8/21/14

Things to Read - Four Interesting Article on Education (SOLs, College, and Unschooling)

Because we all need something to read while breaking from pouring freezing water over ourselves . . .

1. (Cheating the SOLS) - The New Yorker published this excellent article on the cheating scandal in Georgia, which questions the reasonableness of federally mandated metrics.

"Waller told Pitts that the targets—set by the district’s Department of Research, Planning, and Accountability—were unrealistic. It took a quarter of the year just to gain students’ trust. Two students, he said, were raped in the neighborhood that year. Others lived alone, with neither parent at home, or were on the verge of being placed in juvenile detention. When a student was arrested for stealing cars, Waller went to court and asked the judge not to send him to jail. Waller told me, “The administration wanted to move kids out of poverty—I do believe that. But test scores could not be the only means.” When Waller expressed his concerns, Pitts reiterated that Hall accepted no excuses, and told him, “The way principals keep their jobs in Atlanta is they make targets.”

. . . .

There have been accounts of widespread cheating in dozens of cities, including Philadelphia, Toledo, El Paso, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Houston, and St. Louis. According to a 2013 report by the Government Accountability Office, forty states detected instances of cheating by educators in the previous two years. But Atlanta is one of the few districts in which educators have been subpoenaed. “It’s hard to find anyone in the system who wants to look under the rock and see what’s there,” Jennifer Jennings, a sociology professor at N.Y.U. who studies standardized tests, said. She noted that even in Texas, whose reform model inspired No Child Left Behind, scholars doubted whether students had progressed as rapidly as the data suggested—administrators exempted low-performing students from taking the test and underreported dropouts. Jennings worries that one consequence of cheating and other forms of gaming the system is that it interferes with the “policy-feedback loop,” the conclusions we draw about student learning and the narratives we tell about reform. Given what happened in Texas, she said, the cheating in Atlanta “should have been very easy to anticipate.”

. . . .

After more than two thousand interviews, the investigators concluded that forty-four schools had cheated and that a “culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation has infested the district, allowing cheating—at all levels—to go unchecked for years.” They wrote that data had been “used as an abusive and cruel weapon to embarrass and punish.” Several teachers had been told that they had a choice: either make targets or be placed on a Performance Development Plan, which was often a precursor to termination. At one elementary school, during a faculty meeting, a principal forced a teacher whose students had tested poorly to crawl under the table.

2. (Ivy League Problems) - William Deresiewicz's uneven article "Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League" received a lot of attention. I found some of his arguments rather weak, but still he makes some important points.

"The truth is that the meritocracy was never more than partial. Visit any elite campus across our great nation, and you can thrill to the heart-warming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. Kids at schools like Stanford think that their environment is diverse if one comes from Missouri and another from Pakistan, or if one plays the cello and the other lacrosse. Never mind that all of their parents are doctors or bankers.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few exceptions, but that is all they are. In fact, the group that is most disadvantaged by our current admissions policies are working-class and rural whites, who are hardly present on selective campuses at all. The only way to think these places are diverse is if that’s all you’ve ever seen."

3. (What College Can't Do) - Joshua Rothman published a fantastic response to Deresiewicz's publication above.

"It’s hardly the case, of course, that élite colleges can’t be improved; they can. (Deresiewicz’s essay closes with many good suggestions: give up legacy admissions, put a limit on the number of extracurriculars an applicant can list, stop caring about U.S. News & World Report.) But it is to say that college can be improved only in certain ways. Much of the conversation around the “crisis in higher education,” especially around the cost of college, is important and useful. But it’s needlessly complicated by what amounts to nostalgia for a premodern university. Colleges aren’t monasteries. They can’t give their students spiritual sustenance; they can’t provide an escape from modernity. And they shouldn’t be faulted, or punished, for that.

4. (Unschooling) - And, finally, Ben Hewitt wrote for Outside magazine about raising "unschooled" children.

