In honor of United States of America’s Independence Day on the 4th of July, here are are two thought-provoking, classic poems, plus one of my all-time favorite marches. The first poem, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “A Nation’s Strength,” would make an excellent subject for memorization or copywork, while the second, Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” is a reminder of America’s promise of welcome.
A Nation’s Strength
by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1904)
What makes a nation’s pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?
It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.
Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.
And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.
Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor’s sake
Stand fast and suffer long.
Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly…
They build a nation’s pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882) was a poet of the American Romantic era, as well as an essayist and lecturer. He is considered a leader of the nineteenth-century Transcendentalist movement. You may read more about him at Poets.org.
“Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men
and so it must be daily earned and refreshed—
else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots,
it will wither and die.”
~President Dwight D. Eisenhower
And because most of America’s people “great and strong” (or their ancestors) have come from afar, I add one more poem:
The New Colossus
by Emma Lazarus (1883)
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Emma Lazarus (1849 – 1887) was a Jewish-American poet and activist most famous for “The New Colossus.”
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
By John Phillips Sousa, beautifully played by the United States Marine Band.
Here are a few helpful links:
USA.gov: Official information about Independence Day, patriotic music, American recipes, fireworks safety, and more from the U. S. government.
History.com: Here is interesting background information with several short videos to watch. When you open the page, an ad may start playing; just click the X in the upper corner to close it and see the first video.
Epicurious: Recipes and party plans for the 4th of July.
Valley Forge: You may read about George Washington and the troops in Valley Forge at the National Park Service website.
1857 McGuffey Readers: You can learn more about teaching American heritage through these wonderful old readers at 1857McGuffey.com.
What’s in your to-be-read (TBR) pile? Mine is teetering way past the point of reason, and has overflowed onto a small bookshelf beside my chair, plus a few piles on the floor, to say nothing of those waiting in my Kindle. Time is rushing on, so I’m guessing that I won’t be able to finish all 200+ books before the end of summer. However, I thought I’d pause and offer a few of my old favorites for your summer reading pleasure.
In keeping with the idea of making summer different and special for your whole family (see Why You (Probably) Need a Summer Break), my reading suggestions focus on books for life, rather than just for homeschooling. We are not one-dimensional creatures, so it’s important to feed soul and spirit as well as the mind. Widening your reading circle is one way to become a more interesting teacher, and if you include a variety of resources, you’re likely to also become a better thinker and writer. Plus, if you have some of these interesting books in your home, they will be ready for your students when the time is right.
This is an eclectic collection; your love list may vary. When possible I’ve linked to the exact edition I own, but some of these are out of print and best found through libraries and used bookstores. I have deliberately not included the literary classics, because I think you all know that I believe them to be necessary. You can see the classics I recommend at the Everyday Education site.
For a closer walk with the Lord
Huffington Post’s list of “Spiritual Classics: 25 Books Every Christian Should Read” includes several from my favorites shelf, and others I haven’t read. The list is in my least-favorite format–a slide show that reveals one book at a time, but the list is decent, so that partially makes up for the annoying format. If you’ve not read any of the books on this list, you may want to start with these:
- Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis: One of my all-time favorites
- Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence: This brief, beautiful book was written by a monk in the 16th century, but its pages overflow with a gentle love for God that can inspire Christians today.
- I’m reading The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis right now. Its brief segments, often a half-page or less, make it usable as a daily reading, and most of the advice so far is thought-provoking and applicable to any member of the Christian family.
Home, garden, and more
Tasha Tudor’s Garden is my favorite garden book. It offers a beautifully photographed journey through the artist’s year.
Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture is a classic guide to planning a holistic permaculture landscape. Even if you can’t implement much of it, it’s a fascinating read.
The photographs and floor plans in Creating the Not So Big House: Insights and Ideas for the New American Home by Sarah Susanka inspire me to think differently about the spaces in our home, and to consider how I might design a small home for retirement.
Have you heard about the tiny house movement? The Tiny House Design & Construction Guide offers detailed instructions for how to build your own fully functional home in an unbelievably small number of square feet.
The Straw Bale House by Athena Swentzell Steen: Although I will probably never have a straw bale house, I enjoy thinking outside the box. I like this book so well that when my original copy went missing, I actually bought another.
Diana Phipps’s Affordable Splendor: An Ingenious Guide to Decorating Elegantly, Inexpensively, and Doing Most of It Yourself by Diana Phipps: It’s not entirely the fault of this book that I decorate on the fly, but it was definitely influential. It’s of of the two on this page that I don’t own, and I am always on the lookout for a used copy.
Sisters on the Fly: Caravans, Campfires, and Tales from the Road by Irene Rawlings: I’ve always loved old trailers–my grandfather had one he used for a study spot, and sometimes when I had sleepovers, he’d let us stay in it. Needless to say, I’d love to have one now!
Kaffe Fassett’s Glorious Color for Needlepoint & Knitting by Kaffe Fassett: I love this colorful feast for the eyes. Most of Fassett’s other books are similarly inspiring.
Visual Dance: Creating Spectacular Quilts by Joen Wolfram: If you need to learn more about color theory and quilt designing, you’re likely to enjoy this book.
