Thursday, June 30, 2011

Charlotte Mason on competitive examinations

As I continue to read through the works of Charlotte Mason, I’m now approaching the end of volume 2, Parents and Children. I have skipped many parts which are theologically contrary, but my attention was caught by chapter XX, which talks about competitive examinations. I was struck by how much of what Charlotte Mason wrote back then rings very true for today. Here are a few select paragraphs I would like to share with you.

“The fact that successful examination of one sort or another is the goal towards which most of our young people are labouring with feverish haste and with undue anxiety, is one which possibly calls for the scrutiny of the investigating Why?”

“The tendency of the grind is to imperil that individuality which is the one incomparably precious birthright of each of us. The very fact of a public examination compels that all who go in for it must study on the same lines.”  (emphasis mine)

“As to the manner of study, this is ruled by the style of questions set in a given subject; and Dry-as-dust wins the day because it is easier and fairer to give marks upon definite facts than upon mere ebullitions of fancy or genius.”

Here I must make the remark that the further I got in my school career, the more popular multiple choice questions have become. The lion’s share of our final high school examination were multiple choice questions, and even more so in university. The Israeli psychometric exam, which determines at least half the chances of the student in getting into university, is based entirely upon multiple choice questions and how quickly one can answer them. The result is that people are learning not to know, but to guess correctly. Many of the lessons that aim to prepare students for such examinations actually focus around how to guess which answer might make more sense. Multiple choice questions are a breeze for teachers to go over, but they leave absolutely no room for individual expression or for correct and precise wording of one’s ideas.

“The child wants to know; wants to know incessantly, desperately; asks all manners of questions about everything he comes across, plagues his elders and betters, and is told not to bother, and to be a good boy and not ask questions.”

“When Tommy goes to school, his parents find themselves relieved of the inconvenience of his incessant Why? They are probably so well pleased to be let off that it does not occur to them to ask themselves, Why Tommy no longer wonders Why?”

This way of being engrossed in competitive examinations is especially sad in young children. I have tutored 4 and 5-graders, and when I have tried to spark their interest in things not strictly related to their textbook, I was told, “this is not going to come up in our examinations next Tuesday; we must concentrate on the examinations.” Natural curiosity was either totally driven out or at least deeply dormant in those children, replaced by the pressure to excel in exams.

“Once upon a time… there arose a pedagogue to whom was discovered a new and easier way. The morning had seen the poor man badly baffled by the queries of boys who wanted to know. How was a man, who was pretty well done with fresh studies for his own part, to keep up with these eager intelligences? … Eureka! A discovery… no need for cane and imposition, for emulation is the best of all disciplinarians – and steady-going, quiet work, without any of the fatiguing excursions into new fields to which the craving for knowledge leads.”

In an average-numbered class, which in Israel is between 30 to 40 pupils and sometimes more, the poor teacher is indeed forced by circumstances to concentrate on the minimal requirement of ensuring attendance, keeping the class quiet and minimizing discipline problems. Streamlined, easy-to-regulate tasks are therefore a must.

I believe the reason it seems schools have not gone very far in the past 100 years, is because standardized, institutionalized education has these penalties in its very definition, in the system upon which it is built. Studying in large groups means a) wasting a lot of time b) not giving the child the individual attention he deserves c) proneness to mediocrity. It could be argued it’s still better that everyone learns at least something and doesn’t turn out completely illiterate, but many children fall between the chairs and don’t reach even a fraction of their potential.

“We absolutely must get rid of the competitive examination system if we would not be reduced to the appalling mediocrity which we see, in China, for example, to have befallen an examination-ridden empire.”

The younger the child, in my opinion, the more harmful is the system which conditions him to cram and not to learn, to pass instead of gain knowledge and method of learning.

I will leave you with Charlotte Mason’s conclusion, which is beautifully worded.

Both parents and teachers have the one desire, the advance of the child along the lines of character. Both groan equally under the limitations of the present system. Let us have courage, and united and concerted action will overthrow this Juggernaut that we have made.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Nutrition – defeatism, real change and investment of time

During the time of my studies in university, several of our professors repeated that there is almost no way to acquire all the needed vitamins and minerals from the typical modern diet, and thus progressed to say that synthetic supplements in the form of pills, and artificial fortification of widely used foods, are recommended to the population.

It is true, they argue, that what would really be optimal is a whole series of radical changes in the modern diet, but since these aren’t feasible, supplements should be taken. Similarly, since people are unable to give up their sugar addictions, it would be useless to try and make them do that. At most, we should recommend artificial sweeteners to replace refined sugar, based on the evidence that these are harmless in moderate amounts.

