Books by my bedside 2021/April

I’m a little shocked by how long it’s been since I last posted about what I’m reading. Considering the rather desperate way I escaped into fiction during the pandemic, I might’ve been more forthcoming in sharing what I read for that release.

Now, back to my boilerplate:

I’ve noticed that I often bring up in conversation one or more of the fascinating books I’ve been reading lately, only to fail utterly at recalling titles or authors’ names. I’ll take this opportunity to at least make a handy reference available for anyone who cares to follow up on something I’ve said.

Just check my blog!

Non-Fiction

History

Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia by Semyonova Tian-Shanskaia, Olga

Writing (Short Story as Literature)

A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by Saunders, George

Fiction

Young Adult

Akata Witch and Akata Warrior by Okorafor, Nnedi

The Real Boy by Ursu, Anne

African/Feminist

Nervous Conditions by Dangarembga, Tsitsi

Mystery/Thriller

Billionaire Blend by Coyle, Cleo

A Deadly Influence by Omer, Mike

All the Devils are Here by Penny, Louise

Water Memory by Pyne, Daniel

Open House by Sise, Katie

After Alice Fell by Taylor Blakemore, Kim

Science Fiction

Shift by Howey, Hugh

Reading Notes:

Exploring the world via fiction in a year without travel

The young adult novel, Akata Witch (like its sequel, Akata Warrior), is set in Nigeria. Please see my footnote about the derogatory term in these titles if Nigerian languages are new to you as they were to me. As I have no wish to offend anyone, I will not repeat the word except within the context of the titles chosen by the works’ creator.

Like the author—Nnedi Okorafor—herself, the heroine, Sunny, is American born. Sunny is a teen living in Nigeria, an outsider due to her foreign birth, albinism, and then… all the usual stuff that sets apart the protagonist of a fantasy novel. This is not a cookie-cutter, Western fantasy! I found Okorafor’s created world fresh and fascinating, and the heroine and her friends richly detailed, complex, and very capable of keeping my middle-aged attention. My heart does tend to ache for the girl’s worried mother, however, as Sunny undertakes dangerous quests typical of the genre.

I enjoyed being immersed in the African setting of these titles. Missing my usual travels, this scratched my itch for adventure and “seeing” new places. The American-born teens in the story helped this reader make the transition to a better understanding of Nigerian culture from a perspective with which I’m more familiar.books I read April 2021 - Okorafor fantasy novels

Of course, the bulk of the story involves magical powers and the unseen world. Even if I made it to Nigeria, I doubt I’d encounter most of the creatures or powerful wizards Okorafor brings to life on her pages. As the pandemic has taught me, living through historically exciting events is not always easy or desirable.

Aside from an enjoyable young adult narrative, I appreciate Okorafor’s thoughtful approach to her craft. Regarding her success in a genre whose “great men” were often virulent racists who may well have shunned her, Okorafor wrote on her own blog:

“What I know I want is to face the history of this leg of literature rather than put it aside or bury it. If this is how some of the great minds of speculative fiction felt, then let’s deal with that .…as opposed to never mention it or explain it away.”

I believe this contemplative attitude helps explain why she opted to use a word with heavy connotations in her titles. I use her original titles as opposed to the less racially-charged British ones in an effort to show respect to the author.Copy of softbound library copy of Nervous Conditions by Dangarembga

Also set in Africa but half a continent away, I recently dove into Tsitsi Dangarembga’s masterful Nervous Conditions. It takes place in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the mid-20th Century. I devoured the novel in just a couple of days, perhaps identifying so strongly with its protagonist, Tambudzai, because of her intelligence and drive to get an education against all obstacles.

Tambu reflects upon a new school with: “Most importantly, most wonderfully, there was the library, big, bright, walled in glass on one side and furnished with private little cubicles where you could do your homework, or simply lose yourself…in…books…”

I was a girl just like that.

Quote from page 199 about the wonderful library in a girl's school

Nervous Condition is the kind of book in which I highlight multiple passages. For the library’s sake, I do that these days by photographing myself pointing to the relevant spot on the page. Less typically for me, I even highlighted some of the author’s comments in the “book club” discussion section at the back of this novel.

