. A puppet government is in complete contradiction to the idea of a free republic, but that is what we are already witnessing with Trump’s staff selections. I rue what life in this great country will become if we do not do everything in our power to stop him. Writing this letter is what is currently in my power, so I write. You have greater power: You have the power to stop him from entering office to begin with.

If Trump were sincere about his policy positioning, if I thought he would take office and do the work of a president, I would not be writing this letter. I have been wanting our governing body to focus on domestic issues over foreign ones for many, many years. Trump’s messages of bolstering industry in the US, of imposing taxes on imported goods made by slaves in other countries, and of not wasting our precious time and resources at war all resonate deeply with me. Even within this promising framework, many of the specific actions he has layed out to accomplish these goals are troublesome in their own right, and are likely to have negative consequences in my home state of Texas. His lack of experience does not bode well, even if he does his job in good faith. Most unfortunately, I do not believe he can be trusted to pursue anything but his own personal gain.

Many people have noted that Trump is a Narcissist. If you have ever been the subject of narcissistic manipulation, you know how soul draining the experience is. I worked for a Narcissist for four long, awful years. These people only care about themselves and their own personal glorification. They do not care about law, order, rules, or procedures. They do not care how their behavior harms other people. Trump has demonstrated that he has no shame, and a person who does not feel ashamed of shameful acts is toxic and dangerous. If you, fair elector, have ever endured such treatment, I believe that you will see that this man is capable of anything, that he will do anything to enrich himself, no matter the consequences to those around him. If you have not experienced such treatment in your life, please seek out someone who has. Have a good, long heart-to-heart about what life is like working for or living with someone who could not care less about the people around them. Then expand what they tell you to the nation as a whole. Picture Congress bowing to Trump’s every wish to avoid being publicly derided. Picture a Supreme Court bought and paid for. Picture an executive branch that uses its power to line the pocketbooks of the president. Picture complete silence to the media, followed by wave after wave of propaganda. I fear that this is one of the best case scenarios with this man as president. If you believe that he can be kept in check, you may end up greatly disappointed. People can be manipulated into submission and compliance. This is not a time when we should go along to get along. This is a time when we must stand up to the bully on our doorstep.

As a veteran, I once vowed to protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. A Trump presidency would bring both. In addition to alarming ties to Putin, Trump himself has shown an incredible disdain for the traditions of the office of the President. His refusal to be paid is not charitable, it is dangerous. His cabinet choices are causing worry among leaders in the Republican party. His transition team is steeped in dysfunction. Appointing his children to key positions smacks of monarchy, not presidency. His refusal to put his assets into a blind trust will give him enormous power to line his own pocketbooks, no matter the expense to taxpayers. He has not yet taken office, but has already shown his hand. He will rule, and we will bow.

You, dear elector, have the power to stop him dead in his tracks. I implore you to use that power. Such a move is unprecedented, but that does not mean it is unreasonable. The founding fathers created the electoral college for exactly this purpose. You, the politically knowledgeable, are tasked with making the best choice of president for the country. Please, demonstrate to the world that our system works. Let Clinton into office, and then hold her feet to the fire for the duration of her stay.

God Bless,

A Concerned Citizen

Study Guide for Euclid’s Elements

Why You’re Here

You’re a math nerd. Just embrace it.

What You Need

Euclid’s Elements published by Green Lion Press

Three-ring binder with sections for copy/memory work, narration, and illustrations/constructions

Lined paper, Blank paper

Straight edge, compass, protractor

Mechanical pencil with 0.9 mm HB lead

Euclid’s Elements online

Euclid the Game

What You Will Do

Definitions, Postulates, and Common Notions:

  • Read Paper Book
  • Copy
  • Illustrate/Construct
  • Memorize
  • Read and Narrate Commentary in the Online Book

Propositions:

  • Read Paper Book
  • Copy & Illustrate/Construct
  • Do corresponding level in Euclid the Game
  • Read and Narrate commentary in the online book

Some Details for the Uninitiated

Read means just that: read the text.

Copy means just that: write the text out verbatim in your best hand.

Illustrate/Construct means draw a picture to represent the concept or construct a figure as instructed.

Memorize means just that: practice saying the phrase until you can repeat it verbatim.

Narrate means to restate what you have read in your own words. This can be done orally or in writing. When first beginning narration, do one paragraph at a time. As you get used to the technique, you will be able to do more in one go.

Now go forth and study!

Building Your Child’s Library: Leveled Readers

Leveled Readers versus Leveling Books

I stumbled upon a strange practice while looking at a school curriculum website the other day. Apparently, classrooms are required to have a leveled reading library for students to check out books from. The student is assigned a level, based on one of three+ systems, and then they may choose books at their level for practicing. The children are given freedom to choose their own reading material, while still having books at an appropriate reading level.

