A wonderful website for homeschoolers

A dear friend referred me to the Rainbow Resource Center website yesterday, and I had to share it. The volume of high-quality educational resources and books about homeschooling / philosophies of education on this site is incredible.

I love to have a lot of projects and magazines for what I call “intellectual play” around the house for when our daughter gets bored. (And like most gifted children, she gets bored easily.) This is a fantastic site for procuring those sorts of things.

They have a page where you can request their homeschooling curriculum catalog and their Christmas catalog.

I can’t believe I had not seen this before!

“Quiet rooms” in Chicago Public Schools

Every parent in Chicago should read this article from the Chicago Tribune and Pro Publica about how solitary confinement is increasingly being used to manage school children. It is beyond horrific.

Here is an excerpt:

The spaces have gentle names: The reflection room. The cool-down room. The calming room. The quiet room.

But shut inside them, in public schools across the state, children as young as 5 wail for their parents, scream in anger and beg to be let out.

The students, most of them with disabilities, scratch the windows or tear at the padded walls. They throw their bodies against locked doors. They wet their pants. Some children spend hours inside these rooms, missing class time. Through it all, adults stay outside the door, writing down what happens.

In Illinois, it’s legal for school employees to seclude students in a separate space — to put them in “isolated timeout” — if the students pose a safety threat to themselves or others. Yet every school day, workers isolate children for reasons that violate the law, an investigation by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois has found.

Children were sent to isolation after refusing to do classwork, for swearing, for spilling milk, for throwing Legos. School employees use isolated timeout for convenience, out of frustration or as punishment, sometimes referring to it as “serving time.”

For this investigation, ProPublica Illinois and the Tribune obtained and analyzed thousands of detailed records that state law requires schools to create whenever they use seclusion. The resulting database documents more than 20,000 incidents from the 2017-18 school year and through early December 2018.

Of those, about 12,000 included enough detail to determine what prompted the timeout. In more than a third of these incidents, school workers documented no safety reason for the seclusion.

State education officials are unaware of these repeated violations because they do not monitor schools’ use of the practice. Parents, meanwhile, often are told little about what happens to their children.

The Tribune/ProPublica Illinois investigation, which also included more than 120 interviews with parents, children and school officials, provides the first in-depth examination of this practice in Illinois.

Because school employees observing the students often keep a moment-by-moment log, the records examined by reporters offer a rare view of what happens to children inside these rooms — often in their own words.

Without doubt, many of the children being secluded are challenging. Records show school employees struggling to deal with disruptive, even violent behavior, such as hitting, kicking and biting. Workers say that they have to use seclusion to keep everyone in the classroom safe and that the practice can help children learn how to calm themselves.

But disability advocates, special-education experts and administrators in school systems that have banned seclusion argue that the practice has no therapeutic or educational value, that it can traumatize children — and that there are better alternatives.

No federal law regulates the use of seclusion, and Congress has debated off and on for years whether that should change. Last fall, a bill was introduced that would prohibit seclusion in public schools that receive federal funding. A U.S. House committee held a hearing on the issue in January, but there’s been no movement since.

Nineteen states prohibit secluding children in locked rooms; four of them ban any type of seclusion. But Illinois continues to rely on the practice. The last time the U.S. Department of Education calculated state-level seclusion totals, in 2013-14, Illinois ranked No. 1.

When people ask me why we homeschool…. Stuff like this is why we homeschool!

Nancy Edison as a model homeschooling mom and proponent of intellectual play

My mother was the making of me. She understood me; she let me follow my bent.

Thomas Edison, on his mother, Nancy Edison
Thomas Edison’s parents

For many months now, our seven-year-old daughter has been begging me to allow her to turn a corner of our house into her “personal laboratory.” Those are her exact words. She wants a laboratory because she feels like she has important research to do, and naturally, she needs privacy, space, and legitimate research equipment for that. She even considered taking over part of the garage, until I reminded her that working in the garage would be like sitting under a broiler during a hot Florida summer.

I am not of the persuasion that is saving my house for some HGTV or Marie Kondo aesthetic. Cold, neutral, minimalist spaces bore me to tears. We have thousands of books that have pretty much have become a form of furniture in themselves, fossil displays, art from all over the world. Our walls are claret, semolina, turquoise, even lavender. (Comme il faut for Florida, in my opinion. Who moves to Florida to get away from color?) My decorating inspiration is more Indiana Jones than Joanna Gaines. So why not let the kid set up a laboratory in the corner?