Kaleidoscopes and Quilts by Paula Nadelstern
Crochet That Fits: Shaped Fashions Without Increases or Decreases by Mary Jane Hall
Knitting in America: Patterns, Profiles, & Stories of America’s Leading Artisans by Melanie Falick: I found this book at the library and enjoyed reading it before I ever learned to knit. I still enjoy browsing it for inspiration.
Written Letters: 33 Alphabets for Calligraphers by Jacquline Svarin: This entirely handwritten book features many beautiful alphabets, along with the history of each hand.
Using Calligraphy: A Workbook of Alphabets, Projects, and Techniques by Margaret Shepherd: I referred to this practical guide many times as I was beginning my calligraphy business.
How to Make Books: Fold, Cut & Stitch Your Way to a One-of-a-Kind Book by Esther K. Smith: This book is packed with delightful ideas for creating books. From an eight-page book made from one sheet of paper, to highly-detailed multi-part books, it can spark an entirely new hobby.
A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider: It’s not quite a modern Joy of Cooking (another favorite), but it’s a splendid reference for learning how to cook and eat well.
The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking: I love good, crusty bread, but could never justify the time it took to make it. Nor could I justify paying $5 a loaf at Whole Foods, when I knew the ingredients were super-cheap. This book changed everything, though. In literally five foolproof, hands-on minutes at a time, we can have fresh, delicious bread anytime we want it. No kneading, no fussing. This is a wonderful resource!
The Happiness Diet: A Nutritional Prescription for a Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood, and Lean, Energized Body by Tyler Graham and Drew Ramsey: I was already eating healthily when I found this book, but The Happiness Diet explains the science behind how food can help you look and feel better.
Desperation Dinners by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross: I like to cook, but sometimes I’d rather spend my time another way. This cookbook was a faithful companion when I had a collection of teen boys still at home.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan: This was another book I listened to and then purchased. Pollan’s journey of discovery is more than just an interesting story; it’s an answer to the question of what has happened
The Supper of the Lamb A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon: This classic offers a few good recipes tucked into a narrative on the meaning of cooking, love, and life. It’s definitely more than just a cookbook.
Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin: A quiet, sweet book that reflects on cooking as an act of love, among other things. There’s an equally good sequel, More Home Cooking.
Interesting biographies and memoirs
The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family by Mary S. Lovell: A fascinating look at an incredible family during WWII. One of my all-time favorite modern biographies.
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas: Another biography of a compelling WWII figure.
The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing’s Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living by Helen and Scott Nearing: The fascinating story of a couple who decided to live simply
Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L’Amour: The popular writer of western novels tells the story of his own patchwork, world-wide education. It was one of the first glimpses I had of a lifestyle of learning in action.
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
Old fiction favorites (just a few; you may enjoy other books by these authors as well)
G. K. Chesterton: The Father Brown Mysteries
E. Phillips Oppenheim: The Great Impersonation; The Fortunate Wayfarer; Ask Miss Mott
Mary Roberts Rinehart: Any of her mysteries; Bab, A Sub-Deb; Tish
Gene Stratton Porter: Laddie; Freckles; A Girl of the Limberlost
Eleanor H. Porter: Miss Billy; Just David
Thinking outside the box
Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford. This book was recommended to me by several people, and I finally purchased the Kindle version. About halfway through, I bought the paper version for myself, and one for one of our boys. It’s profoundly thought-provoking.
Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World by Joel Salatin: I listened to this on a long car trip, then bought the paper book to share with family. Salatin is wise, opinionated, and funny.
Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century is a classic that is likely to change the way you look at money forever.
Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, . . . (really long subtitle) by Rod Dreher: If you don’t fit neatly into a single political party, you might be a crunchy con. Or you may just find them infuriating. Whichever it is, this book has seen more than one reading in our home.
Every man should periodically be compelled to listen to opinions which are infuriating to him.
To hear nothing but what is pleasing to one is to make a pillow of the mind.
–St. John Ervine
Other reading lists:
Books Boys Like: To help your boys read 1000 good books before they tackle the 100 great books (John Senior’s suggestion in The Death of Christian Culture), here is a list of boy favorites. This list was begun by a friend, and we just keep adding to it. We welcome your submissions to both this list and the next one.
Now that the dog days of summer are upon us, there are few things more delightful than settling down with a tall glass of fresh lemonade and a great book. I hope you’ll find some new favorites in one of these lists!
If you’ve ever wondered whether Excellence in Literature needed a few multiple choice questions to make it “better,” this delightful essay by my friend and publisher Andrew Pudewa will make our position clear. Like comprehension questions, another pernicious evil, multiple-choice testing is a blight on the educational process. I hope you enjoy this!
