Archive for the ‘Home-schooling’ Category

A Full Tank of Love

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Me and my boys!

I am so hung-over, but not from alcohol.  No, I am thirsty, tired, dizzy, and have bloodshot eyes because I danced, laughed and ate too much last night bringing in the New Year with my friends.  I know it sounds ridiculous; a hang-over from a friend induced stupor, but it’s true.  According to the Mayo clinic, “hangover symptoms typically begin when your blood alcohol drops significantly and is at or near zero.”  Well, my “blood friends” has dropped significantly, they have all gone home, back to their busy lives, and I am near zero right now. 

However, even though I am hung-over, my love tank is full.  And there is no better way to start the New Year with a full tank of love.

It all began at Orit’s gorgeous home.  I was in charge of the invites and planning, Orit took care of all the shopping and cooking.  She asked me to come over early to help her set-up.  I arrived at 6:15 on-time, ready to have a glass of wine while putting out the food.  OMG!  I was not prepared for what I saw.  Orit had just returned from Costco.  Boxes, packages, bags, unopened plates, napkins, and food were strewn all over the entire kitchen.  Guests were to arrive at 7 pm.  We had exactly 45 minutes to unpack, prepare the food, set-up and put the little plastic bottoms on the flutes of over 100 wine and champagne glasses.  But Orit was prepared.  She had an entire entourage helping out.  We unpacked, unwrapped, sorted, stocked, cleaned, prepped and set-up and entire party in 1 hour.  And, I had time for the glass of wine.  It was “Kitchen Impossible,” at its finest and it was remarkable, reminding me of what people can achieve when we work together. 

Food and friends. A perfect combo!

As friends arrived in their lovely New Years Eve attire, and brought their delicious dishes to share, I was struck by how lucky I am to be a part of this extraordinary group of people.  We have known each other for over ten years now.  I met each and everyone through homeschooling, which is truly the best decision of my life.  In fact, I really never called California my home until these amazing homeschooling families came into my life.  We moved to Laguna Niguel from Phoenix in 1999. I put my kids in a private school, made some friends, volunteered at their schools, put the boys in sports and hung out at the beach but I still longed for home until the day I showed up at the South Orange County Homeschool Park Day in Dana Point.  The rest is history.

Isis, Matt, Cyndi and Steve!April, Isis, Valerie and Raundi

Debi, Raundi, Amy, Stephanie, Carolyn, April, Diana, Isis, Orit, Cyndi, Liz, Clare and many many more shiny beautiful women changed the direction of my life that day.  We worked together making sure our kids got the best education possible.  Geography club, book groups, history classes, art classes, Destination Imagination, park days, beach days, camping trips, birthday parties, and last but not least, music!  We moved the couch and coffee table to make room for drums, amps and a PA system.  Thus, the birth of Daisy Chain!     

The Women

But not only did we educate our kids together, we were extended family!  These women became my life source.

April came to my home and gave me personal yoga lessons during times of incredible stress.  Isis delivered her warm homemade veggie soup to my door after my mastectomy. Diana kept me well fed during chemo, bringing me special Macrobiotic dishes she made especially for me.    Stephanie packed up my entire closet, carefully wrapping all my clothes in bags, getting me ready for our move.  Raundi and Michael stayed late after all my parties and helped clean every last dish before they left.  And, Carolyn while pet sitting, wrapped our Bearded Dragon in a cloth and put him in her freezer after he died to keep till we got home so the kids could give him a proper burial.  If that is not friendship I don’t know what is.  I cannot even begin to list all the things my friends have done for me.  I would need a book.

The grown up kids!

Riley and Lauren

 And our kids!  I have watched them all grow and evolve into the amazing people they are today.  Savanah graduated from Orange County High school of the Arts and is now at UCI getting ready to run the entire Hyatt Empire some day.  Ray and Riley are working their butts off in college, getting straight A’s.  Will is a baseball star on the San Clemente Varsity team.  Harrison plays a mean guitar and I am certain will be put Steve Vai to shame one day.  Casey’s is not only going to write the next Tom Clancy novel he is the next Dave Grohl in the making.  Megan and Maggie are our future JK Rowling’s.  Haley is an aspiring fashion designer who, I have no doubt, will have her stunning creations on the cover of the 2020 Vogue issue.  Aaron is pursuing a career in Electrical Engineering.  Rachel and Reid are learning to hang glide.  Nick plays football.  Marie dances like no one is watching.  Indigo, Zack, Lear and Conner are going to design the next “Call of Duty” and Max will continue to melt everyone’s heart.  There are so many more incredibly talented and sweet kids, but again, I would need an entire book. 