It strikes me, however, that wanting a personal laboratory is not a “normal” request for a young child, especially when most of her peers are obsessed with princesses, soccer, and (unfortunately) smartphones. It seems to me that if you have the kind of child who is asking for a laboratory, that is something you absolutely must make happen.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Elise has been in love with science – especially biology and ecology – since she learned to speak. She was born very premature and with various medical issues (now fully cured) and spent most of her early years in hospitals surrounded by specialists and nurses. They loved her precociousness and would often take the time to answer her mechanical questions about how different parts of the body function (and malfunction) and the purposes of specific medical equipment. She fully understood that an army of doctors and nurses brave enough to perform surgery on a tiny newborn saved her life, so people who are good at science are her heroes. They are the people in her world who create and improve.

As such, Elise has never had what I call the “princess phase.” She’ll let you put a bow in her hair or paint her nails, but she’s not capable of caring about it for more than a few minutes and certainly does not seek “girly” things out. She spends most of her free time running around outside, usually with a net and a plastic box that she bought at the pet store for collecting insects and lizards. Our only rules are that she can’t collect pollinators or bring any snakes into the house. (And she will sulk if you do not let her take samples on vacation. We came back from Ft. Lauderdale with two shopping bags full of coral and sponges that she refused to part with despite their vomit-inducing stench. They are still sitting on the front porch.)

We have tried to indulge her passion for science as much as possible. We go to the library often, where she checks out dozens of nonfiction books on animals and ecosystems. She has re-read many of these books four or five times. The librarians graciously listen to her rattling off facts about animals, comparing the venom of cobras and black mambas or talking about how she wants to travel to Costa Rica to collect reptiles.

We bought her a microscope and endless slides. We bought petri dishes for growing bacteria in and have tested surfaces from all over town. (I’m less enthusiastic about any book or kit that involves testing water though. We have ponds, creeks, and the Intracoastal Waterway all within very short walks from our house. I’ve had to explain to Elise a million times that the people collecting water samples in her books are not dealing with alligators that can pull them underwater.)

I’ve learned that you can get frogs, crayfish, fetal pigs, and sheep’s brains, eyes, hearts, and kidneys on Amazon to dissect. I’ve even found latex gloves for little children (excellent for messy crafts too, by the way). We have subscriptions for engineering and computer science projects. She always has something going on.

This is how she plays. It is almost impossible to find other little children who want to spend their Saturday dissecting a sheep’s brain. Oh, how I wish I could.

I have learned, however, that one of the best things you can do for a child who loves science this much is to give them biographies of people who had similar obsessions.

We read through Jane Goodall’s My Life with the Chimpanzees, and she could relate to both Goodall’s childhood exploring the forests around her family’s home as well as spending hours at a time observing and tracking an animal.

We read a biography of President Theodore Roosevelt, who had turned his bedroom as a child into a massive natural history collection. Like him, she has enormous collections of rocks, shells, feathers, birds’ nests…. One time, I gave her a beautiful music box with one of those dancing ballerinas in it. While cleaning her room, I opened it to find it stuffed with the hollow blue shells of robin eggs. That was her idea of treasure, not plastic jewelry. She found a kindred spirit in Roosevelt, and admired him for establishing the national park system and protecting endangered wildlife. She liked his macho, go-anywhere attitude. A guy who thought trekking through the rain forest was good for the soul – that’s her kind of leader.

But the person she could most relate to was Thomas Edison. His mother pulled him out of a rigid, stifling public school to homeschool him, just as she is homeschooled. But – I walked right into this one, apparently – his mother let him set up a laboratory in their cellar. See, Mom, other kids have laboratories.

As we were reading about Edison, it occurred to me that his mother was the platonic ideal of homeschoolers. I went looking for more expanded accounts of Edison’s early life and education, and found his biographer Matthew Josephson. Forgive me for quoting at length from this article, which includes a lot of commentary from Josephson, but education is a topic I find irresistibly interesting.

