Possibilities and Homeschooling

I’ve been planning to create a blog post as an introduction to Economics in the same vein as my post on Philosophy. Unfortunately, all I’ve been finding are exceptionally bad books on economics.

There was one recent exception, though. It was Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. Serendipitously, the next book I read was Why Haven’t You Read This Book? edited by Isaac Morehouse.

… and, of course, those two books reminded me of homeschooling.

Let me explain. Both the books mentioned dealt with something that has not come into existence yet. Both books argued not just for possibilities but against the loss of that elusive opportunity cost

How often – the two books argued – do we spend time thinking “what if?” How many times do we consider possibilities?

As regards homeschooling, how often do we plan curricula, play dates, reading material, field trips? So often it boggles the mind! I mean, homeschooling sometimes seems like nothing if not an endless succession of planning.

And yet, how many times do we stop to think about opportunity cost?

How often do we stop and consider the possibilities we might be giving up if we don’t (or do!) follow this specific path, go on this field trip, pick this curriculum, this class, this way of teaching?

In Economics in One LessonHazlitt says that people only see what’s in front of their eyes. Bad monetary policies are implemented because people see the immediate effects of said implementation. What is much harder to gauge are the ripple effects of these laws. What is even harder to perceive is the possibility that same money would have had if it had not been funneled in a certain direction. The effect of an entire community getting poorer is not always obvious.

“The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.” – Hazlitt

Why Haven’t You Read This Book also takes the reader on a similar trajectory when it comes to considering possibilities. The book has multiple authors who have argued “Why not?” and written their experiences with conquering that question. Why not travel the world? one asks. Why not audition for American Idol? asks another. And why not drop out of school?

The opportunities we are presented with when homeschooling are our biggest strengths. But we have to be willing to look at them critically in the light of all they represent.

When we shift to auto-pilot, we lose the freedom we so desperately craved before we became homeschoolers.

We have to be willing to trace the consequences of what we undertake, see the opportunity costs and the possibilities as well as what’s staring us in the face.

We have to be willing to ask ourselves, “Why not?”
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Don’t Judge Homeschooling By Summer Break

It’s that time of year again. Summer break is here.

As of now, if you’re a public school parent, you are looking forward to spending more time with your children, finishing up the last of the work for the school year and packing for or planning getaways.

That won’t be the case in another two to three weeks.

First you will groan about how the kids want to play on their electronic devices all day. Then there will be attempts to get around that. Then there will be some complaining on social media that the kids are bored. Then, that you are tired. Finally, there will be an all out countdown to the beginning of the school year.

And based on this, there will that inevitable question voiced thus:

How in the world do you homeschool and have your kids at home ALL DAY EVERY DAY? I was ready for them to go back to school in less than a month! I could NEVER homeschool my kids!” 

But, but, wait… hold your horses! Homeschooling is nothing – nothing at all – like summer break.

Let me explain why you shouldn’t judge your ability to homeschool based on your summer break or the way your child behaves during this time.  

Summer Break is not Representative

Here’s the thing to remember most: summer break is artificial. It is an interruption. Whether it began as a time for people to be able to work on their farms or as a reason for people to leave town is immaterial to today’s world. Today, it is mainly a pause, a time to relax, have some downtime, recover and get ready to get back to school.

Many homeschoolers do not take summers off. They take breaks around their schedule, when they take vacations, when they get sick, or when they need to. But we do not have a designated twelve weeks off because, frankly, that’s too long.

Twelve weeks are too long to learn nothing, do nothing and think you’re going to be sane. I don’t care how hard you’ve worked or how much you think you need a vacation – human beings are simply not made to be idle for so long.

So instead of summer breaks, homeschoolers tend to incorporate learning year round. As a result our learning is much more relaxed throughout. There is no need to rush and get it all done in nine months when there are twelve in the calendar year.

Too Much, Too Much

There is far too much going on in the summers. Think about it. You have a vacation planned, there are probably cousins coming from somewhere. There are weddings planned and camping trips and swimming lessons and dance classes and oh-goodness-knows-what-else.

