Monday, June 14, 2010

Kid Power

My son's school is closing, due in part to tough economic times and a big mortgage. Luckily for us, one door closed and another opened. One of the parents decided to open a mini-school in her home. (No payments for space will make it much easier for this school to survive.) It's very exciting to be in on this as it forms. I've been studying educational alternatives since I was a teenager, and I have lots of resources to offer.

We will probably set up a school blog or wiki, or something, but meanwhile I'm going to start linking to good posts here. I think this post about kids changing the food system will be exciting for the parents and interesting for the kids (who are mostly 8 years old). My favorite part:
[Orren] Fox has twenty-seven hens and four ducks in Newburyport, 35 miles north of Boston. Last year, he started O’s Eggs, a small farm business selling eggs for $5 a dozen.

That Sunday, he held one of Novak’s hens, which he used to discuss chicken anatomy. He pointed out the crop, where food goes to be digested with the aid of swallowed rocks, the comb (he suggested using Vaseline in winter to keep it from freezing) and tail, where the hen produces wax that she uses to clean her feathers. “If your hen looks like she doesn’t have a head, she is probably just cleaning herself,” he said to laughter.

His love of chickens started early. At age nine he was a volunteer cleaning chicken coops at a local farm, learning all he could about the birds. Then he adopted his own flock. After choosing chickens as the subject of a school research project, “I found out how horribly most hens in this country are raised,” he said. “I know chickens are smart, they have personalities, and opinions. I am not ok with what I consider mistreatment of these cool birds for cheap meat and eggs.”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Playin' Around With the Technology

On the phone with jd, and talkin' about the Mac. So I installed Google chat and so did he, and when his phone died, we did a video chat. My first ever video call, I believe. Here's a photo booth pic just before that.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

He's Reading!

John Spencer was musing on his blog, and wrote:
Joel catches onto phonics right now, but should he be reading?  [Joel is 5.]

After replying, I realized I wanted to write a post on my own blog, so I could find it later. Here's my revised version of my reply:

Homeschoolers (especially unschoolers) can tell you, there is no should about when they start. My son goes to a 'freeschool'. There are classes, but he doesn't have to go. He was in that almost reading stage for about two years. I remember my ecstasy when he 'read' Go, Dog, Go to me two years ago. (I helped with some of the words, and the rest he had almost memorized.)

It's just in the past month or two (he just turned 8) that he has picked up a book and read. The Wimpy Kid books are what did it for him. He pores over them, sometimes for hours. I wasn't sure how much he was getting, but then I bought him Mouse Tales, by Arnold Lobel, on Saturday. He read it that night, and the next morning read it out loud to me. Ahh... He's reading!

To me, the most important thing is liking it, so it wasn't hard to wait. We love books here, and I trusted he'd get there. But am I excited? Oh yeah!!!

He's at the stage where he needs 'beginning reader' books. Most really good kids' books do not have severely limited vocabularies. The writers write naturally, the way they would in telling a story to a young person. Some of the words will make a young reader stretch, but there's enough easier words that it's ok for a reader who's been reading for a while. My son needs books right now with limited vocabulary, and I haven't found many good ones. Arnold Lobel works magic. He writes good fun stories (check out Frog and Toad!) that a beginner can read.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Freedom Flotilla Update

A few days ago I linked to Starhawk's report on the Israeli attack. Here's her update in full.

Here’s just a short post as I’m currently teaching 14 hour days this weekend…my friend Caoimhe is still on the Rachel Corrie which I believe has just been intercepted by the Israelis.  All the others are now safe–Hedy apparently was sick and never made it on board and I can’t help but be thankful.  Anne Wright is back in New York–both she and Huwaidaa report that the women were treated brutally by the Israelis but are now safe and okay.  Another friend, Paul Larudee, was badly beaten but is now free.  Eyewitness reports are coming in which completely contradict the Israeli propaganda machine’s attempts to smear the flotilla activists.  Most horrifying–the autopsy report on the nine Turkish activists who were killed report that they were shot close range, several in the head and face, and multiple times.  The evidence is consistant with eye-witness reports of commandos attacking with intent to kill.    Below are some links to reputable sources:
UK Guardian article:  Gaza Flotilla Activists Were Shot in Head at Close Range
Michigan Peace Team–link to French video

