Archive for brain dump

The dangers of Siri

Writing prompt: Disgruntled worker takes revenge by regularly sneaking into office of nemesis and using their voice activated remote controls to screw with their life (readjust household thermostat or lights, changing scheduled appointments, etc)

Posted by on June 8th, 2017

Why use the Oxford Comma

Because: “I would like to thank my parents, Mother Teresa and the Pope.”

Posted by on March 16th, 2017

Cooking with… A coffeemaker?

So I’ve been reading about cooking hacks lately, and the one that had me floored is: cooking in your coffeepot.

First you’re going to ask me: why? Because sometimes you’re in a space (hotel, dorm, office) with limited facilities. Suddenly, the iron is a planchette and the coffeemaker is your new best friend.

A few things were obvious – run plain hot water through to cook directly in the carafe (oatmeal, pasta, instant rice, couscous, hardboiled  eggs). Some tips were less obvious (the right teabag in the basket will make plain oatmeal fruity). But the genius tip was:

Cover the hot plate with foil and you can cook on it like a tiny stove.

Posted by on June 13th, 2016

The Other Side of Homeschooling

Many who embark on the Homeschool Journey (insert fanfare here) for the first time do the obvious thing in this digital day and age: they conduct obsessive research on The Internets. It is here that they encounter the mind-numbing rainbow that are your choices of curricula, the hedgerow maze that are your local compliance ordinances and the one thing nobody really talks about:

Your homeschooling peers.

Yep, they’re out there, the heavyweight forum posters (“Status: Queen Bee!”) who subtly – or maybe not so subtly – influence your choices because… well, what? Because they post a lot? Because they always, ALWAYS have something to say on a topic, even if they weren’t asked? Because THEY WERE THE LOUDEST IN THE FORUM ROOM?

You know who these people are. You’ve seen them, you’ve read their all-knowing posts. And because you’re venturing into what seemingly treacherous waters for the first time, you’re probably, to some degree, allowing them direct your choices.

Now, stop a second to consider something. Imagine you’re looking for homeschool advice, and you attend a commnity meeting with real, live people. You enter a  room where a moderator is taking questions in a reasonably orderly fashion. But something curious is going on. Every time a person presents their question, some loudmouth on the other side of the room gets up and airs their opinion first.  It’s always the same person. They talk at length. They often vigorously defend their point, and, quite frankly, they’re becoming tiresome.

(Coming back to this post after leaving it to stew for a long time) We’ll skip to the short answer: Even amongst the supposedly angelic, holistic, irreproachable homeschool crowd, we have our fair share of people we would like to club senseless, and then leave them in a room until they can learn to play nice with everyone else.

Posted by on September 30th, 2015

Getting your bearings


I met a woman who recently decided to homeschool her two children. She wore a look of determination, but it was laced with a definite sense of terror.

You see that look in movies, on the faces of suburbanites who find themselves crash-landed in the deep wilderness. Lurking behind every tree may well be a bear (or worse) and now, she is pretty well convinced that whatever option she might chooses, something will go wrong and it will be all her fault.

Before our heroine goes into full-fledged panic, let’s define “it”: A brief list covering the usual suspects:

That she won’t be a good enough teacher
That her kids won’t learn the right stuff
That her kids will learn the wrong stuff
That her kids won’t learn *any* stuff
That at the end of the school year, when she sits in judgement for Annual Review, some education overlord will point a Finger of Doom at her and thunder, “YOU HAVE FAILED.”

I know what causes this. A parent who has decided to homeschool brings it on themselves when they conscientiously go to the internet and search “how to homeschool.” The second they hit enter, a firehose of information gets turned on at full blast.


No wonder she looks shell-shocked.

If you found yourself in an extreme survival situation, you should know the rule of threes: you can make it three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water, etc. It helps you clear your head and prioritize. Don’t panic.

If you’re starting to homeschool, also don’t panic. It isn’t survival school, but knowing the fundamentals will give you some guideposts to follow while you figure out what’s going on in these woods.

First and foremost: know the rules. I cannot emphasize this enough. Understand the regulations set forth by your locality and know how they apply to your situation. Once you know what’s required, you know where the boundary fence lies around the regulatory monster. Remember that laws exist to limit the government, not you.