Tambu’s story isn’t light or easy. Colonialism, racism, sexism, and poverty all conspire against her success, though she’s quite young when the story begins. She’s complex and complicated, and Dangarembga has drawn her beautifully. Even better, the entire novel is peopled by fully dimensioned, believable characters. Dangarembga writes with a deft hand.Quote highlighted from Nervous Conditions page 183

“Marriage. I had nothing against it in principle. In an abstract way I thought it was a very good idea. But it was irritating the way it always cropped up in one form or another, stretching its tentacles back to bind me before I had even begun to think about it seriously, threatening to disrupt my life before I could even call it my own.”

I finished the book quite eager to read its successor, 2006’s The Book of Not. It was unavailable at my local library, though the third volume, 2020’s This Mournable Body could be had. I couldn’t even find book two in our statewide searchable catalog for inter-library loans. Resigning myself to an Amazon purchase, I discovered that a new edition of The Book of Not is due to be released in May of this year. Used copies from 2006 are selling for about $50 each, which is more than I can bear to spend on a paperback. The vagaries of international publishing, perhaps?

I opted to purchase the Audible audiobook version of This Mournable Body—Dangarembga’s only English language audio release, so far as I can tell—because I wanted to directly support the author of a powerful novel that moved me so profoundly.

Also, no lie, it drove me crazy that I still don’t know how to pronounce many names from the story. Unlike European languages and concepts, I struggled to search out definitions for unfamiliar terms, photos of garments about which I was curious, or quick phonetic pronunciation guides. I’m hoping that the audiobook recording will offer me the chance to hear these names spoken by a more educated narrator.

I’ve heard people argue about a lack of rich cultural heritage outside of their narrow conception of the “civilized world;” it’s hard to appreciate what you can’t see because your back is turned!

Segueing not very neatly from far away in distance to far away in time, I must comment on Hugh Howey’s sequel to Wool: Shift. They’re both part of the Silo Saga. These are really good books—if you can tolerate a dystopian future.

My librarian friend The Priestess recommended Wool to me during a weekend away together. I was complaining about how poorly most algorithms do in offering me literary recommendations. I don’t know if that’s true for anyone else, but Amazon and Good Reads do not get me at all. She’d heard good things about it, but not read it herself, I believe.

I enjoyed Wool. It was a fun read, I finished it… then I didn’t think about it again for several years. Somehow, during the pandemic, Shift came to my attention. I think, since Mr. Howey originally self-published via Amazon, that it may have been free to read with Kindle Unlimited. I was definitely hunting that source much more actively than usual in the early shutdown days when I lost weekly library access.

Here’s why I absoluely must mention Shift: I have never before read a sequel and been so much more impressed by it than I was by its precursor. If anything, I’m used to being disappointed by middling follow-ups to novels I loved. That sounds strange, because Wool was a good book. Shift struck me as an even better one, and much more profound.

Consider the Silo Saga if you enjoy Sci Fi and don’t mind reading about the end of the world in the middle of a pandemic disaster.

Myriad mysteries

The string of casual flings I carry on with light murder mysteries continues. Thankfully, our local library opened for pre-ordered, curbside lending after a month or two of darkness, but I have also relied more heavily on the monthly free titles for Amazon Prime members (most of which are mediocre, but they do pass the time) and digital psuedo-purchases, which I loathe on principle.Two Kindle ebook readers, one labeled kids, the other says Mom's

No, if I don’t have a copy of a book or song I can pass to my heirs when I die, I have not purchased it. I’ve rented a license to use my copy during my lifetime. There’s nothing wrong with the model, if it’s what people want, but calling these transactions a purchase strikes me as fraudulent! Stepping down from soapbox…

A Deadly Influence made a pretty fun read, but a single sentence late in the book stopped me cold, prompting me to check the author’s name and confirm that he must be a man. It was a description of an outfit that the protagonist put on to go out and meet a date… and it was so laughably bad, I guessed right that moment that a non-fashionable male had written its description.

The storyline there involves a professional police negotiator, Abby, the calm presence who talks down the guy on the ledge or the hostage holding one with a gun to someone’s head. She (the protagonist) was very believable, except for her dressing up scene, realistically, lightly flawed, yet still likeable. Peeking inside life in a modern cult or two also made this novel stand out from my crowd of similar whodunits. It’s one of the few Amazon freebies I’ve read where I will watch for sequels. I’d like to see Abby’s character develop, and A Deadly Influence ended on a bit of cliffhanger though one I admittedly saw coming, but I didn’t mind.