The reason we all homeschooled

Please bear with me while I get a bit sappy.  It feels magnificent to be a part of such a big wonderful family!  You all mean the world to me.  I am who I am because of all of you.  My children are who they are because of all of you.  My life is what it is because of all of you.  I love you from the bottom of my heart.  Thank you!

It also feels magnificent to have a full love tank right now.  However, I know it will get low again.  It is easy to get caught up in our crazy busy lives; each of us going off in our own directions, pursuing careers, following our art, our passions, as it should be.   

So, my New Year’s Resolution is to make sure we all get our love tank filled once in a while and keep this family going!  As promised last night in my friend induced stupor, the next party is at my house at the end of the month, date to be announced.  I will make the Costco run.  Orit, can I borrow your entourage?

 

A Patient Endeavor

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

 

The day the Endeavor flew over Maggie, I learned an important lesson. 

It was Friday morning.  I was in a mad rush; carpool, Mother’s Market, juicing, walking, etc.  I wanted to get everything done because I had a fun plan in store.  Maggie and I were going to climb the mountain next to our house so we could see the Endeavor fly over Disneyland at 12:00 noon.  With its spectacular views; the ocean, Catalina Island, the LA skyline, and Disneyland, I was sure this was the perfect spot and a perfect plan, until Maggie got hold of it. 

“What?!,” she said.  “I don’t want to miss park day!” 

I told her in typical mom fashion when trying to convince your child to do something they don’t want to do.  ”This is an historical event.  There will be other park days but this only happens once in a lifetime. I promise you will never forget it.”

“We can see it from the park, mom.” She said. 

She then added, “Please mom, I really really really don’t want to miss my friends.”

How can I say no to that?  I’m the Yes Mom.

Park day is truly important to her.  It is her favorite day of the week.  And, there were no promises that if we climbed the mountain that we would be able to see the Endeavor.  Then I would feel horrible.  We would miss the shuttle and park day.  So, we went to the park and I accepted the fact that I will just have to see the Endeavor at the California Science Center. 

But in our crazy morning rush, I did not have time to make lunch and we were both starving once we arrived at the park.  I decided I would drop her off at the park while I ran over to Native Foods to get lunch.  I asked a friend to keep an eye on her and jokingly stated,

“I will probably be standing in line at Native Foods, while the Endeavor does a fly-by right over the park.”

I guess I was still thinking that Maggie may be right and there is a small possibility that the Endeavor may fly over the park.  But it was 12:15, I was hungry and I was sure the Endeavor had already made its rounds and landed at LAX.

Well, my prediction could not have been more accurate.  Five minutes after I left the park, the Endeavor escorted by two fighter jets flew right over Bill Barber Park in Irvine.

I could not believe it.  But, I did believe it.

It reminded me of a bumper sticker I had on the back of my 78’ Firebird years ago when I was in college that read: 

When my ship comes in, I will be at the airport!

When we got home that evening, I told Riley and Casey the story.  I asked them, totally frustrated, “So, what was my lesson in all of this?”

Casey answered without a second to pause, “Patience.”

He was right.  Smart guy that Casey.  Patience has never been one of my virtues.  But I am learning.

It was patience, that finally got Maggie and I to the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, horseback riding in Socorro, shopping in Santa Fe, the Pueblos in Taos, hiking in Canyon De Chelly and four wheel’n in Monument Valley where a nice young Navajo man helping me with my luggage told me he would trade ten horses for me.

“Ten horses,” I asked. 

“Ten is a lot,” he assured me and then quickly changed his offer to twenty.

I like Monument Valley.

Last year, I had planned this exact same trip with Maggie.  We called it our Beacon of Light Tour but I soon realized that I was premature in my plans.  Just finishing chemo, three more surgeries ahead of me and a boat load of medical bills, we had to cancel the trip.   

It’s one year later and I am done with chemo, the surgeries are behind me and the bills, well two out of three is not bad.  

And, the trip?  The trip was exactly what the doctor ordered.

So, the moral of the story: patience my dear.

He that can have patience can have what he will…Benjamin Franklin

The two most powerful warriors are patience and time…Leo Tolstoy

Here are a few pictures from our travels that only patience allowed!

This is just the beginning.  We have more trips planned.

In time.

Enjoy!

Ready for a Road Trip!Grandma and Grandpa's Phoenix, AZ

 

The Array, New Mexico

Horseback riding with Aunt Barbara in Socorro

 

Hot Air Baloon Festival Night Glow, Albuquerque

 

Maggie, Taos, NM

 

Pueblos! I want to live here!

