Reading the Grocery Store Novel

In the last few days of my senior year of high school, my English teacher gave us a choice for our last reading assignment. We could either read Dante’s The Inferno or After the First Death, which she described as a grocery store novel. Years later, I began to suspect she used that as a sort of litmus test to find out what kind of adults we would turn out to be.

This incident came to mind numerous times while I read Brian Caplan’s The Case Against Education, which I recently finished reading. He argues persuasively that education is 80% signaling instead of human capital development. It’s about letting people know you’re competent by getting the right papers. Look! I graduated high school! I’m not a complete fuck-up! Look! I graduated from Prestigious University! I’m competent! Look! I have a masters degree! I am tenacious and enjoy suffering! Look! I have a PhD! I don’t know how to stop working on something once I start! Pls hire!

This signaling theory neatly explains why my husband has 2 masters degrees and a fistful of bachelors. Education in Finland is highly subsidized; they pay you to study. As a result, my husband knows people with masters degrees in philosophy who are working as cleaners. When everyone has a master’s, showing you’re not a fuck-up gets a lot more challenging.

The easiest solution to this problem is fairly obvious: stop subsidizing education and stop trying to force everyone into the college track. The problem is convincing people this is a good thing to do. Let’s look at my nephew, for example.

My oldest nephew is now 22. He’s been out of high school for damn near 5 years (he graduated at 17). He was an average student, but like everyone else from a middle class family, was placed firmly on a college track. He took the ACT and scored a 19. He had good extracurricular activities, though. He was on swim team and worked as a lifeguard at the Y. He was a decent viola player. With the encouragement of his parents’ and guidance counselor, he checked off all the high school graduation requirements and college application requirements one by one.

Then he graduated and went to community college. He didn’t have any idea what he wanted to study, but he had to do something and knocking out some gen ed requirements seemed like the thing to do.

It was too much for him; he dropped out. He complained he needed to brush up on his math. I told him about Khan Academy and had him start taking the math placement test there. I think he started it, but never finished. He spent the next 4 years bumming around, working various minimum wage, entry level jobs while all the adults in his life took turns telling him what he should do. I told him about how wind turbine technicians was a growing field, how VoTech had a training program he could enroll in and it would pay well.
After hemming and hawing, he enrolled back into community college to knock out those gen ed requirements before he enrolled in VoTech to learn a trade. He’s following my advice about taking one class at a time while working full-time instead of quitting work and going back to school full-time while living off of student loans. If nothing else, I’ve managed to bash the fact that student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy and will follow you around until the day you die (or flee the country never to return again) firmly into his brain. This semester he took music, English 102 and fitness.

But the whole situation infuriates me. Why should he have to take gen ed requirements? Is it likely a music course in community college is going to round him out that necessary bit more than all the music courses he had in his previous 13 years of mandatory education? Is it likely he’s going to have to analyze a poem in order to figure out why said wind turbine is failing to turn properly? Maybe they think Don Quixote will hold the key to this mystery? Haha, just kidding. They don’t read Don Quixote at community college. What was the point of all that general education he got in high school if he can’t even get into a vocational program without MORE general education?

It’s completely useless and a waste of time. I completely agree with Caplan that we need a proper vocational training program in the US. He says not everyone can be Germany with its swell apprenticeship training program. The reality is that we don’t need to be, and even Germany’s highly praised apprenticeship program is suffering from rigid German formality. When I was there 5 years ago, I met up with a cousin of my host family and asked her what she was up to. “Oh, I’m an Azubi.” Cool, what in? “A dry cleaners,” she answered. Words failed me and so did a polite answer. “Oh, that’s interesting,” I tried to choke out. What I really wanted to say was “Is that really something that you need an entire apprenticeship to learn? Couldn’t you just learn it on the job?

The answer is no. In Germany, you can do an apprenticeship in pretty much anything. The plus side is you’ll end your secondary education with a skill so you can find a job. The downside is that is your skill. While you may switch skills, doing so shows a disturbing lack of ernsthaftigkeit [seriousness], which is decidedly unGerman. And good luck getting a job in a field where you don’t have a qualification. Foreigners (especially Americans) may be able to do that; they just aren’t serious about the things they do and every one knows it. The work these unqualified people do is probably shoddy as far as any vernünftig German is concerned.