Sounds good, right? Except, the books are not leveled in any logical way with regards to introducing phonics and sight words. So a child at a given level could be given a book containing phonics or other linguistic elements that have not yet been introduced, which causes difficulty in reading. The child is indirectly told, “You ought to be able to read this. You must be stupid if you make a mistake or don’t understand.” Simultaneously, the book could have trite, simplistic language that does not engage the student. (One of the criteria for many of the early levels is a “predictable plot.”)  In short, the vast majority of these books are twaddle meant to give the child an easy read, but that are unlikely to actually help the student advance in reading skill.

I do not think that a child will be harmed by being required to read the same stories as everyone else for their reading lessons. I also think that they do need leveled readers coordinated with the phonics and sight words being taught. It is unnecessary to level every single book in your classroom. The other books are for other purposes, such as teaching science or literature. If a child wants to look through a book, then let them. It cannot hurt them. If there is a word they do not understand, they will ask, and in being given the answer, they will learn and grow. Or perhaps they won’t ask, instead guarding their question until the answer can be found through their lessons or other activities. When a person finds the answer on their own, they grow even stronger than when they are given an answer. Insisting that students always choose books “at their level” robs them of this opportunity and leads to stunted intellectual growth.

Conversely, when a student selects a book that is “below their level,” they may be particularly intrigued by the illustrations, or want to read the same books as their classmates. A child who is told that they should never read a book that is too easy will miss out on an entire world of wonderful picture books and lyrical stories. What a horrible evil to rob children of such an opportunity because they are already fluent readers!

In summary, for reading aloud, practicing phonics, and learning how to decode words, a phonics-based leveled reading system is ideal. The selections in the series should be culturally engaging to the student(s), but not at the cost of reducing linguistic complexity and beauty.

Using Leveled Readers to Teach Reading

While a child should be exposed to language well above their reading level by being read to, for those first steps in decoding words it is of utmost importance that they be provided with books that they are capable of reading on their own. It is best to have the material in the books follow a systematic introduction of phonics and sight words. (Yes, you must use both!) You introduce a phonogram, you talk about the rules surrounding that phonogram, and then you let the child practice reading aloud. My very favorite series for this purpose is All About Reading, with the McGuffey Readers and Bob Books tying for a close second. The stories are engaging and the phonics well thought out for all three.

For detailed instruction in reading aloud, the McGuffey Readers are far superior to everything else. I am actually considering adding a learning stream for reading aloud, separate from the phonics/reading/spelling stream, or perhaps as a continuation of that stream. I have met many a child who can read, but who cannot read aloud. Monotone recitation with no or inappropriate pauses is painful to listen to. Completion of the McGuffey series should eliminate such issues.

The list below also includes a few additional series of readers that have enjoyable stories. These are the sort of thing that you just have laying around the house for a child to pick up as interest is sparked. I love books, and I don’t think that a child can ever have too many. Surround your children with books, and they will surprise you with what they know.

All About Learning Press

This is my favorite reading and spelling program. The woman who developed this is very thorough. She includes every rule and every exception for all of the ways that we spell in English. I have a friend who is using the spelling curriculum with her children and says that she is finally learning why we spell words the way we do. To accompany the reading curriculum, Marie Rippel wrote and curated a series of decodable readers. They are hard-cover books with wonderful illustrations and engaging stories. The language is easy, but not simplistic, which is a true gift to the child.

McGuffey Readers

The McGuffey Readers were very popular in the U.S. in the 1800s. I like that they put an emphasis on reading aloud with good pronunciation, diction, and rhythm. They combine phonics with sight words, a wise approach to learning how to read and spell in English. The stories in the early books are a bit trite, but you can only do so much with a phonics approach. These are for practicing reading aloud; exploring literature should be done through listening until a student is able to read independently. By the second reader, the selections are sufficiently engaging and include many classic works.

I have put links to the free versions of the revised edition eclectic readers on Google Books. You can purchase various versions of the books from many online sellers.

Bob Books

Bob Books were developed in the 1970s to provide children an engaging way to learn phonics. The books use simple line drawings with story lines centered around Mat and Sam, a circle and a triangle. I think the books look entertaining, but a friend of mine tried these with her very imaginative son and he was not interested. So maybe they are not for everyone, and it would be a good idea to borrow some from a friend or the library before taking the dive to purchase the entire set. For using these to teach reading, check out Teaching Reading with Bob Books by Brandy Vencel.

Free and Treadwell Reading-Literature Books

The stories in the Free and Treadwell Reading-Literature Books are enjoyable classic tales with beautiful color illustrations. Children and adults alike will be attracted to the selections in this series. Unfortunately, the books do not appear to follow any specific pattern for introducing a student to phonetic patterns and should thus be used after a phonics-based program. Teaching Reading with Bob Books uses this series after completing the Bob Books program. Another way to use these books would be to include them in your literature studies, rather than as books for learning to read.

