Parents, are you willing to learn about your actual schools?

In his characteristic charming, self-deprecating manner, Tom Hoopes explains in Why We (Still) Home School that he was drawn to home schooling for all the wrong reasons — “irrational emotional fears,” he says. But he says that his wife, April, had sensible, rational reasons for wanting to keep the kids out of the classroom.

I don’t know the Hoopses personally. I admire their evident dedication to their kids, and their family life comes across warm, playful, and solid, truly enviable. I’m only responding to what Hoopes wrote here. I understand his fears perfectly, because I’ve had them myself . . . and his conclusions annoy me immensely.

Hoopes says that he hated school when he was young, but that his wife April enjoyed school, herself. But, he says:

It was what school did to her relationship with her sister that gave her pause. The way April describes it, she and her older sister had a warm, playful relationship with its healthy give and take just as the Irving Berlin song describes. But then came school.

Her sister was almost three years older. The elementary school put a three-year chasm between them as absolute as the one between Lazarus and the Rich Man in the afterlife. The lower and upper grades rarely mixed, and when they did, her sister treated April exactly the way she treated every other person in her grade: she ignored her.

What had happened? School had happened.

No. What happened was that particular school had happened.If she had gone to a different school with a different philosophy, her experience might have been entirely different.

I know, because my kids do go to a school with different policy, and that chasm didn’t happen.

I had the exact fears that Hoopes described. I didn’t want my kids’ relationship with each other to be disrupted. I didn’t want them to be forced into artificial boxes. I didn’t want them to be segregated, and I didn’t want them to start thinking of home life as something foreign and oppressive.

Imagine my delight, then, when I learned that our school made a deliberate effort to encourage people of different ages to mingle with each other. There are regular school-wide projects and activities — plays, gardens, concerts — and the older kids read to and mentor the younger kids, and kids from different classes can invite each other over for lunch. They work together and play together, and they are openly encouraged to learn from each other.

They also constantly invite the kids to share the culture of their homes with the rest of the class. Familyfamilyfamily is a constant theme — so much so that it’s almost obnoxious how much the kids are applauded for simply having a home life. There’s something to be said for all this talk about “tolerance” and “multiculturalism.” In our case, at least, it translates into kids thinking and talking about their home life, and being told that they should be proud of it.

We also spent a year at a frankly mediocre regular public school, which we left when we could, because the academics were not great. But guess what? They had a similar policy: encouraging mingling between ages, and encouraging kids to bring their home life into the classroom. The same goes for my older kids’ public high school: more and more school administrators are realizing that it benefits everyone when there isn’t an artificial segregation by age. They encourage the kids to see themselves as whole people with a life outside of school,.

So why was I so afraid? Because my own school education was much like what Hoopes says he and his wife went through. I remember how wonderful it was to be in second grade and to be able to jeer at those babyish first graders. They fostered competition between grades with constant contests and tournaments. I am sure many schools still operate this way, because it’s just easier.

Hoopes clearly remembers a similar experience, saying:

The artificial environment of the modern school in each case created pressures that worked against the little versions of Tom and April. The model offered no in for socially challenged little Tommy, and it offered no out for the socially adept April and her sister — no way to meld the social identity with the family identity.

By the time we showed up, schools had ceased being places that complement home life. They had become places that contravene home life. John Dewey and his followers did that purposely.

So, yes, I know what he’s talking about. But here’s the thing: I’m not sending my kids to the public school of my own childhood. I’m sending them to the public schools that exist now, in our area, with the teachers that are teaching now, under the authorities who are making decisions now. If I assumed, as Hoopes seems to, that my childhood school experience is the school experience, I’d still be home schooling, and we’d all be miserable.

Hoopes says:

I hated school. I hated sitting still. I hated being forced to negotiate the politics of 8-year-olds’ social relationships. I hated having to figure out what version of an answer a teacher wanted. I hated feeling ripped in an untimely way from the world I knew and placed in an artificial world I knew not.

