Tuesday, June 30, 2009

We found a house!

Those of you who know us know that we've been planning to move toward Pittsburgh to ease up the long drives that my fiance has to do for work, as well as to get out of our increasingly expensive apartment and find somewhere a little more... private. We're frankly sick of having neighbors above us, below us, and around us. I'm also sick of not having grass and a garden.

Previously, I'd run a few searches in the Pittsburgh Tribune and Craigslist (To the guy who started it: THANK YOU!), but hadn't turned up much of interest. There were about 3 places out of the 40 or so I initially looked at that fit all our requirements: Allowed pets (without an extra monthly fee), had enough parking/a space for Rick to work on the cars, had enough space, and was under our current rent. I posted a Housing Wanted ad on Craigslist myself, just in case.

About a month ago a very nice woman answered my ad, saying that she had a 1-bedroom house for rent, and although it took us nearly a month to get back to her, she called last night saying she hadn't rented it yet and would we like to come look. Turns out she was holding out for us to see it before she posted it in the paper, and we loved it.

The house doesn't look like much, and it's adjacent to an alley, but there's parking for our vehicles, a small patch of grass, and a little Japanese maple tree in the fenced-in yard. The interior has a wood floor in the living room, ceramic tile in the kitchen and bath, and a full basement newly painted and sealed (so it's dry!) with a work bench and laundry area. There's also a little square of dirt outside that the landlady said used to have hedges, which are since gone (except the stumps). When I asked about a garden she was thrilled - so veggies will be going in outside the kitchen window next spring! I might be able to even coax a crop of lettuce and spinach out of it this year, if the frost holds off. It's small, maybe 5x7, but it's already weed-free and edged!

We poked around, stuck our heads in everywhere, exclaimed over the workbench and the wood floors, and generally decided that we like it. It's small, but it's cozy, and at $200 less than we're paying now, plus privacy, how can we say no? As I told Rick - "I feel like we're moving up in the world. We have a patch of grass!". Next step - something with a barn.

Monday, June 29, 2009

More thoughts on Education.

Someone on Facebook posted a link to yet another news article detailing the excruciating battle between Christian Values and Scientific Learning that is taking place in school science classrooms. Expressing frustration with the fact that yet another class of children is going to be put through Creationism as a theory while ignoring all the other possible creation myths out there. She claims that she's going to put her kids in private school and supplement their education at home to work around this. I said "Homeschool, duh!".

Someone else claims that public school will be just fine for their kid, with parental involvement tacked on the side after the public school day to make sure they actually learn something. That got me thinking, because that's what my father tried to do with us for years.

The problem with putting very bright, home-educated children into an environment like most public schools is that they are incredibly likely to suffer for it at the hands of both teachers (who are statistically the underachievers of their own past high school classes - what does it say that your kid's teacher probably has a lower SAT score than he will?) and kids (who are either jealous or distrustful of a child who knows so much more than they do and prefers learning over making fart jokes). In some ways, having a parent who is active in your academic life either in or out of the classroom is a dividing factor, especially in days when many children are raised by the TV. Even if they claim happiness with this method, there can be no doubt that many of them desire more attention from the two most important people in their life, and realize that in some way when they react poorly to students who show signs of a strong parental bond.

I know - I was one of those kids. By high school, the system had crushed my love of education pretty badly, and I consider myself one of the lucky ones. The educational system is not only failing our underachieving youth; it's failing the overachievers.

With the exception of a few star pupils who are reading so far above grade level that their parents enroll them in college successfully at 10 years old (and make the national news doing it), most "gifted" kids never find the recognition and challenges they desire in public school. I know I was reading at an 8th grade level (coincidentally, the level that most newspapers write at, and the level at which most kids stop learning) when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. I only know this because my parents bothered telling me. No one at the school, that I am aware of(although this could be due to a fuzzy memory - in those years I was reading so much that I lived half my day in a fantasy world of one sort or another), ever told me that I was smarter than the rest of the class. I wasn't placed in any advanced classes, given harder material, differentiated at all from the others. One of my clearest memories of fourth grade is reading Hatchet in reading circle and being so frustrated with the pace that others were reading at that I wanted to blurt out every word they stumbled on, which was most of them. The teacher told us to follow along, but I couldn't make myself read that slowly, so I half-listened to parts I had read 10 minutes ago being sounded out by the slow readers while I flipped ahead. Inevitably I'd be caught and chastised for reading ahead, as the teacher would skip around the circle instead of following an order, presumably to 'catch' poor students who would otherwise attempt to predict their reading passage and pre-read it several times instead of listening to the story. She never did seem to catch the poor readers (they were right in front of her, stumbling over words like 'assumption' and 'porcupine').