I have provided links to the adult guide, primer, first, second, and third readers from The Baldwin Project. Their versions are also available as print books. I (finally) found all of the books on Google Books.

More Free Readers

Check out The Ultimate Guide to Free Graded Reader E-Books over at Contently Humble. Their list is AMAZING.

Pathway Readers

These are used by the Amish, and therefore have a very simple feel and stories that are agrarian rather than post-industrial. The core readers all have accompanying workbooks and teacher’s guides. I am drawn to them because of the way they feel when you hold them, as they have been published using older techniques that result in high-quality, durable books. The books can be found in many online stores, but to order directly from the publisher you must write to request a catalog:

Pathway Publishers
43632 CR 390
Bloomingdale, MI 49026

Pathway Publishers
10380 Carter Road
Aylmer, ON N5H 2R3
Canada

  • Learning through Sounds (K-2nd)
  • Working with Words 4-8 (4th-8th)
  • Before We Read (K)
  • Helping Yourself (K)
  • Let’s Read Pictures (K)
  • Stories to Tell (K)
  • Listen to the Birds (K)
  • Listen to the Farm (K)
  • My Outdoor Friends (K)
  • Runaway Sled (K)
  • The Shoe That Tattled (K)
  • First Steps (1st)
  • Days Go By (1st)
  • More Days Go By (1st)
  • Menno’s Ducks and Barbara’s Fears (1st-3rd)
  • Lizzie and Lizzie in Grade 1 (1st-3rd)
  • Midnight Test (1st-3rd)
  • Busy Times (2nd)
  • More Busy Times (2nd)
  • Climbing Higher (2nd)
  • Benjie and Becky Series (2nd-3rd)
  • New Friends (3rd)
  • More New Friends (3rd)
  • Between Heaven and Earth (3rd-6th)
  • Eli and the Purple Martins (3rd-6th)
  • The Lone Pine’s Secret (3rd-6th)
  • Twenty Stories for Children (3rd-12th)
  • The Sun Went Down in the Morning (3rd-6th)
  • Building Our Lives (4th)
  • Shagbark Hickory Series (4th-7th)
  • Appletree Creek Series (4th-10th)
  • Living Together (5th)
  • Step by Step (6th)
  • Seeking True Values (7th)
  • Our Heritage (8th)

Christian Light Education Readers

The CLE Readers are frequently used by the Mennonites, who are close relatives of the Amish. The stories retain many of the charming aspects of the Amish works, but take place in a society that has accepted post-industrial innovations. CLE also publishes many other children’s books, including titles that continue series from the Pathway collection.

  • I Wonder (1st)
  • Helping Hands and Happy Hearts (2nd)
  • Doors to Discovery (3rd)
  • Bridges Beyond (4th)
  • Open Windows (5th)
  • Calls to Courage (6th)
  • The Road Less Traveled (7th)
  • Where Roads Diverge (8th)

Building Your Child’s Library: Board Books

Some Thoughts on Reading with Infants and Toddlers

Everyone says you should read to your baby, that reading to them will magically create a love of reading and form an inseparable bond between parent and child. I suppose this is generally true, but I do think there are other ways to develop a healthy reader, as well as ways to squash a love of reading no matter the number of books you have read to them. From what I understand of childhood development, children are imitative. If you love to read, then they are more likely to love reading. If you surround them with books, then they are more likely to pick one up and see what it says. If you yourself embrace reading as an important aspect of your own life, then your child is more likely to do likewise. So, by all means, if you want to read Chaucer to your infant, go ahead. It won’t hurt anything. But if you have an infant anything akin to mine, who is grabbing and ripping and won’t sit still while you read him poetry, do not despair. This is not the only way to nurture a love of reading.

When reading with your child, work on skills one at a time. You might focus on turning one page at a time before you concern yourself with the story on every page, or you might spend time naming the objects throughout the book either before or after reading the story. You can point out letters and words to your child, so they begin to relate the symbols to a meaning. The activities you can do with a book are endless.

You might use reading time as a way to practice waiting, a skill I have not yet mastered myself. Waiting is the hardest! Give your child plenty of ways to practice successfully so when they are grown they will be able to employ patience. Reading is one of the best, because waiting to turn the page is such a short wait, just the right length of time for the littles to practice without becoming frustrated.

Selecting Books for Infants and Toddlers

As a person with rather small financial means, I have to be a bit choosy in what I spend my money on. I can’t just go out and buy the whole set of something because it was shiny and caught my eye. My book collection consists largely of books from the dollar bin and books that were given to us. But some things are worth eating beans and rice for. In that vein, I have developed a list of categories for ensuring a balanced library for the first few years of your child’s life. These are the books that your child will reach for again and again, and will fill them with wonder and joy.