 

Canyon De Chelly, AZ

 

Four Corners

 

Canyon De Chelly White House Ruins

 

Canyon De Chelly tunnel to 1.5 mile hike to the bottom of the canyon

 

Monument Valley, UT, The View Hotel

 

Monument Valley - The place you can spread my ashes when I die!

Me!

 

Maggie and I in front of a male hogan.

 

Tear Drop, Monument Valley

 

Shining Eyes

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

 I wrote an article recently that was published in the Fall issue of the California Homeschooler Magazine about passion.  Pursuing my passions, my art, the things that make me get out of bed each morning (besides carpool) and make my heart beat double time are on the top of my priority list these days.  So, it seemed like a good thing to post my article and pass on to all of you what I have been learning.  

Shining Eyes

Passion, what is it exactly?  And, how does one get it?  Are you born with passion or is it developed and nurtured over time?  Can you get it like the chicken pox or does each of us have a special calling? I can’t seem to find any hard data that answers these questions but there are a lot of people with strong opinions on the subject.

Maya Angelou believes, “every person is born with talent.”  Ernest Hemmingway said, “It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.”  And William Shakespeare wrote, “…some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” 

From my own experience, it seems there are some people in this world that are innately drawn to certain things such as physics, writing, sports, music or fashion.  Like when Lady Gaga sings, ““My fashion is part of who I am, and though I was not born with these clothes on, I was born this way.”  But, do you have to be born this way?  Can you learn to love fashion?

I can’t help to wonder where my kids fit in on all of this when it comes to their musical passion.  All three of them are pursuing music in one way or another.  After many years of homeschooling, Riley is a remarkable bass player and now is taking on the stand-up bass.  Casey has been accepted into the commercial music conservatory at Orange County High School of the Arts for his drumming and Maggie, still homeschooling, is taking voice lessons and is the lead singer of Maggie and the Maggots.  In fact, all of them are in a band and all of them seem to have music flowing through their veins.

 

Music runs in the veins of both my family and my husband’s family as well.  My dad put himself through college playing in a rock ‘roll band during the 1950’s.  He currently plays in a jazz band and teaches bass lessons to a new generation.  My Mother-in-law has a master’s in music, directed many choirs over the years and currently plays the organ at her local church.  All of our siblings sing or play in one form or another. 

And, me, I love music.  It is a part of me.  I do not go a day without listening to Balkan Beat Box, The Civil Wars, Foo Fighters or the Black Keys.  I sing along to it in the car and dance to it as I clean the house.  I go to concerts, own a nice selection of CD’s and vinyl, and I am the lead singer in a rock n’ roll band. 

 

So, do I have a music gene?  What about my kids?  Do they have a music gene?  Or did our parent’s love for music rub off on us? 

I ran across a TED Talk on passion and music while looking for some answers.  And, I am truly excited about what I learned. 

First, let me begin by telling you, although I love music, I do not like classical music.  I have never liked it.  It was never played in my home while growing up.  It reminds me of elevator music or the Lawrence Welk Show.  I made a few attempts over the years to enjoy it but to no avail.  It just simply did not resonate with me; until now.   

Benjamin Zander, a world renowned conductor, teacher and speaker changed everything for me.  On his TED Talk he claims that he can turn all of us non-believers of classical music into believers.  He was right.  He did it to me.  I now have a new appreciation for classical music.  In fact, immediately after watching his talk, I was on a mission to get my hands on Chopin.

How did he do it?  How did Benjamin Zander, a conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, get a rock n’ roll mama to love a 19th century romantic composer? 

  • First of all, Zander believes that classical music is for everyone.  If someone does not like classical music, “They just haven’t found out about it yet,” he says.  I couldn’t agree more.  He opened doors to an unknown world for me, taught me things I did not know, and made me feel like somehow I am now privy to something I did not think was for me. 
  • Second, he does not waiver in his beliefs.  Zander believes, “It’s one of the characteristics of a leader that he not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he’s leading to realize whatever he’s dreaming.”  His stanch belief in me made me believe in me. 
  • And, last but not least, his enthusiasm is contagious.  You can feel his passion.  His eyes light up and he almost bursts out of his skin when he talks about it.  You can feel his passion rub off on you and your own eyes begin to light up just like his.  He says his job is to “awaken possibilities in other people.” He surely woke up something in me.