I would invite Hoopes to visit our school, and see the bin full of “fidgets” the kids can play with while they work, or to see the list of activities posted in the hallway, where kids can take a few minutes to blow off steam by crab-walking up and down when math or geography gets too oppressive for their little monkey brains. I invite him to sit with any of our teachers as they explain the various adaptive teaching styles they use while seeking the best match for each kid’s learning style. They’re doing a much better job than I ever did when I was the teacher, and they’re more patient with my kids, too.

More to the point, I invite him to go to his own local schools and find out what they’re actually like. Maybe he already has, and maybe they really are terrible. Maybe they’re sterile warehouses where the teachers apply mental clamps to the kids’ pliable psyches. Maybe they begin each morning by pledging allegiance to John Dewey and vowing to repudiate faith and family and apple pie, or they get no pudding. Some schools really are like that.

But some are not. They really, really aren’t; and the only way you’ll find out what your local schools are like is by going into them, talking to the teachers, watching a classroom in action, and talking to the parents of other students. Make your conclusions based on what is actually happening now, not what you remember, what you’ve heard, or what you’re afraid it might be.

If you’re home schooling and it’s going well, then great! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But if you’re unhappy home schooling and yet feel sure that all the alternatives are going to be hellish — or if you’re in the business of telling other people what all public schools are like — maybe think again.

If you’re going to be in charge of teaching your kids how to learn, you have to be willing to learn yourself.


Confession book winners!

Thanks for entering the raffle, everybody! The winners of A Little Book about Confession for Children by Kendra Tierney are . . .

Julie Fico Weyant and Corita Ten Eyck!

I’m emailing the winners using the email addresses provided to Rafflecopter. If you don’t hear from me today, please email me (simchafisher at gmail dot com) with your physical address, and I’ll have your books sent out to you.





What’s for supper? Vol. 25: More 2 Life than flavored rice

Here’s the deal:

Meatloaf, FANCY rice, Brussels sprouts

Not bad for a meal I threw together at the last minute, somehow having not realized until 5:00 that I would be making dinner that day. I more or less used Fannie Farmer’s meatloaf recipe, but I cook it on broiler pans, not in loaf pans, so the grease drains off.

The fanciness of the rice is just chicken broth instead of water. The kids think this is the best best best, which makes me feel kind of like I felt when the upstairs neighbor’s ice machine broke and flooded the duplex, and the kids woke up to see pots and bowls all over the place to catch the drips, and they said, “Mama . . . is it a party?” No, children. You really can expect more than this out of life.

Grilled ham and cheese, chips or something, broccoli

I feel like we were busy doing something on Sunday, but I don’t know what. There was some of this:

[img attachment=”92862″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”mask” /]

which set the tone for the week.

Homemade pasta! Homemade sauce! 

My mother-in-law ordered something from a catalogue, but they sent her a pasta maker in error, and they said to just keep it, so she gave it to us. Good thing, because this was vacation week and we ended up being sick all week and the van was (still is) in the shop, and we didn’t do an-y-thing.  So turning the crank was pretty much the peak of our excitement.

I chose a pasta dough recipe from a site that sounded authentically Italian. But I’ve been to Italy, and I don’t remember the spaghetti being a bunch of scaly, greasy chunks. So we scrapped it and started over with this more reasonable recipe. The secret ingredient is enthusiasm:

[img attachment=”92863″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”pasta sophia” /]

plus rapt attention:

[img attachment=”92864″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”pasta lucy” /]

a hearty helping of anticipation:

[img attachment=”92865″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”pasta irene” /]

and triumph:

[img attachment=”92866″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”pasta hoorah” /]

and then Benny needs a turn:

[img attachment=”92867″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”pasta benny” /]

Gosh, I’m enormous.
Note: when you turn the crank slowly, you get a sheet of pasta with lines on it, rather than actual separate spaghettis.  Just shoo the kid out and run it through the machine again.

Since we made a recipe times twelve and I had forgotten that it was a radio day, we were rushing like anything, so I didn’t run the dough through the machine 6-9 times as recommended. So the final product was a little less compact then it might have been. Still, homemade pasta!

[img attachment=”92868″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”handmade pasta” /]

Clara made the sauce from scratch, too.

