Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Completely Pointless and Blasphemous Post

My kid says the most random things.

I was sneezing, and I said, "I'd give about anything to stop sneezing."

Harmony, age seven, mutters something about Jesus.

Thinking that maybe she'd said I should ask Jesus, or something like that, I asked her to repeat herself.

She said, "I said that I wished Jesus was dead so we'd have lots of money."

I was confused, understandably, and didn't even know what part of that to address- whether Jesus exists, whether she knows he already died, what she thinks his death means, or where the money comes in.

After a moment's thought, I asked her about the money. "How would Jesus being dead make us have money?"

She said, "Because, I'd go through his pockets for loose change."

Oh. Well, okay then.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

You were wrong! I can grow things!

Have you ever heard the term 'gaslighting'? I hadn't, until recently.

It's a scary idea. It's the thing where someone, usually an emotionally abusive spouse, makes someone else feel stupid or crazy by playing little tricks on them. Generally the idea is to gain more control by convincing the fooled partner that since he or she is stupid and crazy, the correct thing to do would be to defer to the other party's judgment in matters.

I guess there was a movie by the same name, and that's when the word caught on. I never saw the movie.

A little while back, though, I saw the word in a discussion online, and looked it up, and was horrified.

And I thought of a cute little garden in the corner of a house.

Because one time, about eight or ten years ago, I decided to plant a garden for the first time.

I mean, I had never planted anything before, really.

And the house where I was living had this funny little inside-out corner- that is to say, a place where a corner was outside. And my ex, my then-partner, though I hesitate to use the word 'partner' as we were really far from partners in anything, said it would be a great place for a garden, that maybe I'd feel better if I had a neat little hobby like growing some flowers, maybe it would snap me out of my depression and make me feel better about myself.

I jumped on the idea.

He built a fence, just a little maybe 18-inch high fence that was semi-circular from one point of the corner to the other.

And I looked at the space, and saw, instead of a triangle or a square, a quarter-circle in the space, and thought it would be really pretty to make the flowers come out in rays from the center, instead of plain rows.

So I bought seeds and started planting, and he laughed at me. Flowers go in rows. Don't you know how to plant a garden? These will never grow that way. You're not going to grow anything like that. And so on.

Well, now, all logic dictates that flowers do not care whether they are in rows or rays or spell out initials or whatever- they grow if they have the right climate, light, and water, not if they're put in proper orderly rows.

So I didn't listen, but I did worry. What if my flowers didn't grow?

And they didn't. Nothing grew.

I went and bought flowers. Seedlings in flats, instead of seeds.

I put them in the ground. I watered them. My ex told me they wouldn't live like that. Flowers grow in rows.

They all died.

And when I read the term 'gaslighting' that's what I thought of. Him asking if I'd watered the garden yet today. Him commenting, "What's going on with your garden? Looks like the flowers are all dying." And looking at the garden, the dying space, and realizing he was right. I couldn't make things grow. I was too dumb to make things grow.

I have never tried to plant anything since. I accepted that I have two very brown thumbs and cannot make things grow. Until I read that word. Gaslighting. And I had these mental images of someone maybe pouring salt water on ground, or spraying weed killer on growing plants, or some other form of sabotage. I don't know that he did anything like that, only that he could've and that I would never have known....and that he was so smug about being right. Heck, maybe I watered them wrong. Maybe the ground wasn't good. Maybe they didn't get enough sun in that corner. But I do know he could have, and that it wouldn't surprise me any.

So, shortly after learning of the word, and the phenomena, of gaslighting, I bought some seeds and put them in the ground. Vegetables this time, not flowers.

And right now, less than two weeks later, I do not have any vegetables.

But I do have sprouts. They are sprouting. I have sprouts that can grow into spinach, and ones that can grow into zucchini, and ones that can grow into butternut squash. I don't have any that can grow into carrots or cherry tomatoes yet. But the thing is, two weeks ago, I didn't feel confident that I'd have any. I still thought maybe I just can't grow things, maybe I'm just broken, just stupid and crazy and can't make plants grow.

Yesterday when I saw the first three or four sprouts, I wanted to fall down in the dirt and cry from pure joy.

So there you are, dude. Once again, you're wrong. I'm not stupid or crazy. I can make plants grow. I can grow things. I'm not too dumb to turn seeds into plants. You are wrong, as well as being mean, manipulative, and hateful. You are wrong, and I am capable.