"[A]as soon as we liberated ourselves from a concept of what our son’s education should look like, we were able to observe how he learned best. And what we saw was that the moment we stopped compelling Fin to sit and draw or paint or write was the moment he began doing these things on his own. It was the moment he began carving staves of wood into beautiful bows and constructing complex toys from materials on hand: an excavator that not only rotated, but also featured an extendable boom; a popgun fashioned from copper pipe, shaved corks, and a whittled-down dowel; even a sawmill with a rotating wooden “blade.”

In other words, the moment we quit trying to teach our son anything was the moment he started really learning."

8/20/14

Things to Do - 12 in 12, August 2014 (Great Wolf Lodge Edition)

If the kids behaved and played nicely this summer, I promised I'd take them to Great Wolf Lodge. The problem is that whenever I log on to reserve a room and am confronted by the extraordinary difference between weekday and weekend rates, I end up planning for the cheaper option, thus leaving poor Dan out (or lucky Dan, depending on how you view GWL).

Luckily, my in-laws were babysitting their other grandchildren the same week we planned to go. So I talked with Dan's mom and we decided to make it a family thing because cousins equal happiness.

Photographing the August 12 in 12, made me realize how fluid your concept of time becomes when spending all day in an indoor waterpark. Hours just seem to meander along . . .

1

7:30 am - The kids wake up at 7 (WTF?), but I manage to stay in bed a little longer. When I finally walk into the living room, this is what I see.

2

8:30 am (after breakfast in the room) - Ready to attack the water park. Unfortunately, we still have 30 minutes before it opens. (By the way, GWL, we love the free wolf ears - thank you!)

3

9:05 am - And so it begins . . .

4

10:30 am - Still going . . .

5

11:30 am (after lunch in the room) - Our first MaqiQuest experience. The cost of the wands makes me want to cry. I try to channel my inner "happy" wolf.

6

12:30 pm - The older kids divide into two teams, whereas T and I work together. It's up to me to figure out how the game works because all T wants to do is wave his "magic" wand at everything he sees (which, honestly, is sort of adorable). I quickly learn that MagiQuest is an exercise in walking in circles (up and down, back and forth from floor to floor), luckily I'm wearing my fitbit so this is fine with me.

7

1:30 pm - Return to the room for some "down" time. As you can tell, they're exhausted (oh wait, it's me that's exhausted).

8

2:30 pm - Waterpark round 2. P and her cousin decide to buck the system and walk through the lazy river, while hugging (of course?).

9

3:30 pm - More MagiQuest with T. I'm really getting the hang of it now. F and her cousin, on the other hand, are ranked #4 and trying desperately to climb into one of the top 3 spaces, so we don't see them much before dinner.

10

5:00 pm - Return to the room for more downtime. The kids are actually tired (woo-hoo! we did it!), everyone realizes that walking in circles is exhausting (our room is also about 0.25 miles from the waterpark/lobby, so that is a trek in itself). I try to read on the balcony while watching the rain (so so glad we picked the dreariest summer day to spend in a gigantic indoor cave).

11

7:00 pm - Buffet dinner, which tastes wonderful after a day of playing (is this the right word? not sure of the appropriate verb.)

12

8:30 pm - The kids zone out to TV show before bedtime, while I drink wine with my in-laws, who are toasting and celebrating the fact that they will never return to GWL. (Honestly, I couldn't thank them more for this trip, the kids were in heaven and it really helped to have extra adults to supervise all the ins and outs.)

Final fitbit steps = 18,344; 7.21 miles. And I never left the building. I'd guess most of the kids walked twice that. Turns out GWL is one crazy workout.

Now click on over to Not-So-SAHM and Where the Watermelons Grow to see how they spent August 12.

8/18/14

Places to Go (Vacation) - Running Through the Gardens & Learning About the Past at Winterthur (Winterthur, DE)

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For the most part this blog is a labor of love, but every once in awhile No Monsters In My Bed leads us to some fantastic opportunities - a basement makeover by Land of Nod; Lensbaby, Think Fun, and Pinhole Press reviews and giveaways (now expired); discount codes for fantastic art, etc. ). And now - free tickets to Winterthur, the historic du Pont estate in Delaware (yay! yay!!).