The pasta-making was fun, time-consuming but not hard, and we’ll definitely be making ravioli one of these days when we have more time. It’s probably only worth using the machine if you’re planning to make some special recipe, like mushroom-stuffed ravioli with basil-infused dough or something, or if you’re hoping to build happy kitchen memories. It is a lot of work, and spaghetti is spaghetti.

Chicken pesto pasta, garlic knots

[img attachment=”92869″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”chicken pasta pesto” /]
I briefly considered transferring my food to a real plate for the photo, but decided life is too short.
We used up the rest of that miraculously cheap chicken from last week. This isn’t real pesto, just chopped up basil and garlic and olive oil, with a little salt and pepper and lots of Parmesan cheese. Mix together with chunks of poached chicken and farfalle. Not thrilling, but pretty good.

Garlic knots because pizza dough was on sale.

Halmonee chicken thighs, rice

I’m not even going to include the recipe, since I screwed it up so bad. I didn’t have all the ingredients and messed up the proportions. The taste was great, but the overall effect was . . . drippy. Also, I burned the rice. Then my husband got home late, so I reheated the chicken by frying it, which improved the texture somewhat. I also fried the rice, and re-burned it. Not an improvement.

But the flavor was good! I think I’ll try again next week.

Hot dogs, veg and hummus, baked beans, birthday cake

Thursday was sweet Corrie’s birthday. I haven’t made a cake from scratch in a million years, so I thought I’d give it a shot. This one-bowl recipe turned out just fine. A nice, rich flavor, and you really can make it all in one bowl. Really only minimally harder than using a mix. The only thing was that, as the reviewers warned, the layers in glass and metal stuck in the pan, but the silicone pan layer came out easily.

Corrie helped me clean the bowl:

[img attachment=”92871″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”corrie head in bowl” /]


[img attachment=”92872″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”corrie head in bowl 2″ /]

Oh, happy birthday, you sweetheart.

[img attachment=”92873″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”corrie head in bowl 3″ /]

I used this recipe for chocolate frosting, and realized with nanoseconds to spare that that is not cocoa powder, that is your daughter’s cappuccino mix!!!!! That would have been a birthday to remember: a fully caffeinated cake for a one-year-old at 7 PM. So I just used the little bit of cocoa powder I had left, plus almond extract, and it had a pleasant flavor, if not super chocolatey. Whew.

[img attachment=”92870″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”frosting benny” /]

When I piled the light brown frosting on top of the cake to spread it, Benny asked with interest, “Is that tuna?” Okay, that would have been a birthday to remember.

Just tuna, I reckon. Maybe popcorn.

Not having a vehicle all week made me realize that I stop at the store to pick up food really often. There’s hardly anything left in the house! This meal planning stuff is all a sham.



Ella Fitzgerald, Ephraim Kishon, and Nucky Thompson

I know I just did one of these, but I have four (4) unfinished posts that I started today that I can’t seem to finish, plus one finished one that is the best thing I ever wrote, only it is called “What To Do When a Lot of Ladies Are Mad at You on the Internet,” and it’s Lent, so I can’t post it.

[img attachment=”92782″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”tears resize” /]


I’m watching  . . .

Boardwalk Empire, season 2

I almost gave up on this after the first season, because even though it’s gorgeously shot and the setting, costumes, and soundtrack were a constant feast for the senses, I hated all the characters, couldn’t deal with the extraordinarily violent violence, and also had no idea what was going on. In the second season, they fixed the first and third problems — whittled the million byzantine plot lines down to a manageable five or six intelligible ones, and made most of the characters way more interesting and way more relatable, and the ones who weren’t salvageable, they just shot. It’s still uberviolent, but it earns it now.

Here’s the opening sequence, so beautiful and worth watching every time:

They also managed to have a few episodes without any ridiculously explicit sex scenes. Glad I stayed with this show! I loves me some Steve Buscemi, and I finally figured out where I’d seen the fascinatingly lovely Mrs. Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald) before: she played Evangeline in Nanny McPhee.

Boardwalk Empire is on Amazon Prime. Recommended, if you don’t mind watching HBO-type shows.


I’m reading . . . 

