Monthly Archives: September 2009

Truth, Home schooling and love — to Hope McGeough my mom

Warmth…..

I know I felt her warmth as she read to me.   Time stopped during those moments when I listened to my mothers serene voice as she spoke the words that I followed with my finger.  I may have been six.  Croup as it was called then kept me in her lap.   My death was close just hours before.  I knew it.  I felt it.  I had descended deep into it…peaceful…deeply loved….wonderfully floating….But, it didn’t happen that night.  They said it wasn’t time….So I was in her lap hearing the words as she spoke them….small finger following them in the book. 

Warmth…

Soon I would read with my own voice…without the aide of that small finger.  I just…learned…..just learned how as she read to me.   And I learned it at home… everything I learned, I learned at home…

She held me with a love I am not sure men can understand.  Her serene voice…  Her warm breath on my shoulders as I lay on the friendship quilt in her lap.  The softness of her right hand as it stroked my hair….I lay curled up on that sacred quilt….on the words of those who preceded me years before…their mother’s reading to them back in the dimness of time….who had come finally to their time ….. when they felt the love and peace I had just felt but whose time it was…so they went on. 

The quilt rests in my home now with it’s incomprehensible dates sewn by the loving hands of women born two centuries before I was a glint in my mothers’ and fathers’ eyes. 

The words sank into my being.  I wish….I wish I could remember what they were. A Golden Book I imagine.   But, that’s not as important as that I was in her lap learning….without learning….but coming to know.  

The early afternoon air rushes around my body as I try to keep my fingers on her casket, wood as she had asked for and that I picked for her,  as it is lowered into the welcoming earth….at the end of a life well lived full of joy and tragedy as we all experience.

My fingers strain to keep contact, but I can’t follow.  My hand lingers there.  I try to burn the feel of that precious wood in my mind.   I am aware of people who love me looking on…just aware.   I remember momentarily that I had wanted to make her final bed…I had the plans….but I just didn’t have the time.  I think of the ornate angel there with her resting over her heart my cousin Dennis made for her…it was over her bed for years…it gave her strength when she could see it, it brought her solice when she could not longer see but could feel it.  I thought of the tiny cross made from a slat that held up her mother’s bed on its’ iron frame that she holds in her hand…..and that I made for her….for this day….around her neck is a dove descending as the Holy Spirit descended on Christ when he arose from the water on the day he told John to go ahead and baptise him….when John thought he was unworthy.  Larry Fussell, an artisan and great friend – a brother,  gave her that gift that she so treasured….the smoothness and artistry of which she would feel after she could no longer see the world.   She asked to hold it especially in the last days.     

Lower. 

Then, finally, the casket came to rest where her beautiful earthly body will be until Christ returns in glory on the clouds.  A silver ring placed on the casket rests there now, placed there by one of her much beloved “sons”.    

I had no tears then, only relief for her tortured body, her blind eyes,  her legs that would not walk,  only gratefulness to God for her relief.     Only gratefulness to her for the man I had managed to become…even though I had only started to grow into real manhood.   Standing beside me with their arms draped over my shoulders, leaning on me,  were two of the boys and young men who helped carry her that day…all of whom she loved in a special way.   Their gaze followed her casket down until it made contact with the protection of the vault….their eyes filled, their hearts full.  She loved those kids in my youth ministry.  She loved all kids.  I learned that from her.   These boys from the ministry loved her.  I remember thinking that they would remember this day as long as they lived. 

Several leaves blew past on the wind.  Cody said to me “I’ll never forget this.  Thank you for letting me do this”.  I told him “She loved you Cody”. 

A day full of miracles….. miracle upon miracle.   

 The top of the vault is in place.  Still they are there….standing watch with me.   I would not leave her until it was finished….until her earthly body was safe….One of them, I don’t remember which placed his head on my shoulder…an intake of breath, I don’t know which one.  

The hallowed earth is put in place.  Slowly she is safe.  Slowly it ends.  And I breathe a “Thank you God”.   How do you thank God for someone who literally taught you everything about life….who taught me so much of what I would learn. 