With a packed calendar, there is hardly any time to relax! Add to that the fact that everyone is clearly expected to be having fun, fun, fun all the time. Frankly, it’s exhausting.

Homeschoolers often insist that children be bored sometimes. Entertainment need not be offered; it can be created. But organic play of the sort I’m talking about does not come about by packing calendars full. It comes from being left alone. This sort of “boredom” is inevitable when homeschooling is done right.

Yes, Our Kids Annoy Us Too

Children are annoying. Yes, they’re difficult. They can make you want to tear your hair out even when you love them and would lay down your life for them. Homeschoolers are not saints, in the common use of the term.

We get tired, too. We get angry. But here’s the thing: we recognize that the solution is not packing them off to a place where there is no autonomy for them and no authority for us.

Instead, homeschooling allows us to find ways to remain parents and find ways to give our children the tools to become adults at their pace in an environment that supports both without being overwhelming. We consider our flaws, our strengths, their flaws and strengths and work together.

Are there hiccups? Sure. Do we fail? Of course.

But without an entire bloated administrative system watching our every move, confusing matters with unnecessary studies and tests and failed ideologies, our failures are small and quick and can be worked through swiftly.

Homeschooling, in other words, is the complete antithesis of summer break.

So if you’re considering homeschooling this coming year, don’t just “try it out” this summer break and keep all other things equal. Truly consider forging your own path. Do your research – here’s an entire summer’s worth of reading for you, spend time deschooling yourself and your children, talk to other homeschoolers, browse this blog.

And above all, remember that summer break tells you absolutely nothing about what homeschooling is really like.

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Teaching Children to Think

If you have read my book The Classical Unschooleror if you simply follow the classical system, you know about the logic stage.

The Logic Stage

The logic stage typically comes after the grammar stage. We spend much time in the grammar stage. We memorize facts and details, partially because my kids love to do so. They ask lots of questions and they love learning what I would call trivia.

In the grammar stage, they set about learning a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but there is no coherent whole. They are not putting their world together yet. For the unschoolers here, strewing as a strategy works extremely well in the grammar stage.

The logic stage is reached when the children are ready to put things together and their questions increasingly revolve around why or how instead of what. (I should note that this can happen at different times in different areas and reaching the logic stage in one area doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready for it in another as is usually done in grade schools.)

The Frustration with the Logic Stage

Sometimes, I get frustrated while I wait for the logic stage. Isn’t there a way I can speed things along, I ask myself. Well, no, unfortunately. However, there are things I can do to make my time waiting for them to get to it more productive.

Here are three easy to do, practical suggestions:

If-then thinking

If-then thinking is an excellent way to hone thinking skills in general. We use this technique quite a bit with my middle son. Of the three children, my middle one is the most distractable. He learns easily and is math-minded, if you will, but he is prone to dropping a lot of things and generally making bigger messes than the other children.

My daughter – just a year older than him is the tidy one. Because she is so eager to please, her mind seems naturally bent to if-then thinking, even if the ultimate aim of it might not be what we want to encourage.

However, we have started to ask the middle kid to think through his actions. They can be simple like, “What would happen if I place the glass of milk here near my elbow as opposed to over there?”

It can take a while, but if-then thinking is a good place to start.

Humor

Laughing at a joke that is not slapstick requires much brain activity and it does require the putting together of two disparate things, seeing what does not logically follow and then laughing at it. It is a higher order of thinking.

So while you might find those knock-knock jokes annoying, there is a good reason to let your kids read them and share them. Riddles do the same thing. We have many books of riddles in the car for reading and sharing during drives. The kids love them.

Reading aloud

It is quite well known that reading aloud is great for language development so we tend to fixate on books with good language. Many even exclude modern books and pick up classics. And while there’s clearly nothing wrong with this approach, we tend to miss out on one thing: logic.

If you pick a book with great plot lines, it is fascinating to sit back back and watch the children put them together. It’s like being able to get a glimpse of their neurons firing in their brains. We have been reading the Harry Potter series and J.K.Rowling is a master plotter. It has been a lot of fun following the various threads being pulled together in the books. And I love it when the children see something coming that I don’t.