My Family Right or Wrong by Ephraim Kishon

[img attachment=”92783″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”ephraim kishon” /]

Just got this in the mail today, so I haven’t started it yet, but I have high hopes (thanks for the recommendation, Staša!). Unfair to Goliath was so crazy and funny and weird. Ridiculous satirical essays about Israel in the 1970’s, translated from Hebrew. If you like the kind of stuff I write when I’m half in the bag, that’s me channeling Ephraim Kishon.


I’m listening to  . . .

nothing. I got nothing. Who can recommend something for me? I was awake from 4:30 until at least 7 this morning with “I Was Doin’ All Right” playing my head.

Not a bad soundtrack, but I would rather have been sleeping.


Please just sell me a shirt

Hey, Land’s End? Hey, everybody who sells stuff? How about just . . .  selling stuff? I have money, and I want to use it to buy things. When I support a cause, I’d like to be in charge of that myself. I don’t want you to do it for me. I want to buy a shirt for its shirtiness, and nothing else. So maybe stop trying to sell me anything else, when you’re in the shirt business.

Read the rest at the Register.


Let’s hear it for my mother-in-law!

Why? No particular reason. I just realized on a Tuesday afternoon in February, nearly twenty years after I first met my mother-in-law, that she’s one of my favorite people. Let me introduce you to Nana, with a few of her choice Nana sayings:

1. “You don’t have to step in it to know what it is.”

Pretty self-explanatory, immensely useful. Sometimes it’s the right time to formulate a precise, well-researched argument about how you’ve formed your opinions; but sometimes, life is just too short. Sometimes you can trust yourself to identify a steaming heap of no-thank-you-please without having to put yourself right in the middle of it.

-But have you read Donald Trump’s book? How do you know it’s so bad if you haven’t even read it?
-Hey, I don’t have to step in it to know what it is.

2.”Where’s your facade??”

This is for when you’ve just come away from dealing with a bunch of people who are miserable, grasping, venal, self-serving, petty tyrants, and that’s fine, that’s fine . . . but they don’t even bother to hide it. Don’t they realize that a false verneer is what makes society operate smoothly? In the name of all that’s decent, my fellow crapweasels, strap on that mask so we can get something done here!

3.All girls are “toots”; all boys are “kiddo.” If you’re too distracted to know if it’s a girl or a boy frantically tugging at your pant leg, “sugar booger” will do. I know who you are! I just don’t happen to know what your name is. Handy for people who love their children very much, but haven’t slept in four decades.

4. There is no such thing as too many chocolate chip cookies. Not a direct quote, just an unstated truth. And no, it’s no use getting her recipe and trying to make them yourself. It won’t be the same.

5. “What is this, a cruise ship for kids?” This is the standard comment when you’ve trained your children to enjoy the finer things in life, like lying around on their ears watching Road to Rio and eating raw ramen out of the package. You suddenly notice that it’s almost dinner time and civilization is crumbling around your ears. What is this, a cruise ship for kids? For crying out loud, at least put pants on.

6. “There’s no such thing as a coincidence.” Uttered with a quiet menace that will make your blood run cold, especially if you’re a kid who just happens to be standing around holding a golf club which is completely unrelated to the enormous, angry welt forming on your brother’s forehead.

7. “That’s how the man from New York lost an arm.” Mysterious in origins, surprisingly effective. One time, we were sitting at a baseball game and there was rowdy bunch of obnoxious little boys behind us, no parent in sight. They were throwing stuff and punching and kicking us in the back and about two inches away from making something awful happen. My husband turned around and informed them quietly about the man from New York. For whatever reason, that did the trick. Model citizens until the seventh inning at least.

8. “They spell ‘culture’ with a K, know what I mean?” Actually, I have no idea what this means. I think I’ll go to my grave not knowing what it means.

9. Drink whole milk, not skim milk. Don’t you want to be big and strong?

10. Come stay with us; there’s plenty of room. Remember that scene in Lewis’ The Great Divorce where he sees a gracious, glorious women coming toward him, surrounded by hosts of frolicking spirits and devoted children singing, scattering flowers, and doing her honor?