The Edison family’s bad break up with public education (and the plight of having a quirky child that resists institutionalized behavior) is a story many homeschoolers can relate to:

In 1854, Reverend G. B. Engle belittled one of his students, seven-year-old Thomas Alva Edison, as “addled.” This outraged the youngster, and he stormed out of the Port Huron, Michigan school, the first formal school he had ever attended. His mother, Nancy Edison, brought him back the next day to discuss the situation with Reverend Engle, but she became angry at his rigid ways. Everything was forced on the kids. She withdrew her son from the school where he had been for only three months and resolved to educate him at home. Although he seems to have briefly attended two more schools, nearly all his childhood learning took place at home.

Thus arose the legend that Thomas Alva Edison (born February 11, 1847) became America’s most prolific inventor—1,093 patents for such wonders as the microphone, telephone receiver, stock ticker, phonograph, movies, office copiers, and incandescent electric light—despite his lack of schooling.

For years, he looked the part of the improbable, homespun genius: five feet, 10 inches tall, gray eyes, long hair that looked as if he cut it himself, baggy acid-stained pants, scruffy shoes, and hands discolored by chemicals. Later he took to wearing city clothes—black. On more than one occasion passers-by mistook him for a priest and respectfully tipped their hats.

Yet Edison probably gained a far better education than most children of his time or ours. This wasn’t because his mother had official credentials. She had taught school, but only a little. Nor was it because his parents had money. They were poor and lived on the outskirts of a declining town. Nancy Edison’s secret: she was more dedicated than any teacher was likely to be, and she had the flexibility to experiment with various ways of nurturing her son’s love for learning.

“She avoided forcing or prodding,” wrote Edison biographer Matthew Josephson, “and made an effort to engage his interest by reading him works of good literature and history that she had learned to love—and she was said to have been a fine reader.”

Thomas Edison plunged into great books. Before he was 12, he had read works by Shakespeare and Dickens, Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, David Hume’s History of England, and more.

Because Nancy Edison was devoted and observant, she discovered simple ways to nurture her son’s enthusiasm. She brought him a book on the physical sciences—R. G. Parker’s School of Natural Philosophy, which explained how to perform chemistry experiments at home. Edison recalled this was “the first book in science I read when a boy.” It made learning fun, and he performed every experiment in the book. Then Nancy Edison brought him The Dictionary of Science which further spurred his interest. He became passionate about chemistry, spending all his spare money buying chemicals from a local pharmacist, collecting bottles, wires, and other items for experiments. He built his first laboratory in the cellar of the family’s Port Huron house.

“Thus,” Josephson noted, “his mother had accomplished that which all truly great teachers do for their pupils, she brought him to the stage of learning things for himself, learning that which most amused and interested him, and she encouraged him to go on in that path. It was the very best thing she could have done for this singular boy.” 

I like that: “Because she was devoted and observant….” Providing a good education involves caring about what fascinates your child and their native curiosities. It’s the opposite of the education factories that our country spends literally a trillion dollars a year on with predictably bad results.

Edison benefited from having two parents pulling him in opposite directions intellectually: a mother who indulged his love of science and a father who forced him to consume as much as possible of the humanities. Both parents were cool with having a very independent young child.

Sam Edison disapproved of all the time his son spent in the cellar. Sometimes he offered the boy a penny to resume reading literature. At 12, for example, Thomas read Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason. “I can still remember the flash of enlightenment that shone from his pages,” he recalled. Typically, though, he used his pennies to buy more chemicals for experiments in the cellar.

But Thomas Edison had discovered intellectual play. He wanted to learn everything he could about steam engines, electricity, battery power, electromagnetism, and especially the telegraph. Samuel F. B. Morse had attracted tremendous crowds when he demonstrated the telegraph back in 1838, and telegraph lines were extended across the country by the time Thomas Edison was conducting his experiments. The idea of transmitting information over a wire utterly fascinated him. He used scrap metal to build a telegraph set and practiced the Morse code. Through his experiments, he learned more and more about electricity which was to revolutionize the world.

When the Grand Trunk Railroad was extended to Port Huron in 1859, he got a job as newsboy for the day-long run to Detroit and back. After about a year, he looked for ways to make better use of the five-hour layover in Detroit before the train made its return trip. He got permission to move his cellar laboratory equipment aboard the baggage car, so he could continue his experiments. This worked well for a while until the train lurched, spilled some chemicals, and the laboratory caught on fire.