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The 3 Biggest Myths of Homeschooling

There are some homeschooling myths out there that won’t go away no matter how many times they are refuted. These myths are not, mind you, as simple as the socialization myth. Much has already been said and written about that one already – perhaps enough to make naysayers think at least a little before mentioning it.

No, these more subtle, insidious myths have more to do with the parents than the children. They are about the burden, the difficulty, rather, the impracticality of educating one’s own children.

These three myths speak to the fear, if you will, of “striking out on one’s own” as an homeschooler.

The Myth of Being Driven

I have mentioned before that when I tell someone we’re homeschooling, I receive either incredulity or outright admiration.

“You must be incredibly driven! And organized!” I’ve heard more than once as I’m propped up on a pedestal. I will admit to being more organized than most, but that is not a prerequisite for homeschooling.

However, I am not incredibly driven. I do not wake up every morning and repeat affirmations about memory work in front of my mirror. I am not determined to raise rock stars of math, spelling and grammar. There are days when I get bored, days that are frustrating, days that we literally dump the books. There are as many tears as there are smiles.

But you know what? That’s the nature of life!

I cook dinner every night, too. If I burn it one night, I don’t go running into the arms of the state to give my family food. We make do. It’s the same with homeschooling as it is with the rest of life – you do what you can with what you have where you are. And that’s it.

The Myth of Being a Recluse

People like to believe that homeschooling students are this little odd group that stays home and memorizes Bible verses everyday.

And the homeschooling mom, oh, don’t get me started on the mom. She must be this larger than life figure that has it all under control, right? The Homeschooling Mom attends homeschooling conventions, puts together a curriculum, makes her list, checks it twice, ensures the kids are doing the work they’re supposed to every single day, keeps the home running smoothly at all times.

She must have two heads, right? And ten arms? Or, at the very least, she must be waking up at 4 in the morning and going to bed past midnight. She must be burnt out.

Um, wait a sec. You just described Elon Musk. (Without the two heads and ten arms part. As far as I know.) And none of the homeschooling moms I know – not one – fits this description.

As far as me? I spend one – count it – one hour ensuring my children are doing what I’ve asked them to do. I do put together our own curriculum but that’s because I enjoy it. It’s not work for me, it’s play. There’s no rule in the world that says you have to do it this way. In fact, the best thing about homeschooling (or unschooling) today is that you can make up your own rules as you go!

Homeschoolers truly are not alone. The majority are not reclusive.

While I firmly believe families should be left alone to make decisions for themselves, this does not bar them from getting together with other families who believe what they do in order to get a fuller, richer experience. This includes forming co-ops, homeschool associations, meet up groups, play groups, various classes, the list goes on. So while you make the decision alone – as you should – you do not take the journey alone.

The idea that you have to choose between being reclusive or associating with an agent of the state who will wrest control from your hands from over your own children is ludicrous enough to be laughable.

The Myth of Having to Know it All to Teach

Also, here’s another news flash, which is not news to most homeschoolers, I assure you. Your children are learning anyway. It is in their very nature to learn. How they learn is not as important as what they learn.

You do not need to imitate public schools, not in their nature, their teaching methods, their times, their agendas or even their curriculum. Oh, and you don’t need their help. You don’t need them to give you a time table on which you can proceed to “let” your child grow.

Are you really that concerned with when exactly the child needs to learn about the continents and the second law of thermodynamics and figure out what x and y stand for that you’re willing to be dictated to by an agent of the state in your own home? Really?

Because, you know what, my four year old can put all fifty states in their proper places on a map of the United States. He can’t name them all perfectly, but he knows where they go. How is this? He learned it with an app! My seven year old knows the laws of thermodynamics. He perhaps can’t apply them yet, because he’s still in the grammar stage of learning, but he knows them. How is this possible when the state isn’t supervising our every move telling us when to do what? How? Is it possible that *gasp* children learn and thrive under that one word we seem to have forgotten – freedom? 

Children need a guide, not a funnel.

You do not need to become the repository of all knowledge. You do not need to have any esoteric understanding of how it is all put together.