“If their eyes are shining, you know you are doing it,” Zander shares.  My eyes are shining.  He ignited a fire deep within me when I hear classical music and, like Zander I plan to pass this shiny goodness on to my kiddos.  This is the reason I took my kids out of school in the first place; shining eyes.  It is at the heart of homeschooling, unschooling, carschooling, clickschooling, etc.

So, are you born with a particular passion or is it learned?  It seems to me that Lady Gaga, Maya Angelou, Hemmingway and Shakespeare were all correct.  Yes, you are born with an innate interest or passion but you can also form and nurture passions, both inherent and new, throughout your life.  This is good news.  It means everyone can love classical music.  Everyone can have a passion or two or three.  Everyone can have shining eyes.  It is for you, it is for me, it is for our children.  All you need is a Benjamin Zander in your life.  Be a Zander for someone today.  Shining eyes people!  Shining eyes! 

Check out Benjamin Zander at:  http://www.ted.com/talks/benjamin_zander_on_music_and_passion.html

Girls, Carrots and Motivation

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

I miss my boys since they started school this year, early on-set of the empty nest syndrome I suspect after eight years of unschooling.  It is a real adjustment I must admit.  But, watching Riley and Casey take charge of their lives is pretty amazing.

Going to school each day is their choice.  They do not have to go, but they crawl out of bed every day, put on their thinking caps and go anyway.  A typical day for them looks something like this:

  • 6:15 am wake-up, 6:20 am second wake-up, 6:25 last call
  • Long ass-commute for Casey, Riley drives himself
  • Deal with a really annoying football player in English class
  • Sit through a Math class with a teacher that treats them like Kindergartners
  • Lunch, flirt with girls
  • Casey conservatory, fall asleep
  • Riley home at 3:00
  • Casey home at 6:00
  • Hang’n and chill’n time, texting girls, video games, Facebook, jamming, and dinner
  • Get down to homework
  • Hi Ho Hi Ho off to work Riley goes delicately swirling yogurt into Styrofoam cups at Golden Spoon, Casey has basketball practice
  • Bedtime anywhere between 10:00 pm to 2:00 am.
  • Get up and do it all over again the next day

I am truly impressed with their enthusiasm and drive.  What makes them get up every morning at 6:00 am and go to school when they don’t have to?  What motivates them?  Besides girls that is.

It seems that unschoolers have known all along what M.I.T. professors are just figuring out.  For better performance and personal satisfaction whether in the work place, at school, or at home, true motivation comes from autonomy, mastery of skills and purpose.  Check out the youtube link to, “Drive:  The surprising truth about what motivates us.”     

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

The big surprise:  external motives such as money, grades and dangling golden carrots do not truly motivate us.  It may work for simple mechanical task as shown in the studies, but when it comes to more conceptual and creative ways of thinking, motivation runs deeper than that.  It is intrinsic.  It is funny that they call it “the surprising truth”.  It is not surprising to me.  I see it firsthand with my kids every day. 

And it is even less surprising to me that one of the motivating factors that lead us to better performance and happiness is autonomy! Everyone wants the right to direct their own lives and make choices that are best for them.  This is true freedom.  To school or not to school, it is my kid’s choice.  Most kids don’t have that choice.  They just do what they are told.  This freedom of choice, this self-determination and independence is a huge driving factor that truly motivates all of us to do things we don’t have to do.          

Second is mastery, or the desire to get better at stuff.  Riley and Casey want to be good at something and they are willing to work hard.  Casey wants to be a better writer.  He also wants to learn another language, master the drums and make the perfect jump shot.  He felt school is a good place to learn some of these skills.  Riley plans to go to college soon and he knows he needs to learn algebra and trigonometry to pass the SAT’s.  They both know that they can learn all of this without school but prefer some guidance and structure right now in their lives from an outside source. High school is their source of choice.  It is free and yes, there are lots of girls.

Third is the desire for purpose and meaning in their lives.  Having a goal in one’s life and working towards that goal gives you a reason to get up in the morning.  Some people believe that if you let a teenager, especially a male teenager, decide what they can do with their day, they would simply choose to play video games and text girls all day long.  I can assure you that this is not the case.  They will get bored fast (at least with the video games not the girls).  They may choose to play “Call of Duty, Black-Ops” for an entire weekend, don’t get me wrong, they have this amazing stamina to play for hours on end, but eventually that intrinsic drive to achieve something more purposeful and meaningful will take over.  My kids are living proof.

