Monday, April 30, 2007

What We Do Matters Part 1

Last week, as some you know, I was the lawyer for a Mock Trial for Special Education Law 510. It was a difficult case. The parents of a child with AS had taken him out of school because there was disagreement between the school people and the parents about his special education needs. Because the boy was academically gifted, the school people thought he should be in the general education classroom with no special education component. The parents differed because they were concerned about how being in the general education classroom environment would affect the child's ability to learn. Large classrooms are noisy, confusing places and the sensory over-stimulation can affect an Aspie's ability to focus. The parents also had concerns that the child was marginalized and being bullied. So they took him out of school, but for reasons involving the child's socialization, they brought him to the municipal park to play and sometimes he was in the park while the school children were also playing in the park. Nearly two years later, the principal of the school and some teachers tried to ban the child from the park, saying that his behavior was a problem. They insisted that they should have the right to have the school psychologist re-evaluate the child before he could play in the park.

When we first got the case, my group spent a good deal of time mucking around with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), because we were focused on the park issue. And we were a little angry because, we are not lawyers, and after all, in class we had studied the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and we did not see how the case we were given fit. Here is a homeschooled child being deprived of the right to play on a public playground. I even contacted Judy Aron over at Consent of the Governed because she is a researcher working with National Home Education Legal Defense. However, because I was swamped with my other course, I was unable to take Judy's gracious offer to help.

At one of our rather hilarious group meetings--we coped with the stress with humor--a change of perspective took place. We began to wonder about why the parents were bringing such a case two years after taking their child out of school. And we realized that the real violation took place when the parents' concerns were ignored at the child's IEP meeting two years ago. Not only that, the school people compounded the problem by asserting their power against the family two years later. The parents were most likely bringing the case in order to get the school off their backs and to stop what they perceived to be harassment by a powerful institution. With this change in our perspective, we were able to find our case in IDEA--because Congress found that one problem (among many) with special education was that parents are not included in the IEP process effectively. (And this is very true as any parent who has dealt with the special education process can tell you). And Congress wrote into the law ways to correct that. I don't know if we won or not yet. In the original case, the school won on procedural grounds--in our public institutions you can behave very badly, but if you cross all your "T's" and dot all of your "i's" you can get away with it.

In my closing statement I said, in part:

"...But in our concept of law, (justice) is not in some pure realm. Justice is not justice if it does not reach into the sometimes messy conflicts of ordinary lives. A great scholar and legalist once said: “Justice delayed and justice denied will bring the sword.”
I think what he meant was that what we do here now matters. How we respond to the need of one person for justice matters. How an individual is treated in our public institutions matters. If a child is bullied, if his parents are harassed, if a student does not receive needed services, all of this affects all of us. We have learned this only too well this past week as the details of the Virginia Tech shooting have been revealed."

This shows that government schools, and the people who operate them, don't know winning for losing. When a lawyer came to talk to our class about the IDEA and due process hearings, I saw this clearly. He kept talking about the how the schools can "win." What he did not appear to get is that if a parent is frustrated to the point of bringing a due process hearing, there is a problem that the school has not dealt with in some way. When a school comes off as asserting its considerable power over individual citizens--taxpayers all--then the school loses the public relations battle even if they win the case. This is so, because schools are not generally perceived as friendly places by the people who were and are compelled to go to them, and school people are not held in great respect in our communities. The root of that issue is twofold: the compulsory nature of school attendance in a free society and the virtual monopoly school people have over education process in this country. School people are not required to listen to the people they require to attend, and to pay for their services. Further, the institutional power school people have, which is derived from compulsion, has created in many of them an unbearable officiousness and know-it-all attitude. On top of it all, public schools have not shown great success in teaching their clients to read and write and figure, let alone educating them to think critically for themselves about the issues of our day. This is painfully obvious to anyone who has taught at the university level in the United States. And the name-calling and sound-byte-repeating-nature of what passes for public discourse is another indicator of the failure of schools to educate. For all these reasons, even if the school people have the letter of the law on their side, in any tangle with the public, they lose good-will.

I believe that one problem common to much of our institutional life in the United States is that at our core we have forgotten how to treat one another as unique, irreplacible human beings. When, as in the case above, the needs of the child are eclipsed by the need of an institution to deny responsibility for mistakes it has made, for unthinking power asserted over children as if they were interchangable parts, we all lose. As I said further in my closing argument:

"...(my clients) ask that the ... Public Schools recognize that this is not about power. It is not about money. It is about the future of one child. And if justice means anything at all—if it is to have a reality beyond abstraction, then what we decide here in the midst of a real and messy conflict matters."

Ultimately, it all comes down to this: What we do to one another matters. What we say to one another matters. How we treat one another matters. It matters in communities where we are acting as individuals, and it matters even more in institutional settings where the institutional power of what we represent can become oppressive to our brothers and sisters.

If we are honest with ourselves, we all know we make mistakes in our dealings with others. And when we do, we are obligated to make things right. To admit that we are, all of us, fallible human beings.

I think that when we insist that events like the VT shootings are about gun-control, or about surveillance, or about the evil in one individual, we are missing a critical point. And by this I do NOT mean that we do not need need to have a conversation about gun-control, or about surveillance, or about the fact that people can do evil. What I mean is that all behavior has causes--whether the behavior itself is rational or not. And if we are really honest with ourselves, we can see where a fragile mind and heart can be broken when cornered and bullied in an institution that does not care to stop it. An institution in which those with power turn a blind eye to the responsibility that power entails. And in many cases, that institution is the local public school.