In 1862, a train accident injured his ears, and the 15-year-old began to lose much of his hearing. Apparently, he realized that as a handicapped boy without any credentials, he must learn everything he needed to know on his own. He dramatically intensified his self-education.

“Deafness probably drove me to reading,” he reflected later. He was among the first people to use the Detroit Free Library—with card number 33—and he systematically read through it shelf by shelf. He read literature. He was thrilled by Victor Hugo’s new romantic epic, Les Miserables, especially the stories of lost children. He talked so much about the book that his friends called him “Victor Hugo” Edison.

Of course, what fascinated Edison most was science. He devoured books on electricity, mechanics, chemical analysis, manufacturing technology and more. He struggled with Isaac Newton’s Principles, which made him realize his future would be with practical matters, not theorizing.

One of the best arguments for homeschooling – even versus sending your child to an elite private school, for those who can afford that option – is that it nurtures becoming an autodidact in ways that a traditional school never will. (Even Montessori schools are mostly gimmicks when it comes to this.) A lot of educational institutions try to channelize bright minds, I assume because they are looking for the “payoff” of someone being respected early in a given field. I think this is a weakness of most gifted and talented programs. They would rather brag about having a prodigy in something than a bright kid who is interested in everything. This is why Silicon Valley is littered with drop-outs, even from prestigious schools with the “best” resources. (Incidentally, homeschooling is becoming increasingly popular with the tech crowd.)

Someone like Edison could master intellectual content in every direction, and he was blessed that his parents encouraged that:

As a home-schooled, self-educated youth, Edison learned lessons that were to serve him all his life. He learned education was his own responsibility. He learned to take initiative. He learned to be persistent. He learned he could gain practical knowledge, inspiration and wisdom by reading books. He learned to discover all kinds of things from methodical observation. He learned education is a continuing, joyful process.

At 20, Edison got a job as itinerant Western Union telegraph operator and became remarkably proficient. He worked in Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, Memphis, Boston, and New York. The more he learned about telegraphy, the more he wanted to learn. He took apart equipment and reassembled it until he understood how it worked. He experimented with ways to make it better. He decided that greater knowledge of chemistry would help him, so he haunted used bookstores and ordered chemistry books from London and Paris. He filled his rented rooms with chemicals and junk metal for his experiments. One associate observed: “He spent his money buying apparatus and books, and wouldn’t buy clothing. That winter he went without an overcoat and nearly froze.”

Edison’s knowledge and enterprise led to a dramatic series of inventions. On January 25, 1869, he applied for a patent on a telegraphic stock ticker which, after he filed patents for dozens of successive improvements, became standard office equipment in America and Europe. Edison invented a printing telegraph for gold bullion and foreign exchange dealers. Western Union and its rivals battled to gain control of Edison’s patents which revolutionized the telegraph business. For example, he figured out how a central telegraph office could control the performance of telegraph equipment at remote locations. He developed a method for transmitting four messages simultaneously over the same wire. Intense curiosity, nourished by his home education, drove him to become perhaps America’s best technician on telegraphy.

From his practical experience, Edison learned to make the most of unexpected opportunities. For example, on July 18, 1877, he was testing an automatic telegraph which had a stylus to read coded indentations on strips of paper. For some reason, perhaps excessive voltage, the stylus suddenly began moving so fast through the indentations that the friction resulted in a sound. It might have been only a hum, but it got Edison’s attention. His imagination made a wild leap. Explains archivist Douglas Tarr at the Edison National Historical Site, West Orange, New Jersey: “Edison seemed to reason that if a stylus going through indentations could produce a sound unintentionally, then it could produce a sound intentionally, in which case he should be able to reproduce the human voice.” A talking machine!

Edison worked out its fundamental principles in his notebooks, and on December 17, 1877, he filed a patent application for the phonograph (“sound writing”). This was no improvement of existing technology. It was something brand new, Edison’s most original invention. It was also one thing he didn’t seek to invent, unlike the light bulb, power generation systems, and other famous inventions which he deliberately pursued. Having developed the idea, Edison followed up, working on and off for more than two decades to produce recorded sound quality which would thrill millions.