Better writing through considered consumption of literature

Finally, I can’t leave this post without some discussion of Saunders’ A Swim in the Pond in the Rain. I’m so in love with this book at the moment! Full disclosure: I’m only 4/7 done with it as it was due back to the library and had holds so I couldn’t renew.

George Saunders teaches creative writing at Syracuse. The premise of the book is to explore seven classic works of Russian short fiction, then tease out lessons to improve our own writing from literary greats Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol.

The stories are magnificent. So are Saunders’ essays!Section heading for Tolstoy's Master & Man (1895) from the book A Swim in the Pond in the Rain

Perhaps the author selected just those few stories which are truly special. More likely, I have failed to read enough of the Russian masters. Technically proficient? Yes. Moving, emotionally rich? Definitely. Yet, somehow, this book is also a great deal of fun. I wish Saunders were my teacher though I’ve already spent far more time in Syracuse than I ever wished to.

I picked this up in order to plan a literature unit for my home educated teen. I thought it would complement the Russian History we’re doing this year. Note to home schoolers: it really, really does! I planned to peruse it, make some notes, then set the child to work on Saunders’ readings and my assignments over the summer term. Instead, I fell into the book myself, only reluctantly returning it on time because I’d foolishly let it sit too long on our library shelf before starting in.

Consider pairing A Swim in the Pond in the Rain with viewing the Great Courses video offering History of Russia: From Peter the Great to Gorbachev taught by Mark Steinberg. Lesson 21: Peasant Life & Culture is particularly apropos, but everything from Lesson 8 (The Decembrist Rebellion) to 25 (War & Revolution) will enhance your appreciation for the context of those stories Saunders offers.

† IMPORTANT NOTE: Please be aware that the unfamiliar word—if you only speak English—in the title, Akata Witch, has derogatory connotations for some Africans and African Americans.

The first book was given a new title for publication in the UK and Nigeria for that reason (What Sunny Saw in the Flames.) My internet research was cursory, of course, since I know no African languages. In spite of many contradictory definitions across the web, my best understanding is that the word is Yoruba—or possibly originated from the Fanti tribe—and is literally defined as an animal (maybe cat or fox.) The emphasis is on an uncivilized creature living outside his/her/its appropriate milieu. I’m not qualified to explain the term beyond this attempt at literal translation.

I wanted to discuss this book, but I hesitated to blindly post a sensitive phrase without this acknowledgement. Read about the term’s slang usage on Urban Dictionary if you’d like to learn more.

YES! CLV’s Virtual Village is great remote language learning for kids

COVID-19 tipped at least half the world over, and then we all got to sort through the mess and try to sift a life of our own out of it. For parents, remote learning—and some emergency, un-planned-for home education—has been one of the biggest transitions to negotiate.

school supplies - 1Home schooling challenges those of us who chose it enthusiastically; it’s an even taller order for those reacting to unprecedented interruptions in modern school systems. Finding the right resources can make or break parent-led education efforts. Today I’ll share my child’s experience with foreign language programs offered by Concordia Language Villages (CLV).

I’ve posted in the past about attending in person “family camp” at CLV’s German language facility, Waldsee. Learn more about summer camp here.

Waldsee Wilkommen - 1

Fast Facts about Concordia Language Villages’ online “Virtual Village” programs

I’ll format this as fast facts* in an attempt to efficiently answer the unfamiliar reader’s likeliest questions.

I’m rushing to post this before the spring semester begins for academic credit programs, because attendance is vital—and mandatory!—for those looking to earn official credits. I’ll address any follow up questions in the comments, or add an update if I discover I’ve missed covering any major questions.

What is/are Concordia Language Villages?

In 1960, a Concordia College faculty member suggested an innovative immersion program for teaching foreign languages to children. Each language gets a summer camp “village” in Concordia’s home state, Minnesota, where participants hear, speak, live, and eat according to their target culture.

Visit CLV’s Who We Are page to hear their own full answer to this question.

The key point here is the language immersion approach. Showing up at camp, kids—even complete beginners—are immediately plunged into a monolingual world in their chosen target language. CLV has spent decades building their unique pedagogy to support an efficient transition that brings children from their comfortable native language to at least basic functionality in a new one.

It’s amazing how fast that can happen in a prepared environment!

Which languages are taught at CLV?

