Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Faith and Instinct

While we were down in the deep south with my in-laws earlier this month we were finally able to visit Little Dave's gravesite.  The last time we had seen it they hadn't placed the marker yet.  My sister-in-law does a good job of keeping it cleaned up.  When it was all happening last year I went into a sort of detached survival mode and I didn't think it really mattered where he was buried, but in retrospect I'm glad we didn't leave him in California.

I wasn't bothered by the thought of visiting the grave.  The reality has become such a fact of daily life that it was just another errand to run while we were in town.  We had been looking forward to some quiet alone time there, but unfortunately the groundskeepers had chosen that corner of the cemetery to have a social chat on their riding mowers.  We didn't stay long because there didn't seem to be much to say; Little Dave had a freshly baptized free pass into heaven, so he wasn't in need of any prayers.  If anything, we asked him to pray for us.  

Everything was fine until we decided to leave.  The maternal instinct rebelled and all the irrational emotion came flooding back.  Just the physical act of leaving him there was surprisingly hard.  He belongs with us, after all; why should we have to leave him there next to the highway?  Even though I know better, I can understand why some people keep their relatives in urns on the mantle.  

Maintaining our faith often seems like a constant battle between what we know and what we feel.  Fortunately faith is there to keep us sane when our emotions run amok.  

Monday, July 30, 2012

Why We Will Homeschool

As a preface, I will say that I've tried several flavors of schooling, public, private parochial, homeschool, and private college.  I did fairly well, and my public school experience (kindergarten, sixth and seventh grades) wasn't terrible.  It also wasn't great.  I have to say I learned the most while I was homeschooled through high school, and I knew I wanted to homeschool my children if I was given the opportunity.  I will be willing to consider a good private school if one is available, but if our only alternative is a public school there will be no two ways about it.

People always ask us why.  I have a host of reasons, many of which are aired in these documentaries.  Because this post could go on forever if I tried to discuss each issue, I'll confine myself to bullet points.

The Cartel - 2009
"an American documentary film by New Jersey-based television producer, reporter and news anchor Bob Bowdon, that covers the failures of public education in the United States by focusing on New Jersey, which has the highest level of per-student education spending in the U.S."

  • Despite the fact that the United States allocates more money for schools than any other country in the world, students of our public school system consistently score below average in international tests.
  • All this extra money is usually absorbed by an inflated bureaucracy of administrators and rarely reaches the classroom or the teachers.
  • When funds do actually reach schools, they are often wasted on superficial building improvements (such as new sports fields) rather than invested in improving the education offered.
  • Scores and student performance are often inflated to make the school appear more functional than it is for the sake of the administrators.  Actual learning suffers as a result and is not a priority. 
  • The stranglehold of the teachers' union makes it impossible to reward good teachers or to remove bad teachers.  This socialist model of blanket equality gives no one any incentive to excel and the quality of education suffers.  
  • The union often wields an unhealthy influence over school boards and superintendents.

Waiting for "Superman" - 2010
"a documentary film from director Davis Guggenheim and producer Lesley Chilcott.  The film analyzes the failures of the American public education system by following several students as they strive to be accepted into a charter school."

  • The established system of bureaucracy is too invested in the status quo to accommodate any change or improvement.  Student performance is not a priority. 
  • National scores collected for the No Child Left Behind program revealed student proficiency in math and reading is well below 50% across the board.  (We're talking about numbers like 35% and 12%.)
  • Research has revealed at least 2000 public schools bad enough to be labeled "drop-out factories."  Kids can somehow reach high school with a 1st-3rd grade reading level.
  • A lack of accountability in administration allows children to slip through the cracks while the adults take whatever they can get for themselves.
  • Teachers who can't teach, don't teach, or who are actively destructive cannot be fired because of automatic tenure and protection from the teachers' union.  They continue to drain resources which might otherwise be spent on high-performing teachers.
  • The teachers' union is such a powerhouse that no one is "allowed" to broach the subject of their detrimental position that no distinction should be made among teachers.  By union contract, bad teachers cannot be let go, and good teachers cannot be rewarded.
  • Because they cannot be fired, failing teachers are rotated from school to school within the district.  Some colloquial names for this process include "the dance of the lemons" and "pass the trash." 
  • When the administration of the Washington D.C. school district offered to authorize merit pay for good teachers in return for canceling automatic tenure, the union felt so threatened that it would not even allow a vote.  In the words of Michelle Rhee, the superintendent, "There's this unbelievable willingness to turn a blind eye to the injustices that are happening to kids every single day in our schools in the name of harmony amongst adults."
  • Global competition has highlighted the shortcomings of our education standards.  Out of 30 developed countries, we rank 25th in math and 21st in science.  Our top 5% students rank 23rd out of 29 developed countries.  However, our students do rank first in blind confidence.
  • The falling standards of public education are depriving this country of a skilled domestic work force, leaving technical companies no choice but to outsource. 