To me, even then and especially now, such an attitude seems not only defeatist, but also very underestimating of people’s willpower, intelligence and determination. Shouldn’t we believe that in the light of scientific evidence and proper encouragement, many people will go to great lengths to do what is needed in order to gain good health for themselves and their children?

“Children will never give up sweets,” they say. Thus, it is acceptable to feed them ice-cream and highly sweetened milk products in order to reach the needed daily calcium intake. “Children don’t like vegetables,” and so, it is alright to give them sugar-bombarded, poisonous-colored breakfast cereal because it has some synthetic vitamins stuck in it by the benevolent food industry. This is saying it’s impossible for little children to like and eat with relish simple, wholesome and healthy foods.

True, it might be more challenging, but it isn’t impossible for the committed parent, especially as children tend to copy what they see. If we consistently sit down to good, proper family meals consisting of good healthy foods, this is what the children will see as their model. Food should be a prize, not a chore. We never make a fuss when our daughter trifles with her food, nor attempt to make her eat a full portion when she clearly has no appetite for it, nor offer rewards in the form of sweets.

“People don’t have time to cook,” and so commercially prepared meals indisputably become usual fare. The often overlooked fact is that the modern diet is correlated with the modern lifestyle – rushed, crazy, and highly stressful. If you want to eat healthy homemade food, it doesn’t mean you need to spend all day in the kitchen preparing gourmet meals, but it does usually mean investing more time in food preparation. It means slowing down to plan ahead and think. If the morning is always spent in insane rush of both parents hurrying to get the children out of the house and get out themselves, each going his own separate way, chances are that someone will reach for that box of sugared cereal, rather than make a simple and nutritious breakfast of oatmeal porridge, scrambled eggs and toast.

The habit of family meals is something else we have been robbed off. Even when the family eats together, it often means that they all sit in front of the television with their eyes glued to the screen, many times eating convenience food of inferior quality and taste. A lot more than nutrition is compromised; we are losing the fellowship of the family table, the easy conversation over dinner, the laughter and exchange of ideas, and what happens by-and-by – the training of children in good eating habits and proper behavior. Even with the quality of food in conventional stores so compromised, we would still all be far better off simply with the investment of time to prepare good, proper, simple, nutritious and economical meals.

Needless to say, a mother at home makes a huge difference. It is her who keeps the cooking fires burning; it is her who gathers the family around the table, nicely set, and offers delicious hot dinner, at the end of which her children will go to bed well-fed, full and sleepy. But of course, conventional nutritionists will not tell women to stay home, if at all possible, and cook for their families. It isn’t politically correct.

The only hope is that people will see for themselves that the lifestyle we are trying to maintain is nearly always impossible to combine with good health and vibrant family and community life. Our homes have been empty all day for too long, locked up, dark and cold. Our freezers have been stocked, for too long, with food that will temporarily satisfy the hunger while offering no real health benefits. For too long, we have looked for the secret to health and long life in all the wrong places, giving in to the calorie counting craze.

My belief is that nothing will make a real difference unless home, family, and consequently the family table, return to occupy their traditional proper place in our society. This is far more complex than calories, fats, vitamins and DRI. This is about the whole course our life will take from now on. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Labor is not an ICU event

I think some of you will remember the post I wrote a while ago, in response to an anaesthesiologist praising epidurals. Well, last week I stumbled across another article by the same doctor, titled "There is a Limit to Suffering" (translation mine), coupled with a prominent picture of a great big needle which is meant to be stuck in the laboring woman's spine. Reading his column got me ticking so I just had to sit down and pass on to you ladies some tidbits of the medical wisdom he so generously shares, along with my comments. 

The first claim that made me raise my eyebrows is that the natural birth process is accompanied by pain which is "usually unbearable". I think this is at odds with the undeniable fact that we were biologically made the endure the pain of labor, and in fact have endured it for many generations - right until sedation and later epidurals came into the picture and we were somehow convinced we "can't" do without them.

The doctor states that "in the past, labor pains were thought to be necessary to develop the strong bond between mother and child", but does not dig any deeper into this hypothesis - perhaps because, if he did, he would have to tell us that natural labor contractions are caused by the release of oxytocin, which is also known as the "love hormone", and plays an important role in releasing milk during lactation. Thus, it makes perfect sense when we hear about the upsurge of love and euphoria reported by many mothers who have had natural birth, and also experienced on a lesser scale during breastfeeding. This doesn't mean that mothers who had had C-sections, or adoptive mothers, or mothers who can't nurse for some reason, do not love their children. But consider that the practice of keeping newborn babies in a nursery away from their mother is also a relatively new one, just like practice of chemical pain relief during labor. I see here a link which cannot be so easily dismissed. 