The Madness of Multiple-Choice
by Andrew Pudewa
At some point, one of the hardest decisions that a home-schooling family must make is whether to do “Home Education” or to do “School” at home. Many times this choice is made by default when a family jumps into home-schooling by purchasing a complete “curriculum-in-a-box” (or on a disk), in an attempt to find something that will “cover all the bases.” On the other hand, some families who choose to break free from a “complete” grade-level based pile of textbooks and workbooks feel like they are engaging in something radically different, which they may call “unit study,” or “unschooling,” or “classical,” or any one of several different labeled philosophies or approaches.Certainly these pioneering families are choosing paths less traveled, but they are doing so in greater and greater numbers. Some do it from the get-go; some begin the journey after years of slogging through worksheets and school books, wondering if there isn’t another, better way. Providing fuel for a change in direction, authors like John Taylor Gatto, Doug Wilson, Marva Collins, Glen Doman, and many others show a glimpse of how things could be different, even providing treasure maps, guidebooks, model classrooms and periodic pep talks. Most parents pursue these possibilities because they have three basic qualities that push them to it: love for their kids, a modicum of confidence, and common sense.
Writing is thinking and workbooks can’t teach thinking
And yet for many other parents, who also possess love and common sense, it can be hard to depart from the broad, safe road of “school-at-home.” The pre-designed lesson plans, the carefully programmed “teacher edition” textbooks, the daily and weekly suggested schedules, the tests with answer keys—in other words, the security of knowing that your fifth grader is doing what other fifth graders are (or should be) doing—these are the things which, for some, make home-schooling a practical possibility, and they hang on to it tenaciously. . . at least until they encounter the task of teaching writing. When parents come face to face with the shortcomings of the workbook approach in this area, they get concerned. They see the child’s frustration. Writing is thinking and workbooks just can’t teach thinking. Understanding the importance of composition as an important life skill, these parents search here and there for yet another workbook or computer program that will do the job, but they seldom find anything that actually works. Why?
Textbooks, workbooks, and “canned” curriculums cannot teach thinking; they can only seek a predictable, “correct” response. Their very existence is based on a multiple-choice fill-in-the-blank, right/wrong system of pushing information into a child’s head. There is no room for different answers, unique responses or independent views. The emphasis is always on what the child doesn’t know, not on helping him clarify and express what he does know. Epitomizing the type of instruction specifically designed to condition the child, multiple-choice tests and right/wrong workbooks can program correct responses, but they cannot teach a child to think.
Being tested on what we didn’t know
I and most everyone I know grew up in this educational culture. We don’t know (and can’t easily imagine) anything different. For the most part, conditioning is what school was (excepting the one or two truly remarkable teachers who may have taken the radical approach of encouraging actual thinking). For us, grades were based on homework and tests, most of which were designed not to test what we did know but specifically to test what we did not know. “Uh, oh… I didn’t know seven things on that test, I’m stupid!” “Johnny got a 100%… he’s so smart, he knows everything! But I’m just dumb. I hate this.” No, Johnny didn’t know everything, and he wasn’t necessarily any smarter than you or I. He was just good at learning the specific few things the system thought he should learn. You may well have learned countless other things–things that were more interesting or useful to you–but the system didn’t test you on what you did know, only on what you didn’t know. For us, school was an eleven or twelve year conditioning process, slapping us back into line, giving us a common and narrow set of information carefully chosen to make us think predictably and behave controllably, limited in originality and easy to influence economically and politically.
You see, the multiple-choice test mentality is not just stupid, it’s evil. By placing a continuous emphasis on what you don’t know, multiple-choice tests trivialize what you do know. To a multiple-choice test answer key, who you are, what you know, or how you think is irrelevant. But the painful irony of it all is, in truth: it’s what youdon’t know that is actually what’s irrelevant. You’re not going to know everything there is to know about everything anyway, so who cares what you don’t know? What you don’t know isn’t important at all! What is important is what you do know, and that you know that you know, and that you can communicate it effectively. And, by the way, that’s how tests have been done for centuries (the centuries before computers had maliciously promoted multiple-choice). The mentor or teacher would say to the student, “Tell me everything you have learned about what we’ve studied.” The test was to see that you had learned something, not that you had learned the narrow and specific facts prioritized by a particular worldview or sociological system. Real learning and thinking is about what you do know, and knowing that you know it.
Educare - “to draw out”
That’s actually the common sense approach to education. It’s what the word means. Educare - “to draw out.” Instructo, on the other hand, means “to pile upon.” Parents and teachers hit the wall of “instruction” when they begin to teach writing. You can “pile on” and test history facts, math facts, science facts, even religion and spelling facts, but you can’t “pile on” writing instruction. Writing is thinking, and once the tools have been taught, the shift is now to educate, or to “draw out” from the child that which he knows. As I travel and teach writing all over the country, I often meet children who don’t like to write. Now, if you ask a child why they don’t like to write, their most common answer is, of course: “I don’t know what to say.” One of the activities I do with children (after some practice in basic note taking) is an exercise I call “brain inventory,” or just making a list of “things that you know somethingabout.” After listing their dog or cat and their one or two favorite sports, many children can’t think of much else that they “know something about.” They just don’t they feel like they know a whole lot. The fact is, of course, that they do know much more, and with just a little coaching, they can find all sorts of “stuff” in their brain, but they are not used to that type of thinking. They’re used to having a workbook to tell them what they know. When it’s not there, they’re lost. What I do is very new to many kids. It’s a common sense approach, but not a common one in today’s multiple-choice culture.