Let me be the first to break it to you: there is no grand plan that public schools work toward.

There is nothing esoteric about what they do, nothing you are missing out on, nothing, in fact, that they can help you with. The moment you ask them for “help” in educating your children, you put yourself on an unequal footing. They have far more power in the relationship, even if they wield it behind a smiling face. And before anyone accuses me of fear, let me say that this isn’t about fear – it is about a healthy caution.

Clearly, I need another blog post about state agencies, but for now, to wrap it up, I’m just going to say this: if you’re considering homeschooling, think long and hard about what you believe about it, be brutal in tearing down any myths you might have inadvertently bought into and be assured that you – yes, you – can do this.

You can do this.

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Choose Conversation – Not Curriculum

The best thing about homeschooling is not being around my children all day, although that’s one of the very good things. The best thing about homeschooling is the conversation – the unique perspective I get from them and what I’m able to give them.

Homeschooling is nothing if not conversations.

A Random Important Conversation

Consider this. We were riding along one day headed to the grocery store when my son piped up from the back of our minivan:

“Mom, money comes from the President.”

“No, that’s not true,” I replied. “Can you think of how money is created?”

“In the mint?”

We had a fairly long conversation about money and value and how it’s created after that. After all, one of the things we try to do often is to connect money, value and work for the children from a very young age.

I knew it wouldn’t be the last.

Inviting Conversation

We leave room in our planning for conversation. Part of our car schooling strategy is to get out of the house once a week. When we are in the car, all we do is memorize. And leave a blank slate for conversations.

The most interesting questions come up.

“If the President changes, do all the laws change?”

“What are taxes?”

“How much money do we have?”

“What is a budget?”

“If we make something and sell it, the cheaper we make it, the more people buy it, right? That’s the way to make a lot of money.”

Start early

Of course economics, politics and civics are not the only conversations we have in the car but I am surprised by how often they do think about such things. These are the very things we seem to relegate to a much later age for teaching and I’ve often wondered why.

While I’m not a fan of preschool and early education, I absolutely think that even elementary aged kids can and should be taught basic economics, history and civics.

You don’t need a curriculum; all you need is conversation.

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Teaching Art at Home: 3 Resources for the Budding Artist

My daughter is a bit of a natural artist. While I like to write for entertainment, she likes to paint. The nice thing about homeschooling is that we have plenty of time to devote to honing such a craft.

If you have an artist at home, here are some resources to help him or her.

YouTube

Okay, so this one is pretty obvious. But what you may not have realized is how much YouTube has to offer. A cursory check on it reveals videos that teach cartooning as well as more advanced training for someone who might be interested in comics.

My daughter will sometimes just browse and search for various cat cartoons and draw them. Hey, whatever inspires her!

I urge you to go search through the millions of videos on YouTube for whatever would inspire your child. Create a “playlist” and use it as an art curriculum.

Anna Nilsen

If you want to introduce your children to great works of art and teach them to develop an eye for them, do not miss Anna Nilsen’s books. Art Fraud Detective is a fun introduction to the great works.

The objective is to identify the real paintings and distinguish them from the fake ones. Throughout the book, art history is introduced along with the paintings.

If you love Art Fraud Detective, you can also check out The Great Art Scandal and Art Auction Mystery also by Anna Nilsen.


Museums & Others

While exposing your budding artist to great works of art in books, graphic novels and YouTube, make the time to attend workshops and other art fun organized by local museums as well.

I believe quite strongly that to get better at art, all you really need to do is create lots of it, but I also think that some outside inspiration can be the impetus to get going. So be sure to visit some free or inexpensive art classes and lessons organized by local museums every once in a while.

Have fun teaching art!

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Survey Time!

Happy Friday, homeschoolers!

I have created a quick survey for you fill out. Since the classical homeschooling community seems to be growing, I figured it would be a good idea to do one. I’m curious what you like, what you would like to see more of and what common interests we share.

It’s short and sweet – just three questions.

(Well… and a fourth option to add anything I haven’t covered.)

Help a lady out! Take the survey!