And all of it I learned at home….at home in the shafts of afternoon light where I studied…. when I came home from school.  School….a place that was a nightmare for me….where I was placed in the “special classes” for a time because I was so different.  School….a place where I had already learned everything they had to teach me but where I knew I dare not show it.  School….a place that taught everything I already knew but nothing I wanted to know.  School…a place where kids were beaten because…they were kids…because seven and eight and nine year old boys couldn’t sit still in chairs locked into rows.   School….where you learned that to be different was to be done for.   

 

The last bit of earth is in place.  Yet, the people still stand with me…the strongest, most loving,  most beautiful family standing with me….good people…great friends…. My family stands around me along with the boys.  I remember saying to God…”how did I come to have this family filled with nothing but love”. 

Can I possibly feel my grandparents….can I possibly feel my father?  

the workers place the flowers….I take roses….

Kindness upon kindness….people walk by….some speak kind words….some just hug me….others of the boys who carried my mom surround me….their hands rest on my shoulders….the pastor who came to love my mother stands with me….Pat and his wife Connie, their son Charlie, are standing there….friends beyond anything I deserve….yet others still stand….then we turn to leave….

My father had nearly 50 years before gone home to God.  Now they lay together once more.  But, she was the one who taught me,…. not because he didn’t want to….only because his chance to shape me was taken too early.    

So she made a home for me.  I could not know then the depth of sorrow she felt.  I would be able to imagine her grief later…but, that was still in my future.  I remember on the day my father was buried she held me so tight I thought I would not breath again.  But, something in me said “let her hold on if it does kill me”.  Later, too, I would realize why she held onto  me so hard.  I would later release the ashes of precious cargo into the cold North Pacific wind…the ashes of a child conceived there above the green Pacific waters where the Puffins dive.  And those of his mother.  

I then knew why she held me so hard.     

I would come to know that there could not be great sadness without great love preceeding it.  And I was glad in my sadness.

And, she continued to read to me…and she continued to teach me, and she continued to help me understand that it was ok to want to know why the stars burn when you are six, that it was ok to imagine that you are conducting an orchestra when you are eight, that I shouldn’t be frightened that sometimes my vision went away and I saw fantastical bursts of color when I listened to music as still happens, that it was ok when I wrote b when it should be a d, …..  she said the “d will be there whenyou are eighteen”,

and all the while she took care of my father who was dying…..then helped me keep my faith and find myself again in music and science and a galaxy of words in my own special world when I started to go crazy when he actually did die… while she was coming apart herself…

and when I was fourteen she helped me heal from an event in which I was almost killed but about which she never really knew….nor did she ask… a decision I am sure she made consciously even though she must have known that I was changed forever…for which I am eternally grateful… she just stood by me until I had my bearings again… 

when I was too old, as I thought because of the arrogance of youth through which most kids pass, she provided me with books, conducting lessons, trumpet lessons, ….from which I learned everything I ever learned…..and from which she taught me and helped me learn everything I knew…

At home.

Thanks mom.

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John Taylor Gatto, home schooling and independent learning

I would like to offer to you some short videos by the brilliant John Taylor Gatto.  Mr. Gatto is the most original thinker in my view on schooling. 

State Controlled Consciousness

Schooling is not education

History of compulsory schooling

John Taylor Gatto on Education   longer but worth it.

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Dan Pink, successful learning, unschooling, independent learning

I just can’t say this any better and it intrigues me so much.  Lets just watch Dan Pink riff on autonomy and motivation.

http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html

While this presentation is about business it has profound implications for learning, and especially unschooling.

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It’s never too late, independent learning, Grandma Moses

As I said in yesterdays post one of the things I wonder about is time.  I’ve spent my life trying to figure out what learning is and how it happens.  It has been at foundation of my most recent profession.  I am at a place where I feel close to really getting a grip on what motivates kids to learn, what the best techniques are to learn a field, and can you really teach anyone anything.  I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t teach anyone.  The single thing you can do is make them want to approach the warmth of your life and how you use your intellect.  But I said I wanted to write a few words about time.   It’s 2:00 a.m. in the morning.  I won’t sleep until I get a couple of thoughts in electrons. 

Time is the bane of any scholars life.  Remember when I use the term scholar I refer to anyone who has a serious interest.  I am now 58 years old.  Sometimes I do lose sleep questioning my accomplishments, my ability to accomplish what remains, or to start anything new.  Reasonable thought all.  Thank God I am not a reasonable person. 