There’s no reason we can’t have a similar system here–only better. Why not make vocational tracks that run along side the college track at school? No need to separate them out into different schools like they do in Germany –god knows that would only increase the amount of competition among parents to get their kids into The Good School (“you know, the one where the kids don’t just learn skills that result in gainful employment! I want my kids to go to college and then work in marketing!”). Instead, we can let the students themselves choose their classes. Those who feel more academically compelled (coughnerdscough) will naturally drift into the classes they belong. The ones who are mechanically inclined can find their rightful place. Teachers in the respective classes can become mentors to these students and help guide them to enroll in classes that will result them in either going to the college that’s right for them or the trade that they’re best at, along with any writing and math courses that are relevant to their fields.

The choice part is key here. In Germany, teachers and parents choose for the kid when they’re only 10 years old. My host sister’s teacher wanted to place her in the Hauptschule track, which leads to Berufschule, because her English and German skills were weak. My host parents protested and managed to get her into Gymnasium, where she did very well and later became a doctor. Take that, overly rigid system!

Kids need to be active participates in their education. It needs to be something they do and not something that is done to them. My nephew just drifted along through college. He kept playing viola because his mother insisted on it. The same with swimming, though I think he was a bit more passionate about that. As soon as he graduated, he stopped playing viola. He quit working at the Y after a while, too, and then stopped swimming. What was the point, then, of all the money and time invested into that viola playing? Did he enjoy it? I’m not sure. Did it make him a more rounded individual? Maybe? He seems to prefer metal to classical music, though, and even when he was in high school his preferred sheet music was HIM transcribed for viola. It certainly didn’t get him into college and it isn’t getting him into any sort of well-paying job.

I tried to encourage him to take his viola and a friend who also played an instrument and backpack around the safer parts of the world, playing on the street for money. He’d learn a lot, I told him. But he lacked the courage. It sounded too risky a pursuit and, after all, he had it pretty good at home.

So he’s puttering his way through community college a second time and I’m sitting here, biting my lip, hoping that he makes it through this time and learns a trade. For some reason, I’m a lot angrier than he is at the time he’s wasting. This is his springboard into his thirties. The more he does now, the more opportunities he takes, the more he’ll be able to achieve later, even if he starts from a low base.

I have my own share of regrets when it comes to the education system, though I can’t say they relate much to signaling or mal-investment. I was college material. I belonged to the groupd of nerds that rolled their eyes at pep rallies and used the time to do homework instead. I read to the end of my world history book over Thanksgiving break to find out how the world ends (with the fall of the Berlin Wall, in case any one wonders. We now live in post-world.) I worked my way to an IB Diploma and entered college as a second semester sophomore. Granted, I went to an easy college, but honestly after the stressful experience that was high school, I was burnt out and needed a break.

When my senior English teacher gave us a choice between Dante and the grocery store novel, I picked the grocery store novel. My friends who have gone on to achieve masters degrees, MDs and PhDs and beyond? They chose Dante.

“When else am I going to have the opportunity to read it?” one of them responded when I asked why.

The accurate answer to this question is, of course, whenever they want. It’s in the public domain. But the realistic answer is…some things no one reads unless they’re forced to in school.

[I have a lot more to say about the Case Against Education, especially as it relates to homeschooling, but that will be another post]

Advertisements

Schooling, unschooling, homeschooling

One thing that really annoys me about unschoolers is their need to take every little thing they do with their kids and turn it into Who Unschooling is Awesome. “I went to the science museum with our kids today! #unschooling”

Wow. I take my kids to the science museum, too. Does that mean I’m unschooling? Am I an unschooler now? Bob Blow takes his kids to the science museum, too. Does that make him an unschooler, too?

Then again, this is something regular, run of the mill homeschoolers do, too. “The great thing about homeschooling is that you can just go on field trips to learn about things. Like we’ve been learning about animals, so we went to the zoo! It’s so hands on! Homeschooling is awesome.”

Non-homeschooler can then reply, “Oh! I take my kids to the zoo, too! So I guess I’m homeschooling, too! Hahaa.”
And the homeschooler frowns. This was not what they meant at all. “No no no, you send your kids to school, so you’re not homeschooling when you take them to the zoo. You’re just…going to the zoo.”

It’s a matter of definitions, but also a territorial issue, too. Homeschoolers want people who send their kids to school to know how awesome they are as homeschoolers. They want them to know that yes, they, too, could homeschool. But as soon as the non-homeschooler points out that the things they do are hardly exclusive to homeschoolers, the homeschoolers immediately get defensive and try to mark out boundaries as to what makes them special. And more importantly, what makes them better.

