I’m feeling pretty cruddy today. In classic mom style, though, I saw a need and filled it: the dishwasher needed to be run, so I started loading it up.
Then around the corner strolled Bob (okay, fine. I didn’t ask his name; I’m making it up.) Also Donna, Jameel, Mitzi, and Edna (again, not their real names.) All five of them, with their segmented bodies and six legs each, scattered across the countertop.
“R and K!!! Get down here NOW!!!” I bellowed (as much as one can bellow while feeling ill.)
“What is it, Eema?”
“You two ate outside on the back porch. Fine. Then you left your dishes outside. So I called you to bring them in, which you did. Great. Know what else you brought in? ANTS! When you bring in dishes that were left outside, you have to rinse them immediately to make sure no insects have hitched a ride! Now they’re ALL OVER THE COUNTER! WHAT GIVES?”
By this point, Bob, Donna, Jameel, Mitzi, and Edna had been joined by at least a dozen other ants. I didn’t ask their names; it’s probably for the best, since I knew I was about to kill them. Down slammed the executioner’s dishcloth, and the ants were washed away in the sink.
“Sorry, Eema. I didn’t actually know that would happen,” said a child who will remain nameless (but not blameless.)
“Seriously? You didn’t know that if there was an ant inside the bowl when you brought it inside, it would crawl out of the bowl and into the kitchen when you failed to rinse it? Come on.” I huffed.
In a very small voice the child said, “Is there something I can do to help you now?”
An exasperated sigh from me, and then, “Just don’t do it again,” I grumbled as I turned back to the dishwasher. A lone ant marched along the cutlery tray, probably giving me the stink-eye; I popped in a detergent tab and closed the door.
Ed. note: He’s back! Did you know that Mr. December’s posts get higher stats than mine do? Anyhow, enjoy the next instalment in his gripping tale of woebraveryevidence-based research.
In my last installment I talked about our initial journey, and how we started to hit a wall with our kids. I had never taught before (well, I was a teaching assistant in university,) so there was a lot of making things up as we went. One idea was to set crushing expectations in order to catch up quickly and justify our life choices (and perhaps even our social status.) So no choices, but plenty of rewards and punishments. We figured that even if this failed, we could shift the blame to the children by talking about “grit” a lot (Read any Prof Duckworth paper on grit – do you see now how your failures are your own fault?) Maybe we could enroll them in a relaxation course so that they could internalize that high-stress schooling is a normal, acceptable occurrence. Anyways, rewards and punishments seemed awesome, and we used this to get past the initial objections from our kids. We had a few more problems though:
No way to punish K: She didn’t like computer games, and didn’t need a lot from us. Rewards and punishments also don’t help when skills or structure are the issue (as opposed to motivation). Her stubbornness also meant without buy-in there would be no progress. Anyways, we quickly understood why her teachers made like Elsa and just Let It Go.
N was a relentless optimizer: He loves computer games, so taking them away was an effective punishment. But he’d do the absolute minimum, juuuuust enough to meet the bar, with the minimum learning. He’d also ask questions like “okay, if I don’t do that, how much screen time do I lose?” so he could weight his options, and once you got past a threshold he would simply say “well, I don’t get screens today, so I won’t do any work either”. So despite his brilliance, progress was hella slow, and we knew extended conflict would grind down our relationship with him over time.
R was mostly doing fine: She was a great writer but needed time to write stories not do worksheets. She was behind but compliant in math, but had a lot of trouble focusing. Rewards and punishments didn’t seem fitting here either.
E was only 5: We eventually enrolled her in part-time online school. We added in a bit of math, but mostly we figured, meh, she’s 5.
In the last post, we had some early successes but now needed a new philosophy. Fortunately for me, I have a secret weapon against ignorance: extensive research. I have a high capacity for technical detail, so I got a dozen books on education & homeschooling, which I read cover to cover, as well as many research papers and a few education websites (my favourite was Alfie Kohn’s blog).