Fortunately, I may add, many hospitals around the world now recognize the value of early attachment between mother and child and promote babies staying with their mothers immediately after birth. This makes so much sense. A mother doesn't need to have her baby taken away from her so she can "rest". Instead, she needs everything to be done so that the only thing which remains for her to do is lean back and snuggle her newborn. 

He writes, "the process of birth is safer and easier [with an epidural]". Here I am utterly baffled. The pain might be gone, of course (though not always, as many women have complained about epidurals poorly administered and working only partially, while depriving them of the ability to efficiently move around and relieve pain in other ways). However, I fail to see how it is that epidural makes the birth process safer. On the contrary, it is widely known that having an epidural raises the risk for prolonged labor, fetal distress and C-sections. 

He also claims that epidural anaesthesia "does not influence the progress of birth in any way, and does not harm the baby's health". Now this is just a blatant lie, which can be counteracted by countless medical as well as anecdotal evidence. Epidural, as a rule, makes contractions slower and the whole birth progress less effective, thus often making it necessary to administer pitocin, which together all too often snowballs into emergency C-section. "Well, at least you have a healthy baby in your arms", the mother is consoled. And in the aftermath of birth, who has the time or energy to dig deeper and see whether the surgery could have been, perhaps, avoided? Often, the mother thinks about it again only when she becomes pregnant once more and suddenly discovers that she has become "high risk", and is many times pressured to have a repeat C-section, which is much riskier than the first time around.

The author of the article is an anaesthesiologist and an ICU director, which is perhaps why he lacks sufficient knowledge about normal physiological processes - or if he doesn't, it means he is deliberately deceiving his patients, which is just vile. I am all for the freedom of women to choose epidurals if they so wish, but I believe the choice should be truly informed.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Not a little bit of sugar

Following my previous post about nutrition, I thought it would be in place to write a bit more extensively about the excessive consumption of sugar I see around every day.

During the time I studied for my degree in nutrition, we were told, of course, that sugar is unhealthy, that it is “empty calories” and that we should minimize its consumption. However, I believe it wasn’t emphasized enough just how much havoc sugar wrecks within our systems, nor how strictly it should be limited especially in children and teenagers. A lot more hours were dedicated to scary propaganda against natural products such as eggs and butter, whose saturated fat and cholesterol, as we were told, cause heart disease and diabetes.

Recently, a mother of an overweight child, while discussing the child’s nutrition with me, asked me whether it’s alright to give her daughter one egg per day, or whether eggs should be limited to three per week to avoid excess fat and cholesterol consumption. At the same time, she showed little to no concern about the fact that the child consumed candy as usual between-meals fare. I told her that I see absolutely no way that a normal active child would be overweight on good hearty satisfying foods, and advised her instead to eliminate all the anti-nutritious junk, without touching natural, wholesome, unprocessed food such as eggs, which contain valuable protein and fat-soluble vitamins. I explained to her that low-fat diets are harmful to children, not to mention that they do not satisfy the hunger and therefore lead us to eating more.

When I look at supermarket shelves and at stuff that makes its way into people’s shopping carts, and eventually onto their tables, I am horrified by the sheer amount of added refined sugar, especially and particularly in products aimed at children. And I’m not even talking about the price of all this colorful junk.

I see preschoolers returning home, and nearly the first thing their parents do is stick into their hands a bag of chips or a popsicle. Parents are essentially making their children used to eating a lot of sugar, and then complain they eat nothing but sweets. The consumption of such zero-nutrition junk comes at the expense of other, healthier snacks that a child could be eating at that time, for example fruit or assorted vegetable sticks with a cream cheese or tahina dip. The damage it does to children at the peak of their growth and development, when they are in such need of extra nutrients, can hardly be overestimated.

I’m not saying we never eat refined sugar in our home. But when I bake, for example, I try to reduce the amount of sugar in cakes and cookies to the minimal level which would still be palatable. If you try to do the same thing, you will eventually see that commercial products become too sweet for your taste. I also try to make my baked goods as nutritious as possible, to make up for the sugar addition, and go for things like carrot cake and oatmeal cookies, and that only occasionally.

Perhaps the preparation of healthy meals and snacks takes a bit more time, but it’s so worth it when it comes to the well-being of our families. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Not perfect, but still good

As I refer once more to “Nourishing Traditions”, I am torn between two distinctive feelings: one, being thrilled about all the wonderful health-promoting foods in existence; and two, overwhelming guilt whenever I chop up a cucumber for our salad, about it not being an organically or biodynamically grown cucumber from naturally fertilized soil, but just a plain, store-bought, and most likely mineral-depleted cucumber.