It’s the same with unschoolers. They know that on the surface it looks like they aren’t doing a whole lot with their kids. So they end up pointing out every little thing that happens as the learning that must be going on in that moment. And, boy, does it get annoying. “Outside splashing in the puddles! Kids are learning physics! #unschooling.” Wow I wonder how long until they use that to derive the Pythagorean theorem all by themselves! My kids splash outside too! The difference is…I just call it playing. Sure, they might be learning something, too, but they’re also having fun. No need to dress it up.

I’ve started having fun with the labels. Whenever I hear someone talking about unschool this, homeschool that, or how they could never do either of the above, I like to tell them I couldn’t either.
Because I couldn’t. There’s no way I could structure my childrearing around just one of those things. We have our structured learning times (“homeschool”), sure, but I also give my kids lots of time to follow their own interests (“unschooling”). My kids also go to German school, Finnish school, PE class and art (“school”). We divide our time between all of those because all three of them have merits. Parents teach their kids, whether they want to or not. And you’d probably have to tie them up and leave them in a darkened room to prevent them from learning things on their own.

Which brings me to those “homeschoolers” in California who did just that to 12 of their 13 kids. “We need more homeschooling regulation!” people are now screaming. “Homeschooling should be illegal!” Except…well, California is actually quite strict when it comes to homeschooling. Except…they weren’t homeschooling when the abuse started. Their oldest kids went to public school in Texas and former classmates remember them being thin and smelling bad. They were dirty. And still, no one did anything. They fell through the cracks simply because there are so many cracks for children in abusive families to fall into. They’re so lucky one of them worked up the nerve to save themselves because, in the end, you’re the only who can.

But…on the other hand, there has been discussion among homeschoolers I know as to what level of regulation they would deem acceptable in order to prevent homeschoolers from falling through those cracks. In order to prevent educational neglect from occurring. The short of it was…there is none. Homeschoolers want to regulate themselves. They don’t trust the state to educate their children, why on earth would they trust the state to make sure they are actually educating their children themselves? It doesn’t help that the government spent so much time trying to keep homeschooling illegal or that they see homeschooling as competition or one way they lose money (state funds are distributed according to pupils enrolled). Nor does it help that homeschoolers watch the amount of their property taxes flowing into the public schools, which they benefit from and can’t opt out of.

But I’ve noticed whenever people are left to regulate themselves or self-police, they usually don’t. We excuse things in ourselves that we would never tolerate from others and that is a problem.

The Travails of Homeschooling

Homeschooling has been going pretty well. It’s my first year homeschooling two kids, so things have been a bit different. The biggest change has been the fact that it takes about an hour longer to get things done on a good day. On a not-so-good day, things can take several hours longer.

Alpha is doing really well. We had him tested through our school district last year to see how he was doing and how much his ADHD and Dyslexia were affecting him. The results showed that his dyslexia wasn’t affecting him at all. He was performing right at grade level in every subject except for writing. While he still had some issues with reversals and forming letters backwards, he did well even with decoding nonsense words. It’s a sure sign that switching up our phonics program in first grade worked.
His ADHD, on the other hand, was still hindering him. He tested as very distracted and would definitely need some interventions to help him manage his ADHD if he were in a classroom setting.

We gave him the option of going to school, but since he was exactly where he needed to be, we didn’t see the point in forcing the issue. He remains happily homeschooled and has insisted that he never wants to go to school. I told him that eventually he is going to have to go to school. He can’t stay home forever.

His favorite subject is history and this year we’re covering the modern times era, using history odyssey from pandia press. I love pandia press’ materials so much, I wonder why anyone would use anything else. Then I remember not everyone likes a very structured and detailed program that requires a lot of work. Not even me, at times.

Beta is a more reluctant homeschooler. She’s very social, but decided after being in school last year, she wanted to stay home this year. So we let her. But she quickly started complaining about how she wished she were in school. When she would get frustrated about her work, she would start complaining that she wished she were dead, she hated her life. All very dramatic.

I panicked and found myself wondering if she was suffering severe psychological damage from homeschooling or something. I was used to my son getting frustrated and yelling or throwing his work, but not this. So I had her tour a local montessori school to see if she wanted to go there. I was so sure she would that I had the paperwork printed and filled out before she toured it.