You may not have the time or interest, so here is my summary of my learning:
Public schools suck. Schools suck, including private schools, which suck in different ways. Your school sucks, and the way your children are taught sucks. Grades suck, competition sucks, and coercion sucks. The rewards you gave that you thought made you better than other parents also suck. If you teach at a school, maybe you don’t suck personally, but you probably do, and just listen to this teacher of the year talk about how he sucks too so don’t feel too bad. Even if your kids don’t suck when they enter school, they will by the time they leave, and if they don’t suck by some miracle they’ll be anxious and unhappy, go into the wrong fields to please you, burn out and then hate you later.
To summarize the summary: Modern education systems will produce the suckiest bunch of sucks who ever sucked and your kids will be personally be the suckiest of the bunch of sucks who ever sucked.
I don’t feel this way about the education system (they do a lot of things very right,) so I was surprised at how negative some sources were. Even worse, there was some publishing mishap where the chapters that deal with what to do differently were missing (it’s surprising how common this issue was.)
But whether you see it that way or not, this was a great result for me: I could not do worse.
Since my older two kids were, in postmodernist educational parlance, “sucking big time,” I had the luxury of choosing my path. With an Alfie Kohn video playing dramatically in the background, I took that 50% math test and put it in the garbage. That was the last grade I ever gave. I’m not saying grades aren’t important – they are so, so important – and here is a chart highlighting the value they have by age range:
Fucks You Should Give About Grades In Homeschool
0 + 0i
Just make up a bunch of grades and submit them to universities – what are they going to do, call your principal?
I did later understand better the power of review, which we do more of, and I still need to add in some testing for learning.
I kept hoping someone would recommend bringing spanking back, but no one did. Very few modern experts even advocated for reward/punishment based systems:they talked about being “student centric”—as if our previous education attempts were just for our own benefit.
Okay, all good. But what to do next? Stay tuned.
About the Guest Author: Mr. December is an engineer and homeschooling dad who also moonlights as a blogger sometimes. He likes data, writers who cite their sources, spreadsheets, and his kids. He also has great hair.
Our kids’ school careers began at Montessori. Every day N and K would come home and tell us how much fun they had, puttering around the classroom doing random materials with their friends, with no homework whatsoever. It didn’t seem rigorous enough. They needed something more: evenings of tear-filled pointless homework where we’d eventually do most of it for them. High pressure testing to give the school bragging rights. Music pieces that they hated with lots of difficult notes. Remember: if they’re not resisting practice, it isn’t rigorous enough. You’ll need shorter lunchtime and recesses to make room for all the rigor of course.
So we pulled our happy kids out of Montessori and put them into school #2, which was supposed to be more rigorous in both English and Hebrew curriculum. In terms of happiness it was perfect – both kids were miserable within weeks. But it wasn’t working academically. The math curriculum proceeded glacially, with one assignment asking the kids to write a story about 7×3 (true!). Most assignments were so abstract that I could not see what a right or wrong answer might look like (such as: “what are the physical and emotional state differences between two mountains?”), yet alone how I would do the work myself. In one math test, K got every number right and every spelling wrong – final grade: 50%. The best objection I could muster was to write “Grate Work” on her assignment when I signed the test.
Maybe we needed to face the fact that whatever the hell this school was teaching, my kids weren’t good at it. When the school complained K was late 19.0 times, I saw my opening. After asking repeated questions about why a float instead of integer – is there a way to be late 0.5 of a time? – I wrote a (spoof) email asking if she was the most late in the school, saying we were looking to find things she was good at to encourage her. But alas, talking to other parents, 19.0 was nowhere close to the record – several overachievers were late every single day. K’s dream was to be late 0.5 of a time, but they wouldn’t tell us the secrets of how to do so. We tried everything – just a minute late, half a day late, late but didn’t get the slip, late and then forget something in the car to be even later, but nothing worked.
The next year we switched the older two kids into a public gifted program (school #3), which was wonderful socially, but didn’t seem to help academically.
So along came COVID, the kids were home, and suddenly we could see clearly what was going on. Nothing. Nothing was going on. Our kids were terrible at school and did not know their fundamentals in math or writing. Oops, my bad.