Neither was Anna Mary Robertson who was born in Greenwich, New York, on September 7, 1860.  I have loved Anna Mary since I was about 16 years old.  I just didn’t realize her practical significance to my life until the last few days.  She was one of the reasons I found school to be a prison.  Because I would rather have spent time with her than almost anything back then except music.  You see her colors fascinated me.  She spoke to me about the life of my grandparents who I loved so deeply.   When I looked at her work in a book I checked out of the little library in Galena Park I saw my grandparents home for some reason.  I saw my childhood that was fast fading into the background of my existence.  I saw a way of life that I secretly wanted to live.  But it was my secret. My school in particular was not one that took a kindly view of 16 year olds who liked primitive art.  I protected that part of myself.  Until I escaped my prison into symphonic music, art, learning what I wanted to learn, and being around people who were giants to me in symphony orchestras, the worlds of music and art and at university.  The woman whose work I was in love with is better known as Grandma Moses.  She died just before I entered high school in 1961.  

And she had no real formal education.  Thank God she had no real formal education.  She would have probably been ruined.  Yet she is one of the most influential of America’s painters.  To me she is the equivalent of Norman Rockwell whose work I also love.  Her first painting was on a wall in her house.  She was wall papering but she ran out of wallpaper.  What a fortuitous problem.  Because she hung a sheet of white paper on the wall.  She painted a scene on that paper to finish out the decoration in the room.  What a finish it was. 

The scene is called fireboard.  If you want to see it you must go to the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont.  I will go there one day.  When I go I will whisper a thank you to Grandma Moses for helping me realize that it is never too late.  You see it took me nearly 20 years of my 30 year career to begin to think there were other ways to learn except in a classroom.  I came late to home schooling and independent learning.  But I am here now.  And even though I work in a classroom now I also work with many kids who have never seen the inside of a classroom.  And I know something I didn’t know when I was young.  There are other ways to learn save in a classroom. 

But back to my Grandma Moses.  The point is this wonderful American artist painted her first work in her 70’s.  After 70 years of life she started the work that would change the art world.  She found herself at the beautiful sunset of a quiet, worshipful, country life.  Grandma Moses started painting, in fact, because of the common illness of old age – arthritis.  Her husband who she loved dearly had passed away.  She became to old to farm. Grandma took up embroidery to fill her time.  But, soon, age cast its shadow over her again.  Her arthritis would not allow her to work her needles.  So she began to paint at the age of 76.  She once said:

What a strange thing is memory and hope; one looks backward, the other forward; one is of today, the other tomorrow. 

I want each of you to come down on the side of hope.  She also said:

If I didn’t start painting, I would have raised chickens

Thank God she didn’t raise chickens. 

And thank God you, my older readers, aren’t going to raise chickens.  Well, unless that is what your life long project is going to be. 

I am 58 but I am going to reach forward to the outer edges of what can be found out about how kids learn.  I am going to open a lot more doors.  And in that process of opening doors I am going to write as much as I can, speak as often as I can, teach as much as I can, take as many pictures as I can, learn how to use curves in Photoshop to make some of my more lousy pictures look presentable, see as many birds as i can, cut as much wood as I can and annoy as many adults who believe there is only one way to learn as I can. 

I can see the sun has past its zenith.  But I also see there is a while before sunset;  Barring some dump truck with my name on it.  If you are 20 or 40 or 50 or 80 there is still time.  Presidents have been elected in their last decades.  Many, many artists do their best work in their last decades.  So do scientists.  And so many of you, my friends, still have a work to do.  A short time back one of the people I most admired died in his late 90’s not a long time after he had performed his last heart surgery.  Dr. Michael DeBakey passed away near 100 have worked his entire life doing his best work late in life.  I saw him once in the Houston Medical Center bounding up a flight of stairs with a group of breathless, slobbering, gibbering medical students trying to keep up.  All kids.  All kids who couldn’t follow their aged professor and mentor up a flight of stairs; whose hands could not perform the miracles done daily by their demanding mentors’  hands. One of the young doctors said under his breath “what is wrong with that old man there are elevators.”  Being me I yelled out as he disappeared up the stairs “There’s nothing wrong with him.  He’s a force of nature.  He’s alive and living it all!”