Afterwards, she said, “It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.” That was the most positive thing she had to say. Aside from that, she said she didn’t want to have be there five days a week and the days were too long. She would miss the homeschooling groups we go to and the art class.

I was surprised, but I slowly realized that her dramatic statements of self-hate was just her venting her frustrations, similar to how Alpha’s yelling and throwing his books were his. It’s not that she hates homeschooling or that I’m damaging her. It’s that she hates it when she doesn’t get things immediately. Since then, I’ve changed my tactics with her. When she declares herself stupid, I ask her why she thinks she’s stupid. I force her to question her statements until she reaches the conclusion that she doesn’t reaaaaaly mean them. She’s just frustrated.

So that’s getting easier.

Harder is the fact that she’s learning physics and modern times history in fourth grade when these subjects are basically too advanced for her. But I didn’t want to start off teaching two kids at two differen’t subjects and levels in history and science, which would make my day very complicated. So Beta is basically auditing Physics and Modern Times history. When she complains about it being too hard, I just remind her that this material is meant for an older child and next year, she’ll do Ancients 1 and Life (Biology 1) and things will be much easier for her.

Because I don’t have enough to do, I’ve decided to try and organize a science and history co-op so I can have other homeschoolers to hang out with and help teach these subjects to our mutual kids. In other words, friends. Unfortunately, I’m realizing this means I’m going to most of the work while the other people just show up. But that’s pretty much how all these things go. I’m trying to finagle it so that I’m only teaching one of the subjects and other parents do the other three. So I would teach, say, Biology 2 and then three other women would do Ancients I, Ancients II and Life. Or we would alternate which subjects we teach so everyone teaches or doesn’t teach based on how things work. I don’t know. It’s a work in progress.

But so far I’m the only doing anything, so I don’t know. And I want to make sure things are taught well, so there’s a distinct possibility i will be too much of a control freak to be able to hand over any of the control to anybody else and have a successful co-op.

We’ll see. We’re halfway through this year and we’re doing well and that makes me happy.

Finished with Finnish? Considering Future Options, pt 3

So my in-laws have come out against us continuing trying to get our kids to speak Finnish. This is a surprising development because 1) They speak Finnish 2) They are Finnish 3) They’ve raised multilingual kids, so they’re familiar with the struggle.

But, in their opinion, Finnish is a pointless language. Nobody speaks it except for the five million people living in Finland. It would make much more sense, according to them, for us to just concentrate on German and English, both of which are much more important languages internationally.

Part of me feels like this is the Finnish low-self-esteem expressing itself again. Finns have a long ingrained sense of “our country will never be as important as all those countries around us.” Their culture? “We don’t have one. We took everything we have from the Swedes.” Their language? “It’s very hard to learn.” Their food? “It’s awful.” At the 100th Anniversary of Finland’s independence party we went to, everyone had to talk about what they liked about Finland. What followed were muttered responses about the nature and, uh, the education system while the uncomfortable reality of none of the people there actually living within the Finnish nature or its education system.

But Finns do admire the Germans. My husband told me this story about a consultant he met who was in Finland consulting to a Finnish firm. All the recommendations he would make, they would just ignore and tell him that those are American ideas and they would never work in Finland. Then the consultant found out that Finns really admire Germans. So when introducing changes, he would preface it with, “I know this German firm who does this.” And the Finns would nod and agree to the change because hey, those Germans! They know how to get shit done! When Finland won independence, they originally wanted to import a German nobleman to be their King. They didn’t though; they probably realized it’d be cheaper to just be a republic. A lot of Finns are still upset the Germans lost world war 2. I’m not joking, though I wish I were. Maybe they’re just even more upset that the Russians won.

So from that perspective, it’s not exactly surprising that my in-laws are more supportive of their grandkids learning German than Finnish. But they also point out that the kids’ German is so much better than their Finnish. And it is. At this point, they will have to learn Finnish as a second language because their knowledge of it is so poor it can’t counted as a first language anymore. A lot of this is due to my husband’s inconsistent teaching of Finnish. He speaks it to them, but not enough. He doesn’t sit down with them enough to really enforce it. And even worse, when they don’t understand something in Fnnish, he’s resorted to speaking to them in German to get his point across. He’s actually put forth the idea of dropping Finnish and just having both of us speak German to the kids, which is a horrible idea. His German is worse than mine and while I’m technically fluent in German, as the kids have grown I’ve found my German to simply not have the vocabulary necessary to keep up with them. I have to use English anyway for homeschooling, but even if it weren’t for that I would need to use English. This makes my husband very unhappy because if he can’t do Finnish, he’d at least like for them to learn German. So I have to keep reminding him that German isn’t my native language. And while it may hold a very solid place in my heart, my vocabulary is lacking. It is much, much harder for me to maintain speaking German with the kids than it is for him to do Finnish…simply because Finnish IS his native language. Even if the kids don’t understand it, if he would just keep up with it and take the effort to build up their vocabulary, they could learn Finnish.