With a flexible and open mind, Edison enjoyed an important advantage in the race for electric light. Other inventors were committed to refining low-resistance arc lights (then used in light houses) which required large amounts of electrical power and copper wire—the most costly part of their lighting systems. In September 1878, Edison cheerfully began considering the opposite: a high resistance system which would require far less electrical power and copper wire. This could mean small electric lights suitable for home use. By January 1879, at the laboratory he established in Menlo Park, New Jersey, Edison had built his first high-resistance, incandescent electric light. It worked by passing electricity through a thin platinum filament in a glass vacuum bulb to delay the filament from melting.

But the lamp worked for only an hour or two. Improving performance required all the persistence Edison had learned as a child. He tested many other metals. He thought about tungsten, the metal in light bulb filaments now, but he couldn’t work with it using tools available in his day. He tried carbon. He tested carbonized filaments of every imaginable plant material, including baywood, boxwood, hickory, cedar, flax, and bamboo. He contacted biologists who could send him plant fibers from the tropics. “Before I got through,” he recalled, “I tested no fewer than 6,000 vegetable growths, and ransacked the world for the most suitable filament material.” Best performer for many years: carbonized filaments from cotton thread.

This proved to be one of Edison’s most perplexing inventions. “The electric light has caused me the greatest amount of study and has required the most elaborate experiments,” he wrote. “I was never myself discouraged, or inclined to be hopeless of success. I cannot say the same for all my associates.” Edison at the peak of his inventive powers drew inspiration, as he did in his youth, from Victor Hugo’s novel Toilers of the Sea. The hero, Gilliatt, struggled against the waves, the tides and a storm to save a steamship from destruction on a reef.

Hailed as “The Wizard of Menlo Park,” Edison was often able to see possibilities others missed because he continuously educated himself about different technologies. For example, during the late 1880s and early 1890s, he read widely about the latest developments in photographic optics. He investigated the potential of tough, flexible celluloid as motion picture film and had George Eastman make 50-foot-long, 35mm wide test strips. Edison worked out the mechanical problems of advancing film steadily across a photographic lens without tearing. He linked his new motion picture camera to an improved phonograph, capturing sound synchronized with motion pictures. Then Edison developed what he called the Kinetoscope to project these “talking” images on a screen.

In 1887, Edison built a magnificent laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey. It was 10 times larger than his first, fabled facility in Menlo Park. The main building alone contained some 60,000 square feet of floor space for machine shops, glass-blowing operations, electrical testing rooms, chemical stockrooms, electrical power generation, and other functions.

Once a day, Edison toured this vast facility to see what was going on, but he did most work in the library. It had a great hall, a 30-foot-high ceiling and two galleries. Right in the center, Edison sat at a desk with three dozen pigeonholes, surrounded by some 10,000 books. Here he would ponder new ideas and hear his associates report on their progress.

As Edison grew older, he became stouter and harder of hearing, but he remained as enthusiastic as ever about the free-wheeling pursuit of practical knowledge. In 1903, he hired Martin Andre Rosanoff, a Russian-born, Paris-trained chemist who asked about laboratory rules. “Hell,” Edison snorted, “there ain’t no rules around here! We’re tryin’ to accomplish somep’n.”

After Edison died on Sunday, October 18, 1931, his coffin was placed in his beloved West Orange library for mourners to pay their respects. Rosanoff identified a key to the Old Man’s enduring fame: “Had Edison been formally schooled, he might not have had the audacity to create such impossible things.”

Indeed.

Edison is far from alone in this respect. His story is also the story of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. Both had adults in their life who helped them have unconventional home educations that were centered on intellectual play. Imagine an alternative universe where Franklin and Einstein were given ADHD meds and told to sit still all day.

Seattle Public Schools thinks math is racist and oppressive

When I first heard about Seattle Public Schools’ proposed “K-12 Math Ethnic Studies Framework” this afternoon, I was curious if the actual document lived up to the freak-out among conservative observers. Seattle, after all, is where many STEM-based corporations are headquartered. (For now, anyway – several tech companies already have their foot out the door, and not simply over taxes.) How did a city where math is responsible for substantially all of governments’ tax receipts end up with school districts that want to destroy math education? It makes no sense whatsoever. But then again, New York City is talking about scrapping gifted and talented education because it is racist, so it’s not like Seattle is the first blue municipality to consider cranking out ignorant children a political priority. (Heck, New York City put it into law that schools cannot reject a student for a diploma on the basis of having never attended class. No kidding. You no longer need to attend school to get a diploma from a public high school in NYC. The schools literally have no academic standards.)