Okay, so what to do – I figured the best thing was to back to rigor. Put the “fun” back in fundamentals. S said to forget public school – let’s try out homeschooling. Teach the basics, and once they learn their fundamentals, power them through the grades. And, perhaps surprisingly, it actually worked, in the short term – the math instruction and drills worked wonders, with the kids’ accuracy improving and their processing time cut in half. I was starting to think I could even work in a few humble brags. But then we hit the wall: they didn’t want to do two hours of Kumon every day plus the basics of writing.
Okay, no problem, I thought, I’ll make my own rigorous work. Math was easy: Every last Kumon math problem done correctly, in order, for a certain amount of time each day. That seemed rigorous enough.
Then I got stuck, as it turns out I didn’t know about anything except math. No matter, we created our four pillars of non-incompetence:
Math: A goal of being two years ahead. I figured that lofty goal would satisfy most people and then they’d forget about it.
English: No idea, but that’s S’s problem
Science: I could not remember anything I did in elementary or middle-school science. Did we even do chemistry? Was it just a bunch of digging in dirt? Wait – thermocline – I remembered that word, for when water changes temperature depending on depth. But I think that was grade 9, so I figured I’d wait to teach them that gem. For now, we just joined HENSE*
Everything else not in the other three: This is S’s problem, so I left it to her, with the only condition that it be rigorous
Now that we had a model, I figured I’d start with a math test: what could be better for rigorous evaluation? That would show the parents we’re not total idiots. So I used a New Jersey grade 5 math test, and then my son got 50%. He rushed through, didn’t know some terms, and there was this one question I had no idea how to solve either (see below).
So what should I do now? Punish? Reward? Unschool? Back then I saw unschooling as the opposite of rigor: sprinkle (sorry, strew) some books around and they’ll be 18 and out of the house in no time!
Stay tuned for the next installment of my journey.
Ed. note: Mr. December offered to change the last two words to “our journey”. I declined. The views expressed in this guest post are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent the views of all of us here at SweetCrunchyJewy. -S
We were at the supermarket checkout packing up our groceries. I was showing the kids how to bag items so that nothing gets squashed (“Guys, if you stack all the plastic clamshells from largest to smallest, you have a stack that won’t fall over and nothing will open accidentally.”) Suddenly, I heard a man’s voice behind us:
“Hey, guys? Just remember that you’re not the only people in the world, okay? Other people need to check out, too.”
When none of us even acknowledged his statement, he upped the ante: “Yeah, and that was the NICE WAY TO SAY IT!!!”
Here are the things I didn’t say to him (in no particular order):
“Neither are you.” (the only people in the world, that is)
“Oh! Your Majesty! I’m so sorry—I would never want to obstruct the royal procession! Please forgive your humble subjects!”
“(gasp!) You mean…” I’d look around furtively, then whisper, “there are others?“
“Oh, go love yourself.” (à la Justin Bieber)
“I’m trying to teach my children to be patient, and you’re setting a really bad example right now.”
“There are other people in the world, but no other checkout lines you could have used? How peculiar.”
“OMG, you sound just like my grade ten math teacher! Yeah…he was a jerk too.”
“I just upped my meds, so up yours.”
And my personal favourite:
“Damn! You distracted me and I did this bag all wrong! Now I’ll have to unpack it and start all over again!”
What did I say instead? Nothing at all. I kept my cool, ignored him, and went on with my day.
On the one hand, I wanted to ask my husband to go on without me, finish the hike, and then come pick me up with the car.
On the other hand, I wanted to kill him.
I was crouched on a hillside, trying to scoot my way down the hill without sliding in the mud or twisting an ankle. The ground was covered in thin pieces of stone, most of which were very loose. To make matters worse, the leaves on the ground made it nigh on impossible to tell where the ground was stable and where there were big holes. And did I mention that there was broken glass on the ground, too?
Eight kilometres doesn’t sound like a big deal, and it wouldn’t be if the path were both even and relatively flat. It wasn’t. The elevation map warned us of all the uphill and downhill sections, but the worst part of it was that most of the trail was very rocky. My ankle stability has never been good and my balance has been a bit off ever since my concussion; so you can imagine why I was already a bit peeved by the time Mr. December led us down this steep hill that was almost certainly NOT part of the trail.