So sure, we could drop Finnish if he really wants to, but absolutely under no circumstances do I want him to do German.

Whether his parents realize it or not, keeping Finnish has a lot of benefits, aside from the fact they’re Finnish citizens. Unlike German and English, Finnish is not a Germanic language. Its grammar is so wildly different, it really forces your brain to think in different ways and they would benefit from that alone.

So in the short-term, we’re keeping all three. My husband is putting forth more effort with Finnish and has actually sat down with them twice a week to do Finnish for the past two weeks and the kids have actually used Finnish in those times. We have some other plans afoot to increase their Finnish exposure (labeling things in Finnish, copying our Finnish language DVDs so they will work in our van). And we’re keeping a short-term stay in Finland in the cards because no matter what we do, the best way for to learn a language is to live.

Finished with Finnish? Considering Future Options Pt 2

(Find the first part here)
Our second option to improve the kids’ language ability would be to move. This is counterintuitive at first, so bare with me.

We have long planned on spending a year in Germany and Finland in order to improve the kids’ language abilities and their understanding of Finnish and German culture, though we alternate between staying half a year in one country and the other half in another or staying a year in each. But our discussion the other day opened up a few other options.
“Part of me is thinking,” my husband began, “that if Igot a job that required commuting into Boston every day of the week, we could enroll him at the German school and he’d go with me every day and I’d drop him off there.”

Boston German School is a school that offers bilingual instruction based on the state curriculum of Thuringia. High school students can take the Abitur and end up with both a German and Massachusetts high school diploma. It also costs $18,000 a year and, with sibling discounts, that means we could educate all of our children there for the low price of $60,000 a year!

I’m being sarcastic there.

“It’s too far to drive everyday,” I told my husband. “We’d have to sell this house and buy one closer to Boston.”

“We can do that!” he insisted.

I looked up real estate prices around the Boston area and, no surprise, they were high. Really high. “It would be cheaper to move to Germany than to move closer to Boston and send our kids to the German school there,” I argued.

“Well, we’re already planning on doing that for the year, right? Or do you mean long term?”

An important question and one whose answer varies based on my mood. On the whole, I like living in the US. I like living in New England, but when I look at the future of the US, I find myself less and less optimistic, especially when looking at the current administration. It just signed a tax bill into law that has a good chance of driving the federal government into bankruptcy by the next presidential election unless spending is drastically curbed (which it won’t be). The healthcare situation is getting worse and worse. Our employer provided plan’s costs are going up by 20% next year (that’s on the premiums we pay, not what our employer kicks in) and that’s a low number among people I know. And they still don’t cover my asthma medication, which costs me $300 out of pocket every month. The US is opting out of the Paris Climate Agreement (which, while I have problems with, overall I support its goal) and seems to be trying to move toward increasing our CO2 emissions more than decreasing it. So in the best case scenario, we can look forward to living in a country experiencing more adverse weather events, more flooding, extremely expensive healthcare and a bankrupt government that is still theoretically supposed to be taking care of all this stuff, but won’t be because it will be broke and no one is interested it a solution that would get the government out of these areas so we individuals can actually make shit work ourselves.

And I haven’t even mentioned the net neutrality repeal, so add shittier and more expensive internet to that too.

Looking at all these downsides to the US, I have to echo a lot of my friends when they read articles about how great Finland’s educational system is: “Why do you still live here?”

Why not move…in this case to Germany because my husband is very much against moving permanently back to Finland.
Germany is a lot like the US in a lot of ways. Its tax system is similar to the US in that the code is convoluted and there are a lot of deductions and you have to spend a lot of time filling out your tax returns (In Finland, the system is very simple. Take your money and give the government most, but not quite all, of it). The climate is comparable to New England, so nothing new there.
But there are a lot of positive changes we could gain by moving to Germany.