Fifteen (15!) languages are offered in CLV’s full program, but I’ll stick with those available in virtual form in 2020-21 for this post. Those are, in alphabetical order:

  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • Danish
  • Finnish
  • French
  • German
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Norwegian
  • Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Swedish

It is important to note that only the most popular of these languages are offered in the longer term, more intensive sessions at CLV.

What kind of online class is a “Virtual Village”?

First let me clarify that CLV is offering three types of virtual experience for kids. There are

  • Clubs,
  • Classes,
  • and Academic Year High School Credit programs.

Some languages offer adult learning and there’s also German family programming. Since I’ve not tried those, I can’t offer a review, but my in person Family Camp experiences with CLV have been excellent.

Most languages only offer Clubs. These meet once a week for one hour per week, and sessions are six weeks long. Consider this a playful supplement to home or school education. Clubs make sense for kids who still attend hybrid or remote school who would like to practice a foreign language or gain exposure to a new language they may be curious about studying.

CLV Classes are akin to many other “online home school” courses I’ve found for my own kids. These meet twice a week for an hour per session (30 minutes for grade schoolers); as with Clubs, a Class is a mere six week commitment.

High School Credit virtual village programs are offered in:

  • French,
  • German,
  • Italian,
  • Japanese,
  • Norwegian,
  • and Spanish.

The spring term starts soon—January 26, 2020—so don’t hesitate if you want to enroll your teen.

Because the High School Credit program is accredited and offers 180 or more hours of instruction for the full year, home schoolers can rely upon it as a complete unit of study. When my son applies to college, for example, CLV’s Virtual Credit German class will appear on his “high school” transcript alongside the courses he’s taken at local colleges.

Pupils enrolled in institutions may be able to transfer this credit to their school in order to advance levels or free up time for taking other courses, but that would be at your individual school’s discretion. I’ve had arguments with friends about the value of credit programs outside of public school enrollment when said school disdains anything they didn’t offer themselves. I can’t prove it, but I’d guess colleges will always be more impressed by the kid who studied anything extra vs. those who stuck with the routine offerings of narrow-minded, parochial districts.

Who can join Virtual Village sessions?

  • Clubs are open to kids age 8-18
  • Classes are offered for Elementary (30 minutes/week), Middle, and High school levels
  • and Academic Year High School Credit programs are for 9-12th graders.

Is a CLV virtual offering worth the steep price tag?

My family’s answer is a resounding: Yes! That doesn’t mean the numbers will add upso well for every family.

The basis for my answer? Our older child attended two weeks of Virtual Villages summer camp, in Russian and German. He has been enrolled in an academic credit program this fall, and we opted to continue with the spring session based upon the program’s quality.** Our younger child will be joining a CLV Club in January 2021.

Virtual “summer camp” weeks in 2020

One week of CLV Virtual summer camp cost $325 in 2020. We were so grateful they pulled together a program at all, and my son enjoyed participation online better than he did going in person. Note that this opinion comes from a true introvert!

Online “camp” was not really the equivalent of a traditional week on site at one of language villages, however. It wasn’t nearly as immersive. Then again, it was 1/3 the cost.

Academic Year Virtual High School Credit for 2020-21

By autumn 2020, CLV started hitting its virtual stride. Probably because there was a lot of relevant course material available from their history of hosting on site academic credit programs, this experience has been a valuable one for my home schooled kid. There are two class sessions a week, plus required homework assignments to be completed in the meantime.

A couple of mandatory book purchases were required for the year to the tune of about $35. Admittedly, I didn’t follow up on more esoteric borrowing options after ascertaining my local library was unable to supply a copy of either European title.

Be aware that CLV credit programs cost more than in state tuition for courses at our local community college. Our local community college doesn’t offer German or Russian, however. It’s more aligned to the cost of private college tuition: expensive! That said, if you have a younger teen or concerns about how your child would fit in with a mature college crowd, CLV’s program is designed specifically to educate secondary school students.

In a good language class, it’s vital for the students to mix and chat with each other. Not all 14 year olds are ready to engage in casual conversation with college students.

I’m very comfortable describing the educational value of Concordia’s unique methodology as being equal to or better than my own experience of college level language courses, which I’ve taken at three universities, one public, two private. My experience at CLV family language camp compared favorably to the most challenging, stimulating class I ever took: a semester of full immersion Japanese at Cornell University.