Winterthur's been on my weekend trip bucket list for awhile now, but I was a little nervous about its kid-friendly potential. Luckily, as we learned, this place is wonderful for children of all ages.

tour

THE FAMILY TOUR

We decided to make the trek (a 2.25 hour drive) the weekend after our trip to Vermont (planned, in part, to assure that we weren't in town for the incredibly expensive Arlington County Fair carnival rides). Needless to say, the kids were less than thrilled by this decision. The car trip didn't go much better ("are we there yet?"; "where are we going again?"; "gardens are boring"; etc. etc.). Immediately upon arrival at the estate we headed to the visitor's center for our 12:30 family house tour. This made me nervous, as cranky kids plus a historic tour seems like a recipe for disaster. My feelings didn't change when we met our tour guide - an older, beautiful, incredibly well-dressed woman. And Trout kept talking/laughing/joking about poop. The combo seemed destined for embarrassment.

I'm still not sure how the guide worked her magic, but she, quite amazingly, turned the whole mood of the trip around. In other words, she was a miracle. My children laughed, they raised hands to answer questions, they even (gasp) listened. F loved the tour guide so much that she kept asking to go again, like a carnival ride. This is especially important as the house itself was rather, well, over the top.

Apparently the incredibly rich du Pont heir visited his friend (founder of the Shelburne Museum in Vermont - which we visited the previous weekend, weirdly) and became motivated to collect "decorative arts" (aka, "stuff"). So, being enormously rich, he enlisted people to buy things for him all over the world (mainly American furniture) and decided to expand his house into a 175-room museum. Eventually the house and collection became so big that the du Ponts moved out of the mansion and into another house so that they could open the museum to the public (and continue filling rooms with acquisitions). So. much. excess. Thus many of Winterthur's rooms were only moderately lived in (if at all), rather they were designed with the purpose of people like us merely looking at them, which seems somewhat absurd. Still the rooms were beautiful. And, as our guide assiduously pointed out, Winterthur houses more stuff that George Washington owned than Mt. Vernon itself (oh how the rich will buy).

touch

THE TOUCH IT ROOM

After the incredibly successful house tour, we headed to the estate's "Touch It Room." Such spaces are often hit or miss with the girls now that they're "too old for little kid toys." But between the "market booth", kitchen, and fine dining room (all child sized) my kids had a blast exploring and playing.

downton

DOWNTON ABBEY

Eventually (after much bribing), we made our way to Winterthur's Costumes of Downton Abbey exhibit. And even this proved surprisingly fun for children - with a life-sized butler bell to ring, huge TVs to watch, and strong tea to smell. Plus, a hands on history cart allowed the children to practice chores such as curling hair and arranging silverware. The cart included "collectors' cards" printed with photos of Winterthur's original staff members, plus descriptions of the tasks assigned to each one (I've always wondered what exactly a footman does).

garden

ENCHANTED WOODS

After over 1.5 hours inside, we finally walked to Winterthur's gardens, which are worth a trip in themselves. First stop, Winterthur's amazing "Enchanted Woods" children's space. Child sized houses and chairs. Mushrooms that create fog. Statues and stones. A troll bridge. And "enchanted frog". This place is breathtaking. T was in heaven. Unfortunately the girls decided they were "too old" for such play (though they enjoyed exploring more than they'd admit, and F became somewhat obsessed with the magic mushrooms), so we meandered on.

draw

CHILDREN'S BACKPACKS

At the visitor's center, you can check-out children's backpacks to enrich your tour of the grounds, which include: colored pencils, paper, binoculars, magnetic poetry, and more. Lately T can't stop drawing (we're still not sure what he's drawing, but oh well, at least he has fun), so we stopped several times to give T the time to create.