Were the Virginia Tech teachers and students who were murdered in cold blood killed randomly? Yes. They were innocents who reaped the whirlwind sown by others; those who, when given power, chose to turn a blind-eye to the consequences of that power. It is wrong to start pointing fingers at the administration at VT, and blame the victims who were killed because they did not to fight back. The shooter made certain choices and is responsible for them--that is true. But it is also true that those choices were influenced by a broken mind and heart. And that mind and heart were damaged, in part, by terrible emotional pain inflicted by other children who were allowed to bully someone in a public institution that compelled his attendance. Bullied by children who were not taught what it means to be civil, to be compassionate, to be able to put themselves in the place of another person.

And in our case, we began to understand that we were seeing the same thing. A situation in which a public school refused to solve a problem with parents and a little boy by talking to them, treating their concerns as important, stopping the bullying.

In The Uncertainty Principle, a masterful episode of his PBS series, The Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski takes us to Auschwitz. There he discusses the importance of the the spiritual component in our dealing with each other as human beings. He says that ultimately, we must remember when making judgements that we are fallible, that we cannot know everything with certainty. In making choices about how we deal with one another, Bronowski says, we must "touch people." And he plunges his hand into the pond--into the ashes of those who were murdered because an institution, the Nazi party, was certain of their unworthiness to live. That scene has stayed forever etched in my mind. And I wonder, can a compulsory institution--one that is given absolute power over the lives of students, one that regularly passes judgement on the worthiness of students by standardized test, one that refuses to be questioned or reformed--can such an instition ever really "touch people?"

Perhaps the spiritual shallowness of the institution is no accident of law or custom. Perhaps the lack of spiritual depth comes from the very nature of the beast. After all, we know that many of the people who make up the system, start out with the best intentions in the world. And yet, when stripped of their own spiritual nature, forced by the nature of the institution into a mold that insists that no one is responsible and that all values are relative, when acting not as individuals, but at the behest of the system, they behave without regard to the sacredness of the individual.

This is something to think more about.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Oops! I Made A Mistake

It happens now and then.

Frankie, over at Kitchen Table Learners reminded me that her son Thomas does not have AS. He is, however, twice-exceptional. That means that he is intellectually gifted and has learning difficulties.

It is late, but I did not want to let another day go by without correcting my mistake.

Frankie, I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking! But this does not get you out of being nominating for the Thinking Blogger Award! See, you've made me think twice as hard today! :)

Frankie has a great post up about some ducks that are visiting her yard. Do go on over and check it out! The ducks' names are Fred and Ethel. Hmmm. They do look a bit like Fred and Ethel Mertz. Remember I love Lucy?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Thinking Blogger Award

I have been tagged!

I have received the Thinking Blogger Award. My blog was listed on the blog Falling Like Rain as one of 5 blogs that causes readers to think.

This is a meme that has rules!

1. Link to 5 blogs that make you think.
2. Link to the original post about the Thinking Blog Award so that people can go find the exact origin of the meme. (I have linked above).
3. Optional: Display the Thinking Blog Award with a link to the post you wrote. (I am working on this).

It is always a pleasure to find out that what I write makes someone think. At Falling Like Rain, my blog was praised as follows: "This mom has a unique perspective and a writing style that always makes me think about whether or not I am living what I believe."
This is touching praise, indeed. In order to live with integrity, every person must consider this question every day of life. Writing my blog requires to constantly ask myself this question, too.

So now I will list 5 blogs that make me think. Those of you who are listed, please go to the original site (link above) and then, if you choose, follow the rules above. I am imagining a whole wonderful tree of bloggers that make us think!

Disclaimer: I am an equal-opportunity thinker. I enjoy blogs whose authors have very different perspectives that come from many different experiences. From considering the words of others who are different than me, I learn the most.

"Ben Zoma said:
'Who is wise? The person who learns from all human beings. As it is said: From all my teachers I have gotten understanding.' " Pirke Avot 4.1

Five Blogs That Make Me Think

1. Homeschooling Aspergers : Megan in Queensland Australia regularly posts very educational information about life in Australia. Her perspectives on children's safety, raising a son with AS, life "down under," and on homeschooling keep me thinking all the time.

2. Barefoot Meandering : Kathy Jo is homeschooling her kids in my old stomping grounds in Illinois. Her posts keep me laughing, crying and thinking. I am always eager to find out what new developments have happened in the Land of Lincoln. She makes me think about all the details that go into constantly improving the homeschool experience.

3. Kitchen Table Learners : Frankie is a homeschooling mother of one, a child with AS. She shares her perspective on many different aspects of homeschooling and raising a child with an ASD. Her blog brings up a myriad of different ideas and things to think about.

4. Homeschooling the Doctorate? : This was the first homeschooling blog I looked at. The name intrigued me because I am also working on my doctorate. Sarah and Stephen are both working on doctorates in theology and they homeschool one son and are expecting another child. Their posts are informative, funny, touching and wonderful! A good mix of all aspects of their lives can be found here! They make me think about the fact that although their beliefs are not mine, their commitment to living them is.

5. Woman of the Tiger Moon : Beth is homeschooling her children and working on her degree at the same time. She is raising very unique children. She blogs about her experiences and those of her children with a great deal of insight. Her blog makes me continually expand my maps of reality and consider the importance and value of each person I encounter.

It was hard to limit the blogs to five! I was helped by the fact that a number of blogs I read have already been nominated. In fact, someone nominated the Edie Neurolearning Blog just yesterday! There are several others that displayed the award already. In the interest of sharing the wealth, I have nominated other blogs.

Friday, April 27, 2007

And One Year Ago Today...Part II

In the days after we closed on the new house, we began to feel that we might as well move into Lowes and Home Depot. We did a lot of searching for just the right paint colors, we had to get all the painting supplies, and we needed more boxes and tape!

Here is the bedroom sitting room as it looked in March--before we closed. The sellers were in the process of moving out. The walls were a color called Chaps Suede--the same as the living room and upper dining room. The bookeshelves were a kind of light green-blue. We thought it was too much contrast. Although it looked good with the sellers furniture when we first saw the house.