From what I can tell, most observers have only read the article in Reason magazine, which simply paraphrases an article in Education Week. Both of these articles understate the extreme positions in Seattle’s proposal. I think most people – regardless of political persuasion – would lose their minds if they saw the proposal documents for how Seattle Public Schools might transform math education.

Here they are.

The proposal divides math instruction into four categories that math instructors need to address in the classroom: (1) origins, identity, and agency; (2) power and oppression; (3) history of resistance and liberation; and (4) reflection and action. Yes, this is their framework for teaching math.

Under the “origins, identity, and agency” category, the authors suggest that instructors address “the ways in which we view ourselves as mathematicians” and emphasize that mathematical theory is “rooted in the ancient histories of people and empires of color.”

The authors urge math teachers to “create counter narratives about the origins of mathematical knowledge” and to “see the value in making mistakes both as individuals and as a community.” Got that? It’s no longer enough that schools pass students who cannot demonstrate a proficiency in subject-matter through the system. The schools need to praise students for failing.

The document elaborates: “How important is it to be Right? What is Right? Says Who?”

I don’t know about you, but when I was in school, I was not taught to talk about my feelings about math or to see the answers according to some political rubric of authority. I was taught *gasp* proofs. Ditto for symbolic logic.

Under the “power and oppression” category, the authors … well… I’ll just let them speak for themselves:

Power and oppression, as defined by ethnic studies, are the ways in which individuals and groups define mathematical knowledge so as to see “Western” mathematics as the only legitimate expression of mathematical identity and intelligence. This definition of legitimacy is then used to disenfranchise people and communities of color. This erases the historical contributions of people and communities of color.

Thus, math instructors need to work into their curriculum a discussion of “the ways in which ancient mathematical knowledge has been appropriated by Western culture” and “identify how math has been and continues to be used to oppress and marginalize people and communities of color.” As an auxiliary, they recommend teaching about how technology and standardized testing are connected to mathematics as a tool of oppression.

But they don’t stop there. They also recommend that math teachers “explain how math has been used to exploit natural resources” (as if forests have been wronged by algebra) and “explain how math dictates economic oppression.” (For example, the fact that you do not understand how your mortgage works because you attended Seattle Public Schools puts you at an unfair intellectual disadvantage to the people at the bank who attended real schools.)

The authors then ask (I’m not even halfway through the document, hang in there) “who holds power in a mathematical classroom? Is there a place for power and authority in the math classroom? Who gets to say if an answer is right? What is the process for verifying the truth? Who is Smart? Who is not Smart?”

They recommend math teachers ask their students to name oppressive mathematical practices in their experience, “how data-driven processes prevent liberation,” and “how math can help us understand the impact of economic conditions and systems that contribute to poverty and slave labor.”

Students should be asked what is legitimate as math and what fears they have about math. Then they should ponder who in society has worked to make them fearful of math and what ulterior motives someone might have in doing so.

Next up is the “history of resistance and liberation” category, which suggests teachers cover “individuals and organizations that have reclaimed mathematical identity and agency” and how we can “change mathematics from individualistic to collectivist thinking.”

The last category, “reflection and action,” suggests that teachers encourage their students to take the gospel of the math ethnic studies framework to their communities so they can understand how math is fundamentally racist and how it has been used to oppress them all along.

The sick thing about all of this is that people who push for this kind of content in classrooms are hurting minority children themselves. Every minute of every day that is spent on nonsense like this is instructional time and instructional resources that are not teaching the kids useful skills that they absolutely must have to compete in a modern economy. Not to mention the fact that the teachers are giving kids the impression that talking this way will do them any service in the real world. Crikey.

North Florida judge allowed a potential school shooter to go free by massaging the definition of “transmission”

When we first started homeschooling our daughter, safety was not the biggest consideration. We were mainly concerned that a traditional school would not be sufficiently challenging for her academically and intellectually. But safety is definitely one of our biggest concerns now.

Just following news stories these days, it is shocking how many school districts and other authorities deliberately conceal security risks from parents and the students themselves or outright enable troubled students.