John Holt, the father of unschooling and author of many books including “How Children Learn” and “How Children Fail” believed, “Next to the right to life itself, the most fundamental of all human rights is the right to control our own minds and thoughts. That means, the right to decide for ourselves how we will explore the world around us, think about our own and other persons’ experiences, and find and make the meaning of our own lives.”  It’s funny that so called experts need to perform studies, gather statistics and conduct experiments to understand what we all know in our hearts.  Autonomy, mastery and purpose are at the heart of motivation, performance and satisfaction.  Not a carrot.  Not money.  Not that “A” on a math test.  It’s not a difficult concept.   Maybe that is the problem.  It’s too easy.  We expect that true learning and outstanding job performance is based on some complicated secret formula when in actuality, motivation to perform is ingrained in all of us if the parents, teachers and bosses of the world just step aside and let freedom reign.  If that doesn’t work, there are always girls.

“Ora na azu nwa” – It Takes a Village

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

It was eight o’clock at night, dinner dishes done and I was curled up on my comfy chair in my Victoria Secret pajamas, deeply lost in a book, when the doorbell rang.  We were not expecting company. We all looked at each other a bit curious before opening the door.  A box the size of a computer was sitting on the front step.  It was addressed to me.  I opened it casually and a polk-a-dot envelope laid on top of styrofoam popcorn.  I opened the envelope and found a card inside that read: 

Dear Deanne, 

 I meditate, I do yoga, I chant and I still want to smack someone.  I can’t get the beer to you but I can stock up your chocolate supply.   It all comes with as much love as I can get to you from afar. 

Love Clare

The box contained several containers of delicious Belgian chocolate and a box of tissue.

She had apparently read my last blog.

I miss Clare.  She and her family are currently living on a 75 foot, steel hulled, ex-racing boat called Ironbarque. Her son Drew has a website describing their life.  Here is the link:

http://boaterkids.weebly.com/index.html 

Much to my luck, Clare was actually the first homeschooling family I met 9 years ago.  We have spent many hours together creating fantastic experiences for our kids including geography club, book groups, baking pottery in a homemade kiln on the beach, making sugar skulls to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, attempting to cook green eggs and ham in honor of Dr. Seuss, sewing costumes for her directors cut of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, trips to the Getty, LACMA, Bowers, Balboa, the Zoo, Legoland and watching “Pirates of the Caribbean” tall ships come in at Newport Harbor in which she and her kids landed a spot on the front page of the newspaper.  I could not have embarked on the homeschooling journey without her.  In fact, I would never have made it this far if it wasn’t for Clare and the other amazing women I have met along the way. 

Contrary to popular belief, we are not unschooling alone.  I am not sitting my kids down at the dining room table for 6 hours a day attempting to duplicate the school system at home by myself.  Unschooling is a collaborative effort of many interesting, talented, loving and diverse moms, dads, grandparents, kids and friends.  We are part of a big social network of other families doing the same thing.  Since many homeschoolers do not rely on schools for their education, we rely on each other.  Being solely responsible for your child’s education is a highly motivating factor to reach out and form a community. 

When my kids were in school, I reached out as well.  I carpooled, volunteered at school and lead a Cub Scout pack, but it simply was not the same.  There is a love and healthy dependence in our homeschooling group that goes deeper than carpooling and volunteering in class.  We are extended family. 

Each person has offered their time, expertise and wisdom.  Raundi taught the kids to write Haiku poetry, Carolyn showed us how to extract DNA from strawberries, April offered vegan cooking classes, Stephanie organized camping trips, Liz made sure there was always someone at Tuesday park day, Debi moderated the Yahoo group site, Amy opened her home for Dungeons and Dragons, Isis, Dianna, Orit, Cyndi, Marta, and many more managed Destination Imagination teams, brought food, supplies, opened their homes and their hearts to create a community where each of us and our children could grow and thrive.  And when life gets tough, we come to each other’s aid.  When someone is sick or in distress or a kid needs a ride or somewhere to spend the day we are there for each other. And when in need of tissue and chocolate, it arrives at your front doorstep.

Life is easier when you are part of a network of friends.  I am afraid there are a lot of people out there that feel isolated and do not have the support they need.  No man is an island.  We need each other.  We do not thrive without people.  We are all interconnected.  The African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child could not be more true.  It originated from the Nigerian Igbo culture and proverb “Ora na azu nwa” and has found its way to our homeschooling community half way across the world in Orange County, California.    I am eternally grateful for my village!!!

I’m Learning to Dance in the Rain

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

I woke up to the sun shining today for the first day in two weeks.  Sunny southern California has been blanketed in clouds, fog and drizzle eventually finishing up with fabulous thunderstorms and lots of hair raising lightning and pouring rain.  I actually enjoyed the wet somber weather.  The heavy rains seemed to wash away the sorrow and bring new life to the Brown household. 