I wanted something warmer and not quite as dark. MLC and I ran around the house on Friday, April 28, 2006, with those three-color paint samples--the ones with the holes in them. For the master bedroom/sitting room, we chose a light color called Champagne Glee. The wall of the fireplace, we painted the middle color, called Badlands Taupe, and the bookshelves were painted the darkest on the sample, called Victorian Rose. In some light, these colors are pinker than I thought they would be, but they are light and warm--making the rooms seem very airy--even in the winter-time. Here is the sitting room after we moved in. More books have gone on the shelves since the picture was taken, but it is otherwise about the same.

The master bath was the same green as the bookshelves in the sitting area. It was very striking with the purple curtains. But there was no purple in the tile, and it was dark in the morning.

Still, the sellers made a lovely room there with the candles and the towel rack in the corner. I am still planning on doing something like the that in wrought iron. I have to save my pennies up!

MLC noticed that the Badlands Taupe picked up a color in the tile border, so we painted the master bath that color--except the corner wall by the shower (right in the picture) is the Victorian Rose.

The water closet had pure white walls and one purple wall. That seemed too stark for us. I painted the water closet the Champagne Glee and the purple wall is now Victorian Rose.

Painting a bathroom is a real project, let me tell you! We had to take the medicine cabinet down. And getting a ladder into a 4' X 2.5' water closet without removing the toilet was a challenge. Especially in order to reach those 10' ceilings! But it came out looking nice! The after picture was taken really "after"--I mean after we got the new tub in!

Thanks for indulging my nostalgia about the weeks in which we picked out colors and painted. And made at least one trip a day to a home-improvement store! At the time it felt frantic because we had a deadline for moving in. But I also remember the fun we had--picnicing on our new dining room floor. Camping out in the living room. Driving back to Albuquerque at dusk when the deer were feeding by the road. It was a pretty good time.

NOT that I want to do that again any time soon!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

One Year Ago Today...

One year ago today, we closed on our mountain house.
After closing, we picked up N., loaded Henry with the first load of many boxes and drove on up to see our new home. Because we planned to paint some of the rooms before we moved in, we actually moved on May 19. We took our camera on that first afternoon. Above is the house as we saw it the first time we drove up as proud new owners.

This was the kitchen as it looked on Wednesday evening April 26, 2006. The sellers left us a card and loaf of bread. The wall below the wainscotting on the far right is dark blue.

Here is what the kitchen looked like after we moved in. We painted the wall below the wainscotting on the far right Belmont Green.

On the right is the dining room as it looked on April 26, 2006. Note the blue walls below the wainscotting, the chandelier and the blue flowered curtains. Although very pretty, we thought the blue was too dark. Which is why we replaced it with a color called Belmont Green.

This is the dining room after we moved in.
We replaced the curtains to match the walls, and we put in a new chandelier that we thought was more elegant and matched the upper wall color and complimented our dining room furniture.

To the right is the living room south wall on April 26, 2006. We did no painting in the living room at all. We liked it just the way it was.
We did paint Bruce's office, MLC bedroom and bathroom, N.'s bedroom, my office and the master suite and bathroom, however.
Here is the living room as it looked after we moved in. It is amazing what furniture and pictures on the wall will do.
Last year at this time, we embarked on a three-week project. Every Friday evening during that period we drove up, painted until it got dark, and had a "picnic" Shabbat dinner in our new dining room. Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday were devoted to "working on the new house." N. and I would drive up on Wednesday afternoons as well. I was teaching part time and left early on Wednesday. In Albuquerque, the elementary schools let out early Wednesday afternoon for teaching planning time, so N. was available as well.
Every time we came up, we loaded Henry the Big Red Truck up. By May 19--a Sunday--we had brought most of the boxes. That day, the Bruce and Friends Cooperative Movers rented a U-Haul and moved the furniture, washer, dryer, and other "big" items up. MLC and I brought up the cats and then the dogs, cleaned the new house and directed traffic. N.'s BSA troop obligingly had a camp-out that weekend, so he was safely out of the way.
It was a good move. We were able to pay off the new house with the proceeds from selling the old house--which was our plan. It all worked out very well. But I am glad that that three week period of chaos is over! I always forget how much work making a move is.
But at the same time, I remember that time with a certain nostalgic fondness. It was exciting to be picking out paint, going up to the new house as a family and working together to get it ready for a new phase of life...
But please, do me a favor. Sit me down and give me a good talking-to if I ever start mentioning wanting to move again!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

B-B-B-Busy as a BEE! Carnival of Homeschooling

Almost there!

Last night we did our Mock Trial for Special Education Law.

I was worried because the case was difficult and had only one obvious strategy for the plaintiff's side--which was my group's job. Since I am the "Doc" student, I had to be a lawyer. Most groups had 4 people and 2 lawyers, but one student walked out on our group two weeks ago, leaving us with three students. That meant only one lawyer. Me. Have I said that I don't LIKE lawyers very much? Or maybe I should rephrase that--I don't like BEING a lawyer very much. But the others in my group worked hard and helped out a lot last night. Also, the other side did not anticipate our strategy and in fact, by adding a condition to the child in question, made our job easier! We'll find out who won next week, but we did a credible job.

It took hours for the adrenaline to wear off last night!

Today, I have to defend my hypothesis in Neurobiology. This morning I got up early to finish the slide presentation and practice. I couldn't sleep well last night due to that dratted adrenaline! So today I am tired. I hope I can get myself "up" for the presentation. It is 10 minutes with 5 minutes of questions.

Tonight is Guinness Time!

Tomorrow is "take your offspring to work" day at Sandia National Labs. Bruce will take N. I have the day off to recover. I intend to spend part of it over at the Carnival of Homeschooling at Sprittibee! It very appropriately has a "Bee" theme--that works for me!

I still have a reflection paper to write for the Mock Trial and a final to take for Special Education Law. I think the final is overkill after the work it took to do the Mock Trial.

