Basic Economics: A Fish Story

If you’re looking for an excellent book on basic economics, look no further. Peter Schiff’s How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes is an excellent addition to any respectable economics curriculum.

As I have written before, I was in my twenties before I asked the question, “What is money?” Today, I know it’s a question some people never ask.

I am a case of better late than never, I suppose.

The problem I came across was this: there are millions of bad books on economics and only a handful of good ones.

When you go looking, you can get everything from books on economic theory for the college student to books full of graphs and figures that set out to explain every acronym economists use.

Or you get a dumbed down version – for children, I suppose. (Please note: I am not here referring to The Tuttle Twins series, of which I have heard only good things. I intend to review those soon.)

And then of course, there are the ones that are just bad. And wrong. Libraries seem to love stocking them, though.

How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes is none of the above.

Written as a tale about an island where the first three inhabitants set about catching fish daily with their hands, it quickly grows to include and explain bigger concepts like productivity, capitalism, entrepreneurship, lending and, yes, even the GDP, which the economists like to prattle on about.

Basic Economics

Replete with comic pictures, it is a serious book that will give you (and your children!) a basic understanding of how money works, especially in the United States.

It also delves into issues like the trade deficit, relations with China, the housing boom and bust, the role of the Federal Reserve and what we need to do to move forward well.

Even though it is a little dated, (it was written in 2010) the book is priceless for understanding economics.

I intend to add this to my children’s economics curriculum in a few years. While the child’s maturity definitely matters, I wouldn’t have them read it before they are well into the logic stage.

A great addition to your home library!

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A Little Pressure Isn’t a Bad Thing

I recently shared that my daughter cries during math. In case you’re wondering, we’re talking low level, basic elementary math. If you’ve read my book The Classical Unschooleryou already know that we do not use a curriculum. We simple learn basic math functions and drill math facts with flash cards.

I know this is the point at which some people lose me. In fact, I’ve been spoken to more than once about the matter – my friends who follow the classical model do not understand or respect unschooling and those of you whom I know to be unschoolers don’t like the drills or memorization. Both camps are entirely convinced that their side is right and education should be done their way.

However, I insist that you’re both right if that is what works for your family

Here’s what works for us: mostly interest driven reading and activities and some rote learning that can be recalled at ease. That’s classical unschooling.

In the Middle

Sometimes, I feel like the middle child in all these education debates. The older sibling roars and the younger one cries and the middle one has to get along with both. Or as a friend once succinctly put it, “We in the middle get shot from both sides.”

There are those homeschoolers who think that anything that offends their children must be removed from the curriculum. Anything that makes them cry isn’t good – they should not be pushed to do anything they don’t want to do. So the idea of crying – at flashcards, of all things – seems preposterous. Why in the world would I choose that?

And then there are those homeschoolers who like rigor. They like schedules. They want their children at the table, pencils sharpened, hair and teeth brushed at nine a.m. sharp. They finish the curriculum before they take a break and they never, ever veer off their time tables.

The second group insists that discipline is paramount and life isn’t walk through a park, so the kids might as well get used to it. The first group insists that actually, life should be a walk through the park and why bother memorizing so much and torturing yourself when it’s all on the internet anyway?

Because…

Because a little pressure isn’t a bad thing. It gives us opportunities to grow not just our knowledge but those rudimentary skills by which we acquire it.

Because it forces our brains to make connections and use them in other situations.

Because when I’m teaching math, I’m not just teaching math facts. I’m teaching my children how to deal with challenges.

Because we like to share worlds together and talk about things like current affairs and history and we can’t have good conversations without them knowing something about it.

A little pressure isn’t a bad thing because our homeschool is about equal amounts of curriculum and character.

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Everything is Not a Commentary (How Not to Read a Book)

I’ve been thinking about perceptions lately. It takes me back to my literature classes in college. I remember being enamored by the idea of metaphor, by the idea that I was seeing something of the writer’s mind – something that wasn’t quite there on the paper, but something the author was perhaps hinting at.

It ruined me as a reader.

How Not to Read a Book

My husband and I are re-watching the series Vikings lately. It’s been quite the experience. For one, I am struck by how much more on the second viewing, I am beginning to see the characters as just themselves – fictional, with maybe some historical setting, but fictional – and less as representations of something else.

I think the reason many people get in arms about books lately is because they’ve been taught that everything represents something else. Everyone is a symbol, we’re told. What is the author really trying to say here?

