Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Tough Times for Preschools

Today's front page of The Washington Post (below the fold), warned of dire space shortages at area preschools.

For years, I have heard and read about parents jockeying to get their kids in a good preschool -- sleeping in cars to ensure their place in line on registration day. This article focuses on the lack of space for preschools more so than the competitive drive of the parents. This article focuses on the immigrant population, the quotes at least come from parents not born in the U.S.

The article makes a few comments about the need for preschool --

Local officials attribute the crunch to a soaring demand for preschool, fueled in part by immigrant parents who live inside the Beltway, tend to have larger families and have become more aware of the benefits of preschool. Studies have shown that children who attend preschool generally have higher success rates in elementary school and beyond.

and this

She said the families she works with have high birthrates and are increasingly aware that preschool is an investment in their children's future.
"But when the family gets that awareness, they turn around and
there's no center," she said.

Why is preschool necessary and why are immigrant populations becoming aware of its necessity? Is it possible that someone is bullying them into thinking that they are inadequate to teach their children colors, numbers and letters? I don't know, but personally, I like William Raspberry's approach better.

But I am convinced that all the other things we do will have limited impact unless we also undertake to enhance the competence of our children's first and most effective teachers: their parents.

He has started a small program that focuses on the home:

Baby Steps, I call it, and the major aim is to help parents understand the critical value of what they do at home. We try to do it by teaching parents of young children -- birth to age 5 -- some of the tricks for getting them ready for learning and for life. And we try to make it fun.

Back to the preschool article -- it continues to address potential solutions to the dearth of preschools:

Some states have begun to consider universal preschool: Georgia has it, and Florida is working toward it.

I'm not sure how Universal Preschool will solve the problem of lack of space for preschools. Maybe the government takes over and can use imminent domain to force the reticent churches to give over their space for preschool?

Hmmmm...I wonder how those universal preschool efforts are going in Georgia and Florida? I don't think everything is hunky dory and in other states considering it, there are some serious fights going on. Certainly, universal preschool is not a magic bullet.

What goes on in preschool that is so important?

On a recent afternoon at a center on Mount Vernon Avenue, one of the two that will close, children called out numbers and colors with a teacher as their mothers looked on.
I always thought that an involved parent can cover stuff like that at home. Read about preschool and see what goes on at a typical preschool -- its not that big of a deal. Certainly not worth sleeping in a car, if you ask me. (And if you want to read about what is wrong with preschool, I wouldn't stop you) As to 'socialization' (assuming you don't examine the issue and decide there is a greater downside to preschool socialization than there is an upside), there are always playgrounds where your child can get sand thrown in her face or pushed over for a shovel.

Morena Parada, a Salvadoran immigrant who is an assistant at the center, said that enrolling her daughter Diana, 4, there has enabled her to work and has taught her daughter to get along with others.
Aha -- its a daycare issue. Lets call it what it is. An ancilliary issue -- if the government took over and provided Universal Preschool, standards for teaching and assisting would follow and if this woman didn't have the time or money to get the required credentials, she could lose her job. So much for helping the immigrant population.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Educational Philosophy from the Rafters

The Washington Post leads today's edition with a front page story on an 'alternative' high school in Maryland. Its a 'free school' in which kids aren't compelled to do anything -- no tests, no mandatory class attendence, no gold stars. And the kids are hanging from the rafters -- seriously, they put a big picture on the front page, above the fold. (If you want to see that picture, you need to click the link to the article and then click on the picture of the little girl looking at the snake and it will take you into the photo gallery. Whats up with the little girl and the snake? The print addition leads with kids hanging from the rafters and the on-line version shows a little girl looking at a snake -- how Biblical). Anyway, I'm detecting the message "If you don't compel kids to learn, they will be hanging from the rafters." The horror, the horror.

I don't see anything in this article worthy of a diatribe and that is a bit disappointing. I would like to add a bit of information about this type of school. While the article does trouble itself to mention the Sudbury School in Vermont from which the Fairhaven School, featured in the Post article, derives its educational model, it fails to mention A.S Neill's school in England and his book about it (hey, if its not American, why discuss it, right?).

Summerhill give a lot of background about this educational philosophy and even troubles itself to discuss why its not always successful with teens who have been in conventional schools all their lives. Basically, some are so trained by the stick and carrot of conventional school, that they have lost their internal motivation to learn (this can be overcome, but often it takes years of deschooling to get there. I guess it took me at least 8 years after law school.) Anyway, for those who want to go beyond the in-depth reporting of the Post to learn more about this philosophy, I'll provide a link to the Summerhill school's website, and some links to my own posts about the book, here on unclimber.