I am counting the days: ALMOST THERE!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Field Trip Friday

Yesterday two big events were on the agenda.

First, the National Weather Service ABQ office held it's annual open house for weather spotters. We have maintained a NWS issued precipitation meter and we are weather spotter station 53 for their "CityNet" program--although we are now outside the city. They have added several other spotters in the East Mountains--soon they will have to change the name to "CountyNet."

So, despite looming paper and presentation deadlines, Bruce, N. and I hopped into Henry for a trip to the NWS.

Here you see N. standing in front of the antique computer that launches weather balloons twice a day, at 4 AM and 4 PM (Zero and 1200 Zulu). (Bruce has a cute way of stepping in with sandwich in hand when I snapped a shot. I lost a few because all you could see was the sandwich).

It is an antique, but it still works--so far.

It is telling that the NWS is one government agency that citizens get services from every day, and important ones at that, and yet they have severe budgetary restrictions going back to Ronald Reagan's presidency. It took them 20 years and countless lives lost in weather emergencies befure they got Doppler Radar in place. The TV stations had them long before the NWS! (They did not say this at NWS--they are good civil servants--but I read it elsewhere).

Here is N. at the forcast desk.

There are several stations at the NWS. There is the Aviation Desk, the Forcast Desk, the Long-Term Outlook Desk (which does 7 day forcasting) and then there is a communications center for talking to the weather spotters. If we get serious rain, wind, hail, snow or see a tornado, we call it in. We also call in temperatures and barometric pressures twice a day. With our terrain, they need this information to forcast winds more accurately. Communications is also important for weather emergencies--like the New Years Snowstorm!

We had a tour of every desk and learned how the meteorologists do their work. N. learned that most of them now have a B.S. in Meteorology and that there are only a few schools that have the degree.

After the NWS, we ran some errands, including getting supplies for N.'s Scout Camp-o-ree.

The Sandia district of the Great Southwest Council had their annual Camp-O-Ree at Cedro Peak--just a few miles from us. We took N. there instead of meeting at the church where his troop meets.

A Camp-O-Ree is not just a regular camping trip. Rather, many different troops gather together and they practice various field exercises. Two things N. mentioned were night orienteering and field first aid.

This year, in honor of the scouting anniversary, the theme was the Boer War. Lord Baden-Powell got his idea for a scouting movement for boys during his service in the Boer War in South Africa. So the boys learned a little something about the Dutch "Afrikaaners" and the English Colonists and the war they fought at the turn of the 20th century.

Here is N. all ready for his Camp-O-Ree experience.

He was not thrilled about my taking his picture, but I told him that was my job as his mother. "Someday..." I started.

"I'll thank you for it! I know, I know!" he completed my sentence.

These boys learn some amazing things in scouts.

This afternoon, I picked up a very tired and wind-burned young scout from his experience. He said the best part was crawling through a simulated mine-field at 3 AM using their compasses in the dark to orienteer.

Only a dedicated scout would be enthusiastic about that!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Where Are You Going, My Little One?

This morning, as I was placing his daily cup of hot chocolate breakfast drink before him, N. announced:
Well, today is the last day!"
"The last day of what?" I queried absently, thinking more about adding figures to my hypothesis paper than about what he was saying.
"Kamana." He replied. "Actually, Kamana I. Today I will listen to the cd about bird language, reflect on finding my secret spot and then take the "Alien Test."
"Well, then," I said. "After you do that, we will need to copy the pages that Wilderness Awareness School will want to see so that you can send in for your certificate. And we will have to order the supplies for Kamana II."
Inside myself I was thinking: "What? How did he get here so fast!" You see, he took charge of the whole thing. I was not even aware of where he was in the program. All I did was make sure that he had supplies he needed as well as drive him to the library so that he could check out supplemental nature books. And I read to him.
In the meantime, we did do some study about the Shoah--at his suggestion--but I was not teaching.
So somewhere deep within, I think I was wondering if the "guide on the side" method really worked.
There was an inkling of doubt about the whole unschooling approach. I mean, it works for those other kids--the perfect ones--but mine? He's not normal--but in a good way. But still...
I am really glad that I did not let myself get in the way.
Oh, every once in a while I would ask him about his progress. He'd tell me how to tell the difference between dog and coyote tracks. Or where to look for bear scat. Evidently, Ursa is picky about his toileting habits.
Last week, he snuck up on me while I was typing and nearly caused me to bolt from my chair. "I was practicing the 'fox-walk' Mom!"
So why do I feel surprised by his independence?
Or am I suffering preliminary "empty-nest" syndrome? This is what it means to be a mother: Watching your beloved child walk off into the sunset. Again. And again. And again.
It's a bittersweet moment every time.

"Where are you going, my little one, my little one?
Where are you going, my baby, my own.
Turn around and you're two,
Turn around, and you're four,
Turn around and you're a young man, just going out the door."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Black Day

Where were you when you heard about the black day at Virginia Tech?
I was sitting in the SUB (Student Union Building) at The University of New Mexico. I had just completed a test and I was feeling pretty satisfied with it. I was setting up my computer to read my e-mail and check the blogs I follow. Then I heard the sound of shooting.
It was coming from the giant flat-screen in the corner near where I was sitting. And as I listened to the eye-witness accounts, I was thinking that I was seated in front of a floor-to-ceiling plate-glass window. If someone with a gun were to decide the shoot at the SUB..... well, I would be in harm's way. I didn't move.
As one does, at times like this, I was thinking that the peaceful scene outside the window--newly leafed-out trees swaying in the wind, undergraduates going by in flip-flops with eighty pound backpacks, a couple holding hands at a table outside--felt like it was not in the same world where this tragedy happened.
Thirty-three lives. Gone.
It was hard to come back to my world...the one on a campus where such a thing would never happen. Would it?
There will be much to say in the coming days about the how's and the why's. I am sure there will be finger-pointing, calls for legislation, hand-wringing and lawsuits. I may even have an opinion or two. Maybe. Next week.
But for now, it is a time to think about the loss of 33 individuals--people with dreams, goals, joys and sorrows. Gone. Just. Like. That.

