What to do with teens

I have a teenage son who is 15. Sometimes I despair of him EVER getting an education. He doesn’t know what he wants to do, or study, except play RPG’s for the rest of his life. I’m not sure what this is from….the 4 years he was in public school, or just his temperament. His older sibs were always engrossed in something: the oldest was machine-mad….he would spend his days taking apart and fixing anything with wheels. His sister read practically every book we owned by age 15 (and we owned thousands) and his other older brother was raising saturnid caterpillars and building his own greenhouse during his early teen years. so to have this child, whose idea of a great time is to watch Heroes on TV, walk about the house aimlessly, is very disconcerting. I do feel he needs a basic education, so I insist on SOME schoolwork, like math, science, and the like. And he’s not dumb- he’s very bright. But he has, what seems to me, absolutely NO ambition. He’s good-natured and all. If I give him a job to do, he does it. He cooks dinner once a week, helps shovel snow off the roof, keeps the fire going. But then he does totally asinine things like a 3 or 4 year old in the next breath. I wouldn’t trust him in a car….he’s just not ready for his learner’s permit. (He doesn’t even want one- says it will be too expensive for driver’s ed and car insurance) What he really cares about is ACTING and theater. He is a clown, a comedian. He can do impressions so well, it’s uncanny. He spends hours watching comedians work. Hey, I like to laugh too, but he picks the most inconvenient times to display his routines. I thought, having lived through 3 teenagers and surviving them, that I had a good handle on what teenage boys are like, but this one has thrown me for a loop.


When homeschoolers stop

I know a lot of homeschoolers, and have known a lot, since I have been doing it for 20 years. Most of them continue all the way through to college, but a few drop out, for various reasons. Some need both parents to work, and there is just not a lot of time left for homeschooling. Others seem to be unable to have their kids do any work. They get overwhelmed easily and are usually looking for some sort of co-op setting where they don’t actually have to teach their kids the hard stuff. I have to admit that I am more than willing to send my teenagers to the local university as soon as they are capable (usually around age 14). But giving up never occurs to me. We are together all the time, and sometimes it gets REALLY old, but I think in the larger scheme of things, that this teaches all of us how to get along, how to negotiate, and how to forgive. I do think for some kids that public school is the safest place for them to be during the day, but I can’t imagine putting my kids back in public school and feeling like that somehow was a good solution. I did have my two younger boys in public school for 4 years while I was building up my teaching studio, because their dad just was not cut out for teaching, but I regret doing it. The younger one had trouble every year, since he has Asperger’s, and he was so relieved to come out. The older of the two did fine in 4th and 5th grade, but as soon as he entered middle school, things deteriorated. He is not as mature as his older sibs who never went to public school, and I blame the time he spent in middle school for his delayed maturity. He tends to be less mature anyway, so I did him no favor by leaving him in as long as I did. As he has grown in maturity in the last 1 1/2 years since he has been home, he has confided in me about some of the dumb stuff he did, and what really goes on in middle school, at least with teenage boys. Sometimes I ask myself what I am protecting them from? I think it is the quasi-real life image that is public schooling. When they take classes at the university, they are always amazed at how, suddenly, what you look like, what you wear and how ‘cool’ you are suddenly matter not in the least. My second son, who is 20, has been going to USM since he was 13. He is one of the most poised and mature people I know of his age. Most of the kids that I know who HS-ed all the way through, tend to be thoughtful, calm and discerning adults. Why anyone would substitute mass-schooling (who didn’t have to) is beyond me.

John Gatto has me mad

I am re-reading “Dumbing Us Down” and although I don’t necessarily agree with John’s spiritual views, the stuff in this book rings so true regarding community versus networking. Community respects our need to be part of a family, to be regarded as special because we are part of that community, while networking exists to be efficient and to have each person valued solely for the job or skill or idea they can bring to the table. While the need for networks is obvious, they can’t take the place of communities.  We have evolved into people looking for family in networks and not in communities.