But then I remind myself, at least I’m cutting up salad.

And this is what brings me to the point of this post. I applaud the authors of “Nourishing Traditions” for being so uncompromising about the absolute best for our health, but I think they should have put more emphasis on what those that can’t achieve perfection are supposed to do. 

Perhaps we can’t all buy raw milk from animals on natural pasturage, but we can stick to plain unsweetened milk products, rather than buy the sugar-loaded, artificially flavored products that are, so ironically, aimed at children. We can choose whole milk products, rather than low-fat.

Perhaps we can’t buy all organic fruit and vegetables, but we can prefer that which is grown locally and in season, to that which is shipped from long distance or placed in storage for months, while vitamin content goes to waste. Perhaps you can benefit from growing some things on your own – even a tiny herb garden in pots on your kitchen windowsill is great, since fresh herbs are wonderfully rich in vitamins, minerals and other beneficial substances.

We can also offer real watermelons and grapes to our child for a snack, rather than sugar-loaded, artificially flavored watermelon and grape ice popsicles.

In our home, we take advantage of our own naturally grown grapes, pomegranates and grapefruits, the occasional veggie we grow in the garden, and locally harvested, home-preserved olives. Our recent step towards obtaining more nutritious foods is starting to keep chickens, in the hope of getting fresh healthy eggs. It might not be perfect, but in many senses it’s still better than what many people are eating. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rules and schedules for little ones

I was inspired to write this post about rules and schedules following an email from a dear lady who asked for advice regarding how to deal with her 2-year-old's behavior, while also expecting a baby any day. I'm a relatively new mother and definitely not an expert, but there are some things I'm learning along the way, and here's some of the experience I can share so far.


2-years-old are quite sharp and able to understand instructions and especially rules. My daughter, specifically, is an exceptional speaker so by 2 years she had quite a level of communication for her age, but those toddlers who don't speak so well are able to communicate, sometimes non-verbally, on a simple, intelligent, eye-to-eye level. They are able to understand the consequences of their actions ("if you pull the cat's tail she might scratch you"; "you didn't stop snatching toys out of the hands of other children when I told you to, so now we're leaving the playground and going home"). The child will of course test the limits by begging, whining and temper tantrums, especially in areas where rules are newly enforced, but it's important to keep the big picture in mind and know that insisting on firm reasonable rules is for the child's own good, and promotes a sense of security. 

Just a bit more regarding limits and schedules, I'm by no means an expert but during my short time of motherhood, so far (just 2.5 years), I've learned the importance of schedules for little ones. I don't mean being rigid as though we're in the army, but just enough to give the day predictability. We all function more smoothly when we know what we're supposed to be doing and what to expect from our day, and if it's true for us as adults, consider how much more important it must be for little children. Proper sleep time and an adequate number of sleep hours is especially vital in preventing crankiness, moodiness, irritability and bad temper. My rule of the thumb is to try and get the children to sleep when they are good and tired from playing, but not yet dropping down with exhaustion. 

Young babies, of course, don't exactly have a schedule, but once you have your second little one and once he or she is a few months old, I would highly encourage you to begin getting your two children on the same daily schedule. I don't mean nursing - I always nurse on demand, but just the daily structure. Schedule will also mean less power struggles, because the child knows, for example, that evening means supper, a bath, a story and then bedtime. 

Every family is different, but just as an example, we started having Tehilla regularly sitting with us at family meals when her she just had her first tastes of solids, at around 6 or 7 months. Around that time her sleeping habits also became more predictable. Now, at 9 months, my two girls sit together for breakfast (even though the baby only nibbles), play together, then sit together for lunch, and I make a point of getting them to nap at the same time. 

It can sometimes mean getting Shira (my older girl) to nap a bit earlier than I otherwise would, or to stretch Tehilla's play time a bit further, but having their naptime coincide is a big help. Then, after we're done with our afternoon activities, chores, play and supper (to which we also sit together), I bathe both girls at the same time - Shira sits in the big bath and plays with her toys, while I'm bathing Tehilla in the baby bed by her side. Afterwards I read aloud to them and get them to sleep, again at the same time. 

Having them on the same schedule required some tweaking and a bit of effort, and I must give a lot of credit to my husband - but it makes things so increadibly more pleasant for us all. It also allows me to plan things in advance, for example, if I know my children go to bed around 8, I might say that tonight I will tackle some paperwork, and most likely it will get done. If I have no idea when they'll eat or sleep, the house will be a havoc.