The Carnival of Homeschooling: A "Taxing" Proposition

The 68th Carnival of Homeschooling is up over at The Cates--Why Homeschool?

For the humor about taxes alone, it is worth a trip over. But there are also a number of thoughtful and interesting articles to read. I look forward to it every week. This week, especially, a diversion is a good thing.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Remembering and Understanding: Studying Yom Ha-Shoah

We have been talkin about WWII lately. N. has taken to reading the newspaper and then he asks a lot of questions. He is starting to link what happened in the past to what is happening in the present. And yesterday was Yom Ha-Shoah--Holocaust Memorial Day.

It is always hard to know how to present the massive evil that was the Shoah to a sensitive young adolescent. We want him to understand the precursors to the Shoah--Christian anti-Judaism going back to the 5th century, it's virulent and racist descendent, European anti-semitism, WWI, the economic crisis in Germany in the 1920's, the weakness of the Weimar republic...there is just so much that must be understood to even begin to get a grasp on what happened to our people in Europe.

And then there is the emotional side. The thought that "it could have been me," is very real when you walk into synagogue past a policeman every Shabbat.

This year, as N. started asking questions, we decided on a two-part approach. First, we read some of the modern history chapters in the Kingfisher Encyclopedia of World History together. (We are doing ancient history this year, but we let N.'s curiousity about the Shoah guide us for a while). This helped N. understand that the events did not come out of nowhere and that there are always reasons for what people do, even when those reasons are irrational. It also provided a bridge to talk about some of the background for what is happening today with the U.S. War on Terror. A question that N. has brought up again and again has to do with when it is important to fight and perhaps die for something greater than yourself. This is a very important question for the people of the West right now. Is there ever a time when that is right?

So we studied the Jewish Partisans who fought back against the Nazis. We discussed the importance of resisting evil and of the necessity, sometimes, to stake one's life on important values: life and liberty for yourself and others. This, we explained was "black resistance"--violent resistance to oppression and death. This was the resistance of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. N. found the "Partisan's Song" on the web, and I taught him the tune.

We also discussed "white resistance"--resistance by subterfuge, by protecting others, by sabotage. This was the resistance of the Righteous Gentiles, those Europeans who tried to help. And it was often the subtle resistance of our people in the camps. People who understood that survival was resistance. That remaining a human being in an inhuman situation was resistance. MLC taught N. another song that goes with the "white resistance," Ani Ma Amin--I believe.

We talked about the phenomenon of Holocaust denial, the reasons why people deny really aweful events. There are personal, political and psychological reasons why this is so. And we talked about the importance of remembering for our Jewish culture and in the dominant culture. We discussed how Yom Ha-Shoah is observed in Israel. There, a siren goes off at a certain time, and everyone stops where they are. If you are in a car you just stop on the road. If you are walking somewhere, you stop. Everyone observes 6 minutes of silence. We talked about how long that can seem. We asked if 6 minutes, 1 minute for every 1 million Jews who were murdered in the Shoah is even enough.

We finished all of this study with a ceremony last night. We had received a candle for Yom Ha-Shoah for the Federation of Jewish Men's Club. They also provided a meditation to be said when lighting it. The focus was that the next generation should not forget.

We gathered in the kitchen at sunset. N. lit the candle. We read the meditation. We observed 6 minutes of silence. Then we sang two songs.

The Partisan's Song

Zog nit keyn mol az du geyst dem letstn veg!Khotsh himeln blayene farshtein bloye teg. Kumen vet nokh unzer oysgebenkte sho Es vert a poyk ton undzer trit - mir zeynen do!

Never once say you walk upon your final way though skies of steel obscure the blue of day. Our long awaited hour will draw near and our footsteps will thunder - We are Here!

Vun grinem palmenland biz vaysn land fun shney Mir kumen on mit undzer payn, mit undzer vey Un vu gefallen es iz a shprits fun unzer blut Shprotsn vet dort undzer gvure, undzer mut.

From a land of green palms to a white land of snow, We march on with our pain and with our woe; And there where a spray fell of our blood, there our strenght and courage yet will bud!

Es vert di morgenzun bagilden unz dem haynt Un der nekhtn vet farshvindn mitn faynd Nor oyb farzamen vet di zun in dem kayor Vi a parol zol geyn dos lid fun dor tsu dor.

The morning sun will rise and brighten the day and yesterday's night will fade away, But if the sun delays in rising to the dawn then like a watchword pass this song on and on!

Dos lid geshribn iz mit blut un nit mit blay Es iz nit keyn lidl fun a foygl af der fray Dos hot a folk tsvishn falendike vent Dos lid gezungen mit naganes in di hent!

This song is written with blood and not with pencil lead it's no song sung freely by birds flying overhead. So a people among the falling walls made their last stand and this song they sang with pistols in their hand!

Zog nit keyn mol az du geyst dem letstn veg Khotsh himeln blayene farshtein bloye teg. Kumen vet nokh unzer oysgebenkte sho, Es vert a poyk ton undzer trit - mir zeynen do!

Never once say you walk upon your final way though skies of steel obscure the blue of day. Our long awaited hour will draw near and our footsteps will thunder - We are Here!

We finished by singing:

Ani Ma Amin

Ani ma-amin, ani ma-amin, ani ma-amin. B'emunah shleima. B'viat ha-Mashiach, ani-ma amin! Ve-af al-pi, v'it mameyah, ani-ma-amin. Im kol zeh, ani-ma-amin.

I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah. I believe. Even though he tarry, Still, I believe.

N. ended the ceremony by quoting the last words of Daniel Pearl, who was murdered by terrorists in 2002:

"I am a Jew and the son of a Jew."