I mentioned yesterday that my son is studying the origins of the moon.

I had Cayman read the three theories offered by his non-science book, and the same book's dismissals of them all as obvious nonsense, and the final conclusion that only the Biblical account, a literal interpretation, could be correct, since all the silly guesses science made were wrong.

Today, I had him read another view: this article from the Planetary Science Institute.

I wanted him to reach a few conclusions.

1. Information on Giant Impact Theory was deliberately left out by the authors of his textbook.
2. The PSI article offered information about publication and peer review, gave supporting evidence, and gave sources so that an interested party could do more research; his textbook failed to do so.
3. Not all published claims are true. Sometimes information given is, intentionally or otherwise, misleading, and you need to consider what evidence is given, whether you trust the source(s), and whether you are missing information.

Well, I helped him a little- I hinted that he should check the date of his textbook, and reminded him to pay attention to dates as he read the PSI article. He said, "This was already around when they wrote my book! They just didn't put it in because it would've made it sound like science might be right!"

I asked him specifically about sources, peer review, and publication. He said that his book only gave 'these are silly, so science must be wrong', and that the PSI article told about researchers who had worked on the idea, and where they had published it, and how they had come to the conclusion.

Then he got up and wandered off into the kitchen, and changed the subject a little. He wanted to know how books like this textbook could even be published. He was really shocked at the idea that basically anything written down can be published- there's no requirement for it to be true. And you know, that's what our kids go to school thinking. If it's in my textbook, it must be true. If my teacher says it, it must be true. They wouldn't teach us lies, misinform us, or even accidentally be wrong. I remember an argument with my own mom, when she and my science teacher disagreed on something, and I remember yelling at her that  Ms. Manning was the one who was right, "...because she is a SCIENTIST!" I don't remember the topic, and maybe Ms. Manning was right. Maybe she wasn't. Either way, I had the wrong reason for believing her view over my mom's. Instead of 'because she showed us evidence' or 'because there are a lot of scientists working on this, and they haven't been able to prove it so far' or 'because it's the view that makes the most sense', my reason was basically that Ms. Manning was my science teacher, therefore she was right, and what she said was right, and that was that. I've been trying hard to teach my kids that this isn't the case. You have a good teacher, her intentions are good, she always teaches you what she believes is right, but she is human, just like you and I, and so she's capable of making mistakes too. And when she does, it doesn't mean you stop listening to her, it means you accept that all people make mistakes, and you move on to the next thing. It's really hard for kids. Teachers are such absolute authority figures, they just have a hard time believing one can be wrong.

So yeah, I was really pleased that he seemed to get the lesson that sometimes a source that looks like it should be trustworthy isn't.

But then, then came the part that has me absolutely giddy.

He said, "Let's check NASA, mom, and see what they have to say about the matter."

He didn't just accept PSI's information either, even though we had discussed reasons that it was more trustworthy than the textbook. Instead, he thought, on his own, without prompting, of a source that he already knew he trusted on the subject matter, and he asked to check with them.

NASA's website, of course, confirmed PSI's information, mentioning the same scientists, same conferences, same publications, and much the same supporting evidence. We didn't read all NASA had to offer- it was long, and he was getting antsy- but he skimmed it, and pointed things out- "Mom, that's the same scientist from the other article!" "Oh, look, this is the computer simulation of how it could've happened!" and so on.

I don't expect every lesson to be as exciting and as rewarding as this one, but this majorly perks me up about the prospects of teaching these kids myself.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Some of you may be aware I've pulled my 9yo son out of the public school and am homeschooling him for the rest of this year. I could put up a pretty major rant about that, but I'll save it for a day when I'm bored and have nothing better to write about- or for if the situation that led to the decision isn't rectified.

Today, I want to talk about homeschooling my son, and about schooling information and textbooks that are out there. 

We picked this for our science book. (And yes, I forgot to crop the scanned edges out. Oops.)


 Right now, most people reading this are confused. Some of you are thinking, "Wait, Christian schools? Why would she buy that?" Some are thinking, "I'd never expose my kids to that crap. She's crazy." Some are thinking, "Oh boy, Steph found some more Christianity to mock. She is such an asshole atheist, she sure loves to make fun of other people's beliefs."