Sorry, Freud, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Everything is Not a Symbol or a Commentary

I think it’s important I teach my children this as they read. Sometimes a story can just be a story.

I can be frustrated with Athelstan (fictional, remember) as a character in Vikings, for instance, as a mealy-mouthed priest caught in the crosshairs of his crisis of dual faith, worshiping both Odin and Christ. I can even be irritated at the fictional representation of King Ecbert (fictional – don’t forget!) for being enamored by pagan customs without making the leap into anger at the people who wrote the story to show Christianity as weak and powerless. (By the way, I write this as a Christian, in case anyone is wondering.)

That’s just an example off the top of my head, but there are countless others. Just consider this list of books banned worldwide. Consider that we are now scrubbing all politically incorrect messages out of literature. Consider that Sweden is now burning copies of Pippi Longstocking because she “broke too many rules.”

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Why?

Why all the uproar? Is it because we believe we think too much and therefore see deeper into the text and others see too little? As homeschoolers, at least, we should be above this. After all, the homeschoolers I know and respect are the ones least afraid of conversations with their children.

Stop shunning books because you’re afraid of the symbolism in them or what they represent. Instead, hate them or love them for what they are. 

Everything is not a metaphor.

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Two Books for Homeschooling Inspiration

I don’t know about you, but I take motivation and inspiration like I drink coffee. Not only do I need it, I want lots of it throughout the day.

I’m always looking for good books to inspire me.

I find that, as someone who hopes to instill inspiration and creativity in my children through homeschooling, my own supply should never run dry. So I’m always scouring book stores and libraries, hoping for a new perspective.

In that, the two books Peaks and Valleys and Ego is the Enemy did not disappoint.

In Peaks and Valleys, the author tells a story of a man who lived in a valley and wanted to live on a peak. He travels to the peak and meets another man who does live there and learns invaluable lessons from him.

It’s a simple premise, but its very mundane nature makes it a great metaphor for everything in life, including homeschooling.

Consider this quote as an example:

Avoid believing things are better than they are when you are on a peak,

Or worse than they are when you are in the valley.

Make reality your friend.

How many times in my day do I make things worse because I can’t put it into perspective? Long form division, anyone? Reading?

Interestingly enough, making reality your friend is reiterated in Ryan Holiday’s book Ego is the Enemy as well.

Influenced by Stoic writers but drawing inspiration from Classical writers and current day characters, Holiday makes a great case for the proper perspective.

Living clearly and presently takes courage. Don’t live in the haze of the abstract, live with the tangible and real, even if—especially if—it’s uncomfortable. Be part of what’s going on around you. Feast on it, adjust for it. There’s no one to perform for. There is just work to be done and lessons to be learned, in all that is around us.

Sounds like homeschooling to me.

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Gaming is for…. Moms?

I recently came across a fascinating book by Jane McGonigal called Reality is BrokenIf you haven’t read it or have qualms about video games and their ability to help us, I urge you to read at least the first 100 pages of the book.

In the book, McGonigal discusses why video games have such a wide appeal and why – instead of shunning or fearing their impact – we should embrace them. She explores how we can use them to even give incentives to people to do chores, be kinder, crowdsource new inventions and even better medical technology.

But all that aside, what caught my eye most was her assertion that it is housewives (and by extension, I would add stay at home moms) that need games the most. By games here, she is not referring to video games per se, although those could be part of it if explicitly chosen.

It reminded me of an earlier blog post I had written about the real reason moms don’t manage their time well. It made perfect sense.

Reality can be repetitive and frankly boring. But if we were to turn it into a game somehow, could we achieve what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi referred to as “flow”: a state in which people are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity which involves their creative abilities. During this “optimal experience,” he said, they feel “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.”

He noted that it was especially important for children and housewives.

Alienated children in the suburbs and bored housewives need to experience flow. If they cannot get it, they will find substitutes in the form of escape. – Csikszentmihalyi

Unfortunately, he said this in 1975 and no one was paying attention. And today, we have Facebook, which I love but find sometimes depressing and frustrating. Definitely not flow inducing.

And so begins my hunt for a game for me – as a mom, as a homeschooler, as someone who is home with the kids all day. I’ll keep you updated.

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More on The Four Tendencies

This is part 2 of 2 in the series about The Four Tendencies. You can find part 1 here.