Create your own user feedback survey

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How to Teach Reading (and When)

There is a new game that’s being played at my house – the rhyming game. The children, it seems, are currently obsessed with finding words that rhyme with each other.

And it’s not connected with reading exercises or anything. The kids do it as fun.

I don’t know when this trend started but it’s recent. I have to laugh at that because I distinctly remember rhyming as something that was always a struggle for both my older children. And here they are now. Not only explaining it to my (as yet) illiterate four year old but making a raucous game of it all!

How My Children Learned to Read

When my oldest daughter was five, we started slow. We used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. As I said, we started very slowly. If we had problems blending sounds, we put the book away for a week or two and then came back. I did not push.

It was the same with my son. We did not do the writing part of the exercises. If you’ve seen Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessonsyou know what I’m talking about. (Highly recommended, by the way. It’s simple, straightforward and short. But feel free to customize it.)

But the rhyming! Oh, the rhyming!

It was a struggle, to put it mildly. And they didn’t get it. So we decided to skip that as well. I checked a few lessons down the road and was happy to discover the book dropped the rhyming exercises, so I didn’t worry about it.

Teaching Reading Need Not Be Scary

Reading is one of the first things most homeschooling parents teach and I think this is where we either develop our deep confidence or think maybe we’re not cut out to homeschool after all. In other words, teaching reading can make or break your homeschool.

Reading is also something children can and have picked up themselves.

So which is it? Is reading difficult or not?

Yes and no. If you start before the child is ready, it will be torture. A very wise homeschooling mom once told me to wait until they were ready. I am so glad I decided to take her advice.

She also told me not to rush after letter recognition, to start teaching reading only after the child was able to blend letters.


Are they ready? Here’s the exercise to be able to tell

The best advice I received was to wait until my child was ready. But what’s readiness? This is. Do this exercise.

After and only after the child is proficient at sounding out letters, offer a two letter word like “at” and see if the child can sound out the “a” and the “t” and blend them. If and only if he is able to do that, introduce a letter before the “at” to make words like cat, rat, etc.

If the child successfully blends these, congratulations, your child is reading and you can now proceed – gently – with other lessons.

What to do while waiting

The hard part, of course, is waiting. There is a push for children to learn to read earlier and it’s easy to get caught up in that. But try to ignore that. While waiting, reading to them will be the most important thing.

If you have the need to introduce something reading-wise, I highly recommend The Letter Factory by Leapfrog. My kids watched this all the time and learned letter sounds very easily with it.


Good luck! And happy teaching!

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8 Skills All High School Students Should Know

This is a guest post by Scott Groza. You can find out more about Groza Learning Center here.

While most people consider high school students to be allowed ample room to become adults in the years to come, the truth is there are many important things that high school students should know that they often are not properly taught. These are a set of life skills they will need as they begin to look to the future of their lives and prepare for adulthood. While many high schools help their students with some outside life skills, few of them work on helping their students master some of the most important life skills they will need as they grow into adulthood.

As an example of some of the deficits, high school teachers often spend a great amount of time teaching children facts and improving some of their basic skills of cognoscente learning. However, one of the greatest areas that high school education can fail students is in teaching student’s comprehension skills. Certainly, life is more than facts. It is not just important for a child to memorize information or learn by watching or inputting data. Teenage kids need to learn how to assimilate the things they are reading and learning in the classroom with the world. Thus, making their newfound knowledge applicable to their life is a critical life skill. Taking in information is only as valuable as knowing what to do with the information to enhance a person’s life once it is learned. This can be vital to allowing information to be put to practical use across all scopes of their education. As an example, math can be used in shopping and cooking and sociology can be used in enhancing personal understanding and societal integration.

The second foremost life skill for teens is learning about history of the world and American history has real uses in life. So often students can live in a cloistered view that the world is simply here and now and nothing else matters. While many students think that learning American History or World History serves no important purpose for their life, being able to take the lessons from history and appreciate the many gifts that so many others have contributed to the world allows a student to learn how they too may be able to make a difference in the future of the world. Additionally, everything that is today can be placed in the context of how far we have evolved as human beings once history is learned. As an example, we know in the realm of political and public policy landscape as well as in enhancing the students’ knowledge of civic participation such as voting, knowing history is often vital to making important decisions for the future of communities, states and nations as an adult.