I realize that if you also work outside the home, this might be more difficult for you to accomplish than it is for me, since I'm blessed to be able to stay home with my children, but if you set your eyes on this goal of providing a structured day for your little ones, and communicate your wishes to other people who care for your children while you are absent, it can work. 

Of course there is a degree of flexibility - there are days when we are out and about, visits to grandparents, doctor's appointments and so on. But it's important that children know what to expect from a typical day at home. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

The best for the children

In one of the Shabbat leaflets of last week, I stumbled across a highly intriguing article that told me something I had no clue about. Apparently, a new Israeli incentive lengthened the school day in kindergartens in “socially weak” regions until half past 3 in the afternoon, vs. half past 1 as it used to be. This was done in order to encourage mothers of poorer families to work longer hours, something they wouldn’t always be able to do if they had to pay for optional hours in the kindergarten.

The problem? Mothers who live in the areas where the new law has come into effect, and who deliberately chose to stay home or work mornings only in order to be able to pick up their children from kindergarten at midday, now aren’t allowed to do so. Apparently, our Big Wise Ministry of Education made a collective decision stating there are regions where children are better off spending as many hours as possible in kindergarten and away from their parents.

It may not seem like such a big deal to some, but it is. Two hours of a productive portion of a day are a lot for a little child, and it may make quite a difference as in how a child spends them, especially if those two hours include a gathering for a family lunch at home, vs. institutional food of doubtful quality served in kindergarten.

Here’s the catch: there are socially problematic regions in Israel, indeed (one would have to be blind not to be aware of that), and there are, unfortunately, homes where children are treated poorly. In such instances, this government program insures some minimal level of proper care given to every child. But I cannot understand how it happens that normally functioning mothers are prevented from taking their little child home at a time they deem appropriate, just because they happen to live in an area where many families are struggling. In particular when we talk of religious families who come to live in such areas following a calling for community service.

The most interesting part in all this, for me, is that in Israel, institutionalized education (unless parents specifically apply for permission to homeschool, which happens very rarely) is obligatory only from age 5, while here we are talking about children aged 3 and 4. Which means they don’t even have to be in kindergarten, by conventional law – but apparently, once their mothers choose to enroll them in a certain school, they no longer have a choice regarding the number of hours their child spends there.

I suppose the reason I haven’t heard of this before is because mutiny has been mostly silent – mothers simply show up to take their children home early, rather than try and combat the system, and in many cases the kindergarten teachers understand, sympathize and try to cover things up in case of an inspection. However, to me it feels, as one of the mothers put it, that “our children are made into government property” (translation from Hebrew mine).

Here I feel the traces of what I call the Communist Influence. The modern state of Israel and its system of laws was built by non-religious Jews, many of them from Russian origin and highly influenced by communism. This explains the unheard-of phenomenon of sending most 18-year-old girls to the army, and also the doctrine which states learning must only happen in properly authorized institutions. According to Wikipedia, only about a few dozen Israeli families homeschool, at least legally, although some may also do it unauthorized. According to Israel Home Education site, it's "probably hundreds of families". I hope that in future years, the dubious status of homeschooling in Israel is resolved, and parents, and not the government, will be in charge of their children's upbringing. I'm not saying many more will choose to homeschool full-time - that is unlikely. But it's worth to make an effort for every hour a child spends with his family.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Easy cheesy potatoes


Served hot from the oven with fresh salad and a jug of homemade lemonade, they make a refreshing summertime dinner.

Take 6-7 large potatoes and boil until soft.

For the sauce:

2 tbsp. tahina, diluted with water until nice and smooth (optional)
2 tbsp. cream cheese
2 hard-boiled eggs, crushed with a fork
3 tbsp. of any grated cheese
6 large cloves of garlic, crushed
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dry oregano
Paprika to sprinkle on top

Mix the ingredients of the sauce thoroughly.

Cut the potatoes in half, length-wise, arrange on a baking pan and scoop out some of the inside. This will make nice long “boats”, which you then fill with the sauce. Bake at medium heat for about 20 minutes, just enough for the cheese to melt and the flavors to sink in.


Friday, June 17, 2011

An intruder

When I went out to look at the chickens, I spotted this unexpected intruder right next to them - one of the tortoises that roam our garden. I suppose he somehow worked his way under the gate, probably attracted by the fresh vegetables we laid out for our birds.

The chicks didn't even seem to notice. They probably took him for a large stone or something. I picked him up and released him in the garden once more.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Mrs. T

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How should young women prepare for their future?