This brought us from events of the past into the present state of our world.

We then quietly left, one by one, and the candle burned all night in the window.

There is something very effective about ending a unit of study that is so emotional using ritual and ceremony. This connects the emotional to the rational, and helps us experience history as full human beings.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Deja Vu All Over Again! The Friday the 13th Snowstorm

On Friday afternoon, we came home to see N. walking up the hill to the house in the snow.
Yes, really! It is pretty unusual for central New Mexico to get snow this late in April, even in the mountains. He told us that he had build a wickiup in the forest and had studied the insulating properties of snow. Next winter, we'll have to teach him the use of a psychrometer. This time he just used a thermometer.

Bruce and I were at the synagogue Thursday night, and I stayed in town on Friday morning because I had a review session for our last exam in Neurobiology (coming on Monday afternoon) and then class after that. I kept in touch with N. and MLC., who were at home. Apparently, it snowed all day. When I talked to MLC at 4 PM, she was concerned that I would not be able to get Henry, the big red truck, up the hills to our development. Poor Henry! He doesn't have 4WD so slippery hills are tricky!

I talked to my husband (he was at work at Sandia) and we decided to park Henry at the grocery store--we needed a few things--and drive home together in his Focus, which has front wheel drive. So we secured Henry and started off. (I was remember February 13th when I did not heed N.'s warnings about the snow and ended up sliding Henry down the hill backwards to Alta Vista). It was raining miserably in ABQ. Just east of Carnuel, it was snowing. By Tijeras Village it was sticking. Snow was Packed on the sides of the road at Zuzax, where we exit the freeway. Old Route 66 was snow packed when we were half-way up Sedillo Hill. But the snow was so wet, that I think I could have got Henry all the way up Via Sedillo and home. But better safe than sorry!

By the time we arrived home, there was 4 inches of very wet snow in the snow guage! Amazing weather. I mean we expect frost until around Mother's Day--but our last snow is usually on April Fool's day, if we get any in late March and April at all! But this year, we had snow last weekend and this weekend!

BUT...we need to be grateful. Every bit of precipitation is a blessing after the last ten years of drought!

This morning, the snow was heavy on the eaves of the house and there were icicles hanging down, as well. I put the towel for boots and another for the dogs by the front door. The pellet stove was fired up. If not for the spring solar angle, it would have seemed like January all over again!

But this was definitely a spring snowstorm. The snow was very heavy and wet, and the trees

were weighed down to an extraordinary degree. The light was spring light, and by afternoon, it was 58 degrees outside and felt like spring. Water was cascading off the roof and the icicles were gone.

Our morning walk was definitely a wintry feeling walk, and we got a good picture of a snow-bent tree over on Shultz Road.

But this afternoon, when MLC and I had our toes done in Albuquerque, we wore short sleeves and sandles. Go figure.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Welcoming Strangers: The Interfaith Hospitality Network

Congregation Albert, our synagogue in Albuquerque, has become the first Jewish congregation to participate in the Interfaith Hospitality Network.

IHN provides and shelter and assitance to homeless families in the community. About once every three months, a participating congregation will provide shelter, food and entertainment for up to four families for a week. The families arrive on Sunday afternoon, and depart the following Sunday afternoon. Our families arrived last Sunday--which was Easter Sunday--so Congregation Albert had its first-ever Easter Egg Hunt for the children. It was Passover, still, so I am told there were some rather humorous substitutions on the Easter candy front. This week, Congregation Albert has provided a hot meal each evening, a room to each family, breakfast, a sack-lunch,help with homework and entertainment. Each week day, one of our members drives the families in a van to the IHN Day Center, from which the children are sent to school or day-care, and the parents can do laundry, shower, use telephones and computers to look for jobs, housing and other necessary social services. They have the services of a social worker available to them as well.

You can imagine that volunteer opportunities abound for the members of the participating congregations. Last night, Bruce and I did our stint as overnight hosts. It was the easiest volunteer job I have ever done! We slept for much of it! LOL!

We arrived at 8 PM, while the families were putting their children to bed. We had a snack and conversed with the parents, who retired at around 10 PM. We secured the building and then retired ourselves, on roll-away beds provided by IHN. (The congregation provides linens for the families, but the overnight hosts bring their own, since there are different hosts each night). We rose at 5:45 and woke the families at 6 AM, helped with breakfast and getting children ready for the day. They were on the van at 7:30 and we cleaned up and were out by 8 AM.

I got to feed a little baby his breakfast bottle! I love babies, and it is still some years before we can expect grandchildren. That made my day. The families were good people who need a hand-up to get back on their feet. Wow, there's a mixed metaphor. So many families are just one crisis away from homelessness. If you are interested in this kind of work, I have provided the local link, which in turn can link you to the national organization.

In the Jewish tradition, we have a value called Hakhnasat Orchim, which means welcoming strangers. It is modeled after the story of Abraham, who welcomed the three "strangers" who turned out to be Malachim, messengers of the Eternal. Every day, when praying the morning service, we recite a portion from Pirke Avot (Wisdom of the Fathers), which states:

"These are the obligations without measure, the fruits of which are tasted in this world and in the world to come, these are they: To honor father and mother, visit the sick, bury the dead, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, rejoice with bride and groom, visit the house of study evening and morning, to pray with intention, to make peace between a person and (his or her) comrade, and the study of Torah is equal to them all (because it leads to them all)."

These are all obligations to the community, even the study of Torah, which is done as a Kehilla (community). That is why you taste the fruits in the present--for the reward is companionship and community.

So IHN is a wonderful way for our congregation to fulfill the mitzvah, the commandment, to welcome the stranger. And it helps us to bring holiness into the world (this is the fundamental "job" of the Jew) through acts of loving kindness. We were told that in ABQ, 3,000 people every day are without a bed for the night, and the number of homeless families is growing.