I’ve been reading The Republic and I’m beginning to think Socrates was a Questioner. And it gives me some insight into why he was finally given the option to be banished or executed.

Questioners are difficult creatures to live with.

I say the above a little tongue in cheek. Because so are Rebels. And Upholders – and don’t forget the Obligers.

In my last blog post about the four tendencies, I mentioned that I realized I was a Rebel. Knowing this one small detail has made my life easier than I ever imagined.

Your Child Has a Dominant Tendency and So Do You

Knowing my children’s dominant personality has helped us resolve conflicts that were otherwise springing up seemingly out of nowhere.

For instance, my daughter who is an Upholder tends to remember every small thing I said and hold me accountable for it.

Since she tends to meet outer and inner expectations herself, I have no problems with her getting her schoolwork done on time. She’s an A student all the way.

What I have trouble with is getting her to do something different. 

As a Rebel, her desire for Upholder stability bothers me incessantly. I imagine my constant Rebel desire to change it up annoys her as well.

I have learned therefore that the same things that make up her strengths also create her weaknesses. It’s just her dominant tendency. It’s best to work with it.

My son is a Questioner. I can’t just give him work and expect it to get done.

My husband and I were constantly struck by his seeming apathy. Except it wasn’t that. He just didn’t see the reason to do something.

So for him our strategy has to do with giving him clear motivation and reinforcement. Without a clear reward or punishment, he has no reason to act.

It’s not all bad, though. Being a Questioner makes him more likely to be self motivated when he wants to learn something. And because he is curious, he gets obsessed with things and finds out about them on his own.

Managing a Rebel Tendency

In my last post, I mentioned how motivations that worked for others had the opposite effect on me. The very things that others used as tools to get things done actually demotivated me.

Signing up in advance for 5K runs, getting a gym buddy, getting a trainer… these were driven by accountability and others’ expectations that would work for Obligers, but not for a Rebel.

For me to do something and to have the continued energy and motivation to do something, I had to believe I was going against the grain. Spontaneous workouts, runs while the children played in the park and weights like kettlebells and dumbells on our back patio worked much better.

Also, I had to believe I was eating right with a steady stream of research because lack of results made me abandon ventures. Eventually, I got it right.

Rebel tendencies have some great strengths, if they’re used right. I finally figured out how to work with myself and ended much of my frustration.

So, knowing this, what is your dominant tendency? And how do you work with it?

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Competition, Public School and Boys

Many who homeschool today will readily admit that they do so because they know public school is not an option for their family. It is not an option because they have mostly boys.

There are myriad reasons why this is so. To include a few of them would be to go over articles about canceling recess, making children sit still and the increased prescription of ADHD drugs.

But another reason public school is harder on boys has to do with competition and its effect on boys.

The Nature of Competition

According to Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, authors of Top Dog, the hypercompetitiveness present in public schools is especially harmful to boys.

Girls do not react in the same way.

Most competitions are held over a defined period of time – 60 minutes of football. When the contest is over, competitors can relax, leave it behind and separate themselves from how well they did in the game. In schools this isn’t the case. The competition for good grades is endless, the comparisons never cease. It’s not just a game – it’s their life, with real outcomes. To lose in a game is something men can rebound from. But to be losing in life, day in and day out, gets to them. They can’t escape it.

The authors – who also wrote Nurture Shock – spend much time explaining the difference between how girls and boys react to the competition in schools. And while they are referring to elite schools in this specific chapter, the same goes for classrooms in general. According to Bronson and Merryman, females in general tend to do better in what they call “infinite games” and males in “finite games.”

Finite games have a beginning, and end, and the goal of winning. Between games, there is recuperation and restoration. Infinite games, by definition, can beer end, and, since no winner is ever declared, the goal instead is to just stay ahead. With infinite games, there is no rest – only a waxing and waning of competitive intensity.

A worthy read.

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Don’t Finish What You Start

Some people love making rules. The more rules the better, they think. I mean, haven’t we heard the adage, “Discipline is freedom?” Only in total discipline, in not making minute by minute decisions can you experience complete freedom, right?

Weeelll…. sort of.

If you’re the kind of person who does well with firm boundaries and enjoys having people depend on you, yes. The majority people fall into this group.

However, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like unnecessary rules, the idea of discipline being freedom will start to feel like a prison of your own making.

Consider something simple: reading a book. What if I asked you why we insist we finish one?