Sensory Stimulating Books

For the newborn and infant, books are a sensory experience. The feel of the pages, the sounds the book makes when it falls on the floor, the taste of the cardboard. When you hold your infant and read to them, they are experiencing massive sensory stimulation. They feel your arms around them, hear your voice and heart, smell your natural scent. Their intellect is being engaged through hearing language. It is not necessary to have specific items for stimulating an infant’s senses, since they are surrounded by sensory experiences in everyday life. Nonetheless, it is fun, and it is good for your own sanity as a parent to have some books that will not be destroyed by bending, chewing, and throwing.

The best books for baby to practice reading on their own are the Indestructables brand books. Babies can chew, bend, and throw to their hearts content, and the books are machine-washable. I don’t have any myself, but they sound wonderful.

Babies will also love books that have materials with various textures. The crinkly material that makes a crunchy sound was a favorite in our house. There are so many to choose from, you’ll have a hard time just choosing one. Jellycat Soft Books makes a line of books with tails. DK Publishing has the Touch and Feel series. As your baby gains gross and fine motor skills, they will be drawn to look through these books on their own as a stimulating independent play activity.

The newest thing in books for infants are the black and white books, based on research indicating that babies cannot see color when they are first born, and that they process high-contrast images best. Some examples include Black on White by Tana Hoben and Look, Look! by Peter Linenthal. I consider these optional, nice to have if you can afford them, but not necessary by any means.

Baby Faces

Babies love babies! My son was most drawn to a book showing infants and toddlers through a typical day. Make sure to have at least one book with pictures of actual babies (i.e. not illustrations). Looking through this book will bring a smile to your child’s face, and joy to your heart.

Books without Words

Books without words invite creativity. You can make up a story for your baby, and when they are old enough to talk, they will tell you endless stories using the same book. Here is a list from Goodreads to get you started.

Interactive Books

Your toddler will love books with flaps, levers, pop-ups, and buttons. Even better, since these books never seem to get old, you only need a few. One of my very favorite books when I was a child was Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill. We have a Poke-a-Dot! book that provides endless entertainment, as well as a slide-and-find version of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle. Also, books with letters, numbers, and shapes to trace provide a good bridge to writing. We have A is for Apple by Georgie Birkett, and even though the boy isn’t tracing the letters yet, we have a grand time naming the objects under the flaps.

Word Books

Books with pictures or drawings of objects are fun to look through when your child begins learning words. They will surprise you every time with new vocabulary! DK Publishing makes fabulous books in this category, with photographs of the actual objects. If your child wants to look through a book and name all of the objects rather than listen to you read the story, that works, too!

Poetry and Rhyme

Infants are drawn to rhyming language. They delight in the beauty of what they are hearing. Do not believe the voices that tell you infants cannot understand! They are human, and they are drawn to the same things all humans are. Poetry is one of those things. Even if you do not know what the words mean, you are drawn to great poetry and song, for instance when they are in a foreign language. The speaker knows the meaning, and you hear it in their voice, see it in their face. Your baby is the same way. They have not yet developed a full vocabulary, but they have an intense understanding of your mood and tone.

Reading, reciting, or singing poetry to your infant also helps develop phonological sense, an important step in learning how to read. The ways sounds fit together in their native language is conveyed to them through rhyme.

For other categories I would be content with a few inexpensive books to own, while supplementing from the library. For this category, I would hoard some of my money and purchase the truly great books. I received Eloise Wilkin’s Poems to Read to the Very Young from my father. It is a gorgeous book with a variety of verse about subjects engaging to young children. I still want to own A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Lois Stevenson and Poems and Prayers for the Very Young by Martha Alexander. (I love old books!)

For more recent publications, consider Susan Boynton’s books. But not the Hippopotamus is an entertaining read for any age; my friend completing her PhD in English was riveted to the last page. Dinosaur Roar! is a great book for exaggerating speech and adding action with your child.

Whatever you choose, new or old, fancy or plain, the verse that you read to your child while they are young will sit in their hearts forever.

Story Books

Last, but certainly not least, are the story books. These are the books that you collect slowly over the years. Your infant may not have patience for long stories, but if you persist and do not shame them, they will grow into the books you have selected. Books by Eric Carle, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Very Busy Spider, are good staples. Corduroy by Don Freeman is a classic. Margaret Wise Brown has penned multiple classics, such as Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. There are far too many wonderful children’s stories that can be found as board books to list them all here. For more ideas, look at Ambleside Online’s Year 0 Booklist, Before Five in a Row, and Sonlight’s Preschool Curriculum.

The Ultimate Homeschool Curriculum Outline

I have been working on this matrix since I was pregnant with John, so almost three years now. Today, I have reached a point of satisfaction. I have found good curriculum options, beautiful book lists, and online resources. This spreadsheet lays out what I would like to my son to accomplish from year to year, birth to 18 years old. I wanted to share.