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Racism in Well-Loved Children's Books

I read about a book a week to my son. We've read lots of wonderful books over the years. When he was younger, I made sure to have lots of picture books with Black characters, celebrating their lives. (My son is Black and Latino; I'm white. The Latino books have been harder to find.) Some were about escaping slavery, some were about civil rights, and many were just simple stories of children's lives. When we shifted up to mostly reading chapter books, I found a few good series: The Julian books and the mystery series starring Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs. There are also fantasy books, like The Moorchild, that address issues related to racism. (In The Moorchild the villagers react violently to a fairy child living among them, their fear of difference blinding them to any other possibility.)

We recently read two books by Lawrence Yep about families coming to the U.S. from China, which featured characters dealing with racism, with strength and dignity. (Mountain Light, set in the 1850's, and Dragonwings, set in the early 1900's.) Recently, though, we've read two books that made me cringe.

A dear friend gave us a book that is fascinating, sometimes delightful, sometimes terribly sad. King Matt the First, written in 1923 by Janusz Korczak, is translated from Polish.  In this book King Matt,  about ten years old, learns to govern his kingdom, becoming wiser as he gains experience. (In his first month in office, he commands that every child be given candy.) I like the character, and liked watching him grow, until the book introduced the 'savages'.

King Matt befriends King Bum Drum, an African cannibal king, and convinces him to stop eating people. The Africans are repeatedly called savages; they're depicted as quite smart, but backward. One of Kin Bum Drum's hundreds of daughters, Klu Klu, falls in love with Matt. When Bum Drum comes to visit Matt, she stows away in a crate and comes too. She is smart and wise, and saves the day many times. But the overall feel is of the white king Matt  liberating the savages by showing them civilized ways of living - colonialism unquestioned.

The next book we picked up was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. I knew what to expect in that one, because my son has watched both of the movie versions multiple times. I was hoping that reading it would give us more space for questioning things. Also, books are usually better than movies, so I was hoping for a bit more depth. (Nope.) The problem is colonialism again. The Oompa-Loompa's are officially white (page 76, "His skin was rosy-white, his long hair was golden brown, and the top of his head came just above the height of Mr. Wonka's knee." ), but...
So I shipped them all over here, every man, woman, and child in the Oompa-Loompa tribe. It was easy. I smuggled them over in large packing boxes with holes in them, and they all got here safely. They are wonderful workers. they all speak English now. They love dancing and music. They are always making up songs. (page 71)
I told my son it reminded me of slavery, of how the owners would say their slaves were happy. The Oompa-Loompas had previously lived in Loompaland, where they were being eaten left and right by whangdoodles. So once again we have the white 'hero' saving the natives. Doctor Doolittle has more of the same. I'd like to be able to read 'classics' to my son, but I'm much happier with contemporary novels.

Do you know of any 'classics' that show contact between different cultures, and don't glorify colonialism?


From Starhawk's blog, Dirt Worship:
Early Monday morning, at 4:30 AM  local time, commandos from an Israeli military helicopter assaulted the lead ship of the Gaza Freedom flotilla while it was still in international waters.  Soldiers droped from the air in full combat mode and fired live ammunition at the unarmed activists—killing somewhere between ten and twenty people and wounding dozens.
Israel has captured the ships, forced them into harbor at Ashdod in Israel, arrested the activists and embargoed the media.  They have not released the names of the dead.
If you have a TV, I suppose you knew this already. Here are the information and action sites she linked to:

I am sending this:
President Obama,

Can you stand up for what is right? Israel gets so much of its military money from the U.S. Now they've killed unarmed civilians in international waters.

I don't know how you sleep at night, with your decisions in Afghanistan. Now there is this, too.

I voted for a person I thought understood right and wrong.

Please do what is right.

Sue VanHattum