So okay, let me clarify:
#1. Yes, I'm an atheist. No, I'm not raising my child with Christian beliefs.
#2. I know you wouldn't. Mine are exposed to it every day, and I choose to arm them against it by showing them what they're up against.
#3. This book is, I hope, not representative of Christianity. It's representative of an extreme, anti-science, anti-reality subset of Christianity. A dangerous group. And yes, it is worthy of much mockery, but we didn't buy it for mockery- at least not mostly. We bought it because I thought reading a mix of false claims and truths, and learning to differentiate between the two, would be as valuable to my son as the science itself.

Now, you may have seen some of this book's content floating around the internet- if you've seen the picture of the little girl blow-drying her hair, and the text underneath describing how we don't know where electricity comes from, that's this book. So, for the purpose of reading claims and evaluating them for viability, I knew this book would be a great choice.

Today, we started with the first lesson, and I was not disappointed.

 Can you read that? In the left column, we're told that this first lesson is our opportunity to teach our kids that science is limited, and that what people believe about the origins of the earth, the moon, the solar system, and life, must be based on faith alone, not science.

The student text page, in the top right corner, explains that science can't teach us about the moon's origins, because science can deal only with what is observed by the senses, and no one was around to observe the moon's creation.

The lesson goes on to describe some of science's theories ('guesses') about the origins of the moon, and what creationists know- that the moon was made by God, just like He wrote in His book, the Bible.

We're directed to do a lesson by making 'break-away bread' (which I've only ever known before as 'monkey bread') and asking our kid to make observations with his senses- it is sticky, smells like cinnamon, is sweet, soft, gooey, etc.

Then we are to ask him what the ingredients were in the refrigerated biscuits used in the bread. (If you don't know, monkey bread is basically made by cutting packaged biscuits into quarters, dipping them in butter, sugar, and cinnamon, piling all the quarters into a bundt pan, and baking. The pieces pull apart easily and it is delicious, especially if you frost it with an icing made from milk and powdered sugar.)

Obviously, the kid is flummoxed. How would he know what goes into canned biscuits? So you go get the can and you let him read the ingredients, and he learns that if he trusts the company, trusts whoever wrote those ingredients, he can learn the origins of the biscuits by reading the can. If he has faith in the creator, then he may trust the creator's word about where biscuits come from. And he can learn about the moon in the same way, obviously- by reading the original account written by the Creator Himself.

This is the last page of the lesson plan, with (some of) the discussion questions. (Since this is the teacher's edition, the answers are listed in parenthesis.)

Note the excellent lessons here: no one knows any science about the origins of the moon, no one could know about the origins except someone who observed its creation, or its Creator Himself. And there were no observers, so the only way to know is to read the Bible.

Also, Evolution Theory is man's idea about how things might have begun by themselves. (It is not. The theory of evolution by natural selection is specifically a model of how life changed, from first organisms to current life forms, and specifically humans. It does not touch on the beginnings of the earth, nor does it guess how that first living organism came to be. There are other theories to cover those.)

Furthermore, teach your child that a theory is just an opinion. It is not. A hypothesis is a guess, a theory, in science, is a set of explanations for something, that have been thoroughly tested and are supported by the evidence.

So, onto our version of the lesson, and the bragging.

We read everything the pages offered. My son offered corrections frequently. He disagreed that science couldn't teach us about something unless we observed it happening. We discussed how else a person might figure out the ingredients of the canned biscuits, besides reading the package. He didn't know. I asked him if he knew anyone else who might be able to make a good guess about the biscuit ingredients, and he lit up. Justin! Justin would be able to! I asked him why, and he said because Justin is a cook, and so Justin knows about the things that go into biscuits. What if we were eating a cake, instead? Could my son tell me the ingredients? No, but Justin could probably even tell us what ingredients we used wrong, if the cake came out badly. Sometimes he might make a wrong guess, because maybe I used unusual ingredients- maybe I tried that thing where you substitute mayonnaise for eggs, or something- but he could make a good educated guess, and could further investigate to be sure he was right. So can science. Science doesn't just guess, it guesses and tests. Science says, gee, if this guess was right, then these things would all be true, let's test if these things are true, and then we can either test some more stuff, or discard this guess. And then, science only calls a guess a 'theory' after it's done a lot of that testing, and all the evidence points to the guess being true. We talked about the differences between guesses and theories- or 'theory' in common use and 'theory' in scientific use.

The most important thing here is that my son was able to evaluate claims for himself, and tell me where he saw flaws. This is the main thing I hope he will continue to get as we go through this book.