The War on Kids - 2009
A documentary directed by Cevin Soling.  "The film takes a look at public school education in America and concludes that schools are not only failing to educate, but are increasingly authoritarian institutions more akin to prisons that are eroding the foundations of American democracy."

  • The idea of "zero tolerance" stemming from the drug war led to a clamp down on kids.  Sociologists observed this new fear of children and their apparently unpredictable and violent behavior and coined the term "super-predator."  The "super-predator" generation is increasingly considered a menace to be controlled rather than children to be educated.  "Zero tolerance" was expanded to include all real or perceived "weapons" rather than simply firearms, and then all vague concepts of "violence" of any kind.  Schools are becoming more like containment facilities and prisons.
  • Principals have no discretionary power anymore.  Children are expelled not only for having a gun on campus, but for having miniature plastic guns, or for drawing a picture of a gun.  A third grader was suspended for drawing a picture of an armed soldier.
  • Minor incidents are more and more often being given over to police for criminal prosecution rather than school discipline.  A shoving match in the hallway may now be considered assault or even felony assault.
  • Zero tolerance policies on drugs apparently include mouthwash, Midol, Alka-Seltzer, and Ibuprofen.  Nail files are weapons. 
  • "97% of all infractions that resulted in suspension involved no weapons, drugs, or alcohol."
  • Due to a supreme court ruling in 1977, students are not entitled to due process.  Principals often extract statements from children only to turn that statement over to police.
  • A boy in Virginia tried to prevent the suicide of a classmate by confiscating a knife and hiding it in his locker.  When he reported the incident to school officials, they sent him to retrieve the knife and then suspended him for violating a zero tolerance weapons policy while at the same time commending him for his actions.
  • Many schools now have entry points and surveillance systems exactly like minimum security prisons.
  • Columbine responded to the shootings by installing more security cameras to make the students feel "safer," despite the fact that there were already cameras installed before the shootings.  Students say the additional cameras make them uncomfortable and discourage social contact because of the risk of being falsely accused of drug deals or other suspicious activity.
  • "Being under constant surveillance often results in psychological illness."
  • "On November 5, 2003, Principal George McCrackin initiated a SWAT Team raid on Stratford High School in South Carolina based on his suspicion that some students were dealing marijuana.  107 students were forced at gunpoint to lie on the ground.  After an extensive police search, no drugs were found."
  • The war on drugs is self-perpetuating.  A study on rats revealed that a rat in a small and restrictive cage will chose drugs over food to the point of death.  Rats in spacious comfortable cages with the means to occupy themselves showed little interest in drugs.  As the schools become more like prisons, the more students turn to drugs to escape them.  The emphasis on young and underage drug abuse masks the fact that the vast majority of drug abusers are over thirty.
  • Sub-standard teachers who are unable or unwilling to deal with high-energy or willful children have led to the over-diagnosis of attention deficit problems and the over-medication of otherwise healthy children.  The United States has six times as many children on Ritalin than any other country.  The vast majority of these children are medicated for the benefit of the teacher, not for their own health or learning.
  • This over-medication of children is dangerous for a number of reasons.  These drugs often disrupt the chemistry of developing brains and lead to side effects including depression, anxiety, organ damage, obsessive compulsive disorder, stunted growth, nervous ticks which can sometimes become permanent, as well as suicidal and homicidal tendencies.  These drugs are themselves designed only to mask symptoms in the short term, and inevitably lead to long term problems with brain function.
  • Many school shootings were perpetrated by students who were dosed with or withdrawing from powerful antidepressants such as Luvox, Paxil, Prozac, Effexor, and Celexa.
  • Students are growing up with the experience of a police state in their schools and are desensitized to the erosion of civil liberties as adults.
  • The sheer volume of students in public schools does not allow individual student-to-teacher interaction or any personal application of the education process.  It's a mass-produced product, one size which doesn't fit all.
  • Homework before high school is a pointless chore unless the homework directly reinforces the lesson of that day.
  • There's a new trend of "school phobia."  The observation is made that nobody talks about "prison phobia," or "concentration camp phobia."  "Who wants to go to a place where your thoughts and actions are controlled all day?"
  • People talk about the benefits of the socialization that happens in schools, but it really isn't of a particularly valuable kind.  "You learn to talk to a fragment of people your own age, you learn to envy, resent and fear people older than you, and you learn to have contempt for people younger than you."  The oppressive atmosphere of school lends itself to the formation of underground cliques of students which breed an institutionalized intolerance of other cliques and the social harassment of certain unlucky individuals.