N. wanted to come and read to the children last night, citing his obligation to Hakhnasat Orchim, but we ended up leaving him at home with his sister to take care of the dogs. I have an early afternoon study session today, so I am in-town all day! He did not want to follow me around here. (All the better since, believe it or not, it is snowing on the West Mesa and in the mountains. It is raining in ABQ proper! The NWS sure missed it when they predicted a dry spring in the Long Term Regional Forcast). But we told him he was fulfilling his obligation by making it possible for us to be away overnight without worry about the dogs.

Sorry, no pictures. We have to protect the privacy of our guests! I have put a few pictures of our synagogue instead.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I'm In the Mood for Poetry: Carnival of Homeschooling #67

Pesach ended at sunset this evening, and what a gorgeous one it was! It just makes me want to burst out in poetry!

I spent this morning getting the kitchen returned to normal by cleaning out, washing, drying and putting away all of the Pesadikh utensils and dishes. I integerated the Passover food into the regular pantry and removed the signs that identified the Pesadikh (permissible) cabinets and those that were chametzdikh (not permissible).

I spent the rest of the day thinking about our upcoming mock trial and then watching the mock trial for the teams that went today. Finally, at 7:30 PM I met my family at Dion's Pizza--we have the family tradition of eating Pizza and salad on the night that Pesach ends.

Ahhh! I feel full, really completely full, for the first time since the Seder. It is funny, but although we eat and eat during Pesach, it is just not as satisfying as when we get leavened foods.

I am now in the mood for Poetry! And that's what's up at this week's Carnival of Homeschooling over at Apollos Academy. The Tutor has set this week's theme to Poetry.

How wonderful it is to relax and check out the meter and the rhyme. So join me over at Apollos for important and interesting reads!

Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Forest Trail

A Happy and Blessed Easter to all of our Christian friends!

This may look a little bit like a winter greeting, but note the green buds amidst the snow. It is spring. Sort of.

N. has been working on Kemana--his wilderness studies--even amid the chaos that overtakes me during the myriad preparations for Pesach.

This weekend, finally, despite looming tests, papers and projects, I have taken some time off to walk the forest trail with N. Bruce has come along, too!

Our house is in a development inside the Cibola National Forest, Sandia District. Certain sections have been sold to developers with very strict guidelines about the type of development--residential rural--in order to provide roads and access at the edge of forest lands. So we are fortunate to have the National Forest a few hundred feet from our door.

This is where N. has been doing the Wilderness Trail part of his Kamana-Nature Awareness work. He goes out almost every day and practices various aspects of nature awareness that are assigned in the course and then he comes home and uses books, the internet, journaling and mapping to research and describe the ecology of the place we live.

To get to his secret spot and to practice his awareness skills, N. uses the "forest trail," an unmapped trail that heads across a mountain meadow south of our house and then into the forest and up the ridge.

Entering the forest trail, is an experience in contrasts. One moment, you are in the meadow and it is light and open. The wind blows strongly down the meadow and across the trail. With a few steps, past an outlying juniper surrounded by grass--which is now really, really green!--you enter the forest, where the trail is bounded by the dense growth of the pinon-juniper woodland ecosystem. It is cooler, darker and more protected from the wind. Here you can hear the alarm calls of western jays--the self-appointed alarm system of the Cibola N.F.--as you move through the woods.

The trail takes you across the southern exposure of the ridge, and into the small canyon made by Sedillo Creek (it is really a wash since it does not have year-round water above ground). As you climb, you enter the ecotone between the pinyon-juniper woodland the Ponderosa Pine forest. The ridge between Sedillo and Juan Tomas is not quite high enough to become full Ponderosa Pine forest, but from the top, you can look across to higher mountain tops that do.

As we walked quietly on the forest trail, we saw trees that had fallen under the weight of winter snow, providing cover for coyote and rabbits. We saw quite a lot of coyote scat and some scat that may have belonged to a bear.

I could feel my hearbeat slow to a steady beat and my body relax. There is something that feels existentially right about walking with the soft earth beneath my feet and the sky above; with the wind blowing softly across my face, bringing the rich scents of the forest and the soft feel of humidity to my skin.

This spring, the forest is so green, and the ground is damp with recent snows and rains, making the smells richer and the air softer.

N. showed us the tracks of a bobcat that had used the trail briefly, before returning to the dense growth of the forest. They are very shy here, where there are so many people so close. It is very rare to actually see the cat.

We circled around a stand of Ponderosa and started back. As we crossed the mountain meadow, we saw a golden eagle take flight from the top of a juniper stand below. He has been hunting the meadow behind our house as well, but I have not had a camera available when he has been close enough to get a picture. I did not get this one either, but now that I know where he hangs out sometimes, I plan to come back, settle down in the shade and get the picture. This picture is from of the New Mexico Department of Tourism.

Now that the snows are off, I can walk the forest trail easily. Oh, I envy N. with his Kamana curriculum. What I am studying right now keeps me indoors--reading, memorizing and writing papers. It is very interesting and I like it, but I have to really work in the time to get outside. N. is outside in the forest almost every day!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

John Stossel, Kids with AS, Middle School and the "S" Word

I am sure that I have mentioned that N. has AS, which is Aspergers Syndrome.

AS is an Autism Spectrum Disorder that involves difficulties with social interaction, non-verbal and verbal communication, and stereotyped obsessive behaviors. This sounds formidable, and it can be, but "Aspies" often look "normal" to others, although they seem to act just a little bit "different."

ABC Nightline and ABC News has been doing a series called Echoes of Autism about AS. Last night, Nightline ran a ten minute segment about the difficulties that students with AS have when they reach adolescence and middle school.

Middle school. John Stossel called middle school "the scorched earth zone of American childhood." A psychologist interviews on the Nightline program said several studies show that up to 90% of middle school students with AS are bullied every day. Every day!