Interesting, seems Sudbury sees some differences between itself and the Summerhill school, so maybe my links miss the point. (The Sudbury School website allows for searching, which I briefly did, using the term Summerhill). Regardless, I think Summerhill makes for an interesting read.

Excuse me while my children and I climb the walls.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Homeschooling Support from Unexpected Places

In an opinion piece in The Washington Post in which a couple of dames try to dismantle the myth of 'The Boy Crisis,' I have found statements that I think are supportive of homeschooling, though I doubt they were meant to be.

To demonstrate the timelessness of the concern over boys in school, the authors cite a quote from the early 1900s:
In Congress, Sen. Albert Beveridge of Indiana railed against overeducation. He urged young men to "avoid books and in fact avoid all artificial learning, for the forefathers put America on the right path by learning completely from natural experience."

Well, I certainly agree, though I extend this to girls as well -- my own, in fact.

This piece does make me giggle. I don't pass judgment on whether there is a boys crisis or not, I have girls, what do I know? I have seen a lot of posts on homeschool lists about the negative effects school has had on all students (of course, that is why they turned to homeschooling). I don't think life is easy for any kids in school.

Anyway, the authors question whether there really is a crisis.
The boy crisis we're hearing about is largely a manufactured one, the product of both a backlash against the women's movement and the media's penchant for continuously churning out news about the latest dire threat to the nation.

Personally, I think its just filler until another hard-hitting, news article about the Mommy Wars is written.

The opinion piece goes on to allay any fears that parents of boys may have -- turns out that white suburban boys are just fine (phew!), its the inner city and rural boys who are having the problem. No solution is offered for their problems, it seems it is enough to know that if you're white and living in the suburbs (like perhaps much of the paper's readership), then you really don't have to worry about the boys crisis. I think I'm overly sensitive, but it strikes me as offensive that the authors suggest there is a problem and then don't address it. I'm being unfair, they simply frame the problem differently -- they see the problem as white suburban parents worrying about their sons and the solution is not to worry.

The opinion piece rounds to its point, that boys-only institutions are really not needed to address the boys crisis, because there is no boys crisis (for suburban white males).

Have you ever talked to a feminist about the value of single-sex education for females? I used to be very against the idea, feeling that society is comprised of both men and women and its good to have them together in class because you'll have to deal with them together in 'the real world.' A friend of mine (a Smith alumna) sold me on the benefits of women-only colleges -- I'm not a proponent of them, but I no longer disagree with the concept philosophically. Of course I can't, I'm a homeschooler and my old argument could be turned against me -- why don't you put your kids in school, they'll have to deal with other people throughout life? (of course, as homescholers, we deal with other people everyday, just not agemates in a cell block). The argument doesn't really work in a homeschooling context because adults generally don't act like elementary or middle school students. We may have to put the kids in high school though, since adults do tend to act like high schoolers.

But, I digress. I don't know if the authors consider themselves feminists and even if they do, they may not think that single-sex education is good for women. And even if they do, they still have a right to think its not a good idea for boys. I guess I could read their book.

The piece ends with a ringing endorsement of homeschooling (albeit unintentional):
Obsessing about a boy crisis or thinking that American teachers are waging a war on boys won't help kids. What will is recognizing that students are individuals, with many different skills and abilities. And that goes for both girls and boys.
And that is why I homeschool.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Homeschool Field Trip -- Potato Chip Heaven

We had an awesome field trip on Saturday to the Route 11 Chip Factory. (My DH found this by perusing a website that lists factory tours available across the US). Odd that its listed on the factory tour page since it expressly says on its own page that it does not offer factory tours. But you can watch guys stir big potato fryers with a rake and sprinkle salt over a trough of freshly fried chips (the bottom picture pretty much sums it up).

Of course, you could also sample different flavors of potato chips. As I asked my DH when he proposed the trip "so we're going to take a one hour car ride to go eat potato chips?"

The factory was a bit underwhelming, but its good to get out and we eat lunch at a restaurant down the street, the Wayside Inn. I impressed the maitre'd by asking if a particular piece was a linen press or a book press (thank you, DAR, for the docent training). He offered to let us see a few of the rooms after our lunch. Of course, he was hoping to sell the place to us for a future stay, but I like to think he was impressed by my interest and knowledge in Colonial period home furnishings. The building was rather neat and we got to see a well from the 1740s.

After leaving Middletown, we headed for Sky Meadow State park and walked up a hill. It was good exercise after eating all those chips, but DH took the brunt of it because Gabrielle wanted to be carried. I think it lifted his spirits when I started to hum the theme from Rocky, though I was not thinking of the running through Phildelphia scene from the first, but the dog-sled pulling training he did in the fourth. I'm sort of disturbed that I'm this familiar with the Rocky franchise.