The Adventure of “Heating with wood”

When my husband and I were first married, our first exposure to heating with wood was in our first apartment in Maine. We had a second floor apartment in a big brick house which was built in the early 1800’s. The thermostat was in the downstairs apartment below us. The landlord supplied heat, but was rather stingy. We were able to get hold of some seasoned firewood and used our fireplace (the house had double chimneys with double flues inside, since each large room had a fireplace). Short of asking permission and checking the flue for squirrels’ nests, we did not preparation. Not until we had our own house did we realize that there could be missing mortar in the bricks, which would allow extreme heat to get into the space around the chimney and maybe burn the joists under the floors.

We moved and took our woodpile with us. In our new house (actually 100 years old) there was an old Portland parlor stove. (Something like the one pictured below, only not as solid-looking) It had an outside flue, built of cinder blocks. We put our woodpile about 30 feet from the barn in the back yard. 

Parlor Stove

Parlor Stove


Well, the first winter we had about 70″ of snow. In order to get the wood, we had to go out the back door of the barn and walk to the pile, and carry the wood in our arms to the house. About half-way through the winter, we had a large snowstorm. When I went out to get wood, I couldn’t even find the darn pile. I had to get a shovel and dig 2 feet DOWN until I hit the top. (Hey, we were originally from New Jersey-anything over 6 inches at a time was a disaster). After that winter, we learned several things; 1) Keep your wood pile close to the house. 2)DON’T use an old, unrestored woodstove (we later got a Shenandoah, which we still use). 3) Don’t use an outside flue- we had the chimneys in the house relined and when it came time to dismantle the cinder block chimney, we found tons of creosote inside and something REALLY scary……All around the flue opening into the outside chimney the sideboards of the house were black- scorched, burned, etc. Our house could have burned down at any time!

Now, we have a stove thermometer, we clean the flue religiously, we just had the lining upgraded  (Supaflu- a great product and highly recommended for  older chimneys like ours) and we make sure the wood is thoroughly seasoned. I can even cook a whole meal on the stove now. I can’t believe we were as dumb as we were back 21 years ago. guess the angels of clue-less people were watching over us….

As for the old Portland Foundry stove, we sold it to a starry-eyed couple who were in love with heating an old farmhouse the old-fashioned way. Good luck- I hope their house is still there.

Sick Days

Being sick while homeschooling is so much more sane than having to send kids off to school while they feel lousy, because they can’t miss schoolwork or activities, or whatever. We are all feeling a bit under the weather today, in addition to having had to shovel over 12″ of snow that fell yesterday. So we’re ALL going slow today. It feels so natural to just let your body do what it needs to do to recover. There is lots of reading to be done, drawing, playing with much-loved toys, and even some computer time. I am fortunate that I can work from home, but then, I gave up having a lot of new stuff, a new car, or even new anything to stay at home. My husband is grateful that he can take a nap if he needs one. When you come right down to it, we have all we need…good food that I made, warm clothes thanks to goodwill and yard sales, cars that work, although they sure aren’t pretty, and plenty of heat in the form of wood that my husband and sons cut all summer. What else do we need?

Budget cuts

Here in Maine, the schools are in big financial trouble. The state is supposed to pick up 55% of the district budget (which it never has although this is the law) and this year, after the schools already passed their budgets last July, the state is cutting what they will get in January. Some districts will be getting 30% less than they already budgeted for . The cost to educate per year per student in Maine is over $5,000. 

I think of how much I have spent to educate my own kids. I think I may have spent maybe $3000 over the past 20 years, for 6 kids. The high school requirements are also being eased, so that kids do not have to take a credit each of phys ed, music and foreign language in order to graduate. At this rate, their diploma will be fairly worthless.

When my kids were teens, I promptly enrolled them at USM, which is the local state university. They have an early study program for high-schoolers, which allows them to take a college course for 1/2 price, but get the full credit. Each of my 3 oldest kids ended up with almost a year’s worth of college credit (32) by the time they graduated from homeschool high school, and never had trouble being accepted into college, because hey, they were already doing college level work. I imagine there are good community colleges too, where HS-ers can take advantage of this.