It was a very busy productive week around here.  Kevin has quite a few job leads.  He has been working his butt off pounding the pavement as they say.  He has this miraculous way of keeping a smile on his face in lieu of everything. 

Riley and Casey received their first progress reports from high school.  Mostly A’s and a couple of B’s to keep them on their toes.  I have to admit I breathed a sigh of relief.  I always knew deep down inside that they would do fine in life, but my conditioning and external concerns from others regarding unschooling sometimes planted a seed of doubt.  This has been a good lesson for me in trusting my instincts and following my gut.

Maggie has caught the school bug.  The fact that many of her friends and her brothers have gone back to school has ignited some curiosity in her.  So we put her on the waiting list for a local Waldorf school, Journey.  She is working diligently getting ready for school.  She is reading, writing, studying spelling words, memorizing multiplication facts, and diving into anything that remotely resembles school.  I would prefer her to unschool until high school but it is honestly her choice and I will support her.  I may have to change the description of my blog if all three kids end up in school.

And last but not least, our band has been invited to play a big show as special guests to a fabulous local band, Helicopter.  They are amazing, tight and quite entertaining.  It is such an honor to be on their ticket.  Save the date, December 18th in Pasadena at TJ Boyles.  We have a lot of work to do to get ready; practice new songs, get pictures taken, design flyers, and of course, shopping for sexy outfits. 

http://www.helicopterbandla.com/helicopterpad.cfm

Annie sings that “the sun will come out tomorrow”, but I say why wait until tomorrow.  The trick is that you don’t wait for things to get better, you make things better.  As I said in my last post, when you truly feel like life has chewed you up and spit you out and you can’t go on another day, you get up and brush yourself off and pull up your sexy bootstraps.  Unfortunately, we will lose our home in the midst of the job losses and housing market crash but Kevin is still pounding the pavement and he will not stop until he lands a job, the kids are studying hard achieving more and more everyday and I am still singing getting closer and closer to finding my voice.  The saying is true, “Don’t wait for the storm to pass, learn to dance in the rain.” And eventually, the sun will come out again.  It always does.

Did You Know Mexico Lost California in a Single Paragraph?

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

“Did you know Mexico lost California in a single paragraph?” Riley chuckled as we sat sipping decadent coffee drinks topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings at the Neighborhood Cup.  Riley was reading a chapter from his history text book, “American Vision”, preparing for his exam when he blurted out this hysterical remark.  I was trying to write a blog about my annual girl’s weekend in Prescott but almost choked on my coffee after this comment.   Hilarious and sad, I thought.  Years of war with Mexico, a very dark time in history, extremely controversial and many lives lost all in one paragraph.  I decided to shift gears in mid-sentence and ditch my girl’s weekend blog and write about this sad state of affairs.  Sorry girls.

While continuously reading his text and getting down to the bottom of our coffee mugs Riley was getting more and more frustrated.  He didn’t understand how The Civil War, five years of brutal battles over slavery and state rights, enough blood, sweat and tears to fill ten libraries could be condensed into five pages.  There is only one paragraph written about The Underground Railroad and two sentences about one of the bravest women of our times, Harriet Tubman.  Nowhere does it describe how Harriet was whipped and beaten by her masters.  How she escaped to the North and was free, only to choose to go back to the south and rescue seventy more slaves knowing that if she were caught she would be brutally killed or worse, enslaved again.  The text completely misses the true human story.  It cuts every narrative short delivering bland facts, dates and names.  No wonder most Americans don’t know much about history.  Between these dumb down texts and state standards, history is no longer “His Story” it is simply “history”, lost to the past. 

For further evidence of this “dumbing down” that is taking place, just watch Jay Lenno’s “Jay Walk”, his street side pop quizzes.  He goes out into America and asks ordinary people simple questions about rules for breaking up, vacation spots and yes, history.  Here is a link:

http://www.nbc.com/the-tonight-show/video/jaywalk-622/1235457/?__cid=thefilter

Of course, Riley could find Harriet Tubman’s story elsewhere if he wants to learn more about her.  Or, if a kid is lucky enough to have a history buff as a parent or a really great passionate teacher that passes her love on to her student, then Harriet’s story will be learned.   But let’s face it, not too many people choose to learn more about Harriet Tubman when the text and teacher are boring especially when they can read People magazine, hang out on Facebook or play Xbox.  Honestly, I’d rather read People Magazine than read the text Riley has to read for his class (and I love to read about history).  I know I’m not alone.  So, when you ask most Americans on the street, who was the President during the Civil War, I’m not surprised that you get blank stares.  But, ask what time and channel “American Idol” is on, who sings “Teenage Dream” or who is Ryan Seacrest, well, you get the picture.