For Heaven’s sake don’t give up.  I mean that literally because even if you are 58 or 59, you still have intellectual gifts to give the world.  You still have a path to mark out; a territory to claim.  Claim it!   

Live it all.  Find your project then live it. ………………………Home work will be checked :).

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Give your life to a purpose, passionate living, home school, independent learning

I have a great challenge for you tonight.  What do you want to give your life for.  No, I’m not talking about dying a noble death.  I’m talking, no, I’m asking you to find something worth living for, not dying for.  I want you to find one or more passions; things worth spending your life doing or learning about.  Something worth dreaming about for hours during the day.  A thing worth planning years ahead, plotting, laying out a trail to lead to a golden end.   I have three.  First, the life of the mind takes center stage.  How do we actually learn.  Why is it that so few of us live exciting intellectual lives when I believe that most of us could live a passionate intellectual life.  And, on the practical side of it.  How do kids best learn.  I am convinced it’s not at school for most kids.  For me, school was a 12 year long prison sentence.  As  a teacher I work everyday of my life to try to make schools – or at least my little corner of the school world into a vibrant place that young people love.  Second, I practice two arts; photography and woodworking.  They are my connections to sanity as well as an extra income stream.  I am fascinated by the beauty of transcendent craft in wood.  The beauty of an artfully produced photograph always stuns me.  I drift from one to the other.  The third is bird watching.  Bird watching is as much a connection to God as the church.  In birds I see the magnificence of His creation.  I see the infinite variety, infinate adaptations, transcendent colors and the thing I dream about most – flight.  The photography, the woodwork, and the bird watching are for me.  The study of the mind as well as how it learns is for the world.  I want you to find something to change the world. 

Egotistic you say?  Not at all.  The field I have set for myself is impossible.  How people learn, how they make knowledge their own, then grow into experts is so hard a mine to explore that I will not live long enough to make a change I fear.  That is probably one of my greatest nightmares; that I know I will die before I have learned it all or made the difference I want to make to kids and other people who are trying to learn.   Not all people do learn.  Some shut down after the 12 year prison sentence that school was for me.   They never want to pick up a pen or pencil again because we have squeezed the guts out of the pleasure.  By the time many kids get out of school they find themselves ready to cast away the vestments of school to run as far away as possible.  To be naked of school is their goal.  But so many never find the joy out of school.  These unfortunates have been so convinced that learning cannot be a thing of transcendent joy that they look upon learning as a child looks upon vomit.  So they run, ridicule and resist any further intellectual life.  They have had enough.  They have fed at the table of knowledge and found it poisonous. 

What I am asking you to do, if you are one of the   many who have started to follow these electronic scribblings, is to find a new passion.  It’s there.   Somewhere in the darkest, cobweb infested mind there is a corner where a dim flame still burns waiting for holy breath to blow it into raging flame.  You had something you wanted to learn to do, or say, or perform at one time.  When you were a little child still resisting the poison of industrial education you still had it.  You looked at it with love.  Perhaps it was a love for a subject or a project that was so deep it went beyond love into obsession. 

You will find something to take out of that corner which can be dusted, made new and shiny, ready to be loved again.  You will find something as beautiful as I find discovering what it is that really, genuinely brings out that passion in a child.  That passion that says I have to do this thing or I will just wilt.  My life will die.  Look around you on your commuter train or look from your car.  Look at the faces of those going to work at jobs where they will labor with a sense of quiet desperation.  Perhaps you are one of those.  Stop it!  At least devote some of your time to the thing that makes your soul soar to the Heavens when you are doing it.  I’m not telling you to quit your job.  No, but, I am telling you to become an independent learner with a purposeful life seeking to add to human knowledge. 

Eric Hoffer discovered his passion.  Hoffer wrote ten books while he labored as a longshoreman.  His “True Believer” which set the standard in the social science study of self-esteem as it effects fanatical movements.  While he labored on the docks he contemplated the rise of totalitarianism and the loss of the self.  His postulate was that fanaticism had its gnarled, arthritic claws firmly planted in self-hatred, self-hate and insecurity.  All of this Hoffer did with little formal education and a labor job on the docks.  Eric Hoffer is now a major figure looked up to in the social sciences.  Had he let himself believe that he was less worthwhile for lacking the college degrees and the paper expertise of the dilettante, he would never have changed the course of American social thought. 