For dollars and cents specifics, take this comparison I pulled off the internet: Harvard University offered a 7 week, virtual due to the pandemic Chinese language class (4 college credits) for $3,340 in 2020. CLV’s Japanese language spring semester program lasts 24 weeks, offers one “high school credit,” and costs $3,860. In my planning notes from previous years, I’d noted that the CLV summer “sleepaway camp” credit for which the participant would earn high school credit cost $4,830 for the four week camp.

Comparing these programs is more apples-to-apples than looking at less sophisticated local offerings, though lucky you if you can find something better and cheaper in your neighborhood!

CLV Classes

For those who can’t even imagine spending so much on an extracurricular program—or for home educated kids who already use other resources to form the bulk of a year’s language credit—the CLV Classes might be a great fit. This is the one offering in CLV’s arsenal for which I haven’t enrolled either of my kids, so I’ll just share the posted details and price to put it in context.

A Class will meet twice per week. It costs $395 for a six week session. There are two more sessions available for registration this academic year in Spanish, for example. That would give you (2 hrs × 6 weeks) of instruction, possibly multiplied by two if your child does both sessions.

As a home educator, I use the “Carnegie unit” method of approximating how much time my kid should spend to equal a high school course. That means 120 hours of instruction. If you want to create a home school language class for your child, you would want to spend another 96 hours on other work in that language to roughly equate to a school class if you’ve signed up for two sessions of CLV Class; if this were just a spring semester course, cut that down to 36 additional hours.

I offer these numbers as a ballpark for concerned parents who didn’t intend to be home schooling, yet find themselves a year into a pandemic with under-educated children. I highly recommend free resources like Mango and DuoLingo for language skill supplementation; along with Mango access, I get Pimsleur audio CD’s from the local library for my home educated kid.

I’ve written about language acquisition tools for myself here and here and here. Presumably these same resources would be useful to teens and young adults.

CLV Club for extra-curricular, after school enrichment

Finally, the least expensive, least intensive CLV offering is the Club product. Clubs meet for one hour per week over six weeks; each session costs $195, and there are two more sessions this school year. I have enrolled a kid in one of the clubs, but it doesn’t start until tomorrow, so I can only describe the claims for now.

Campers at CLV Waldsee playing chess outdoorsClub will meet once per week, after school. It’s a 60 minute session, and it’s designed to be fun and enriching. My younger child gets a little language instruction at school, but, like most American middle schools, it doesn’t match my idea of academic rigour. I’m not expecting the Club to replace school language instruction, but to enhance it. I have a lot of trust in Concordia’s ability to make that happen.

Bottom line: why give CLV your tuition?

Growing up a middle class nerd in Oregon, if I’d have heard of the CLV program, I would have begged to attend. My parents would have told me it was too expensive! I’ve heard that a famous daughter of a president went, but I don’t have evidence for that assertion.

I highly recommend CLV’s summer camps for families that want to learn languages together, and for outgoing kids with a mild- to moderate- degrees of interest in foreign languages, or introverted kids with a passionate interest in the same. I’ve heard it argued that a family should just travel to the target nation for the same amount of money… but that will be less effective IMHO if you head to a nation where average adults speak excellent English when compared to your minimal-or-less knowledge of their tongue.

CLV has spent over 50 years developing a highly effective process for coaxing children into assimilating a new language and culture with all of their senses. The virtual programs are not quite as robust as the live experience, but they still represent an enthusiastic and thorough offering that brings knowledge to kids wrapped in a joyous appreciation for the value of cultural immersion.

The educational quality is undeniable, and the level of fun is pretty good, too. If schlepping your kids to Minnesota for an expensive camp was never a possibility, consider taking advantage of this year’s virtual offerings like my family has. Perhaps you will be as sold on CLV’s value as I am. Either way, your child will definitely further his or her knowledge of a foreign language, so long as s/he shows up and takes part in the exercises.

* Because anyone who has visited my blog before will know that I wasn’t blessed with a gift for brevity. There’s always more I want to say!

Accreditation by Cognia

For example, we would be in a position to consider enrollment in a private high school if our child hadn’t preferred home education. Subtracting tuition for CLV and community college courses, we still come out ahead financially vs. the full cost of prep schools in our region.