From No School to High School

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Last Thursday, Riley decided to go to high school after eight years of no school. Friday morning he was enrolled as a Junior.  Today he is five days in and already full of stories.

Yesterday, he had his first test, an English Lit III vocabulary test.  Only two people aced it, Riley and another guy.  The other half of the class failed.  In fact, one very hot girl (according to Riley), got two out of 25 correct.  Ouch!  Riley had the pleasure to grade her test.  The thing is this was not a pop quiz.  The kids were given the vocabulary words last week and the teacher explained the exact format of the test. It was matching and fill in the blank, 2nd grade format, 11th grade vocabulary. 

Riley was truly shocked.  He had learned while taking classes at the local college, that if you show up for class, listen, take notes, do your homework, and review for the test, you can get an “A” (unless you have a learning disability of some sort).  He said, “It seems a lot of the kids just don’t care”.  The hot girl simply laughed when he gave her her test back. 

What is going on?  What happened to half the class? 

There is a documentary called “Race to Nowhere” that tries to explain just this.  The filmmaker, Vicki Abeles, shows the pressures faced by our school children in America today.  “Race to Nowhere” depicts how many students are burned out, stressed-out, disengaged, depressed, and not prepared or inspired for college or the workplace.

I saw this coming when Riley was very young.  After being in school for a few years I noticed that Riley’s natural curiosity, imagination, and love for learning slowly began to deteriorate.  Learning became a task, something he had to do instead of wanting to do.  It is ironic however, that he was earning straight A’s, was well behaved and was considered a very good student.  It did not feel right to me.  Were straight A’s and good behavior worth losing his imagination, natural curiosity and spunk? I don’t think so.  So I took him out of school and began our journey into unschooling.  Honestly, it was the best decision of my life. 

Riley got his spunk back and then some.  He is a creative, bright, intelligent, able, thinking 17 year old.  I know it is such an incongruity in many people’s minds, but no school has prepared him for high school. He is not burned out, he is excited to learn, very engaged and looking forward to his future.  It seems you can take the kid out of unschooling, but you can never take unschooling out of the kid. 

Thank goodness some kids get through school unscathed, but for the rest of them I am truly concerned.  These kids are our future.  I was able to save Riley, but what about the other half of the class?

Link to “Race to Nowhere” trailer: 

 http://www.youtube.com/user/AtGoogleTalks#p/a/u/0/O4rcsjHL7Gs

“Kinda Hippy, Hippy”

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

This summer our family was invited as guests to discuss unschooling on a new CBS pilot, “The Mom Project”, a daytime talk show similar to “The View” with celebrity hosts, Julie Chen, Sharon Osbourne, Sara Gilbert, Holly Robinson-Peet and Leah Remini.  Entertainment Weekly writes, “This panel is not a bashful bunch; they are outspoken on any issue you put on the table.  It promises to be an hour of television with timely discussions, unfiltered opinions and a lot of personality.”  They are not kidding.  Imagine five women sitting around a table with lights, cameras, audience, and make-up crew attempting to intelligently discuss a controversial issue in 5 minutes time.  Yikes!  You get crazy. 

Similar to our experience as guests on the Dr. Phil show, it is all about entertainment.   First was the shock and awe.  Second, sit politely and wait my turn to speak as they all say their peace.  Third, Julie Chen asks an intelligent question and I have an opportunity to speak.  Fourth, I’m interrupted.  Next, some interesting conversation amongst the panel.  Sixth, interrupted again.  After the interruption, Sharon asks me if I am “kinda hippy, hippy”.  Then, interview with my kids and husband. Finally, Oohs and Aahhh’s from the audience but it was like pulling teeth.

The moment I remember best is the “kinda hippy, hippy” comment made by Sharon Osbourne.  Unschooling may have a few similarities to certain ideas and philosophies from the progressive school movement during the 60’s, but just because it was experimented with during this era does not mean that unschooling is hippy hippy.  It’s like saying sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll are all “kinda hippy hippy”. I don’t think Sharon’s husband, Ozzy, would consider himself “kinda hippy, hippy”.  I’m just saying.