Second: relax. I’m serious. You could do what I did, and spend an entire summer staying up all hours reading everything you can lay your hands on about homeschool curriculum and philosophies. Absorb half a dozen guides written by individuals who confidently preach, “This totally works and your children need this.” Pick up a smattering of work materials here and there because they look like they might be interesting to your kids, and gradually accumulate an impressive stack in eight weeks’ time. Then kick off homeschool in the fall only to discover that all your plans – all of them – are driving you and your family bananas.

Instead of looking at what other people are doing, first figure out what education means to you. Be honest with yourself: is your goal merely to re-create school at home? Because you have a flexibility and freedom that is completely unavailable to standard institutions. You aren’t hampered with the logistics of 30 kids plus chaperones if you want to take a field trip. You don’t have to carpet bomb your classroom with worksheets because each child mostly represents how much time you must spend grading. You don’t have find one program to fit 30 different learning styles and 30 different intelligence levels.

If your kids are coming out of school, the first best thing you can do is sit back and observe them. Are they readers, crafters, listeners, watchers? What motivates them, catches their interest, lights their fire? Because I can tell you right now, if your kid thinks it’s a yawner, the curriculum is still useless, no matter how many parent reviews say “This was the greatest thing ever!!!”.

But… If you find your child learns their fractions effortlessly from measuring and baking chocolate chip cookies, then I suggest you get them an apron and the cookbook of their choice. If they devour history books, make friends with the local librarian. When science podcasts become all-consuming, invest in a good set of headphones.

If your child is young, and has never gone to school, I ask you this: has your child been learning up to this point? Of course they have. You didn’t upload some module to his brain at age 1 for “recognize shapes and colors”. There isn’t some switch in the back labelled “precocious” that you flip when she hit age two. Your child has been learning organically from day one, and continues to learn not because some institution says it’s time, but because they want to know. And that curiosity, that desire to learn is the single most valuable asset they have. Nurture it, grow it, make that flourish.

Everything else will come.

Posted by on November 10th, 2014

“…but we still got A’s.”

public school, you can’t make this stuff up.

Posted by on June 14th, 2012

Laughing so hard I’m crying

I’m having one of those weeks where Anne Taintor is my idol.

Posted by on December 19th, 2011

Good Heavens, Has It Been That Long?

Yeah, it has. Well, the update: two of my children have flown the coop and gone to public school. One remains. And in answer to what is probably your first question: NO, it’s not any easier with only one. Schooling the one is easier. But the schedule is actually slightly more complicated, and I still have as many projects to deal with than before. More, actually, because there are now more cooks stirring the pot. See? The DEA is right: stay away from pot. I’m just sayin’.

Posted by on December 14th, 2011

And now, a few words for our non-home-schooling public

I get tired of people looking at me funny when I say the word “homeschooler”. You’d think I grew another head. However, I think the best course to combat funny looks is … Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by on August 17th, 2010

“When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost?”

Among the congratulatory plaudits and cliches passed out at the annual commencement ceremonies, one
valedictory speech was delivered this spring with a refreshing twist.

“I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. … So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it?”

Enter one Erica Goldson, valedictorian of Coxsackie-Athens High School, class of 2010.

“I Have Completed This Period of Indoctrination”

You may have come across the text of Goldson’s speech – it’s been making the rounds on the internet.

Forsaking the typical “first day of the rest of our lives” quotations and Dr. Seuss, Goldson chose instead to fire a clear shot across the bow of public education, a deliberately incendiary projectile from a departing star member of the ranks.

“I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination.”

Although written only this spring, the speech has been years in the making.

“I think even in high school I was starting … probably around 10th grade is when I started really thinking, “Why am I here? What do I want to do with my life?” says Goldson. She is scheduled to enter university this fall, but Goldson says she faces the prospect with some apprehension. “I have no idea what I want to do so when I’m prompted to pick a major, it’s scary because I have no idea what direction I want to go or what career I want to go into.”

With some trepidation, Goldson worked up the nerve to express her doubts to her father.

“[It was] one of the scariest things ever – and he said, have an alternative plan. At least give college a try, and if it wasn’t working then maybe take a leave of absence later.” The conversation was “a lot different than I thought it was going to be,” she laughs.

“When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I’m scared.”