I got an email from a lady to whom I will refer as Mrs. V, in which she posed some very challenging questions. She kindly agreed to allow me to post her email here, along with my reply, and so I'm going to share it.

***


Hello Anna,
 
I've really enjoyed all of your postings defending mothers staying at home to raise their children.  I so agree with all of your views on it.  For me, doesn't it make sense that God would want mothers to raise their precious little blessings?  To introduce them to His world?  To form and mold them?
 
Anyhow, I wanted to get your thoughts on something.   I always work backwards from the desired end result (i.e. - a mother staying home to raise her children and the father working to provide for his family) and try to figure out what is impeding that from happening.  So in today's society, from the time our daughters are young, we are preparing them for a career.  Of course education is a good thing.  These days, there are so many ways to educate oneself outside of a classroom. So, if people are preparing and encourage their daughters to seek a university and post graduate education, isn't this setting them up not to be with their little babies?  

One of two things seems to happen:  1. women are ambitious about their career, end up landing a job (often at the cost of a father out there who needs to provide for his family) and then they either delay children, or if they have children, put them in daycare right away as the child impedes the women's career. 2.  if a woman decides she wants to stay home with her children, she just spent $80,000-100,00 on a career and in most cases is in tremendous debt, which is an incredible burden to be starting at the beginning of a marriage).  

The other resulting factor of so many women working is that I think they are taking away potential jobs from men (and fathers).  Just think of the jobs that would open up for men and fathers who are unemployed if women were home caring for their home and family!  The family would end up being more stable, there would be less drop out among young men.  Right now, the statistics for boys are horrendous.  I can't remember the numbers (read it in Meg Meeker's book "Boys should be Boys), but basically, more women are going into professional careers, are being accepted into university than men etc....kind of depressing statistics). 
 
Sorry for being so long-winded.  So my question is: is higher education for women really good for the family?  Could there be an alternate form of education?  Maybe a 1 or 2 year program that is somewhat goverment funded that teaches practical lifeskills for being a good homemaker? Or other programs that includes history/art/philosophy etc.. might be an alternate solution? (although people would think I'm crazy if I actually said that out loud.  That's the sad part, people don't even see a problem with abandoning their children to the care of other people.  I know abandon is a strong word, but that's what I feel it is).   
 
Anyhow, have you ever thought about these things?  I know Catholic homeschooling moms who are encouraging their daughters to be lawyers/pharmacists etc...but it surprises me, because don't they think about their daughter's children and being home with them?

***

I think many things are very much backward when it comes to women's high education and preparation for a career. It's like women are prepared only to pursue a career, and not in the least set up to do what makes up the essence of womanhood: being a wife and mother. On the contrary, women are encouraged to get a degree which requires years and years to get, and end up to their ears in student debt - all too often before they even get a chance to understand how important it will be to them to be with their family, when they get married and especially when they become mothers. 

Essentially, once such a young woman does have a baby and suddenly wishes to stay at home - not an uncommon scenario - she is trapped, because she has all the student debt to pay off, not to mention that she is expected to work now that she put all those years into her education. Furthermore, chances are higher that the man she married entered into the deal with the expectation that she should work, and it might easily be that they took a mortgage and other loans assuming a substantial financial contribution will come from her career. It's sort of a snowball - every part of the equation makes it more difficult for this woman to stay at home, should she wish to do so at some point of her life. 

It doesn't mean that such a change wouldn't be possible, but it would be difficult, financially as well as mentally, and would require a great deal of commitment from both spouses. 

Today's economy is geared up towards women working as well as men, and there's no doubt it causes the cheapening of labor and lowering of salaries. However, many women make poor employees, what with taking maternity leave and a lot of sick leave, and the constant - and very natural - mental pull they feel towards their families, homes and children. 

I think that in a hypothetical situation, if suddenly the majority of women decided to pull out of the workplace, it would cause economy to undergo quite a shake, but eventually, we might all be better off. 

I believe that the reason more women get accepted into higher education programs is because institutionalized education these days, starting from elementary school, is fitted more towards skills that are more typically found in girls. Girls fit much more easily into a program where they are required to sit and work quietly, and with longer and longer school hours, and children more and more cooped up, girls fare better than boys. It might be that the fact that so many boys are diagnosed with ADD and ADHD is nothing more than the typical boyish "ants in their pants" and eagerness to explore. I think many boys would fare better with more active, hands-on programs, than the system that strives to get children in quiet, large groups. However, that would require resources that perhaps aren't even present in institutionalized schools. The result is that by the time they reach their teenage years, many boys feel like outcasts and fall out of the system. 