Take our carbon footprint, for example. In the US, our family of six creates 484 metric tons of CO2 in a year and most of that is due to transportation. Just by moving to Germany and changing nothing but our transportation from cars to public transportation, we would decrease our footprint to 132 metric tons. And that’s just switching from driving a large petrol car to public transport, not accounting to the fact that we would actually be walking and bike riding more.

While I dislike the fact they summarily shut down all of their nuclear power plants after the Fukushima disaster (because if there’s one thing Germany should be concerned about…it’s tsunamis caused by the large and devastating earthquakes that regularly occur there except they don’t and Germans are worried about that for essentially no reason) and replacing the missing power with coal of all things, I really like their whole Energiewende. I like their environmental action. While I used to loathe the Pfand (I have an entire page dedicated to hating it in my scrapbook from my year as an exchange student), now I think it’s swell. The fact they finally made it universal makes it that much better.

I like the fact corporations have so much less power in Germany. Here the government and corporations work together so much, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between them. I like the fact that their healthcare system is an actual system and functions fairly well –although the government finds itself insuring an every increasing proportion of society. My asthma medication and my husband’s diabetes medicine won’t  cost an arm and a leg there.

And obviously, the kids can learn German in Germany. They also have a ton of Finnish schools and we could live pretty close to one even without living in a major city, or at least as far away from one as we currently do. The difference is we could ride a train to get there instead of driving ourselves.

The downside, of course, is that homeschooling is illegal in Germany and my kids really like being homeschooled. Alpha has declared he never wants to go to school, but this isn’t really feasible anyway. And if we were to immigrate, we wouldn’t homeschool simply because other countries don’t have the highly developed homeschool networks the US has. Add to that the fact that their schools aren’t mired down by tons of standardized tests and extremely long school days and we’re actually fine with sending our kids to school in Germany.

We could even send them to private school. I looked at the International School of Hamburg and it’s 10,000 Euros a year with some additional fees and some sibling discounts…so it’s still cheaper than the German School of Boston. We could educate our kids for the much lower price of $40,000 a year! Huzzah! (Still being slight sarcastic there…).
Of course there are downsides. We’d have four kids in Germany, which is the equivalent of having 10 here. It’s a lot of kids. Housing is much smaller in Germany and the kids would have to share rooms. While getting by without a car would be easier, we would have a hard time having a car that would fit our entire family. Unlike Americans, Germans don’t buy minivans when they have 2 kids. They rarely buy minivans at all. Electricity is godawful expensive there (thanks to the Energiewende, which clearly has its downsides).

But it’s something to consider and for us to keep in mind when we do our short-term stay abroad to shore up the kids’ language abilities.

All of this may leave you wondering…what about Finnish? My husband doesn’t want to live in Finland permanently, but we would like to do a short-term, 6-month to a year stay there as well. It’s really important to me that they learn Finnish since they have Finnish passports. They are Finnish and it would be weird for them to be citizens of a country whose languages they can’t speak. It’s even more important to me that they get to know their family members there. I really want them to have relationships with their grandparents because I never had that as a kid. My grandparents were either dead or horrible people and put no effort into being better grandparents than they were parents. This isn’t true of my in-laws. They’re good people. And they constantly make us jealous by spending tons of time at my husband’s sister’s house, helping out with their kids. Ahhhh how much more relaxing would our life be in someways if we had family a bit closer?

But they’ve advised us to to forget learning Finnish and concentrate on German, which brings me to part 3: dropping Finnish.

Finished with Finnish? Considering Future Options pt1

An off-hand comment has spawned a parenting crisis in my household.

We had just returned home from German class and Alpha showed me this Christmas card he had made there and gleefully pointed out how he had written over “Frohe Weihnachten” in his secret code. He likes to do this: not pay attention during German class and write things like “lol stupid” or “death” or whatever in his secret code instead. I looked at the paper as disappointment washed over me again and told him, “Alpha, sometimes I think it would make just as much sense to put you in a closet for an hour as to send you to German class.”
This triggered my husband, who is already suffering from language anxiety. Finnish has fallen on the wayside, largely due to his inability to schedule a set time where he sits down with the kids and does Finnish with them. Their understanding of Finnish has plummeted. They very, very rarely use any Finnish at all. Beta says “olkapäällä”when she wants to ride on DH’s shoulders, Gamma says “hattu” (hat) and a few other words, but for the most part they speak English with German coming as a distant second. Consequently, my husband has decided that if they can’t understand him in Finnish, he’s going to speak to him in German. Problem is: his German sucks. I mean, fine, it’s better than my Finnish, but it’s like my Spanish: he had it for many years in school, can understand it pretty well, but anytime he can’t find a word he goes into his next best language (in his case, Swedish) to find it– oh, and his grammar is lacking. It’s completely pointless.