The interesting thing is that this type of education, unschooling, has been around since the beginning of time, way before the 60’s movement.   School was only made compulsory in the states beginning in the 1850’s after Horace Mann went to Prussia and brought back a new model of education based on the Prussian system.  Prussia had been devastated by Napoleon a few years earlier, so the country set up a new militaristic education system to raise soldiers to ensure that it would never happen again.  The Prussian militaristic system is the current educational system used today in the United States and it was Mann’s intention to use this system to “equalize the conditions of men”.  You can be the judge of that one.

Now, back to the show.  As I walked off the stage, Leah Remini from “King of Queens” gave me a huge sweet hug as if to say thank you for being a good sport while we lambasted you for the sake of entertainment.  She then walked over to my family and hugged each of them as well.  I got to speak to Sharon for a bit after the show and she gave me a hug and Holly Robinson-Peet from “21 Jumpstreet” could not have been nicer. 

What did I learn from all of this?  These women are human just like me.  They have soft skin, warm bodies, smell sweet, wear too much make-up and I am sure eat and poop just like the rest of us.  They are not extra smart (although Sara Gilbert did go to Yale) or perfect moms  just because they are sitting on a panel of women to discuss mom stuff on T.V.  Both Sharon’s kids were in rehab at one point in their lives.  They are simply T.V. personalities, entertainers, and good ones at that.

Did I get across the idea of unschooling? Maybe a little.  Does it matter?  Probably not.  Do I really care if Sharon Osbourne thinks I’m “kinda hippy, hippy?  No, not really.  Was it fun?  Yes!  That’s Entertainment!!!

Interested in more blogging from another guest on this show, check out Tracey Jackson and her blog, “And She Called Mother Theresa the C Word???

Love’s Battlefield

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

My 14 year old son Casey is starting high school next week.  He was accepted into the Creative Writing Conservatory for the Orange County High School of the Arts (OCSHA).  1700 kid’s auditioned and only 400 kids were accepted.  The amazing part of this story is that Casey hasn’t set foot inside a school since Kindergarten.  He has never taken a spelling test, a vocabulary quiz or written a five paragraph persuasive essay.  So, how in the world did Casey get into a school that is listed in the top three best schools in Orange County?  He reads, a lot.  Fiction, non-fiction, comic books, newspaper, magazines, cereal boxes, you name it.  He has a passion for reading and he turned this passion into writing.  This is unschooling at its best.    

He agreed to let me share one of his poems with you, “Love’s Battlefield”.  This is one of the pieces he submitted to OCSHA in his application portfolio.  Enjoy!!!

Love’s Battlefield

By Casey Brown

Your defenses stand in front of me, the fiery look of victory in your eye

I am alone; a dark void of red and grey surrounds me

My attempts to persuade you all end in an awkward after battle silence

But it is time for my next attempt

First, I use the Recoilless Rifle of Love to penetrate your bunker of cold indifference

The resulting explosion of blood dirt and tears opens the path to your ranks of deception and ignorance

I charge, flailing the Mace of Accommodation to bash aside the deceptive and ignorant forces of your heart

Then, I hear the traitorous helicopters that were once the belly of my now Jell-Oey mass

I fire the Predator Missile of Courage to slow the assault of the traitorous machines

But that is only the beginning

Your counter assault of fleeting turn offs, quickly melds into one big blob of atrociousness which I burn away with the Flamethrower of Truth

Next I am beckoned by my last friend with soul left in him to fight and he leads me to a trove of the Jets of Camaraderie

We hop into the jets and he announces that he will just be an escort

I take off over your fields of unknowing infantry, those of which that have no knowledge of the battle soaring around them

I see that with this surprising turn of events you have retreated to your loud wall of guards that keep nothing from you.

My wingman goes full speed at the wall while I urge him not to, he slams in full force with a flurry of inappropriate missiles and rude cannon he distracts your wall, but crashes and burns as a result

Now it’s just you and me

I realize you have already prepared your SAM sites but I have prepared for the worst, the instant one of your SAM’s hits the Jet of Camaraderie, I eject from the flying machine with the Seat of Defiance

I pull the Chute of Life, surprising you with my quick response to your assault of SAM’s of Deviance

As my feet touch down on the ground I call upon the Great Sword of Emotions, to finally battle you one on one

You reach behind your back and unsheathe the Dagger of No Regrets and the battle begins

Your quick twisting and turning motions of discomfort of having someone this close to you, my devastating blows attempting to end the awkwardness of first meeting place.

We battle on for an hour more, a respect for each other as each draws more and more losses and blood, the battle is coming to a close, and you are drawing ever closer, victory in your hands, when it all ends with a swing of my sword and the howl of delight from my lips

As I finally get your number

Casey