Another important piece of knowledge that teens need to have is practical knowledge for preparing for life on their own. These include learning about balancing a checkbook, eating nutritious foods, cooking and budgeting. When it comes to finances, oftentimes banks set up special accounts with teenagers that are known as student bank accounts that allow high school students a place to open an account without fees, and learn how to properly use a debit card and use check registers for recording transactions.

The fourth most important acquired knowledge for high school students is teaching students how to plan for their future. While many teens can think that they will have plenty of time to figure out their future, the truth is many high school students go on to be college students who drop out of because their school choice or career choice ends up being too much for them to handle or ends up being of little interest to them once they delve in further. Many high schools fall short of gearing students minds towards building their skills and gifts in ways that allow their mind to explore and define their life and career goals.

Another important life skill is building the student’s overall knowledge of life’s many cultures. In this very diverse world of people this is an essential aspect of becoming an adult. One of the reasons that being cultured is so very important is because it broadens the mind scope and a person’s coping skills when encountering the world at large. Being cultured elevates the person’s self-respect and their respect for others. When it comes to learning more about appreciation for culture, students can become much more well-rounded and interested in developing their own cultural gifts when they see how enhanced life is through the cultures of the world. In addition, helping teenage students learn about culture and the arts teaches teens about global appreciation, diversity and enhances their ability to find good in the world through being creative and appreciating the creativity of others.

The last set of skills are three skill sets in one category. While each is a distinct skill in and of themselves they fall into one category. Of all the levels of knowledge that students obtain in school, this set of skills is the most imperative skill set for students to acquire to keep them mentally
healthy throughout their lives.

These skills fall under the category known as emotional quotient or EQ skills. These are the skills of self-control, self-awareness, self-growth. The skill of self-control teaches students how to build their stamina in the realm of emotional situations. This includes work relations, personal relations and in dealing with the public at large. The skill of self-awareness is a skill that keeps the student aware of their own emotions, thoughts and feelings and teaches them how to process experiences to grow and learn and become a better person.

Lastly, is the skill of self-growth enhancement. As a student becomes an adult there is a whole series of responsibilities that they must be able to handle as an adult that they never needed to worry as much about in their youth. But as they become more adept and mature they too must be prepared to cope with the world in a greater spectrum. This is done by learning to handle rejection and loss in healthy ways so that the person can move beyond their difficulties and seek solutions to their everyday problems and life circumstances.

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Against Overcomplication: Keep Teaching Simple

We have an awkwardly designed kitchen from the 50s. At least, that’s how it seems to us who live in the 21st century. I have to turn around 180 degrees to go from the stove to the counter.

There is very little that is streamlined. Often, my husband will watch my awkward attempts at serving dinner and bring the pot of food to the counter to fix things.

Against Overcomplication

Why do I mention my kitchen habits? For the simple reason that my clumsy cooking habits, no doubt created by my kitchen, often find an echo in some odd teaching habits I see around me.

I have already written about how some will pick a curriculum just because it’s difficult. But here I want to write about  we tend to overcomplicate teaching some things when the truth is we need to keep it simple.

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points

Simplification is the essence of teaching. Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” The problem is sometimes we do – we do understand it. But we want to explain it four different ways to make sure they understand it.

I suggest we stop. Pick one way that you think is easiest and explain it. If, and only if, it doesn’t make sense that way, try another.

This is especially true in math. But it is equally true in history.

In our Common Core culture, we rush to give multiple ways of solving math problems, multiple narratives of history and a thousand perspectives on what happened, depending on where you were standing.

This is often unnecessary and complicates things.

Keep it Simple

Especially in the younger years, when we’re dealing with the grammar stage, keep it simple. The time for nuance and multiple perspectives will come with the logic and especially in the rhetoric stage.

Just stick with the facts for now, and keep it simple. If something can be learned through play or simple concepts, don’t rush to make it academic.

In other words, if it works, leave it alone. Keep teaching as simple as it can be and no simpler.

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