You ask, "is higher education for women really good for the family?" - I'm not sure I would put it this way. I'm a great proponent of education and a broad circle of interests, and I think that's good for everyone, especially in women who bring up their children and are the first (and in homeschooling families, main) teachers. However, I doubt college life and student debt are really necessary for a woman. Alternative forms of education abound, and self-education is my favorite. With so many informative resources now available, we can teach ourselves many valuable and useful things, and gain a broad and liberal education, if only we wish to do so. Many famous people never even went to school in the normal sense of the world, yet who can claim they were uneducated? 

I doubt a government-funded program would do any good; I believe more young women should think about their long-term goals, and ask themselves: do I want to be a wife and mother one day? Will I want to be with my children, especially when they are young? If so, which lifestyle is better fitting with that goal? Will I still be able to do it if I spend a lot of time when I'm young pursuing a degree, or several degrees, and a career? If not, what can I do? 

I have no easy answer, and I'm afraid I have to round up my email now because time is pressing. I thank you again for writing, and hope to have your permission to post your email (slightly abridged) on my blog, anonymously of course, along with my answer. I think it can sprout an interesting discussion. 

Blessings,

Anna 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A new project

 We embarked on a new adventure, which is something we have been planning for a while - raising chickens. My husband bought chicks about a month ago (we were promised they are all female, and therefore hopefully will lay eggs), and now they have grown up a bit we started working on making a proper coop for them.
It's a rather primitive construction and we still have to attach a roof and shelter from the rain for the winter months, but I'm rather proud of it anyway, since we made it all by ourselves. We picked a spot where the chickens will have nice refreshing shadow during the summer month (under the grape canopy).
When the chicks grow a bit more and get used to their new home, we plan to let them free-range in the yard. Already I see how they enjoy eating fresh green leaves and all sorts of bugs and little insects.

We are very novice when it comes to raising chickens, so please don't take anything I write on the subject as an advice. I can only say so far we're all having a lot of fun, and learning a lot along the way, too.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Our recent happenings

During the last few days, we've been so busy around here that I didn't have time so much as to look in the direction of the computer. However, here I'm back again with a little update.

We had a wonderful time celebrating Shavuot, and my husband's birthday as well. Upon returning home from our family visit, we had lots to do, and a few adventures I might share in follow-up posts. 
Above: a grape vine with some grapes ripening. Our little garden is enclosed by two large vines, one in the front and the other in the back. The back one is made to grow in such a way that it provides a wonderful green shadowy leafy canopy during the summer months. 
Above: stuffed grape leaves, made by a recipe similar to this one. Of course, we used fresh grape leaves from our garden, which plays a very important part in the right taste of this dish. I tasted stuffed grape leaves made with preserved leaves, and it doesn't even come close. But if you live in an area where you can pick fresh grape leaves, you might want to take advantage of that. 
A hedgehog we found last night, roaming in the garden, and managed to capture with the lens of our camera before he scuffled away. This was the first time I saw one of those around here.

Thanks for bearing with me, and I hope to be back for another update soon.

Your friend,

Mrs. T

Monday, June 6, 2011

What do we prepare our children for?

If we go on for a bit on the subject of young children’s education, I’ve heard a kindergarten teacher tell me that daycare is good for children because it “serves as good preparation for kindergarten”. Kindergarten, in its turn, is supposed to serve as preparation for school, while school is meant to prepare us for real life. But does it succeed? Does it really? For how many children, does school really broaden their horizons? How many succeed thanks to school, and how many despite it?  

I’m not sure if you get my line of thinking, but to me it seems as though I’m told “they’ll be herded and segregated into neat little age groups anyway, so it’s better to begin while they’re young”.

Yes, of course if a child grew up freely at home for the first three, four, five years of his or her life, it will probably be more of an adjustment for him or her to get used to the structured environment of school. The question is, how much structure is really good for the little child (my opinion: not much) and how much of it is the default option because no school can ever provide enough of the much needed one-on-one time with each child? For how many children, it would have been far better to grow up at home with their parents until a much later age than is considered “normal” nowadays?

Around here, most babies are entered at daycare centers at the age of just a few months (maternity leave is 3 months), and it’s considered highly unusual to keep a child at home beyond infancy. But just a generation ago, it was common for children to remain at home until the age of three. And generations before that, children were brought up at home until much later. Then some of them eventually entered into structured schooling, and some didn’t.