As if requiring teachers to do more of what hasn’t worked will suddenly improve things
Originating as part of a clandestine effort by the inner sanctum of social scientists in their university halls and corporate board rooms, the madness of the multiple-choice mentality now unabashedly emanates from the most obvious sources of political and economic power—governments and media. Following the states and their legislators in striving for an elusive educational “standard,” our president and congress have hopped on the driverless wagon of national testing, as if requiring teachers to do more of what hasn’t worked will suddenly improve things. And the media, they love multiple-choice. Take, for example, the recent tragedy of terrorism and the “interactive” nature of the television and internet. One major news network gave three choices as possible responses to the question: “How does this terrorist attack make you feel?” Only three options were available: Surprised, Sad, or Angry. Any more complete expression of feeling or detailed response wouldn’t work in their bar chart, so everyone responding to their “interactive experience” was forced into one of three narrow but equally as vague little boxes. I personally couldn’t trim my complex feelings and thoughts to fit into one of those three options, and it seems to me that any thinking person would be equally as offended by the overly simplistic nature of that multiple- choice question. But this is the way children have been, for decades, trained to respond by their textbooks and worksheets.
Now we, as home-schoolers, have some options that other parents don’t have. We can, of course, do “school” at home, obediently following our worksheets and nicely administering our end-of-chapter multiple-choice tests. Or, if we can see outside the box of our own conditioning, choose to do something radically different. We can, right now, make the decision to care more about what our children do know, rather that being worried about what they don’t know. We can determine to draw out real thinking, rather than programming our students with the “correct” textbook responses. We can, if we have the courage, “just say no” to multiple-choice tests, and the whole mentality that goes with it. No, you won’t “cover all the bases.” Your children won’t know everything they’re “supposed to.” They will learn different things than what the other fifth graders are learning, but they may very well learn better how to think, and to know that they know what they know. And if they do the same for their children and grandchildren, we may find in a few generations a large number of people have become more thoughtful, more responsive, more diverse—in other words less controllable and less conditioned—and perhaps a bit more like our founding fathers. And that might be a very good thing for our country and our world.
If your student is behind in a school subject and you are thinking of schooling through the summer, please stop a moment. I’d like to share a few thoughts on doing that. Schooling through the summer may be the right choice if you’ve planned it from the beginning and do it routinely, but usually, when I talk to moms who are planning to school through summer, it’s a dreaded last-ditch choice in order to get through a particular amount of material before the next school year. The student looks unhappy about it, but mom is even more miserable!
Before you throw away summer break, here are a few things to think about:
If your student is struggling with a particular subject, type of problem, or the selected curriculum, more days of pounding in the same idea may not be what he needs. Just as an athlete who is weight training must take time away from the weights in order to let his muscles repair, it is sometimes necessary for students to take time away from studies in order to let their minds rest, mature, and make connections.
- If the student is not developmentally ready for a concept, more days of struggle and tears will not help him mature any faster.
- If the curriculum is a terrible fit for his learning style, more days of trying to push a square peg into a round hole may not be very effective.
- If you’re springing the “no summer vacation” decree on your students at the end of the school year, be careful not to do so in frustration. If summer break has always been a part of your lives, your students could feel blindsided and betrayed by the sudden change of plans, and that certainly doesn’t lend itself to focused learning or a strong, trusting relationship.
- The Creator modeled taking a sabbath day of rest each week, and when we follow that example by making Sunday special and different, it can be a great blessing. In the same way, the summer break can be the sabbath of your school year–a time of joy, rest, and blessing.
Begin With the End in Mind
Instead of banishing the break, consider the desired end goals for your homeschool. Do they include
- Close family relationships?
- Spiritual growth?
- Love of learning?
- Helping your student discern his calling and gifts?
- Getting through a certain number of textbooks each year?
If the goal of homeschooling is to cover material, then by all means, throw out the breaks. If the goal is long-term learning, consider a summer break that encourages a different kind of learning and offers the student (and you) a wholesome break from the school routine.
A Different Kind of Summer Break
Instead of seeing summer as a time when learning ceases, consider it a time when the student can focus on developing a hands-on skill, hobby, or micro business, and family relationships can be strengthened. The creative summer won’t look the same for everyone, but here are a few things I’d suggest.
- Don’t plan too much–one hobby per child and one special family event per month is plenty.
- Make sure that at least one of the family activities takes place outdoors and lasts at least a weekend.
- Allow plenty of free outdoor time and creative time.
- Try to provide a selection of art supplies (a picnic table can be a perfect place to use them).
- If you don’t have any musical instruments, let students make some.
- Let them have a bit of junk to build and tinker with (see the suggestions in “Play is a Child’s Work“).
- Listen to wonderful audiobooks over lunch, in the car, while doing handwork, and on rainy days.
- Many cities have free summer events. If you can, visit an art museum, a battlefield or botanical garden, and go to an outdoor concert, historic re-enactment, or other performance.
What You Do Matters More Than You Think
Most importantly, be aware that your children observe how you spend your time. If you incorporate a bit of learning and creativity into your own summer, your students will start to believe you when you tell them that learning is important; and that creative, constructive activities are fun and worthwhile.
- Model creative, constructive hands-on work for your children by doing something you enjoy. It doesn’t have be grand or expensive–if you enjoy it, that is enough. Sew, garden, cook, can, make things to sell on Etsy, help an elderly neighbor with home maintenance or repairs, paint your basement floor to look like tile, reupholster a ratty old chair, or anything else you’d like to try. Do with your might what your hand finds to do!