Whereas conventional wisdom declares the top of the class should equal top of the world, “my education
makes me feel like I haven’t prepared for the world,” says Goldson. “It seems like people care about things that don’t really matter – consumer goods and commercialism. I’m trying really hard to deviate from that path but it’s hard …I have friends but I can’t talk to them because
they’re not interested [in these same issues].”

“School is not all that it can be”

So what flipped the switch for Goldson? No single, seminal event. Instead, she drew from a variety of experiences. Take, for example, her conversations with foreign exchange students at her high school.

“There was one guy from Germany, [he] would always laugh at our education system, but he would teach me so much about things like chemistry and physics. He [said] our science programs were very elementary… we don’t even learn chemistry and physics until high school.

“Our education being laughed at by foreign students was pretty sad because they would have to go home and redo that year, since they hadn’t learned enough [in the U.S. public school] to advance to the next year at their home school.”

“Some of you may be thinking, “Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn’t you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be.”

This is because at the end of the day, the difference between getting a diploma and getting an education is made almost entirely by the individual instructors that a child is fortunate – or unfortunate – enough to meet along the way.

“In high school there was one amazing teacher, I really attached to her and later, with her encouragement, co-founded a club,” says Goldson. Sophomore year, enter English teacher Donna Bryan. In her speech, Goldson credits Bryan as the influence that “allowed me to open my mind and ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine.”

The group Goldson helped found was the “World of Difference” club. The purpose: to educate people about prejudice, social justice and human rights. “We would raise money to donate to human rights and causes.” In a speech made to the Board of Education, Bryan said the club was formed “to inform ourselves and the rest of the school about human rights… the kids have gotten so much out of it.”

The club has raised funds for human rights causes and attended documentary film festivals. It was “exciting to see them have an awakening to the things that really matter,” said Bryan.

“Our motivational force ought to be passion”

Goldson’s awakening continued senior year when she attended classes at Hudson Valley Community College. Like Bryan, “a few different teachers [at community college] opened my mind – it was varied… definitely different than high school, but still not everything I hoped for.”
Still, she encountered instructors with practical background in their field, passing on knowledge gained from experience rather than regurgitated from textbooks.

“And now here I am in a world guided by fear, a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside each of us… we are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement…. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is
lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.

While researching her speech, Bryan suggested Goldson read some works by unschooling proponent John Taylor Gatto. His opinions made an impression; so much so that Gatto’s words wound up as part of the commencement address.

“John Taylor Gatto, a retired school teacher and activist critical of compulsory schooling, asserts, “We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness – curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids into (sic) truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then. But we don’t do that.” Between these cinderblock walls, we are all expected to be the same. We are trained to ace every standardized test, and those who deviate and see light through a different lens are
worthless to the scheme of public education, and therefore viewed with contempt.”

Since posting the text of her speech, Goldson’s page has been receiving regular praise from members of the Been There, Done That, You Go Girl crowd – and not susprisingly, quite a few identify themselves as homeschool and/or unschool parents.

“[Since the comments have started,] I’ve been doing some research … I’ve been really interested in the whole un-schooling moment and realizing that kids are individuals and can learn without standardized instruction,” says Goldson. “I think the New York State School System telling everybody what to learn – that’s ridiculous.”

“Our potential is at stake”

So, what would Goldson change about the current school system?

“A change I would make would be that teachers aren’t taught how to teach. I don’t like the idea that people leave high school to become a teacher. I think that most knowledge comes from experience and a teacher should be someone who really knows and should hand down their knowledge.

“In my community college [I met people like that.] My english teacher had published work, my sociology professor was doing research, and the economics professor – I talked to him so much about his business, and he used to be on Wall Street.”

Finding That Alternative Plan

After that conversation with her father, Goldson says “I thought about what I really want to do with my life, and what I really want to do is live simply, make bonds with really great people, have intelligent conversations.”

In search of those conversations, Goldson will spend three weeks exploring a decidedly non-collegiate lifestyle before departing for school.
“I’ll be visiting a commune – staying three weeks learning how to organically farm. I figured I would take an alternative route by visiting an alternative living environment.”

But… a commune?

“In my sociology class, I was learning about Marxism. I wanted to see what it was like to live in a different economic system.”

“I do want to change the world for the better. I’m just not sure how I will yet.”
Amie Beal writes Helping to Homeschool for the Washington Times Communities.

This article originally appeared in Helping to Homeschool, my column at

Posted by on July 25th, 2010