Cool things

One of the most wonderful aspects of homeschooling is that your child can do just about anything that he or she has a passion for. My oldest had his own lawnmower repair shop when he was 8, my second son raised prometheus caterpillars form larvae to grown moths in our backyard on a tree he isolated from the rest of the yard, another child is heavily into robotics and tonight I was showing my daughter, who is 8, how to use an image editing program called Pixelmator. I plan to teach her how to develop her own website. Because, we will have TIME to do those things. She won’t be tired out from a long schoolday and we can go as far as we want with it. Here is an image she altered tonight- it was originally a cello with a bow. I like what she did with it.Meira's cello pattern

Why do I dislike public schooling?

I have been thinking about why I dislike public schooling so much. Is it because of a bad experience in my own schooling? I remember liking art and orchestra, but really not being too excited about the rest of school, although I was a good student. The thing I remember most was the bullying, the cliques (which I was never able to penetrate) and the general felling of being in the grip of powers beyond you….the educational bureaucracy. 

I know a lot of teachers. I am one myself (private music studio). I have nothing against teachers in general, in fact, I remember having several really good ones, who made a huge difference in my life. But there is this element in school, where it’s “us” against “them”….hence the teacher’s lounges where no child is supposed to show his or her face.

When my oldest was 6, we enrolled him in the school 1 block away in kindergarten. He had a wonderful teacher and things were fine. However, in first grade, he was exposed to the self-esteem movement that was currently the rage in public schools. He didn’t see the point of much of what he was asked to do, and refused to do it (he was a mechanical genius). The teacher suggested that he was learning disabled, which was plain dumb. He was perfectly capable of doing very complicated tasks at home- he just didn’t see the point of the busy work at school. So we pulled him out and never looked back. He is a mechanic/welder/machinist, who can build a car from the ground up.

One of my strongest memories is having the teacher punish the whole class for the actions of a few. This seemed just so WRONG and unjust to me. In our society, if a person commits an infraction of a rule or a crime, his whole family or neighborhood doesn’t get punished as well, do they? I saw this when I was a special aide to a newly arrived Chinese immigrant in the local junior high, about 4 years ago. I speak Chinese and he spoke no English, so I accompanied him to his classes for a bout a month. Someone had taken the wrong mold in the art class, a very minor thing, but you would have thought they had stabbed someone, the way the teacher carried on. She tried to get whoever did it to ‘admit’ their guilt (over taking the wrong spray can for a mug mold, for crying out loud!) and when no-one admitted it (would you?) she made every single kid in that class destroy their work for that day, in punishment. I HATE that , I absolutely think it is no better, in spirit, than the Nazi’s selecting 10 men to die because someone was missing in role call (this was the incident told in the life of Maximillian Kolbe, the Catholic saint who offered to die in the place of one of the selected men). Sure the teacher wasn’t going to actually hurt anyone, but she killed something of the spirit of the kids in the class that day. The kids just took it like people in prison who have lost hope and are just biding time until they can get out.

That’s what I hate and everything in me wants to fight it.

Homeschool 101-Real Life

Today’s homeschooling consisted of cleaning my son John’s room. He uses Legos, a LOT of them. They were hiding everywhere, like fleas. We also cleaned up a bunch of hero-clicks, with and without bases. And evil foam beads which were infiltrating into every space. I told him that cleaning was just as much an education as doing math. If you can’t find your pencil or your math book, then you can’t do the work anyway. He thinks we should clean everyday (emphasis on the word, WE). But I like the freedom to just take the day and make our lives a bit more orderly without worrying whether it’s part of some dumb lesson plan or not.

Heroes: John Taylor Gatto

John Taylor Gatto is well known in the homeschooling movement. He was named teacher of the year in 1991, and at that time the Wall Street Journal published an article of his in the Op-Ed section in which he announced he was quitting teaching, claiming that he was no longer willing to hurt children. He has written and spoken extensively about the absurdity of modern public education. 

His website is here:


and a site with videos of him speaking about various topics is here:


One of the most useful videos I viewed had him suggesting that the best way to become a good writer was to just write- anything, anywhere, any amount. I adopted this for my own kids, who are asked to write between 1 and 2 pages a day. I don’t care if they write a story, a rant, a menu or whatever. The way to get good at writing is to keep doing it.

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