- Model self-directed learning by learning something that interests you– how to decorate cakes, paint with watercolors, plant a garden, knit, dance the polka, play a harmonica, quilt, repair old clocks or lawnmowers, graft apple trees, refinish old furniture, develop a fabulous chile recipe, tie fishing flies, or whatever you like. If you’ve always wanted to read Dante’s Divine Comedy or Shakespeare’s plays, start by reading one canto or scene a day. Let them see you preparing for the coming school year by reading, lesson planning, etc. Although they may not say anything, they will observe that school is work for you, just as it is for them.
Whatever you do, be transparent. Let them see you try, and if you fail, let them see you fail. Let them see you think through a problem and try different solutions. Let them see what perseverance in the face of a hard task looks like. Even let them see how gracefully you can handle a thousand interruptions! And if you get frustrated and say or do something you wish you hadn’t, let them hear you apologize. Children will observe these things anyway, but if they also see that you are working to grow and mature, and striving to develop the fruit of the spirit as you develop new skills, they will be better equipped for their own learning journeys.
I’ll write more later about hands-on skills, and why they are so important, but for now, I’ll just encourage you to create a different kind of summer for your family–one that will be remembered with joy. Not just because these years pass quickly, and some day you’ll love hearing them reminisce over the crazy, fun things they did over summer break, but also because academic learning isn’t the only thing they need to live a full, wholesome, balanced life.
May you have the best summer ever!
P.S. And here are two final (possibly unpopular) suggestions:
- If television is keeping someone (including you) from doing creative, constructive things, banish it to an inconvenient place or toss it altogether.
- The computer is a tool for learning, work, and communication, not games. If it needs to be placed off limits, it can be.
In Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift wrote of the two moons of Mars. Of course, it was 1735, and the two moons weren’t discovered until 1877. In 1870, in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne described an electric submarine, which wasn’t invented until the 1960s. Many of the most interesting inventions and discoveries of the past few centuries were foreseen by imaginative writers such as H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Ray Bradbury, Douglas Adams, and others less famous. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that their work inspired the scientists behind many of these discoveries.
I haven’t read all the books recorded in this fascinating infographic by PrinterInks.com, but there are several I consider to be foundational reading in this genre (almost every genre develops its own list of great books). If you haven’t read much such science fiction, I recommend the following books in addition to the Swift and Verne novels already mentioned:
These aren’t always happy reading, but they are thought-provoking. If you want more, after these, books by H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Ray Bradbury, Douglas Adams, Arthur C. Clarke, and Frank Herbert may appeal to you. Just remember they are modern books, and read with care.
[Book links are affiliate links to Amazon. Thank you!]
The last College Alternatives post focused on the skilled trades, such as machinist, electrician, arborist, and others. Since college has been pushed as a primary option for most students, there has been a labor shortage in many of the trades, making them a good alternative or second skill to develop. Trades are not for everyone, though, so the final two college options I’ll talk about are entrepreneurship and learning through apprenticeships or guilds. Even if your student eventually decides to attend college, he or she can benefit by having one or more of these experiences during high school.
One way that students can experiment with entrepreneurship is to start a micro business while still in high school. A microbusiness (or micro-business) is a very small business, started with minimal resources, and operating without business loans or major overhead. Microbusinesses are ideal for teens who want to save for college while gaining business skills. They also work very well for work-at-home moms or people who need to make money while caregiving for elderly family members. A microbusiness can also be a good way to try out a possible career, or to supplement income in a flagging economy.
Microbusiness possibilites are nearly endless. My own microbusiness career began when I was in elementary school– I used my little red wagon to peddle avocados around our neighborhood. I made an average of $100 a year, until I got too big to be seen in public with a red wagon. I graduated to making macramé bracelets with beaded names; then to doing–and ultimately teaching–calligraphy. Each of these microbusinesses brought in a decent amount of money for doing something fun and relatively low-key. I’m certain that the skills I learned from each venture were more valuable than almost anything I would have gained in a traditional minimum-wage job.
If you’d like to explore microbusiness with your teens, you will find the four-book Micro Business for Teens curriculum by Carol Topp to be a clear, concise guide. Carol is not only a homeschool mom; she’s also a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) who has worked with many adult and teen entrepreneurs. If your teen works through the curriculum and successfully launches and runs a business, you can add credit for Entrepreneurship 101 to their high school transcript. Each book builds upon the previous one, developing the business skills necessary for success. The four titles are:
Starting a Microbusiness
Running a Microbusiness
Money and Taxes in a Microbusiness
Microbusiness for Teens Workbook
Apprenticeships and Guilds
Although I’d like to report that formal apprenticeships are easy to find, a recent Wall Street Journal article, Apprenticeships Help Close the Skills Gap. So Why Are They in Decline?, suggests otherwise. Although classic apprenticeship programs allow employers to train for precisely the needed skill set for a position, they have traditionally been seen as more of a blue-collar option. In addition, many employers fear that an apprenticeship program may open the way for unionization (labor unions provide some of the best apprenticeship programs available).