I knew this statistic. And we had already had problems with bullying in N.'s elementary school experience. There were times of intense bullying interspersed with relatively calm times throughout for him. Sometimes it seemed to us as though all of our energy was going to keeping N. functioning in school and that there was none left over for actual learning. In the beginning of 4th grade, for example, N. spent most of his day under the table.

The statistics. Warnings from other parents that you cannot work and have a child with disabilities in middle school. Our previous school experiences. All of this, as well as academic concerns, and concerns about too much testing, factored into our decision to take N. out of school and begin homeschooling. N. has made great progress and never looked back.

When I watched the Nightline segment, I was mentally congratulating myself on the wise decision we had made not to send N. to middle school.

And then John Stossel said that sentence. The one I wrote above. The one I will repeat again, in case you missed it. It is easy to miss, I think, because it fits the picture of reality most Americans have. He said:

Middle school is the "scorched earth zone of American childhood."

Think about that statement. It was said very matter-of-factly. And yet it is both profoundly sad and full of despair. John Stossel was saying that American middle schools are terribly unfriendly, stressful places and that this is "normal." It is what we can expect of our children at a certain age. Adolescents are naturally cruel to each other and nothing can be done about that.The only problem is how to help children who are different, children who have disabilities adjust to it.

Since we have taken N. out of school, I have had the opportunity to watch homeschooled kids interact in a variety of settings. At the grocery store. At the library. At "park day." At museum science classes. In all of these settings, the kids are interacting in multi-age groups with minimal adult supervision. And they are not cruel to each other. They gently tease sometimes, but they explain the jokes to those who don't get it right away. They seem to think independently and do not have that group "herding instinct" that teachers so often laugh about when discussing adolescents.

And it is not only homeschooled kids who are this way. We have been going to the skateboard park, N's newest "special interest," lately. (Very good to large motor coordination and proprioreception). There, kids from about mid-elementary age to high-school come to practice their 'boarding." They teach each other new "moves," discuss the fine points of velocity and balance, organize themselves so that there are no collisions--and there really are no collisions--and help each other out. There are no adults in the Skatepark. N-O-N-E. Adults are elsewhere in the park, or gossiping happily on the picnic benches, but no adults are supervising the skaters. And the kids are civil with each other, and more, they are friendly and engaged in something of interest to all of them. They want it to work out so they can become better 'boarders.

From all of these observations, I have concluded that they way kids treat each other in middle school is not "normal" for them. It is abnormal. They are as nervous and jumpy as lab rats raised in an impoverished environment. It is not "normal" for social mammals to be isolated from their community and raised in an age-segregated environment. Animal behaviorists know that this is a recipe for making an animal "mean to the bone," as the little guy with AS said when he described his bully to John Stossel.

So why do we accept the antisocial behavior of middle school students as "normal?" Why are older people often afraid of adolescent energy?

My hypothesis is that the problem lies not with the kids, but with the environment in which we force them to live and grow and learn. The environment is age-segregated,intellectually unstimulating, encourages competition for teacher time and attention, crowded, noisy, and has only poor nutrition available. It is definitely not the optimal environment for young mammals out to learn how to be social in their culture.

It is so interesting that the first objection I am met with when I tell someone that I am homeschooling is the "S" question. "What about Socialization."

N. has so much more energy to put into learning social skills now that he is not in an environment that stresses him so much that he can barely function.

He skateboards, he plays chess, he studies electricity and magnetism, he goes to astronomy club meetings. In all of these places, he interacts with people of a variety of ages, all of whom want to share a particular interest. He is allowed to talk to people naturally, thus he learns social communication skills in the environment where they are to be used. What a concept!

Now I want to be clear that I do not think that school caused N.'s AS or that it is cured now that he is not in that environment. Rather, I believe that when people interact in real social situations where they are together in the pursuit of a common interest or goal, they are happy to accomodate differences among themselves. It is natural for people to want to share what they love with others. AS kids are no different--they want that, too. All of those good things that contribute to "flow" in human social situations are present when people get together voluntarily to learn together: affinity, intellectual stimulation, joy. I have very rarely seen them in my years teaching secondary education. And yet it is these things that de-stress a difficult learning for kids with AS. Affinity, intellectual stimulation, joy. These are the components need for developing social skills in any human being.

My answer to people who bring up the "S" word is that school is the least likely place for optimal social interactions to take place. It is up to the schools to make changes that will provide our children with socialization appropriate to human children. If and when they do so, I will consider the school option. Until then, to use another "S" word" Sayonara.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Europe is lost: Revisionist History in the UK

Sunday evening April 15 is
Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day). Place a yellow candle in
your window at sunset that evening to show that you have
the courage to speak the truth of what happened.

Today as I was driving home from class, I came in on the middle of radio program about revisionist history being taught in the UK. Specifically, they are not teaching the Holocaust or the Crusades in history classes because it might offend Muslim students in the classes. I was going to blog extensively about it when I got home, but Judy Aron over at Consent of the Governed has already done that.

I do have some commentary on this issue, though. It has to do with fear.

Notice that the schools in the UK are worried about offending Muslims. They are not worried about offending Jews, who might have family members murdered in the Holocaust. They are not worried about offending their own elders, some of whom served in Europe during WWII and many of whom suffered terribly in the London blitz. They are not worried about offending gypsies, pacifists, trade-unionists, and gays, many of whom have predecessors who were killed in the death camps. So why are they worried about offending Muslims?

Could it have something to do with the fact that it was Muslim extremists that perpetrated the London bombings several years ago? Could have something to do with the fact that it has been Muslim extremism that has perpetrated almost all of the terrorist acts in this new century? I suspect this is the case.

I think we should be very worried when people silence themselves and refuse to speak the truth as they know it because of the threat of violence. It should be even more worrisome when government institutions do the same. Silence in Europe! Where have we seen that before?

Good night, England.