Seriously, are there any questions?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The "Soggy Fish Sandwich" Theory

I know it's been around for a long time, but I've never actually heard it at my church before.  After a long trial period at this parish, we finally heard heresy from the pulpit, or rather from the center aisle, since the priest in question doesn't seem to like preaching from the pulpit.

Father Mike didn't actually say that Jesus did not in fact multiply loaves and fishes, but he implied that "commentators" say the real miracle "might have been" inspiring the people to all share their packed lunches like good socialists.

At my family's home parish, the FSSP priest described this theory of the miracle as Jesus simply guilting each member of the crowd into pulling out "the soggy fish sandwich" he had been carrying around in his pocket, a description which apparently originated with Fr. Benedict Groeschel.  He also went on to explain in no uncertain terms that "this is a heretical understanding of this gospel."

This episode is apparently a big deal, as it appears in all four Gospels.  Obviously a remarkable miracle occurred.  Could it really have been just about sharing?  This isn't Sesame Street.

Think about it.  The priest today apparently accepted as fact that idea that nobody would set out on a pilgrimage without packing food.  But would any of them have packed enough for more than three days in the wilderness?  Even if they did, was there any real need to share?  If each had enough food for himself, everyone would have just eaten his own food.  What's so miraculous about sitting down on a hillside and having lunch?  Would you really want to swap for someone else's tuna salad if you had your own?  Alternatively, were the people holding out for a free lunch despite having enough food?  It seems like the modernists have backed themselves into a bad Semitic stereotype if the jaw-dropping miracle in question was simply teaching Jews to share.

CB - Round-up
Can't we just accept the fact that thousands of people were in the wilderness with Jesus for several days, their food reserves had run out, and that Jesus as the omnipotent Son of God worked a miracle worth recording for posterity?  It certainly makes the most sense, and it would spare us these driveling homilies fit only for toddlers.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tea Party vs. Occupy Wallstreet, Illustrated

My husband put me onto these videos.  I love the drawings.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Gaffe Heard 'Round the World

Just Google "somebody else made that happen," and a host of goodies will turn up.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

When the Husband Goes Shopping

The husband, being the extremely caring and helpful guy that he is, often volunteers to run to the store to "pick up a few things" if I don't feel particularly excited about doing it myself.  Unfortunately, when that happens I forfeit all right to police what food items are actually introduced into the home environment.  A few days ago, I walked into the kitchen and discovered a contraband variety of cereal which would never have ventured into my shopping cart sitting brazenly on my countertop.

Now, there is apparently a blog post pending about some of the problems created by the the culture of extended adolescence our country enjoys.  Krave cereal is something I would have grouped under that same heading.  It actually wasn't very surprising, as we had seen those vaguely disturbing commercials quite recently.  I'll admit I tried a bowl or two, but I didn't find it all that spectacular.  However, the husband likes it, and I suppose we must all have our vices.  Truth be told, I'm glad he hasn't completely lost touch with his inner child.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Famous Relatives

Everyone likes to have a few famous relatives.  My foray into Ancestry.com last year turned up a few more on my father's side than expected.  If I hadn't done that research, I should never have recognized this handsome face when we spotted him in the Ocmulgee National Monument gift shop last week.

The gentleman pictured is my 2nd great grand-uncle, Captain Jose Rafael de la Garza of San Antonio, Texas, who died at the Battle of Mansfield, Louisiana.  He wasn't mentioned at all in the actual text, despite a lengthy write up about the Tejanos.  I bought a copy anyway.  I'll keep it with the compilation of his war letters Texas A&M published last year.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Do You Know Where Your Daughter Is?

The topic of the day is human trafficking.  My morbid fascination with it began a few years ago when a particularly heinous case was featured on America's Most Wanted.  The hotbeds which immediately come to mind are Eastern Europe, Asia, Central and South America.  The deployable military personnel among us have doubtless attended briefings about it.  Most of us have probably spared a glance at a seedy-looking strip club or "massage parlor" and wondered whether it was full of girls who barely speak English trying to earn back their passports.  The Secret Service's party plans in Colombia brought the subject briefly to the forefront of our minds.   But usually we return to our little domestic bubbles of peace, content that it doesn't happen to educated middle-class American families.  We react to the sad stories of Ukrainian girls who were tricked into a life of sex slavery in America with the same condescending pity usually reserved for elderly victims of Nigerian email scams.  They should have known better.  They should have been more careful.