However, an apprenticeship can be well worth pursuing. According to Brad Neese, director of Apprenticeship Carolina, a program of the South Carolina Technical College System, employers who do provide apprenticeship programs discover that “College degrees and internships don’t produce the same quality of worker as intensive, on-the-job apprenticeships.” Many homeschoolers have found informal apprenticeships through acquaintances and local contacts, as described in some of the articles linked below. One of the easiest ways to begin is to offer services on a volunteer basis. Sometimes this will work into a paying position; other times it simply provides experience.
High School Apprenticeships at Home by Maggie Hogan provides a look at two different apprenticeship stories, with a few tips on finding your own. This originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.
Forging Ahead: Apprenticeships in the 21st Century is a good overview of apprenticeship history and options from HSLDA.
Registered Apprenticeship site from the U.S. Department of Labor provides a place where employers can offer apprenticeships, students can search for opportunities, and parents and potential partners can learn more.
Medieval Guilds from Thomas More College ”Inspired by the original models, Thomas More College has established a series of guilds that enable students to gain practical skills and experience in areas such as woodworking, sacred art, homesteading and music.”
Apprenticeships and Resumés by Kym Wright covers helpful information on how to present unique experiences on a resumé.
What Do Homeschoolers Do After Graduation? Here is an interesting look at what some Pennsylvania homeschoolers have done after college, along with some practical advice and comments from parents on things that worked well in their homeschooling.
The National Institute for Metalworking Skills, Inc. (NIMS} Competency Based Apprenticeship System offers the opportunity to become a NIMS Certified Machinist, Toolmaker, CNC Setup Programmer or a Certified Journey Worker at any NIMS occupation.
Arborist Training Programs links to some useful resources for tree climbers. You may find more by searching online for “arborist apprenticeship programs.”
AFL-CIO apprenticeship information: I’m ambivalent about unions, but they do offer extensive, well-paid apprenticeship options.
Small or Local Opportunities
Many small, local companies and organizations offer apprenticeship or internship opportunities. These can be well worth pursuing, as they can open doors to local career opportunities. Try searching online for opportunities in your area by entering “apprenticeship [city name]” or “internship [city name].” You may also add in the field in which you’d like to find on-the-job training–technology, farm work, plumbing, etc.. If your student can shadow a well-respected adult and learn by doing, it is likely to be an experience he won’t forget.
Homegrown Programmers is an apprenticeship program offered by the homeschooling owners of Automation Excellence, a technology company.
The University of Virginia posts opportunities of various kinds; it would probably be worth checking colleges in your own area for the same type of posting.
Agriberry Farm offers a Young Worker Training Program in central Virginia.
Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm has a popular apprenticeship program for “Bright eyed, bushy-tailed, self-starter, eager-beaver, situationally aware, go-get-‘em, teachable, positive, non-complaining, grateful, rejoicing, get’erdone, dependable, faithful, perseverant take-responsibility, clean-cut, all American boy-girl appearance characters. We are very, very, very discriminatory.” Working with the bright and opinionated Salatin is bound to be a life-changing experience for any teen interested in permaculture.
Quivira Coalition lists agrarian ranch apprenticeships in the western United States.
Greenville Technical College is partnering with GE Power & Water to develop skilled machinists through the GE Gas Turbine Machinist Apprentice Program.
You will find that some states have more opportunities than others. To locate more these, copy and paste the following search terms into your search engine, adding your state name:
- machinist apprenticeship programs
- ranch apprenticeship programs
- technical apprenticeship programs
- automotive apprenticeship programs
- arborist apprenticeship programs
Well, you get the idea. If you’re interested in creative, on-the-job learning, just start asking around locally or search online. You’ll be delighted by all the options available!
Deep meaning lies often in childish play.
-Johann Friedrich von Schiller
The outdoors used to be a place where children could run, play, build, create, and do the mildly hazardous things children love to do. I remember walking the 5′ high cinderblock wall that ran like a vertebrae down the center of our block, jumping repeatedly from the garage roof to learn to land lightly, climbing trees with a good book, using scrap lumber and other discarded material to build a fort in a neglected corner land next to a freeway, and countless other adventures that would make many adults wince. And I wasn’t even a particularly adventuresome kid.
Things have changed a lot, though. Children rarely seem to have the freedom to roam and play independently, and this is not a good thing. Hanna Rosin’s article, The Overprotected Kid, in the March issue of The Atlantic, is a fascinating look at what has happened to child’s play, and how it is affecting the development of significant skills.
Even though “play been demonstrated to improve academic performance, behavior, mental and physical health in children,” filmmaker Erin Davis suggests that America’s obsession with litigation, and “the rejection of any activity that does not have an immediate, quantifiable value” makes it more difficult to provide public adventure playgrounds.
Happily, homeschoolers have the ability to create their own adventure playgrounds. Provide space, time, old tools, and allow a random supply of junk to accumulate (childhood is short, and one day you can send it all packing), and you’ll have the ingredients for constructive, interesting play. Whether you’re in the city or the country, there is ample opportunity for adventure. Parents just have to be brave enough to allow it!
Here’s a preview of The Land, the documentary by filmmaker Erin Davis.