Frans Lanting is a photographer.  He discovered his passion in the Albatross.  These magnificent seabirds of the deep oceans are slowly yielding their secrets to Lanting.  He has made photographing them, documenting their lives his life’s work.  As he developed his photographic skills he came back to them over and over.  He is now the leading photographer of this magnificent species as well as one of the world’s foremost experts on the Albatross.  All through his pursuit of photography he intended to show the world the magnificence of the bird he loves.

Don’t live a life of quiet desperation.  Discover your passion.  Perhaps you left it years ago feeling that I can’t make a living at that.  You were probably wrong.  But, for whatever reason, you left it.  Maybe you wanted to become a premier doctor in some medical field. And maybe the time of medical school has passed you.  But you can still form a foundation to raise money for the field.  You can still write scholarly articles and books to help the laymen understand what it is that you want them to know about your passion in medicine.  You can also help them by writing passionately about the disease from which they may suffer.

In the next while we are going to explore how to do this.  We are going to look for a life project.  This will be something that will be significant to you perhaps to no one else.  It doesn’t matter.  You are going to use your full talents for something that will give life meaning to you.  Give your life a renewed purpose, a new hope, a new direction.  Pick your field, master it and make it your own.  Thousands of men, women and young people such as yourselves have done this without the Ph.D.’s  Don’t be intimidated by the terminal degrees.  Often these degrees take the joy out of the hunt for the people who earn them.  They focus so finely on one small swatch of the fabric of their discipline that soon they may know the most about nothing among all the experts in the world.  Being the master of a cubic  centimeter is not a match for having a broad understanding and feeling for the width and breadth of a whole discipline.  Hang on for the ride is going to be fun and bumpy.   But what a ride it will be. It will be the ride of your lifetime – a lifelong learning project to take you down roadways yet unknown.

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Independent scholarship, independent learning and success

Did Leonardo Di Vinci have a Ph.D.?  No.  Nor did George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin have any advanced degrees.  The fathers or our country lived at a time when if a citizen went to school at all, one only went through elementary school learning to read, write and do basic arithmetic as well as ethics.  At the time Leonardo was alive and working, knowledge was acquired in an individual way.  Before the industrial revolution when assembly line schools came about across the world, education was largely individual or built around the classics and mentors.  Before that time scholarship outside institutional education was the norm.  It has now become the exception but the tide is beginning to turn.  Many more people everyday are opting for the freedom and intellectual independence afforded them by becoming an independent scholar.  

 Early practices of pursuing knowledge were based on individual interest and passion for a field of study.  This is returning today.  The university system arose throughout the nineteenth century.  The pursuit of knowledge was essentially unionized locking out those who were not part of the university system.   But private or freelance scholars have persisted outside the walls of the university because they have a passion for what they do.  They have a love for their subject that transcends the limits of the traditional university.  There are astronomers, futures study specialists, biologists, photographers documenting the entire world and so many other areas of study going on that it is hard to comprehend it all.  The problem of being inside academia versus working outside academia has always been an issue.  However, in the 1970’s independent scholarship began to build its own house.   Now independent scholars are becoming more accepted as they publish their work and make real contributions to a variety of fields.   If you want to pursue this further you might want to read “The Intellectuals and the Powers from 1972, Men of ideas by Lewis Coser from 1965 and Independent scholarship by Gross and Gross which is presently in print. 

 The fact is many books written in the non-fiction market in America were written by someone who could rightly be called an independent scholar.   The Chronicle of Higher Education, Change, Lifelong Learning as well as other journals are paying much more attention to the phenomenon of independent scholarship.   The number of people pursuing serious intellectual work outside of the university is very, very hard to pin down.  There is something like 100,000 people who are in and out of the academe, many Ph.D.’s who will work out of the academe.  Estimates for those numbers go upwards of 10,000.  Membership in independent scholarship organizations has grown and now numbers just under 2000. 

 Among the issues that led to this growth has been a desire to return to the real intellectual exploration that characterized the founding fathers.  250 years ago education looked nothing like it does today.   While there were schools the majority of Americans did not attend them.  Some did attend them but rarely did anyone achieve anything beyond a basic elementary education in school.   The father of our country George Washington had what amounts to an elementary education.  Yet his intellectual growth and intellect made him a giant.  Most education at that time revolved around the classics and mentorship.  One most often learned by doing something worthwhile in the presence of a mentor. 