Using the Matrix

To use the matrix, download a copy:

Homeschool Curriculum Outline Public Version

Change the name. Perhaps use your child’s name, i.e. Suzy Homeschool Curriculum Outline. Put the file in your homeschool folder. Now open the file. In the first row, put the years that your child will be the given ages. For instance, the Baby Year might be 2016-2017. Now look at the categories and divisions down the first column. There are a lot, so take the time to absorb the system before making changes. I have listed the amount of time to spend each day or week studying for each broad category. These times are based partially on Charlotte Mason’s PNEU Programmes, partially on what I think will be sufficient to make our way through the material, and partially on overall limits for direct instruction at a given age. Sabbath Mood Homeschool has a very helpful series on scheduling that I relied on intensively in developing my ideas.

Each subject row has the curriculum I have chosen listed under the appropriate ages. You can find descriptions online by searching for the title. These are my very favorite options, based on some broad criteria and my own personal situation. Your selections may differ, and that is good. Just put your own choices into the matrix. That is what I made it for!

Selection Criteria

My selection criteria included financial, implementation, and aesthetic considerations. I am not a wealthy person, so I looked to free and inexpensive resources as much as was reasonable. Some things, such as phonics and spelling, I felt were worth purchasing as a thorough, book-based curriculum, instead of making do with a hodgepodge of library and internet materials. For other things, such as computer science, I was able to find free resources that matched or exceeded the quality of expensive curriculum packages. Many of the college level books I included simply because I already own them. While most do represent my favorite texts, there is nothing sacred about them. Use what you have, or what you find that is inexpensive. I did find a few really awesome curricula in my searching that are a bit more expensive, but I felt they were worth the money. If you know of a less expensive alternative that is of similar quality, please let me know.

In my searching, I also was looking at ease of implementation. Is the program self-explanatory? Can my child work through the material alone? If not, are there clear instructions on what I need to do? My expertise in some areas will show; for instance, I was less concerned about the math and science selections since I will be able to navigate through the material as needed. For the humanities, however, I was much more interested in programs that are already well-prepared.

Finally, I made my selections to conform reasonably well with the pedagogy Charlotte Mason used in her schools. The methods of verbatim copying and narration are applicable to any area of study. (I have been using narration in math tutoring with decent results.) I was attracted to materials with beautiful images and high-quality language. The details are what make a book a pleasure to read, instead of a drudgery.

Keeping in mind the ways that my personal situation and tastes influenced my choices, you can go through and make appropriate changes. If you are not a math person, you may greatly prefer Teaching Textbooks. If you know Latin, you may have a library of material to use. (And please share titles if you do!)

Some Notes on Scheduling

When arranging the curriculum, keep in mind the concept of streams. While I have put a given book in a set year, this is not the way that I look at the information. Each row is a stream. We will begin the stream when the student is ready, which will likely be at the indicated times. If he is ready early, then we will start early, and perhaps more slowly. If he is not ready at the age I have indicated for the stream, then we will wait until he is. It is more important to thoroughly absorb the material than to get to the next item on the agenda.

Once started in a stream, schedule a weekly time to work on the material. Whatever method you use for scheduling, make sure to incorporate time for the new stream. Use and adjust the time guidelines given by category. While it is helpful to have time blocked for a general subject, such as English or math, you must schedule each specific stream within that structure. A lower elementary English session may consist of 10 minutes copywork and 10 minutes of phonics, with time for reading poems and recitation during circle time. The reason for this approach is two-fold. One, things that you do not schedule you will not do consistently. If you do not put Spanish in your schedule, then you will be prone to skip it or put it off until you have forgotten so much you have to start over. Two, the schedule provides a guide for how quickly you move through the stream. If your child can only write two letters during the 10 minute handwriting slot, then that is what they do. You must be patient, and you must stick to it.

Decide before starting how far down a stream the child must go to graduate from high school. I have indicated typical high school levels of achievement by using a brown color for advanced studies. The pace I have set is very fast, but this pace is not appropriate for every child, and definitely nor for every subject for a given child. Pay attention to the person in front of you to make sure that you are not rushing them, and that they are not dragging their feet.

References and Licenses

Please note that this matrix would not exist if I had not found Ambleside Online very early in my homeschool quest. Their work is wonderful, and I have used their curriculum abundantly in designing and filling out my own matrix. I very much recommend reading through their website, and using the parts that resonate with you. I have found so many treasures in their reading lists, books that I would have been unlikely to find otherwise. Even so, I found that their curriculum was very much by white people for white people, and so I was not satisfied in following their reading lists verbatim. There are also some areas glaringly missing from their suggestions, such as computer science. It is my sincere hope that my work will complement theirs, and I have done my very best to adhere to their license. I would ask that you extend the same respect both to them and to me. This material is free, but it had a cost. Use it for your own purposes, and send other people the link to download their own copy. You may not sell or share this spreadsheet. If you would like to use this or a similar matrix for an institution, please contact me.

Please, enjoy, and happy planning!