Don’t miss this interview with the filmmaker, Erin Davis: Inside a European Adventure Playground.
Never neglect an opportunity to play leap-frog;
it is the best of all games, and,
unlike the terribly serious and conscientious pastimes of modern youth,
will never become professionalized.
-Herbert Beerbohm Tree
Our next conference will be the Great Homeschool Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. I hope to see you there!
At Cyber-Scholar, Daniel Louzonis shares a day-by-day journal of his family’s Amsterdam Trip! Lifelong homeschoolers, they’ve recently moved to London, thinking it would be easier and more cost effective to bounce around Europe, from within Europe.
In Sisterhood of Spies: Two Reasons Every Mom Should Be Social Media Savvy, Heidi St. John writes at The Busy Mom about an uncomfortable experience, and highlights the importance of knowing what your children are doing online.
Kathy Kuhl, author of Homeschool Your Struggling Learner offers a careful review of Cheryl Swope’s new book, Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child at Learn Differently.
At Like Mother, Like Daughter, Leila Marie Lawler presents a delightful review of The Trolley Car Family in Warm Family Life–Library Project. As soon as I read her review, I realized why The Boxcar Children was so unlike the book I remember reading as a child. Apparently I read The Trolley Car Family instead!
Cindy Rollins will be reading and blogging through Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education by Stratford Caldecott in her online book club at Ordo Amoris, and it’s probably not too late to jump in. At Beauty in the Word Preliminaries, she explains how the book club will work, and shares her first post in Beauty in the Word: And We are Off…sort of.
Theresa Powers presents Free Book Friday CL Nature Readers | Nature Study Freebies! posted at Joyous Home.
At Carrots for Michaelmas, Haley writes In Defense of Fanny Price: Why You Don’t Like Mansfield Park as Much as You Should. She’s probably right, and I should probably read it again, but honestly, Fanny is a pill, as my grandmother would say.
In her ongoing College Crash Course series, science author Jeannie Fulbright offers a look at College Crash Course Part 4: ACT or SAT…That is the Question. Be sure to read the other posts in this series–they offer excellent information.
Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, shares Breaking News! The SAT test will change in Spring of 2016, at The HomeScholar Blog.
ChristineMM of The Thinking Mother discusses giftedness and sensitivities in Thoughts On The Highly Sensitive Person, Giftedness, Allergies, Food Sensitivities, and Leaky Gut and ponders possible solutions for the problems related to various neurological challenges.
After the last two posts on financial aid, there were a few private comments about how hard it can be for a student to qualify for some types of aid. Honestly, it is easier now than it has ever been. There are all sorts of programs, initiatives, and projects, all designed to get more people into college.
This is not necessarily a good thing. Not every student is called to a profession that requires college. Not every student is ready for college right out of high school. Not every student is able to benefit from higher education. College can be a wonderful learning experience for an engaged, motivated student, but for some, it’s just an expensive party venue with a long-lasting bill.
If you have students who maintain they don’t need college, don’t want it, or don’t understand the purpose and meaning of education, it is probably not the right time to go to college. It is better to wait until they are ready than to rush off right after high school and incur debt for an education they won’t appreciate. They can go to work, start a business, work on the family farm, or do something else. If they eventually need college, it will be there.
College Alternative #1: Skilled trades
The first college alternative is the skilled trades, including machinist, mechanic, builder, welder, electrician, pipe fitter, plumber, electronics or machine maintenance personnel. The traditional list could doubtless be expanded to include healthcare technologists and assistants, cabinet makers, arborists, midwives, and many others. My husband and I encouraged our sons to cultivate both a head skill and a hand skill, not just to have backup career options, but for wholeness of spirit. Although each has a bent toward one type of skill or another, having experience in both has been a personal and professional plus for each of them.
Although college has been increasingly pushed as an option for everyone, Matthew Crawford in Shop Class as Soulcraft writes of anecdotal evidence that suggests “one of the fastest-growing segments of the student body at community colleges is people who already have a four-year degree and return to get a marketable trade skill” (p. 12; emphasis mine). Subtitled “An Inquiry into the Value of Work,” Shop Class as Soulcraft examines the purpose, meaning, and value of productive labor through the lens of Crawford’s transition from think-tank PhD to motorcycle mechanic. He makes a compelling case for the trades, noting that he has “often found manual work more engaging intellectually” than wrestling with the abstract.
The trades experience chronic labor shortages, which are only getting worse as experienced workers retire. According to an article in Fortune, “companies that make tangible products are struggling to find candidates for about 237,000 job openings. To put that figure in perspective, it’s 89,000 more than the entire U.S. economy created in September.” Those openings need to be filled, and a 2013 article in Forbes analyzes where the greatest needs will be in the coming years. If you’re willing to consider a career based on demand, the Forbes article offers solid statistics to consider.
Wages for the skilled trades have been compared to wages for middle managers, but figures vary, depending on experience and where you live. Forbes suggest that the “median wage . . . is $20.25 an hour, and even the bottom 10 percent earn $13.14 an hour.” Training for the skilled trades can come through vocational training programs, trade schools, community colleges, or apprenticeships.