“Is it? … is it?” I whispered to my guide.

“Not at all,” said he. “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”

“She seems to be … well, a person of particular importance?”

“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”

[…]”And who are all these young men and women on each side?”

“They are her sons and daughters.” “She must have had a very large family, Sir.” “Every young man or boy that met her became her son-even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.”

“Isn’t that a bit hard on their own parents?” “No. There are those that steal other people’s children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.”

“And how … but hullo! What are all these animals?

A cat-two cats-dozens of cats. And all those dogs . . . why, I can’t count them. And the birds. And the horses.” “They are her beasts.” “Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much.”

“Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love….

Yup. That’s Nana.


5 things I’ll never do over February vacation (and three I just might)

The other day, I mentioned to the lady at the post office that we were starting February vacation. She said, “Ooh, where ya going?”

Going? We don’t go places. We spend all our non-vacation time going places. Going, going, going. Vacation is when you get to stay home. Vacation is when you get to get up at five forty-arghhh o’clock because the baby is hitting you in the face with the collected works of P.G. Wodehouse, rather than because the alarm is going off, and you feel like some kind of degenerate hedonist because of it.

Still, I don’t want vacation week to just slip by in an undifferentiated miasma of Netflix and afternoon corn flakes. So far, I have managed to take one (1) shower and get most of the way dressed (upper front quadrant, I haven’t forgotten you!). The kids are watching something odious on Netflix and the dog is eating corn flakes out of the garbage. But it isn’t dark yet! There’s still time to make a pointless list.

Things that will absolutely not happen:

1. Finish sewing that cloak. Most of my kids have homemade cloaks that I’ve sewed over the years, a project which severely strains the limits of my seamstressness, because unlike curtains, cloaks have some curvy parts.  I should have sat contented with the miracle of actually making the darn things; but recently, I foolishly promised to take them to Jo-Ann so they could pick out trim that I would then sew on. This we did, and I got as far as pinning the trim on with many pins, bundling the cloak up, stuffing it in a bag, and hanging it on the wall, where it now remains like a prickly punching bag of guilt. I’d like to get it done sometime before the kid realizes he’s kind of old to be wearing a cloak, but I’m afraid that if I open the bag, the pins will fall on the floor and the baby will eat them.

And I just love my child too much to risk it.

2. Put the Christmas stuff up in the attic. This would be fairly easy. I just don’t want to, okay?

3. Finish painting the dining room. I started stripping the wallpaper three years ago, and I started painting eight months ago. It is now about 80% of the way done, and that’s the way I like it, apparently. Sure, it would be great if my husband could take a photo of a birthday party without me knocking the camera out of his hands and screaming, “Nooooo, you can’t have that wall showing!” but on the other hand, if I get to the end of the project, something something something. I will probably die, apparently.

4. Get caught up on correspondence. I already used up most of my life force by clicking on the little “star” button every time I get an important message. What more do you people want from me?

5. Do something about this feature of my kitchen counter:

[img attachment=”92414″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”paper pile” /]

so I can find and organize all those unpaid bills I lost track of, and also throw away all the pictures me four-year-old drew of her and me holding hands, because I can’t save all of them. And Straighten Out the Insurance Situation. Oh, hoop de doo, I will get right on that and not cry at all. *sob*

Well, that’s about enough of that. Here are some things that actually might happen this week:

1.Make homemade ravioli. This is not a realistic goal, but I did tell the kids that we would do it, so now we have to.

2.Finally, finally call the church and see about volunteering, because our pastor has that look on his face again, and someone has to do something. Actually, my real goal is to worm my way into the inner circle where the real influence is, and then I can get them to find another spot for that bucket of rock salt in the foyer, which Corrie wants, with all her heart, to eat.

3.Go ice skating. We’ve done this twice so far, during previous February vacations, and it was actually far less horrible than I expected. The first time, I was eight months pregnant, and they told me to get off the ice. The second time, my son fell and sprained his wrist, so we got had to leave. Don’t ask me what I was expecting, but it was worse than both of those.

In conclusions: Why do they even have vacation in February? Why don’t they just skip it altogether? February, I mean.