“Why do you do that?” I asked him. “It’s not going to improve their Finnish and it’s definitely not going to help their German.”
“I refuse to speak to them in English!” he insisted. “I’m not going to do it!” But he does. We both do. It’s inevitable when you’re homeschooling or when you live in an English-speaking country and the kids talk about most things in English.
But what followed was an angst-ridden evening on his part where he threw out suggestions ranging from the ridiculous to the implausible to improve their German and Finnish. “We’ll take their tablets away for the whole weekend unless they actually speak in German in their German classes and Finnish in their Finnish classes!” Alpha’s eyes immediately teared up. “We’ll just move to Germany and stay there for as many years as we need to until their fluent in German!” Sigh. He knows the kids the are against moving to Germany and phrasing it that way makes it seem like a punishment: you’re going to stay in prison until you’re sorry for what you did! I told my husband that this was not the time nor the place to discuss this, especially if any of the suggestions were going to be as ridiculous as those were. But still, he spent a lot of time telling me how upset it was making him that we were failing in our attempts to teach the kids Finnish and German and how they didn’t appreciate how we were trying to give them a leg up in life. “Languages open so many doors! They could go to university in Finland or Germany and save a ton of money, but they need to know the languages!” (Germany actually has a lot of English language university programs, but he didn’t know that) His despair was palpable. And, honestly, even I’ve been feeling that way a lot more when it comes to our languages.

The next day we finally had a chance to talk about things and, through the course of our discussion, came up with three plausible solutions to improve our kids’ language abilities:

1) increase the home study and make sure the kids do Finnish three times a week and German twice.

2) Move, either closer to Boston or abroad to Germany or Finland, either temporarily or permanently.

3) Drop Finnish. Concentrate on German. Or drop both of those and let the kids pick a language to learn.

Option 1 is fairly straight forward.  I already sit down twice a week with the kids and do German, using the German at home course “Einsterns Schwester.” The kids aren’t fans of it (given the choice between doing it and not doing it, they would rather not do it), but they do it and I’m pretty impressed at how much German Alpha understands and recalls. Beta…well, it feels like she’s learning German more as a second language now as far as recall is concerned. So German is covered.
Finnish is a whole other story. For the longest time (two years maybe?) my husband has had “Finnish” penciled into his calendar for every Friday. Guess how many times he actually sat down and did Finnish with the kids.
Zero.
In August after another period of language angst, we had decided that twice a week DH would do Finnish with the kids while I drove Gamma to preschool and the other day of the week, I would do German with the kids while he drove Gamma to preschool. Guess how many times this actually happened? Yep, zero. I drive Gamma to school every time. Though twice now after smaller bouts of language-concern, my husband has sat down and done Finnish with them, though one of those was this morning, so I’m not sure it counts.
My husband has lots of reasons why he doesn’t have time to do Finnish with the kids. He has a lot of work to do. True, this is a constant factor, it’s not going to change. He either needs to work around it or give up. We don’t have a good resource for Finnish like the ones I have for German. Also true: the Finnish schools won’t even hand any over to my mother-in-law when she asks. It’s like they keep their curriculum under lock and key and, true to low Finnish self-esteem, don’t actually think there might be children who want to learn Finnish at home. He can’t find the materials we do have. This isn’t even a proper reason; it’s just his lack of ability to find anything and then not asking me where they are (though I would probably tell him “On the bookshelf,” instead of giving him the exact longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates he’s probably looking for).
I’ve tried doing Finnish with the kids at home, but my Finnish isn’t good enough to understand a lot of the Finnish-language stuff we have, so I have to ask my husband for help translating if it’s not in my Finnish-English dictionary. My pronunciation is pretty bad, too. “You should really have dad do this,” was my kids’ advice after the first time I tried. I agreed with them.
The basic problem, I think, is one of habit. DH is not in the habit of teaching the kids. I am, so throwing German into the pile on top of everything else a couple of times a week isn’t a big deal. But for him… it’s a wild deviation from the norm. He also isn’t a natural teacher. I don’t think I am either, but I’ve learned a few things over the past 4-5 years of homeschooling. DH is good at explaining things to adults, but it doesn’t translate well to kids.
We ran through some suggestions, including the possibility of getting the kids Rosetta Stone for Finnish. That fell flat when I looked online and discovered that in the 11 years since i last looked for a Finnish Rosetta Stone program, they still don’t offer one. So screw Rosetta I’m-going-to-offer-courses-in-Irish-Dari-Pashtu-and-Swedish-but-not-Finnish Stone.
So I started throwing out suggestions that he would have known had he read the book on Growing up Trilingual I asked him to read 5 years ago but he never did. Make language learning fun! Play games with the kids, like memory or Uno or this Finnish Moomin game I can’t understand and so have never played it with the kids. He’s followed this advice, but a new complaint from the kids has arisen: “You always win when we play games with you,” Alpha groused.
My husband looked sheepish. “I’m not trying to win! It was just luck!”
There are other things he could do, like bribe the kids. Here’s a list of Finnish vocabulary words. Every time you learn one you get a dime.