** Those who have studied German through the widely available Goethe Institut program will appreciate my son’s positive comparison of the CLV academic credit program with his prior level A2 Online-Kurs with that institution founded by the German government

Back to school or learning pod, every parent’s choice is reasonable

I don’t think my behavior should be characterized as doom-scrolling, but I do subscribe toand read dailytwo of the major American newspapers as well as a handful of magazines. I prefer my news* to be well-researched, fact-checked, and professionally edited, thank you!

Recently, everywhere I look, I’m confronted by angry, polarized debate creating artificial binary positions on the particulars of education in the COVID-19 era.

In person learning is too dangerous! Remote learning is useless! Both positions are flawed…

“In person learning is too dangerous!”

“Remote learning is useless!

Both positions are flawed because real life is nuanced. What works for one child—or one family, or one community—can’t be arbitrarily exported to someone else’s situation because there are meaningful differences between cases.

school supplies - 1Some teachers aren’t at particularly high risk for complications from the novel coronavirus, and want to get back into classrooms quickly. By all means, let’s put those educators to work in communities where infection rates make that a sensible solution. Other teachers have pre-existing conditions or would prefer to teach remotely: there’s an audience for that modality, too.

I have yet to see any analysis comparing the number of teachers who’d like to get back inside schools with the number of families who desire the same for their kids. What if all this finger pointing is for nothing and those numbers align naturally in most communities? Shouldn’t someone put a modicum of effort into asking such a straightforward question that could solve so many problems?

Remote education worked well for some students. Learning outside of a large, “industrial school” setting was the dominant mode of education for most people prior to the past century. It’s ridiculous to pretend that there is only one path from ignorance to wisdom; all of human history argues otherwise.

Binder page listing high school courses for grade 10I’ve read articles bemoaning the selfishness of (rich) parents forming COVID-19 learning pods instead of sending their kids back to public schools. At the same time, many (mostly urban) schools don’t have enough physical space to safely host all of their pupils in a socially distanced manner.

It strikes me as obvious that the removal of some kids—admittedly, those whose families can afford to pay private tutors or take time away from work to teach their own themselves—from over-crowded conditions will only improve the odds against infection-via-density for those who remain.

Backpack with textbooks and school supplies spilling out

It flat out sucks that we have yet to find a way to offer any semblance of an equal opportunity for an excellent education to all students regardless of color, creed, or zip code, but reducing each pupil’s risk of contracting COVID-19 in his or her classroom is a more straightforward problem to solve.

Since this is literally a matter of life or death, I think we should start with the low hanging fruit of smaller class sizes by whatever means possible. Some skilled educators may be lured by wealthy families’ ability to pay for private tuition, but few go into teaching for the money, so I suspect most passionate teachers will remain in the system where they chose to work.

Some families have no option but to send their kids back to classrooms. They depend upon this one and only form of state-sponsored child care in America in order to work, earning a paycheck, but also contributing their labor to benefit society. Their kids deserve to be the first children back at school in person. I willingly cede the seats my kids could rightfully occupy to children who need them more.

The children of essential workers and kids who live with food insecurity should have first dibs on in person instruction this year. This isn’t about getting the most back for every penny I spent in taxes, it’s about doing the right thing at a tumultuous time.

lunch box on kitchen counter

Lunchbox, ready for school.

It is pathetic that many of our schools are in poor repair and lack modern HVAC systems or windows that open. It is ridiculous how many young bodies we squeeze into rooms designed for far fewer. It is outrageous that millions of our children depend upon meals served at school for essential nutrition.

None of that is right, but all of it is true. I will continue to advocate for better schooling for every kid at every opportunity I see, but I’m not going to ignore reality when lives are at risk. Neither choice is pure merit, but neither choice deserves scorn.

The choice that works for your family this year is good enough. Do what works. Kids can learn in many ways and from many sources, especially when they see their parents carefully making thoughtful choices on their behalf.

Children play amongst colorful leaves on a sunny autumn dayKids are resilient. Thank God! Most of the kids will be all right. That’s the best we can do in the face of a viral adversary that has killed 171,787 Americans as of August 29, 2020.

For the moment, the best I can offer my community is to keep my kids away from public spaces to alleviate the pressure of a pandemic on the strained resources of our health and education systems.

I’m doing my best, like so many other parents. Frankly, we should all give ourselves a break, because our best really is good enough for now. Instead of blaming each other for making different choices, let’s all focus on meeting the needs of our own kids, each in our own ordinary, reasonable way.