 Other pressures leading to the growth in independent scholarship has been the downturn in available jobs in higher education.   Many people who achieved advanced degrees could not find work in their field but they still found joy in doing work in their discipline.  There were other professors who became dissatisfied with the political nature of the academe just as many parents have become dissatisfied with the character of the public school today opting for home school.   Many of these people began to think of themselves as truly independent.  And, they began to organize. 

 The National Coalition of Independent Scholars is one such organization.   The goals of the NCIS are as follows:

 The National Coalition of Independent Scholars (NCIS) was formed in January 1989 to facilitate the work of independent scholars.

NCIS objectives are to:

•Bring independent scholars together to share scholarly interests and expertise

•Improve access to research libraries for independent scholars

•Offer independent scholars information and advice about grants and fellowships and about publishing.

•Encourage foundations and institutes to open competitions to independent scholars and to include them on review committees

•Hold conferences and workshops of interest to independent scholars and to the public

•Offer grants-in-aid to NCIS members and small grants to affiliates

•Serve as administrator for members applying for grants

•Encourage information exchange through publications and electronic communication

•Aid organizations of independent scholars by collecting and sharing organization experience and by publicizing their work

•Provide information for the creation of local organizations of independent scholars

 

The movement is growing.  There is no reason why any intellectually interested child or adult should not become an independent learner.  Up until this century there was very little organized schooling and some would argue that average citizen was much better educated.

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Obama’s School Speech seen through Democratic Eyes

First let me say to my best friend….the word is spelled p-r-i-n-c-i-p-l-e.   And thanks for kindly pointing it out.  I was writing in the wee hours of  the morning, Sheesh.  🙂

The democrats are right!  I can hear the ambulance sirens now coming for the hopefully not dead bodies of several of my blogger friends, and my friends who ordinarily take me on about what I write.  I learn much from them.   They always make me think.  And sometimes, though rarely, they are right. 🙂  So I thought for tonight’s little blog about the upcoming Presidential address to captive school children I would take a look at what democrats have rightfully said about past presidential speeches to school children. 

IN 1991 Then President HW Bush spoke to one school.  There were no lesson plans produced for that speech.  The Department of Education didn’t initially suggest that children write letters the themselves about how they could help the President.  This speech was also clearly in violation of my principle that children in school are always a captive audience.  Also, the President can never separate what he does from his office.  So every speech he makes must of neccessity be part of the party line.  It must be political.  Richard Gephardt (D-MO) said “The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students.”  The Democrat was Right.  (Distinct sound of more of John’s acquaintances hitting the ground).   There were House Committees that wanted a complete explanation from the Department of Education to explain how its funds were used for the speech.   This committee was right.  The democrats were right. 

Rep.  Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo), chairwoman of the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Familieshsaid that it was “outrageous for the White House to start using precious dollars for campaigns” at a time when “we are struggling for every silly dime we can get”  to educate American Children.  The Democrat was right!

So, the dems are right on this one.  An American President should not be involved in making speechs to American schools.  In America we hold our schools apart from the church.  I believe we should hold them apart from the state as well.  Lets remember that there has never been a president elected by 100% of the American people.  Let’s hope there never will be one elected that way.  If it every happens we are truly and well cooked.  We have to remember also that in America we hold our children to be protected from the ravages of politics.  Yes, even something so seemingly innocuous as the POTUS saying work hard, study, graduate and the come work for the state.  Just kidding. 

So as we have seen in this post presidents have made speeches before to school kids.  They were rightfully opposed.  I was against Presidential speeches to captive school kids when the Bushes spoke, when Ronald Reagan spoke to school kids and I oppose it as President Obama is about to make the same mistake.

Here is something great for home schoolers or anyone else who decides to take their kids with them next Tuesday.  Get a picnic basket.  Fill the basket with loads of goodies.  Get good ham, good bread, chocolate, iced tea to put in the basket.  Then go somewhere beautiful and have a reading of the United States Consitution.  Then spend the rest of the day enjoying your most precious gifts; your children.

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