Granted, there were a few fun moments; when we took the wrong path and ended up across the road from a country market and bakery, where we bought a strawberry-rhubarb pie and ate it with our bare hands; when we crossed the river near the top of the falls and I took off my shirt, soaked it in the water, and put it back on (aaaahhh, that’s better); when R and I walked along singing our favourite round:
“Black socks, they never get dirty! The longer you wear them, the blacker they get. Sometimes I think I should launder them; Something inside me says ‘don’t wash them yet.’ Not yet… Not yet… Not yet… Not yet.”
But there were far too many sections of trail where it was all I could do to focus on my footing. About halfway back to the car my legs were hurting and my balance was suffering. Of course, N was pretty miserable at this point, so I tried very hard to be positive and cheerful: “See, kiddo? We’re almost there. Soon we’ll be back at the car where there’s plenty of bottled water and air conditioning. Then we can kill Abba.”
As a parent, I want to model grit and mental toughness to my kids. I try not to wimp out of challenging activities. This hike may have broken me of that tendency.
“From now on,” I told him as I drove home, “I’ll walk in with you guys for about fifteen minutes. Then I’ll turn around and go back to the car, drive to the end point of the hike, and walk in about fifteen minutes to meet you.”
“That’s probably for the best,” he agreed, obviously trying to placate his wife who had only just stopped threatening murder.
“And now,” I intoned, “Let us never speak of this again.”
It’s that time of year again: time to fill out all the camp forms for the kids. Most of them are time consuming, but no big deal. Where I always get stumped, somehow, is at the immunizations.
For those of you who don’t live in Ontario: we have this antiquated system of keeping track of our immunizations. It’s this little yellow trifold card that we (or the doctors) fill in by hand with the date and which vaccines were given. That’s all I have to refer to when the camp asks me for the dates of every vaccination the kids have ever had. I’m sure the doctor’s office has this information in the kids’ files (which are, thankfully, now all computerized,) but that information doesn’t get shared with anyone. Not with me, and not with public health.
That’s why, when each of my kids was enrolled in grade one, I got a letter from Toronto Public Health threatening the kid’s suspension from school if we didn’t provide records of vaccination. The first time it happened I was baffled; The second time I was annoyed; and the third time I was fed up. Apparently after the doctor vaccinates the child and enters the information into their computer, the parents have to go home and enter the same information into the Toronto Public Health website… every single time the kid gets a vaccine. You’d think there’d be some way to opt-in to your doctor sharing the vaccination records with public health—but you’d be wrong.
Honestly, I have flirted with the idea of just telling the school and public health that I’m not vaccinating my kids on conscientious grounds. Of course I’d still have them fully vaccinated—I’d just be saving myself the duplication of labour.
Today as I put in the kids’ vaccination dates I noticed a few… irregularities. I had no record of K being immunized for chicken pox, even though I’m positive that we’ve never declined a vaccine that was offered. That’s the sort of error that comes of having the parent and/or doctor forget to update the quaint little yellow vaccination card. Now I’ll have to call the doctors’ office and have them spend even more time on this issue by generating lists of the kids’ vaccinations and emailing them to me (at least I hope they’ll email them to me, although most doctors won’t actually email confidential medical information. That’s why doctors here still have fax machines, another quaint reminder of a bygone and less efficient era.)
All of this to say that there has GOT to be a better system for sharing this information. A unique PIN for each child, perhaps, that the camp can input into a database to confirm that the child has had all required vaccinations? Something? Anything to advance our public health system past the days of carrier pigeons and fax machines?
After a full day of homeschooling and being available to the kids all the time, I finally had a moment alone. I went to the library, shut the door, and the moment I sat down—
Tap tap scratch
Someone was at the library door.
“NO!” I half-screamed, half-howled in frustration.
It was R, asking for screen time.
“I said ‘NO’! In what world does that mean, ‘By all means, please intrude on the first solitary moment I’ve had all day to ask me a question you could have asked your father, who was in the room you just left!’ GET OUT!!!!”