Reading Charlotte Mason ~ Home Education Preface

Charlotte Mason opens her monumental work with the following words:

“The educational outlook is rather misty and depressing both at home and abroad. That science should be a staple of education, that the teaching of Latin, of modern languages, of mathematics, must be reformed, that nature and handicrafts should be pressed into service for the training of the eye and hand, that boys and girls must learn to write English and therefore must know something of history and literature; and, on the other hand, that education must be made more technical and utilitarian––these, and such as these, are the cries of expedience with which we take the field. But we have no unifying principle, no definite aim; in fact, no philosophy of education. As a stream can rise no higher than its source, so it is probable that no educational effort can rise above the whole scheme of thought which gives it birth; and perhaps this is the reason of all the fallings from us, vanishings, failures, and disappointments which mark our educational records.”

Every time I read these words, I feel like they could have just as easily been written yesterday as over a hundred years ago. We have, with the passing of more than one generation, not made coherent progress towards any of these goals, and in many cases we have moved away from them. Science has become a focal point in our society, and yet we teach children science as a body of facts rather than a process for acquiring knowledge. Latin, modern languages, and math have all indeed been reformed, but not actually improved, and many schools push the same ineffective methods alluded to by Charlotte. The nasty battle between those who think that children need to play in fresh air and those who think that they need to pass standardized tests has been intensifying as of late, with no resolution in sight. The reality of our world and culture places screens and video games as a contender for time that children used to spend making things with their hands, even in the upper classes. That children can manipulate computing devices more powerful than those used to send man to the moon, but cannot write legibly, is the strange state of affairs in which we now find ourselves.

Charlotte Mason proposes that what we need is a unifying philosophy of education. The wisdom of her stance is evident in the way that individuals come to very different conclusions about how to educate based on what they believe about why we educate. Someone who sees education as a means to an end, as the training of a worker, will have no patience for Latin. When would it be used? Someone who sees education as the growing of the mind may equally discard vocational training as not vital. I believe, as Charlotte did, that all of these things are important, as a part of what it means to be human. The auto mechanic has just as much right to knowledge of the divine as the professor, and the professor could very much benefit from knowing how to execute manual labor efficiently. When we reduce people to one-dimensional roles, we rob them of part of their humanity.

In her 20 principles of education, which she put at the beginning of each book in the Home Education Series, Charlotte says first that “Children are born persons.” This is such a simple and yet profound statement, and I think that this is the very best way to begin any philosophy of education. Encapsulated in this phrase is the idea that we must recognize the self in others. Many woes in our society stem from the ease with which we are able to ignore the person-hood of another. Those who are different, those with whom we disagree, those who do things that we find atrocious—they are people, also. They are image-bearers of God, just as we are. If we could find a way to begin with the common base of being human, then the variety of expression of that humanity would become a cause for celebration rather than tension and war.

The foundation of Charlotte’s philosophy is rooted in Christianity. Education is, first and foremost, knowledge of the divine. It can be difficult for people who come from other religious traditions to look beyond the specifics of her lived religion. But those who look a little deeper will find that her ideas are so firmly rooted in what it means to be human that they are applicable in any religious context. The atheists will perhaps have the most difficulty with her work. Without some faith in the divine, it is impossible to see the divine in the world. In her 16th principle, Charlotte makes plain the way in which reason can deceive us:

The Way of the Reason.––We should teach children, too, not to ‘lean’ (too confidently) ‘unto their own understanding,’ because of the function of reason is, to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth; and (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case reason is, perhaps, an infallible guide, but in the second it is not always a safe one, for whether that initial idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs.”

I see many people, both theists and atheists, falling into the trap of relying on reason as the basis for all that is good. Reason is not good in and of itself, however, and can lead us to evil just as surely. Because of this, it is of utmost importance that we temper reason with emotion, with history, and with morality. If we do not, we will be able to justify any evil act.

Education following the philosophy of Charlotte Mason, then, is an education in humanity, morality, and utility. I find this combination unique and beautiful.

Planning the Year ~ UPDATED

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Yearly_Planning_2016_Printable_Episcopal

Yearly_Planning_2016_Printable_Secular

I’ve been obsessed with calendars for most of my life. I can easily buy and fill out three or four a year. They are never entirely satisfactory. So I have set about making my own calendars.

In order to plan my year, I find it helpful to be able to actually see the entire year at once. In the past I have purchased pre-printed calendars and then written my information in. But they’re never quite right. There are always holidays listed that I don’t celebrate. There are days with five things to put down, but not enough space to write it all. So this year I have made myself a spreadsheet, which I am sharing with you. I made two versions, both with US holidays, one secular and the other Episcopalian. Choose the one that you prefer, and then follow the instructions below.

Step 1:

After downloading and opening the file, take time to review what is already there and delete anything that is not relevant to you. I have some things that are only applicable to people who live in Houston, or in Texas, or in the US. So delete away.