I voted Election sticker - 1Highly paid elected officials in D.C. and other capitals deserve the pressure and expectation of doing more, because they are the ones who dropped this particular ball. Give them the blame they’ve earned. The U.S.A. is failing in its attempt to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, but it isn’t for lack of effort on the part of average American parents.

* It’s true that I added the New York Times to my paid subscriptions only after COVID-19 started sweeping the world, but I’d been on the verge of the upgrade purchase for almost a year. I think this is where I give a shout out to the Boston Globe, The Atlantic, Wired magazine, and The Economist for edu-taining me through a pandemic, right? 

It was my growing reliance on NYT Cooking recipes during the early phase of sheltering-in-place (with hit-and-miss grocery deliveries) that finally prompted me to input my credit card number.

According to this NY Times article from September 4, 2020, 40% of parents have chosen remote learning instead of taking advantage of the hybrid or in person options offered in that city.

As a mother who has home schooled one of her children for over seven years, my experience was that customizing my own plan for my own child was far easier than implementing the adapted curriculum dictated by my other kid’s school that was unprepared for the sudden need for remote learning last spring. American parents have the right to educate their own children as they see fit, so declaring as a home educating parent is an alternative for those whose kids responded poorly to their schools’ offerings.

In 2018, 29.7 million children received free or reduced-cost lunch daily per the USDA

Reading The Plague and playing Pandemic to cope with COVID-19

Some people like to distract themselves from a worldwide disaster, like, say, a viral pandemic. A few of us instead double down and dig in. I’m easing my anxieties over COVID-19-induced uncertainty by looking to the past and playing Pandemic.

Maybe this kind of deep dive is perverse, but I’ve always been the sort of person who fixates on one particular subject until I’ve had my fill. I also tend to find life infinitely fascinating, so my next obsession is a matter of when, not if. Examining any source of anxiety helps me ease my mind.

What could be more natural than studying up on what’s threatening to take me down?

I’d guess I’m not the only bookworm who has cracked a copy of Camus’ “The Plague” or Boccaccio’s Decameron” in recent months. I’m reading Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year,” too.

For those who prefer their erudition by video, The Great Courses’ “The Black Death: The World’s Most Devastating Plague” by Dorsey Armstrong, Ph.D., is a fantastic and informative production. My public library offers this title on DVD to borrow for free, but it can also be had instantly at a cost via Amazon or from the publisher’s own site (Course No. 8241) .

Almost nothing has made me feel more lucky to be alive today than confronting the mortality statistics of previous pandemics!
Continue reading

Poetry serves democracy: When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home…

Perhaps the most delightful side effect of educating one’s own children at home is the constant opportunity to discover and rediscover the vast riches of all the learning the world has to offer.

Case in point: a poem by Lord Byron.

When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home,
Let him combat for that of his neighbours;
Let him think of the glories of Greece and of Rome,
And get knock’d on the head for his labours.
To do good to mankind is the chivalrous plan,
And, is always as nobly requited; 
Then battle for freedom wherever you can,
And, if not shot or hang’d, you’ll get knighted. 

If you read it aloud, you might be put in mind of limericks. That’s because the meter is anapestic,* of course, though the rhyme scheme here differs from that of a limerick.

duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH

Extra credit if you know how many feet are in each line of verse…

Textbooks including Poetry & Humanity by Michael Clay Thompson from Royal Fireworks PressI’m grateful to the skilled teacher, Michael Clay Thompson, who wrote the multi-level language arts curriculum published by Royal Fireworks Press that I’ve used with my son for about eight years now. My own appreciation for and knowledge of grammar has grown alongside my son’s, and many of the poems included therein have become family favorites.

Lord Byron’s cheeky, even snarky, goad to action on behalf of human freedom is both a pleasure to read aloud and a timely reminder to do my part for democracy as people worldwide withdraw into petty nationalism while human unity fractures.

Here’s hoping my reward is to be nobly requited. That sounds much better than the alternative.

*Anapest. You know! The opposite of a dactyl. If I learned these details in school, I’ve long since forgotten them, but the poetics study included at every level of MCT’s language arts program is often my very favorite part. It doesn’t so much demand that we memorize these obscure terms as make us want to by showing us both the breadth and depth of what’s beautiful in the construction of our mother tongue.