I’ll admit that, to my chagrin, I sounded a bit more like K in meltdown mode than I would like.
My kids have always misunderstood the purpose and correct use of doors. Leaving my bedroom door open when I’ve asked them to close it; slamming the door instead of closing it nicely (“Do that again,” I’d intone, “and I’ll take your door off its hinges. You don’t get the privilege of a door if you can’t use it properly.”); not knocking upon encountering a closed door; and now, failing to realize that a closed door means “I want privacy, so don’t bug me unless it’s an emergency.”
I’m thinking of adding “Door etiquette” to our ever-expanding life skills curriculum, right alongside “How to answer a telephone (hint: don’t just pick it up and listen)” and “Garbage cans and how to use them.”
In the meantime, I think I’d better go hug R. Then I’m going to find a good spot to be by myself for a little while; I hear the car is nice this time of year.
Hey, kids! Today we’re going to talk about nonverbal social cues. Ready? Let’s begin.
Pop quiz: when is it a good time to ask me a question? Is it: a) when I’m on the toilet b) when I’m on the phone c) when I’m under my desk with power tools, grunting and swearing d) any and all of the above
If you answered d) any and all of the above, you’re probably one of my children.
No, really. About an hour ago N came up the stairs to my desk and started asking me something. I know he had absolutely no way of knowing I was busy, since he couldn’t see my face or upper body, which were hidden under the desk. I guess when he saw my legs he figured I was simply lying down for a minute. Yup, just chillin’. On the floor. Under my desk.
I have to say that I wasn’t particularly surprised. I’d be hard pressed to count how often I say something like, “Take a look at what’s going on here. Does it look like I’m doing something?” And Mr. December is forever saying, “Come on, guys. Read the social cues!” And still the kids just come in and start talking, oblivious to whatever is already going on in the room.
In the spirit of explicit and direct instruction, I’ve created a flowchart. Enjoy!
I definitely don’t miss the plethora of emails we used to get from the kids’ schools… but I do miss the comic relief they provided. Here’s a look at some of the emails we haven’t received since our children left the school system.
Hello parents! Just a quick reminder that tomorrow is school colours day! (We told you about this special event three weeks ago by burying a one-sentence description somewhere in our weekly newsletter. You read those, don’t you?) The students have been assigned one of our four school colours based on the first letter of their neighbour’s dog’s walker’s name. Students should come dressed in their assigned colour. Don’t worry if you don’t have the right colours for your child to wear—we’ll supply them with a cheap paper streamer to tie around their upper arm so that everyone knows what team they belong to… for about five minutes, until the streamer rips and falls off. We can’t wait to share our photos of the day with you so you can see how uncoordinated most of the kids look when running the obstacle course. That ought to make you feel better about your own child’s athletic prowess (or lack thereof.) The assigned colours are as follows: A-F: Periwinkle G-L: Turquoise M-R: Ultramarine S-Z:Sapphire As always, thanks for supporting our zany endeavours to make the kids think school is as much fun as summer camp!
Dear parents, Lice has been detected in your child’s grade. Due to confidentiality issues we can’t share the name of the affected family, but your children will undoubtedly tell you that it was Joey. Again. Please refrain from giving his parents the stink-eye in the parking lot. We’d like to take this opportunity to recommend that you purchase either a fine-tooth comb and a Netflix subscription (all that combing takes a long time,) or else an annual membership package with Lice Squad or a similar lice-removal company.
Hi Mrs. December, I just wanted to touch base with you because N hasn’t handed in any of his homework since September 15. I tried informing you through the “notes” section in his agenda book, which I’m sure he showed you even though that probably would have resulted in negative consequences for him. Since it is now February 15 and you have yet to respond to those notes, I thought it might be time to e-mail you instead. Despite what the empirical evidence clearly indicates, worksheet-based homework is an essential element of any successful education. I’m sure that if you simply tell N you expect his homework to be done to a high standard we’ll see a complete turnaround in his work habits, so would you please talk to him? Thanks for your support, A. Teacher
This email is to notify you that your child has been late 18.0 times this month. As per section 42.b.(i) of the parent handbook, punctuality is of the utmost importance, as late arrivals disrupt the focus of the other children who are already well into their silent reading period, and of their teacher who is hurriedly trying to complete his lesson plans for the day. Please remember that class starts at 8:30 a.m. Starting at 8:25 we will begin directing students to the office for late slips, since there is no way they’d be able to make it to class on time (what with having to wait in line for late slips and all.) We appreciate your support in developing responsibility in our students, who of course are the ones in charge of the whole family’s timely egress from your house in the morning.