Step 2:

Put in religious holidays that are relevant to you. Catholics will be able to use the Episcopal version with very little modification. Orthodox Christians will probably have more work to do; I am not very familiar with their calendar. People from other religions will likely want to choose the secular version and then add in their own religious celebrations. Maybe next year I will have more versions.

Step 3:

Put in civic holidays that are relevant to you. Start with national holidays, then state or province holidays, and finally local holidays. Don’t forget things like tax due dates, voting days, and work or school schedules. I’ve placed many of these for Houston, but your dates may vary, so move things around as needed.

Step 4:

Put in family celebrations, such as birthdays and anniversaries. Also consider travel schedules for work. I don’t put things that happen every month on this calendar to prevent it from becoming cluttered, but if doing so helps you visualize your year better then go for it.

Step 5:

Now the fun part! Choose vacation, travel, and play time. I’ve shaded weekends and typical days off for US office workers. Change the shading to suit your own devices.

Step 6:

Review your work, checking that you’ve included all the major things for the year. It’s ok to write on it after you print, too, so don’t get caught up in perfectionism. You rule the tool, not the other way around.

Step 7: ~NEW INSTRUCTIONS~

Now it’s time to print. I printed in four sections on letter paper in landscape view. Select the entire calendar area, open the print dialog box, and choose ‘Print Selection.’ You’ll have to tell the computer to scale the selection to the page at 39%. On my system, that meant going to print preview and then choosing page setup, where I could choose the print size. Print to a PDF to check that everything is correct before you waste paper and ink.

I ended up with four pages. The top is in two sections of Jan-Jun and Jul-Dec, and the side is in two sections top to Day 16 and Day 17 to bottom.

If you have printed on four pieces of paper like this, you now get to do a cutting and pasting activity. If you have a good print shop, you may be able to print all at once on a larger paper.

Anyways, I hope this inspires you to plan out your year. Let me know if you have any suggestions or questions in the comments section. And have a Happy New Year!

~Erin

Keeping My Priorities Straight

When I was trying to get out of my PhD program with my sanity intact, I started to really assess what my priorities were, and how my life should look to better align with those priorities. I made a list, which I have tweaked and revised to the present version.

Faith
Family
Fitness
Friends
Finances

The alliteration of five things makes it easy to remember. These are the important things, the foundational things, the first things. For a given situation, one or the other may be most important in that moment. When it comes to a whole life view, however, I strive towards the order as listed.

Faith

Faith for me encompasses belief, hope, and spirituality, as well as religious practice. I have faith that God exists, that God is good even when we don’t understand His methods, that God created me with free will, that God loves me, and most importantly, that when I follow God’s instructions my spirit will be filled with joy. I act out my faith by taking time to allow the Holy Spirit to work in my heart. While walking with Christ may appear to consist of the mundane from the outside, on the inside it is inspirational and uplifting.

Prioritizing faith means that I put God first, sometimes practically, sometimes symbolically, and (almost) always with my whole self. In my daily and weekly activities, this can be expressed in a myriad of ways. When I make my calendar, I put liturgical cycles down first, then Eucharist, then other things. Attending church is necessary, as is fellowship, as is ministry. Daily devotions are an elusive goal, but I am finding ways to get a snippet here and there between the chaos of caring for a toddler. Incorporating the Christian disciplines into my life helps me to practice faith and to keep God always at the helm of life.

Family

Family has always been important to me. Family consists of the people who know you at your worst and love you anyway. Most of our family we don’t get to choose; they are gifts to us from God. But there are other people who can become family through choice, such as a spouse. And sometimes our closest blood relations will choose to not love us. You get to define the boundaries of your own family for yourself.

Prioritizing family means that I spend time in fellowship with them daily. It means that I take their needs and concerns seriously enough to take action towards a remedy. It means that I care for them by providing a warm, inviting home with good meals, by standing by their side when they are sick, by sticking by them even when things are difficult. Family fills my life with joy, and so they stay one of my top priorities.

Fitness

OK, you got me, this was originally Health, but then everything started with ‘f’, so I changed it to Fitness. Caring for my own mental, social, spiritual, emotional, and physical fitness is also important, mostly so that I am able to do the things that I am called to do. Given that we live in a health and fitness obsessed culture, I don’t feel like I need to expound on this beyond pointing out that fitness is not related to appearance but rather to functionality.

Friends

I had making and keeping friends as my lowest priority for a long time. But that turned out to be lonely. So, slowly but surely, I have been vesting more time and energy into forming lasting friendships. It has been a challenging practice to learn. I find that the more touchpoints I have with someone, the easier it is to bridge the gap between being acquaintances and becoming friends. The bridge still does not build itself, however. In order to get to friendship, it is necessary to spend time hanging out outside of institutional events. Having the time, energy, and courage to make friends is something that I struggle with. Placing friends on my top priority list pushes me to keep trying even though it is hard.