Yesterday, I read a local article about a child at an elementary school here – the school our daughter would be attending right now if we sent her to public school, in fact – who had been arrested for bringing drugs to school. The article noted that the child already had a criminal record, and was on FELONY probation. Imagine being on felony probation in elementary school. Imagine having your child at a school where kids on the playground already had serious criminal records. And school officials said nothing to parents about it so they could warn their children.

By far the worst story I have read lately is about Baker County Public Schools in the Jacksonville area. A high school student had produced several graphic and highly technical plans to murder police officers, staff, and students at his school. He had calculated the length of time it would take for officers to reach his school and how long it would take them to make it into the school and stop his massacre. He tried to quantify which campus locations would allow him to slaughter the most people.

Another student learned about his plans and did exactly what authorities told them to do: he told a teacher. The school worked with police to charge the student, only to have Circuit Judge Gloria Walker of the 8th circuit (recently elected; she used to work for a legal aid nonprofit for low-income families in North Florida) dismiss the charges against the student and send him home free, with no accountability whatsoever. Her argument was that authorities could not prove that the student “transmitted” his plans. Because he showed his plans to another student in person and did not say, make a random threat on Facebook Live, he could not be considered a legitimate threat under the law.

How can any parent of a child at that school continue to put their kids on a school bus after that? I know I couldn’t.

Here is the full account from local news sources:

The student wrote he wanted to “kill officers and then the gate keeper — then go one by one” and that he would have nine minutes to gun down as many people as possible, considering the distance between the sheriff’s office and the school, according to Maj. Randy Crews of the Baker County Sheriff’s Office.

In a composition notebook, the student also wrote “kill the first responders first,” and “there will most likely be chaos. You kill as much as you can before the other students/teachers notice,” according to documents obtained by the News4Jax I-TEAM.

But after the student was arrested, a judge dismissed the case saying prosecutors did not prove the threat was “transmitted” under state law, Crews told the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission on Tuesday.

Crews told the commission, which was created after last year’s mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, that state law needs to be clarified to allow the prosecution of potentially dangerous juveniles, like the Baker County student.

“I am not a lawyer, but I want to make you aware of this situation,” Crews said. “If these judges make these rulings, we are moving backwards.”

The juvenile was not named during Tuesday’s commission meeting, but commission Chairman Bob Gualtieri later identified the judge as Circuit Judge Gloria Walker of the 8th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Baker, Alachua, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties.

Under state law, people commit second-degree felonies if they write and send threats to kill or do bodily injury to “the person to whom such letter or communication is sent” or “to any member of the family of the person to whom such letter or communication is sent.”

Crews argued the student’s case shouldn’t have been dismissed because the threats in the notebook were unearthed after the student showed them to a classmate, who then reported it to a teacher.

Crews told News4Jax on Tuesday the sheriff’s office believes the law, Florida statue 836.10, clearly applies to the student when it states that “any person who makes, posts, or transmits a threat in a writing.”

“Prosecution plead with the judge about the case law, about the case, about the interpretation of the law and quite frankly the judge disagreed and dismissed the case,” Crews told the commission. “If it’s got a law that needs to be clarified – I’m not a lawyer. It was clear to me. It was clear to the prosecutor.”

“This is a case where everything was done the way it should have been done,” Crews continued. “A kid saw something and said something, took it to the teachers, school resource officers were involved, we investigated.”

Upon learning about the dismissal of the case, members of the state commission were outraged and worried the student, who is no longer detained, could be a danger to the North Florida community.

“The judge falls outside the scope of reasonableness. I just hope they can live with themselves if something happens,” said Commissioner Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland.

In a Sept. 9 news release, the Baker County Sheriff’s Office said the juvenile admitted to detectives that he wrote multiple plans to carry out the school shooting with the specific campus locations, dates and times and the specific people he would attack. But the student denied any intention of going through with those plans, the sheriff’s office said.

Gualtieri, who is the sheriff of Pinellas County, said that while he thinks the judge’s ruling is “disturbing,” he doesn’t know what the commission could recommend lawmakers to do.

“The question is, does the statute need to be changed? I don’t see anything in statute that needs to be changed,” Gualtieri said.