Well, well, because you finish what you start! you would reply.

And therein lies the rub.

Who made that rule?

I have written before about teaching children to quit. I think it’s important, if only for the reason that they ask themselves why.

Why, oh why, as adults, do we think it’s a failure to quit reading a book? It’s a book. Choosing to stop reading it because it’s become boring is not a test of your morality or your worth.

As I homeschool, I am painfully aware of rules. I am responsible for making good rules for my children to follow. But just as I make them, I begin to realize, I have to know when and if to break them. Sometimes, my daughter quips up about something I said years ago that inadvertently got turned into a law.

And I have to remind her that there are only ten commandments.

Don’t Finish What You Start

I understand the appeal of creating rules for oneself. I do it, too. It’s like a game you play with yourself. A budget is a rule, for example, that carries a lot of freedom with itself. A template to follow for homeschooling, a schedule is another one.

But if we’re not careful, this rule-making can get addictive. Like a bloated government – which we are as parents within a family, sorry to break it to you – we never relinquish control or power.

The more insidious side of it is when that power comes back to bite us in the behind. Exhibit one: finish what you start. Finish that book, that curriculum, that task, that program, that garden, that (insert whatever you feel guilty about quitting) long after its worth is diminished, its value lost.

You don’t need to, you know. You can stop at any time. Without guilt. Things outlive their worth. That’s how we distinguish what’s valuable and what’s merely nice.

You have finite time. Don’t waste it fulfilling unnecessary rules.

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Latin for Self Directed Learners

Indulge me for a moment. I’m having a Latin moment.

I know, I know. I mentioned in my book The Classical Unschooler that I would never teach my children Latin.

And I want you to know that, true to my word, I’m doing nothing of the sort. I have no intention of teaching them the language.

Instead, it’s me I want to teach Latin.

So if you’re like me and you’re interested in learning to speak and read Latin, I encourage you to join me.

I have found a completely free resource online called Linney’s Latin Class.

The best thing about this class is that it is completely free. The creator of the class insists that he is not a professional teacher and just happens to love the language.

He takes you step by step through 73 lessons using The First Year of Latin as a textbook. This is an open domain book, but you can also get a print copy of it.

To make the entry into his lectures easier, William Linney has written a beginner’s guide called Getting Started With Latin

As someone with no background in the language, I can say this is an indispensable resource for me. It is self-paced and something I can do by myself at home.

In my book, I mentioned that I love unschoolers because they have not forgotten that they are learning as well.

It also constantly amazes me how much my children pick up just by being around me when I’m learning or listening to something. That’s why I make it a point that I watch as many history documentaries as possible.

More than anything else, I’d love for my children to learn that if you’re interested and curious, you can learn anything.

The resources are out there. Find and use them!

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The Four Tendencies (And How Knowing Them Can Benefit You)

(Part 1 of 2 on The Four Tendencies)

I had the brilliant idea one day to sign up for some 5ks a year in advance. Here’s the thing: I like running. What better way to motivate myself to run, right?

Wrong. It didn’t work.

After years of trying to figure out why the strategies that worked for other people did not work for me, I realized the answer: my tendency is that of a rebel.

The Four Tendencies

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should take this short quiz and then make it a point to pick up Gretchen Rubin’s book The Four Tendencies. 

I have mentioned her before in another blog post about knowing your personality. That book, Better Than Beforewas incredibly helpful to me because it was the first time I came across the idea that I was one of those people who had trouble meeting internal expectations as well as external ones.

Apparently, the Rebel personality has this problem. And although it is the most rare tendency, I suspect that as a homeschooler you might be a bit of a rebel.

Know Yourself & Your Kids

The problem with the Rebel personality is that even though you want something, unless you frame it in your mind in the right way, it quickly becomes something you resist.

So as a Rebel, even if I chose homeschooling as the best choice, I can find myself resisting it. Unless… unless it’s part of my identity and personally meaningful to me every single day.

Apparently, Rebel personalities make up a large chunk of any group that see themselves as fighting the norm, so homeschoolers definitely fit the bill.

Reading the book not just helped me identify strategies to overcome my own problems, but also learn how to frame education and expectations from my children. I learned that my oldest is an Upholder, my middle one is a Questioner and the youngest is… well, a little too young to tell. For now.

Highly recommended reading! Oh, and in terms of running, I figured my way around that issue – more on that in part 2.

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