Unfortunately, human trafficking is by no means a fate reserved for foreign women.  Domestic victims aren't always delinquents or runaways.  Sometimes traffickers hunting in American suburbia use the same tactics as in other countries, promises of a glamorous job opportunity as models or professional make-up artists.  Sometimes they build more elaborate ruses, targeting specific girls over a period of time.  Sometimes they resort to old-fashioned snatch-and-grab kidnapping.  The specific examples below are from the series MSNBC Undercover: Sex Slaves.

1)     In 1981, the popular boy in class offers Theresa, the new girl, a ride home from school.  Instead he takes her elsewhere and rapes her.  She is too ashamed to admit the rape to her strict religious and socially-affluent parents.  Unfortunately, the rape itself had been a set-up; the boy's two older cousins had been in the closet taking damaging photographs.  In an effort to "earn the pictures back," Theresa finds herself being pimped out of her own house at night for almost two years.  The boys threatened to harm her family if she ever sought help.  When she was finally discovered, they stole and shot the family dog as a reminder to keep silent.  She never pressed charges.

2)     In 2005 two young girls in Toledo, Ohio, were kidnapped by a local pimp while walking down the sidewalk and ended up prostituted at a truck stop.  The police wrote off the incident as a case of runaways, and considered later information that one of the girls was being held at an address against her will a "low priority."  After waiting for a half hour, the frantic father took matters into his own hands and was beaten by the pimp for twenty minutes and nearly to death before police arrived, despite numerous 911 calls by neighbors.  While recovering from the beating, the father was charged with breaking and entering the pimp's home.  The charges were later thrown out.

3)     In 2006, sixteen-year-old Shauna was trafficked from school by a classmate who posed as her best friend for months.  Under pretense of spending a weekend together (and with the reluctant permission of her parents), she was taken to the friend's father's house, only four blocks from Shauna's family home.  When she asked for a drink, she was given a glass of water laced with GHB.  Shauna was imprisoned, sold on the Internet and brutally raped for four days before the tireless efforts of her family resulted in her rescue.  While the police were entangled in policy, Shauna's family was posting flyers, contacting advocates who hounded the traffickers by phone, and finally Shauna's fifteen-year-old brother helped her escape from the backseat of a car by holding the driver at knifepoint.   She was resuscitated twice while being airlifted to the hospital after suffering cardiac arrest as a result of the cocktail of cocaine, meth, ecstasy and GHB used to sedate her.

The moral of the story is that it could be your kids.  It could be your neighbor's kids.  What's a concerned parent to do short of ordering background checks on all new friends and acquaintances?  As a prospective mother and as someone who already tries to live in "the orange zone," I've started trying to construct something like an official plan of action.  The only reason Shauna's mother knew her daughter was in trouble was because Shauna was somehow able to make a brief phone call begging for help.  In another case, the victim was actually required by her pimp to call home every week under pretense of traveling for work; for years her family was none the wiser.  Should we have a family "code phrase" to be used if under duress?

The second moral of the story is that the police can't always be there for you.  A five-second Google search turned up instances of these kind of crimes in our home county, as well as in the home counties of many of our friends.  Are you willing to hold a pimp at knifepoint for your kids?  You better hope to God you are.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Life Updates

The husband and I have just returned from a long road trip into the deep south to visit our families.  The visiting was fun, but the driving was a drag.  Is there any place more annoying than that South of the Border place off I-95 in South Carolina?  Seriously?  And I've never actually stopped there.  Unfortunately, a sudden attack of seasonal allergies along the way has left me with a stuffy nose and a horrendous cough which makes it difficult to get any good sleep and leaves me feeling like this.

Check out "Banana Bum."

I have a ridiculous laundry list of chores to do sooner rather than later, but at the moment it's difficult to do more than sit on the couch, sip DayQuil and watch Netflix.  At least I can sift through those 200 emails and catch up on my blog reading.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Buckle Up

He always says it better than I can.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Release Your Inner Superhero

Because life has been much too serious and depressing lately, I spent my morning doing something fun and pointless.  Most of us are tougher on the inside than may be obvious at first glance.  What does your inner superhero look like?  Build an avatar on Marvel's website.