Hello Parents, This email is a reminder that tomorrow is Standardized Test Day at school. Since our funding hinges on our students’ scores, we implore you to put your children to bed early tonight and to actually feed them a nutritious breakfast in the morning instead of throwing a Pop Tart at their head as they walk out the door. We also ask that you remind your child that standardized tests only measure a small segment of their knowledge and skills. Children are so much more than their standardized test scores or report cards—they can also be used for unpaid manual labour! Students should never be distressed to the point of anxiety attacks about these tests. If they are experiencing severe anxiety, it’s probably because you’re an overbearing Tiger Mom. We thank you for your support and look forward to our students showing us their superior test-taking skillswhat they know. Sincerely, Your Principal.
Dear Parent, Your Grade Seven student has requested the privilege of reading books that are written for Grade Eight and up. In order to protect your child from any material you may deem inappropriate, we require your written permission for your child to read above their grade level. Thank you for helping us give bland Young Adult novels the allure of banned books! Literarily Yours, The School Librarian
Dear Parents, We are asking for donations of clean, single socks for our class fundraising project. Donations of spare buttons would also be appreciated. Please leave them at the front office, as your children cannot be trusted to not lose them between your car and the classroom door. Thank you in advance, The Grade Three teaching team.
Dear Parents, This Wednesday, the Grade Three students will be selling sock puppets they’ve made to raise funds for a children’s charity. We know that you’ll want to support their charitable endeavour, so please have cash in hand when you arrive for pickup on Wednesday afternoon. Also, please be encouraging to the students who will approach you about buying their puppets—we’ve deliberately given this job to our quietest, shyest students to help them come out of their shell. If you prefer not to support the third graders’ fundraising efforts, we urge you to re-examine your values and priorities. Only a terrible person would refuse to pay $5 for a sock with buttons sewn on. All the best, The Grade Three teaching team.
Dear Parents, After receiving feedback that the school sends too many emails, we have decided to set up an electronic notification system where you can see all of your school notices on one inconvenient webpage. Within the next two weeks, all school communications will migrate to the new system, which you can then check on a daily basis so you don’t miss anything important. Below please find your new login information.
Remember how I said my kids spend entire movies pointing out errors and inconsistencies? Well, it turns out that I’m no better.
I binge-watched Bridgerton this week and spent almost as much time yelling at the screen as I did enjoying the sumptuous costumes and sets.
The reason for the binge-watching, by the way, is that I seem to be fibro-flaring again. My arms are particularly bothering me right now, which means that pastimes such as quilting and fixing drawers need to wait. There’s nothing to do but watch. And criticize, of course.
“That’s not a Regency-era dance,” I rant to Mr. December, who was on his way to the fridge to get some water, “there’s far too much touching! And they’re too close together!”
“Write an angry letter,” he said, heading back to his basement office.
The crimes against music were perhaps the worst in my eyes. I’ve heard others call it “clever,” but I just can’t agree when, in a dance scene at a ball, the music is not only an adaptation of a pop song from 2020, but it doesn’t work with the dances at all.
One character declared that she and her husband were about to dance a waltz. Wonderful. Just one problem, though: Vivaldi’s Spring is not a waltz. Neither were the steps they were dancing: from where I sat, it definitely looked like a polka. I can’t figure out whether the producers are that clueless, or they just think their audience is.
And yet despite all its flaws and errors, I thoroughly enjoyed Bridgerton. But now it’s over and I need a new binge-worthy show. I’ll gladly take recommendations. Anybody?