Commissioner Max Schachter, father of slain Parkland student Alex Schachter, was frustrated by Gualtieri’s response and suggested the commission scold the judge in a letter for ruling against law enforcement’s actions to “prevent the next Parkland.”

“The commission should write a letter emphasizing … that releasing this person back into society — knowing how they want to kill all these people — is irresponsible and puts the community at risk,” Schachter said.

But no other commissioner agreed with him.

“For us to intervene and chastise a judge and their conduct, I don’t think it is appropriate,” said Commissioner Bruce Bartlett, the chief assistant state attorney for the judicial circuit that includes Pinellas and Pasco counties.

Instead, Bartlett said voters could vote out the judge in the next election.

“This seems to be a situation that happened in one place and a decision made by one court,” the Pinellas sheriff said. “It’s unfortunate and extremely troubling, and all we can do is hope this kid, who is out on the street does not execute his plan.”

The Baker County Sheriff’s Office said they are trying to appeal this case 

The importance of record-keeping for homeschoolers

I see a lot of homeschool blogs and social media groups that try to sell homeschooling as a lifestyle (versus a very serious commitment to educate your child) trying to downplay the effort that homeschoolers must invest in record-keeping. This is particularly true for “unschoolers,” who tend to paint homeschooling in general as some super relaxing and stress-free endeavor. Just ignore all that tedious institutional baggage! You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life!

In my personal experience talking to new homeschooling parents and grandparents, it seems like a lot of people are taking this advice at face value. I’ve met many who invest almost no effort in the daily activity log and portfolio of schoolwork that is legally required in our state. Some mothers I’ve encountered even banded together to form a private school, which was mostly to evade the record-keeping and annual evaluation requirements imposed by the state. This is why I say the unschooling fad is the biggest regulatory risk to serious homeschoolers there is – far, far worse than public school activists. They rank up there with midwives and anti-vaxxers in terms of unflattering exposes that will inevitably happen when the rest of society notices they exist. Truly, I miss the 1990s when homeschooling was mostly the domain of tiger moms.

Anyway, my advice to new homeschoolers is to ignore people who praise lackadaisical record-keeping bigtime. They are offering you very bad legal advice – and it is legal advice. While you are at it, ignore their advice on curriculum too. If they are put out by the idea of daily record-keeping, they probably aren’t investing much of their time in actual instruction either.

When we first started homeschooling, our lawyer said the number one thing we needed to do to protect our rights is keep perfect, unassailable records of what we are doing. Should your right to homeschool ever be legally challenged, he said, there is no statute that is going to protect you if you are not keeping solid records of your child’s education. At the end of the day, a judge is not going to care about your hyper-literal interpretation of the law if it seems like you are genuinely depriving your child of an education. As they say, you shouldn’t simply avoid improper behavior. You should also avoid the appearance of it.

You never have to apologize for excellence.

Moreover, from a bona fide risk management perspective, fights over education are more likely to come from a soured personal relationship than meddling government authorities. This is something a lot of social media homeschooling activists don’t seem to grok. To them, record-keeping is mostly a political issue.

I know a couple who has been locked in a custody battle over their children for most of their children’s lives. One of the biggest sticking points for them is where the kids go to school.

Try to imagine an unschooler defending their education practices in a similar context.

Judge: So he wants to send the kids to public school and does not want you teaching them at home any more. You argue that you have been homeschooling them for five years and it would be disruptive for me to change that. Tell me about your homeschooling program. I don’t see many records here.

Unschooler: Well, I believe that play is the work of childhood. We spend a lot of time at the park and on nature walks.

Judge: So you pulled your kids out of school to play all day? Really?

Unschooler: I want my kids to be critical thinkers and not mindless institutional cogs. The children tell me what they want to learn. It’s called self-directed education, see.

Judge: Please explain to me what you are actually working on in your homeschool. All I see in your portfolio are pictures of you and your kids playing on the beach.

Instead of husband, substitute in an acutely concerned grandparent or meddling neighbor who decided to take their NextDoor gossip-fest into the real world. These are the very real problems that some people are going to face. And the outcomes are going to hinge on their record-keeping.

Record-keeping is not a chore. It’s a way for you to document true academic progress, which is something you will likely be proud of years down the line. It’s also a way to protect your kids. Don’t shrug it off just because folks in a granola mommy chat group told you it was okay.