It got worse from there, but after my parents split and I stopped getting so many impromptu engineering lessons from dad, my head start faltered and I ended up in the top percentile of my class instead of high above it. I have no doubt that with the right combination of teacher support, parental challenges and financial aid I could have gone to college a few years early, but no one in the educational system wanted to realize that, and my bet is that they didn't like the thought of pulling their student funding until I had been thoroughly wrung dry by the system and they could graduate me "on time". Consider this: The school districts spent an average of $7000 per pupil to educate us in the '99-00 school year [1]. Considering that lovely sum, why would a school remove a student (and therefore, the student's $7k or more in funding) for early placement in a higher grade when they can continue sucking money out of taxpayers and government?

Teachers really don't help; students seem to despise peers who achieve better than they do. I had friends, but mostly I had competition. By fourth grade it was clear that some of use were "smarter" than the others, and our small group competed within itself for the honor of highest grades and most teacher praise. I remember being especially envious of one boy whose father had helped him with a civil war project. Mine was a clay figure of Abraham Lincoln holding a tiny, painstakingly copied Gettysburg Address in his little clay hands. Mom couldn't find modeling clay so it was the cheap Crayola clay, and it fell apart quickly. The boy (who I also had a crush on) had a plywood board painted as a battlefield, complete with plastic hills and two opposing armies of blue and grey toy soldiers. It was a masterpiece of elementary school projects and I hated him for it. But back to the point - the other kids hated all of us "smart" kids. So we tried our best to stay quiet and not achieve too much, lest we be tormented mercilessly (I bet those kids didn't even know how to SAY merciless at that point!) by the peers who were either jealous of our success or hurt by it.

In a school situation like that it's not hard to see why I'd prefer my children, if I have them, to be homeschooled. I know that even if I adopt, my kids are not going to fit in with the educational system by the time I'm done with them, and I don't want them to. The schools have failed us, and I want them to know this. I don't blame parents who want to send their kids to a better school because they don't think they can homeschool a child. Not everyone is a teacher, and not everyone has the time and energy to play teacher to a bright and curious child. However, I don't think we should be giving bad schools any more support than is legally necessary (keep payin' your taxes, folks), and in fact I think we should protest every board meeting that goes by without improving the situation in our schools... if more of our children were getting a proper education, and not just shoved into boxlike rooms and told to behave for 6 hours a day, I think a lot of our other "problems" would start to fix themselves... but that's another post

1. Gross, Martin L. Conspiracy of Ignorance, The. New York: HarperCollins, 1999. Back to post

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tales from the Library

For those of you who haven't been stalking me lately, I've started to volunteer at the library two days a week, shelving books. It's a great way to spend 2 hours a day, although that goes really quickly when you're trying to shelve a cartful of children's literature. Kids' books are always first priority because they're the library's most popular item and there's almost always a lot of them to re-shelve.

Of course, when working anywhere there are people, there will be fun stories. Today I found a lot of interesting bits in books. Someone left a note saying "hi" on one of the shelves upstairs, for starters. Not terribly exciting, but there's always the little mystery of who left the mundane notes one finds, and for whom?

In the children's cart I didn't find much of interest other than a book that was mildly sticky (watermelon and books don't get along) and two falling out of their bindings (promptly handed over to be fixed. The poor books!). The adult section was full of wonders today, though. I found no less than 5 checkout slips (they're printed out every time you take out a book or pay a fine, as a reciept and to remind you when it's due, since our library doesn't use a card system any more). The slips have the library user's full name, the date and a list of their currently checked out works... paper trails that make it easy for a finder to make up stories about why they checked out that particular series of books. One girl had checked out the same book I just returned - Three Cups of Tea. I also found, in a time management book, someone's printed weekly schedule and handwritten notes regarding mailing out cards. Looks like the book wasn't as useful as they hoped, since they must have been in a hurry to return it!

The best find, though, was an envelope which fell out of the back of one of the nonfiction books. It said "Sorry, Dad was in the hospital. Hope this covers the fee!". It was a mundane enough task to report it to the desk after a brief period of wonderment that someone would be so considerate as to put their late fee in an envelope before using the night drop box, (and that the librarians had missed it - apparently they don't check the books before putting them on the carts). Still, it was a neat sense of mystery to have to look up the nameless patron who had last checked it out and make sure that his late fee was labeled with his name so that the librarians could absolve him of the crime of returning a book late (one I often commit, I am ashamed to say). It was also a touching reminder that library patrons are not nameless and faceless, despite the fact that as shelvers we are far removed from the act of choosing the book or returning it and will likely never know who took out Jane Austen's complete works. I really hope that patron's dad is ok.

So overall, it was an interesting day at the library. I really like it there.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Well, I -was- feeling pretty good...

It's hard to feel poor when you have 6 meals' worth of turkey soup and homemade bread (albeit a bit overdone) sitting in the kitchen... until you remember the electric bill for making all of it.