I could have stayed in the gardens all day, but (after about 3.5 hours since our arrival) the kids lost interest. So we headed to our hotel for the night - Newark's Embassy Suites (love the free happy hour and breakfast buffet).

A wonderful day. We can't wait to return.

If you want to plan a trip to the area, the Brandywine valley also houses Longwood Gardens (previously reviewed here) and several other child-friendly attractions (click here for a list). Dutch Wonderland and Sesame Place are also relatively close.


8/15/14

Places to Go (Vacation) - Vermont Etc.

ferry

Despite spending most of our time in Vermont at the cottage, we still managed to see a few of the sights . . .

(Regarding the photos above, after a 9 hour car drive, the car ferry between VT and NY feels like a vacation in itself.)

blueberries

We picked blueberries at dusk (which is so so much better than in the heat of the day).

bagpipes

And picnicked in the fields, accompanied by live bagpipe music (random I know).

echo

We spent a rainy morning learning about zebra mussels and frogs at Burlington's Echo Center science museum.

walk

We walked around our "neighborhood", checking out the farms right down the driveway from our cottage.

shelburnemuseum

We learned about "the old days" at the Shelburne Museum.

laugh

T had a blast "teaching" us in the Shelburne Museum's one room schoolhouse.

pool

We spent a few days at a hotel, since the cottage was a Sunday to Sunday rental.

hotel

We also dressed for the wedding in one cramped hotel room. This was tricky.

tie

T wanted a tie so he could look like Dan. I love these photos.

wedding

And, finally, we attended the most kid-friendly wedding ever - who doesn't love lawn games and smores? So. Much. Fun. (especially since I hate to dance).

HAPPY FRIDAY EVERYONE!! HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND!!

8/13/14

Places to Go (Vacation) - Our Own (Happier) "Big Chill" at a Cabin in Vermont (South Hero, VT)

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A few weeks ago, of one of Dan's best college friends tied the knot outside Burlington, Vermont. Rather than just stay for the ceremony, we decided to take the kids and make a vacation out of it, along with some of Dan's other college friends.

After a huge get together of Case Western alums, circa 1997, my friend Colleen said to me, "well, I guess this is my own big chill. Luckily it's a wedding and not a funeral."

I looked at her in horror. The Big Chill came out in 1983, when I was 7. I remember it as a movie about old people. Old boring people with uninteresting lives reminiscing all the time. Even at age 38, I refused to believe that this motion picture could have anything, as in ANYTHING, in common with me.

So we watched the movie. And, though particular dates are never referenced, all appearances lead to the conclusion that I am now older than the film's characters. Also, turns out that they don't have boring lives, rather they all seem moderately rich (why is everyone in movies always so haplessly wealthy as if money, like a cold, is just something one "catches"?) with glamorous jobs - a journalist, a radio talk show host, a TV star . . . They're even Michigan grads (go big blue!).

And the movie itself isn't even that boring (though it is quite random, just for the record, I am NEVER going to ask my husband to impregnate our mutual friend, call me a prude all you want). Apparently your viewpoint changes when you watch an "adult" movie as an "adult".

So I guess this was my "big chill" week, though that sounds false as I didn't actually go to college with these people (was I the Richard? Hopefully I am nothing like Richard). But despite learning that I am, by my very own definition, now an old person - we had a fantastic time. The kids all bonded, while the adults lounged and drank and played Cards Against Humanity.

Seriously, a wonderful week, turns middle age is sort of awesome.

part2

Oh, the sunsets. Wow.

rain

Sometimes it rains in Vermont. Apparently rain will not keep children from a kayak.

netball

Badminton quickly morphed into the exciting game of "throw the ball over the net". The boys played for hours.

coco

Coco made some new friends. But mostly just slept.

island

Want to make children happy? Buy them an island.

seaworld

F likes to display her political activist side while playing Sorry (for explanation on the t-shirt, watch Blackfish for family movie night, then I (almost) guarantee that your children will want to wear one too).

birthday

An awesome kid turned 5.

sunset

But mostly importantly, did I mention the sunsets??

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