Finances

Some people make money their top priority, and some make it their last. I find that either extreme leads to problems. So having a profession is important, but not the most important thing. Accumulating wealth is not a worthy goal past providing stability for the family. Working to the point of neglecting the people in your life might bring more income, but it is unlikely to bring more happiness. As with most things, the key is balance.

Everything Else

Those are my top priorities. I spend time doing other things, also, but they take a back seat to the Big 5. Much of my time is spent watching television, for instance, but that is not my priority. If John needs attention, or work needs doing, I turn it off. And I have additional goals outside of those priorities, such as getting the house clean and orderly. Except that a clean and orderly house helps me stay calm and collected, and also provides a comforting home for my family, both of which are top priorities. Everything flows together in the end. The best way to make sure that you are constructing the life that you would like to lead is to start by getting your priorities in order.

 

You Know the Dementors Are after You When It Takes All Day to Get through Your Morning Routine

I’ve been having a rough month. My stress has been ridiculously high, and then I forgot to take my medicine for a few days. My mood subsequently tanked out, and I’m having a difficult time keeping my life on an even keel. My routines are an important tool for managing my life. When I stop following them, things like forgetting to take my medicine happen, which then causes life to spiral downward rapidly. Stopping that downward spiral can take a gargantuan effort. Starting the routines again takes time. It can take a week or longer to get to where I can accomplish most of the dailies consistently. It can take months to slog through the backlog of weeklies. I’ll admit, I haven’t yet made it to the monthlies or beyond. I will eventually.

When I began to climb slowly  this time, I noticed simultaneously that I would get to bedtime without having finished my morning routine, and that I felt like the life was being sapped out of me. I thought, “I’m being followed around by a dementor.” Because, my friends, that is exactly what mood and anxiety disorders feel like. J.K. Rowling knows the feeling, and she was able to capture it in a story in a way that no other ever has. So, I have put together a step-by-step guide to dealing with dementors.

STEP 1: Identify that you have a dementor following you.

This is both the easiest and the most difficult step. Most people will notice that something is wrong, but will quickly make excuses for why that is normal. “If I would eat better, I would feel better.” Or, “If I would exercise, I would feel better.” Or, “If I could quit my job, I would feel better.” Or, “If I just had a million dollars, I would feel better.” Except, demetors don’t pay attention to any of those things. They follow you around, and no matter what you do they will continue to suck the joy out of your life. I highly recommend seeking professional help if this might be the case for you. Only witches and wizards can see the Dementors, after all.

STEP 2: Find someone to make a Patronus so you can have a break.

Because really, who can learn how to make their own Patronus with a Dementor breathing down their neck? This is where friends are invaluable, and where it is ok to pay someone to take care of the problem for you. You might need medicine, you might need to talk…a LOT. You might need to make drastic changes in the way you deal with your life. Just to relieve the pressure enough to breathe for a minute. It is important to understand that not everyone finds this sort of help. Being followed around by a dementor saps your motivation, turns you into the sad sack that no one wants at their party, leads to the inability to work which leads to the inability to pay a witch or wizard to scare off the dementors for you. Medicine doesn’t work for everyone. Therapy doesn’t work for everyone. Finding a therapist is an exhausting endeavor all on its own, forget about dealing with insurance, forget about taking time off of work. Bottom line: A lot of people get stuck here. If you can make a Patronus for someone, you just might save their life.

STEP 3: Learn how to make your own Patronus.

How do you go about producing a Patronus? Well, you have to find something that produces joy for you, even in moments of despair. My son is my Patronus. He keeps me on my toes, won’t let me cycle into the depths, brings joy and light into my life. I believe that he is a gift from the Holy Spirit to keep me from permanently falling into the deep well of despair. For some people, religion provides sufficient joy and connection to scare away the dementors. For others, it could be spending time outside, taking care of other people or animals, or membership in some other sort of tight-knit community. Each Patronus is unique to the individual; they cannot be copied and pasted. Learning how to make them requires hours, days, months, years, and maybe even decades of practice. It cannot be accomplished over night. But if a person can learn how, they will be able to banish dementors on their own.

All of this to say that crawling out of anxiety or depression requires a lot of TIME and ENERGY. So if someone you know seems to be struggling, but they do not seem to be “trying hard enough” or “getting help” the way you think they should, then take a step back and reassess the situation. They likely don’t have anything left within them to try any harder. When it requires every ounce of motivation just to get out of bed, a person cannot be expected to just “buck up”. THEY NEED YOUR HELP. They need someone to help with the mundane so that they can take a breath. They need someone to listen without judging, and to stick around even though they never have anything positive to say. They need someone to speak with the First Sergeant, because saying the words themselves is just too painful, too shameful, too hard.

This is not to say that you will be able to help everyone. Some people refuse to seek treatment, and at some point you have to discern between enabling bad behavior and giving help to someone having a hard time. But don’t give up before you even start. Stay up with them all night, because now you know how to save a life.