There isn’t one answer. There isn’t a one and only possible way to learn, to grow, to become an accomplished adult. I’ve been accused of trying to vilify schools, which is the last thing I intended to do. I know many school teachers I have a high respect for, but schools have many shortcomings, the chief of which, in my opinion, is wasting of time – much precious time, which has to do mainly with the size of classes. You essentially cannot conduct a lesson to a group of 30 children without a lot of time being wasted on discipline problems and irrelevant questions, and that’s a great pity, because the younger a child is, the shorter is his/her attention span.

This in its turn leads to boredom, wandering of attention, and ineffective learning. Often, children are so put off by their lesson subjects that they develop a lifelong aversion to fascinating discoveries and wonderful world-renowned authors. I, for instance, love Chekhov, but there were a few stories by him that I could never bring myself to re-read, and didn’t understand why, until I remembered those were the ones they presented to us in school.

I suppose this has to do with the way of presenting the material, and this can improve, but somehow it seems to me that when learning in a large group at a young age, we are often destined for mediocrity, because schools have it as their goal (perhaps must have it as their goal) that everybody learns at least something, which makes it more difficult to attend to those who learn more quickly (and thus soon begin fidgeting in their chairs from boredom) or more slowly (and thus soon begin to feel stupid for remaining behind).

I’ve heard school teachers proudly tell that their school has become a mini-university, but in my opinion, this is a matter where we should be very cautious. Four-graders don’t need a university; they need a lot of time for individual learning, developing their imaginations, and getting to know themselves as persons – and just being healthily and freely active out of doors.

So, again, I have no answers yet. Perhaps I never will. But I’m trying to think outside the box, step by step, as I walk hand in hand with my little children and enjoy every moment of their amazing development. So far, I have seen that home can be a vibrant, friendly, and professionally speaking, very stimulating learning place. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Happy Shavuot!

Shavuot is very nearly here, and as usual, it is marked by the blossom of the pomegranate tree (as seen in the picture), which should bear its fruit close to Rosh Ha-Shana. 

As some of you perhaps remember, Shavuot also happens to be my husband's birthday. His birthday cake is already tucked in the freezer, waiting for the grand occassion - this year, I made chocolate cake with ice cream layers, and you can be sure it will be thoroughly enjoyed.

I'm not sure I'll be able to squeeze in another post before Shavuot, so I'm taking this opportunity to with a very happy holiday to all my Jewish readers. I hope to be back before long, as I have a lot to talk about, and the only thing limiting me is time. 

Your friend,

Mrs. T

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

About hiding out

I would like to refer to an accusation often aimed at stay-at-home mothers, saying that we hide out at home from the real world and all real responsibilities. Of course, in my eyes this argument is ridiculous, but since I’ve heard it repeated more than once, I thought I’d dedicate a post to it.

First off, what responsibility is a more important and more constantly demanding one than that of taking care of a family and running a household? The homemaker might not be earning money, which means that the financial responsibility falls mainly on the husband’s shoulders, however, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t participate in planning the family budget and stretching it as far as it can go. A penny saved is more than a penny earned, and a mother at home can do so much as a means of saving money.

Just last night, I made a gross estimation of how much we saved so far by keeping the children at home with me, versus the “normal” scenario of placing them at daycare when they would be 3 months old, and I was astounded by the sum. I doubt I could have made much more than that, had I worked outside the home, certainly not with two little ones! And that’s just daycare, I didn’t even take into account things like travel costs and other expenses. For example, the plain sturdy clothes I wear now everyday for things like pulling up weeds and working in the kitchen wouldn’t fit for work – I would need new and nicer ones, not to mention we’d have to pay someone else to do the yard work.

I think this argument can be turned the other way around, and it can be said that in fact, a woman who spends all her day in the office, while she earns money that goes towards her family, doesn’t really deal with the responsibilities of raising her children and keeping house. When the family briefly gathers late in the evening, it’s easy to dismiss any behavioral problems, or things around the house that must be taken care of.

My point is, we can’t do everything, and in a family which practices role division, the homemaker certainly does her fair share.

I’m hereby challenging the statement that home isn’t the “real world”. On the contrary, home is the most organic and natural part of society, and more “real world” than any corporate office or university campus, where a lot of the doings, as well as the socializing, are largely artificial (though often useful). I like how Susan Schaeffer refers to home as the “gravity center”. Home is the place where family gathers, children are raised, plans are made, and a lot of real, solid, down-to-earth work is done.

Many women extend their help and encouragement to others, do countless beautiful projects and even start businesses and money-making venues – all right in their homes. Not that I think a busy mother must feel obligated to do any of those things in order to “justify” her presence at home. I think she is doing just fine even on those days when seemingly nothing is accomplished – as long as she gives love to her children, and there are meals on the table, however simple, and the day has some semblance of a structure, it’s alright.