But just starting with sitting down with them three times a week…would be a great start in the short-term. The other two options I’ll discuss in later posts and are more long-term in as far as planning and consequences are concerned.

Happy Thanksgiving

I’m done homeschooling for this week. Over the summer I decided to switch to a more year round homeschooling schedule because 1) I realized with a 2-3 year old in preschool and a baby, we were going to have a lot of illnesses and doctor appointments and 2) I was going to need regular breaks to decompress.

So far, I’ve been pretty much right on both of those accounts. We’ve had about 20 colds since Gamma started preschool in September, which really sucks. We’ve had well-baby and well-child check ups, too, which usually kill an entire morning.

But holy crap my need for a break…that is the overwhelming benefit to year round scheduling. So far it seems as though we need to take one week off a month. We took off a week in August when my dad came to visit, a week in September when my in-laws came to visit, a week in October when my husband went out of town, and now we’re taking off a week in November because of Thanksgiving and the fact Gamma’s preschool is closed for the rest of this week.
One thing I’ve learned is that while homeschooling with a baby is doable, homeschooling with a toddler is damn near impossible. Granted, my baby isn’t colicky and sleeps well at night, so that makes it easier. She hung out in the sling asleep when she was a newborn, on my lap as she grew older or in a bouncer. Now I give her a few toys to keep her occupied and she’s good.

Gamma on the other hand…We have one full day of homeschooling a week where he’s home and it sucks. He wants to be involved. I try to set him up with an activity to keep him busy, but he gravitates back to the dining room table and tries to steal everyone’s work, sit on it, knock things over and just generally make things impossible. Sometimes he and Beta will play nicely together so I can work with Alpha, but he and Alpha do not play well together. They may start out well, but it rapidly descends into fighting and then I have to pull them both apart.
The worst is when I get out Beta’s Touchphonics set. It comes with a bunch of rubber phonemes kids can manipulate to form words.
Gamma loves letters and numbers (collectively known by him as “numbers.”), so he proceeds to dump them all out and take them all while going through them and announcing what letter he currently has. He won’t give them back when we actually need them to make words. Instead he grabs his front end loader and proceeds to load the phonemes into his dump truck with accompanying noises.
Beta has tried to negotiate with him, but you can’t negotiate with terrorists or two-year olds. I usually end up trying to sneak them away so he doesn’t get mad and start screaming. I don’t often succeed.
Hence the time off. I need this time to relax, do things around the house that I otherwise wouldn’t have the time to do, and do things with the kids I otherwise wouldn’t have time to do. In October, Gamma went to preschool and the kids and I stayed home and played Settlers of Catan and Monopoly. Alpha ended up storming off because he kept needing to take mortgages out on his property, but it was a good experience.

This break I’m going to continue with getting shit done around the house, introduce Gamma to Candyland and possibly shoots and ladders. I’d also like to get my husband to play Settlers of Catan with us, but it’s a hard game to play with a toddler running around what with the movable board and everything.

In the end, on Thanksgiving morning, Beta asked me how much work we had to do today. “None,” I told her.
“But I have to do my phonics, right?”
“No. No work. It’s Thanksgiving.”
“Not even phonics?”
“No!”
She couldn’t believe it and ran over to Alpha. “Alpha! Guess what! We don’t have to do ANY work today!”

Man, maybe I am kind of a hardass when it comes to homeschooling.