Although the skilled trades don’t always earn the respect they should, they are an excellent option. There’s even an extra bit of job security for some of the trades– when was the last time you heard of a plumbing job being outsourced to China?
Resources for information on the trades
- Profoundly Disconnected is Mike Rowe’s site, designed to “challenge the absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only path to success.” Good articles and information, well presented.
- mikeroweWORKS Foundation Scholarship Opportunities: Here are links to partnerships and scholarship opportunities for high school seniors wanting to learn a skill.
- You can find detailed information about all sorts of jobs in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, a free database from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- The U. S. Department of Labor offers good information on job training and apprenticeships.
- Check your state’s Department of Labor for information about jobs and apprenticeship programs. Example: Virginia DOL
- The federal government gives grants to community and faith-based programs to provide job training. You can read the press releases on the site to find programs in your area.
- National Craft Assessment & Certification Program
- Labor unions sometimes offer paid training programs; search by trade and state. I recommend reading all the fine print of any agreement, as well as the organization’s constitution, before getting involved.
- To learn more about workforce training programs in your state, do an online search for “workforce initiative [state name]“.
- If you would like to read more about labor shortages in the trades, do an online search for “labor shortages trades.” Some articles contain useful links and resources.
- If you have any resource suggestions, please share in the comment box below.
Next, you may want to read College Alternatives, Part 2: Entrepreneurship, Apprenticeships, and Guilds.
Note: As always, Amazon links are affiliate links.
Financial aid is available in several forms to homeschoolers, as well as the traditionally schooled. The U.S. Department of Education (the courteous provider of most of this information) awards about $150 billion every year to help millions of students pay for college. This federal student aid is awarded in the form of grants (good), low-interest loans (to be avoided if at all possible), and work-study funds (good).
Grants are typically awarded on the basis of need and generally do not have to be repaid. There are four types of federal student grants:
- Federal Pell Grants are usually awarded to undergraduate students who have not yet earned a bachelor’s degree. (In some cases, students enrolled in post-baccalaureate teacher certification programs may receive Federal Pell Grants.) The maximum Federal Pell Grant award for the 2014-2015 award year is $5,550; however, the actual award depends on 1) the student’s financial need; 2) the college’s cost of attendance; 3) the student’s enrollment status; and 4) the length of the academic year in which the student is enrolled. Students can receive the Federal Pell Grant for up to the equivalent of 12 semesters.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) are awarded to undergraduate students with exceptional financial need. The amount of the award is determined by the college’s financial aid office, and depends on the student’s financial need and the availability of funds at the college.
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants are awarded to students who intend to teach in a public or private elementary or secondary school that serves students from low-income families. If the service requirement is not fulfilled, it could turn into a loan.
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants are awarded to students whose parents or guardians were members of the Armed Forces and died as a result of performing military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001. To qualify, a student must have been under 24 years of age or enrolled in college at the time of the parent’s or guardian’s death.
Avoid Loans if Possible
Loans are money that the student borrows to help pay for college, and must be repaid (plus interest). If you want to avoid loans, you might consider earning credits through CLEP exams before college, or earning an associates degree, then transferring to a four-year college for the last two years of school. You can learn more about these options and how to make them work in Get a Jump Start on College: A Practical Guide for Teens.
There are two federal student loan programs:
- The Federal Perkins Loan Program is a campus-based program that provides low-interest loans to undergraduate and graduate students. The amount of the award depends on the student’s financial need, the amount of other aid the student receives, and the availability of funds at his/her college.
- The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program enables students and parents to borrow money at low interest rates directly from the federal government with Direct Stafford Loans or Direct PLUS Loans, which are available to parents of dependent students and to graduate and professional-degree students.
- Subsidized vs. Unsubsidized: A Direct Stafford Loan might be subsidized or unsubsidized. Direct PLUS Loans are always unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are based on financial need and are available only to undergraduate students. The federal government pays the interest on subsidized loans while the borrower is in college and during deferment. Unsubsidized loans are based on the student’s education costs and other aid received. The borrower must pay all accrued interest on unsubsidized loans.
Work-Study is an Honorable Classic
The Federal Work-Study Program enables students to earn money during the school year while also gaining valuable work experience, typically in part-time, career-related jobs. I am always moved by the story of Booker T. Washington working his way through Hampton Institute, and he is only one of millions who have chosen this way to earn a degree. It’s an honorable way to pay for your education.
Other forms of financial aid that might be available to students include:
- State government aid. For more information, contact the state’s higher education agency. You can find the state agency’s contact information at http://wdcrobcolp01.e d.gov/Programs/EROD/org_list.cfm?category_cd=SHE.
- Aid from the college. Students should contact the financial aid offices at the colleges they are considering for more information. This is one of the prime spots to find small local scholarships that sometimes go unawarded due to lack of applicants.
- Scholarships. Some states, local governments, colleges, community organizations, private employers, and other organizations award scholarships based on academic ability or other factors. For more information, visit StudentAid.gov. You may also visit Scholarships.com or Fastweb.com for non-government-affiliated databases.
- Tax credits for education expenses. For more information about the American Opportunity Tax Credit and Lifetime Learning Tax Credit, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/types/tax-benefits.
- Aid for the military. For more information, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/types/grants-scholarships/military.