Ask the grumpies: Any benefit to shooting for an ivy?

Chelsea asks:

I would be curious to read your thoughts about choosing a college. Particularly the perceived benefits of trying to go someplace like an Ivy or MIT or Williams. My DH and I both went to our flagship state school and have well-paying jobs and live happy, quiet lives. Honestly, is there any reason to do anything other than that if we think that’s what’s in store for our kids? Meaning, we hope they have well-paying jobs and happy, quiet lives. I have one child who has special needs and I’m not sure what higher ed will bring for him, one who loves math and science and may be interested in engineering, and a 3-year-old. Obviously, I would not try to stop a kid from going to a prestigious school if said kid really wanted to go, but it seems like so much stress for… I’m not sure what benefit.

Disclaimer:  We gave DC1 a Fiske Guide and said you can go to any college you want to with the following rules:  1.  It has to be in this book.  2.  It has to have at least 4 little academic desks out of 5.  3.  No out of state state schools– if you go out of state it must be private.  (This bummed DC1 out because the UCs are attractive, but we’re not paying private school tuition for a public school when zie can go to the honors college at our flagship at a fraction of the cost.)  This is such an important and personal decision that I don’t think we can make it for DC1.  Plus I feel really guilty for all the people I pushed into Caltech when I was a teenager.  (One of them is now a nurse, another is mid-level management at a large brewery after a stint in the marines, I’m not sure what happened to the other, but she also almost dropped out.)

Most ivies are pretty easy and have lots and lots of grade inflation. The education is about the same as at good Flagship state schools. But you get cachet and connections. In terms of the academic research, going to an ivy over a state school benefits life outcomes for low SES kids but doesn’t have any effect on life outcomes for high SES kids.  (There’s a lot of research on this topic going at it from a lot of different directions.  I think the Carolyn Hoxby/Sarah Turner field experiment has an extensive literature review.)  Ivies also tend to have extensive support networks in place and just more resources more generally.  (They may also cost less if you’re eligible for financial aid!)

Top graduate programs like taking students from ivies, but they also like taking them from top SLACs and top flagship schools.  If you’re in a state with a good flagship, it’s still possible for your kid to get into the #1 program for whatever graduate field they are interested in.  It may not be possible from a regional state school or a less prestigious SLAC.  But it will still be possible to get into a top 10 program and definitely a top 30 program, most likely.  Life is easier when you’re graduating from one of the top schools, but if you work hard and demonstrate awesomeness you can still do very well from a top 30 program if you’re in an in-demand field.  (I cannot make any claims for Humanities where the labor market is much weaker.)  Basically working harder in high school and going to a top ivy can make the rest of education easier if you plan on going that route.  But most people don’t.

I didn’t get into Williams (waitlisted *sob*), but there are benefits to (prestigious) SLACs in terms of the college experience.  It is NICE to have small classes and professors who know you and all the cute little traditions these schools tend to have.  I have school spirit for my undergrad even though our sports sucked and nobody cared about them.  One potential problem is that they sometimes have limited classes and if you want to take a specific course if only one (married) professor (with adult kids) teaches it and goes on leave or has a fist fight at a local restaurant with another professor because he’s sleeping with that assistant professor’s extremely young wife* and you can’t handle taking a class from him, you’re kind of SOL.

I also think that consortiums are really great– if a bunch of small schools get together and allow cross-enrollment, you can get the benefit of a small school but also not have to worry so much about getting the classes you need for your major in the exact semester you need them into your schedule (this is also a problem at large state schools– classes you need can fill up and make it difficult to get required classes when you need them).

We are not honing our kid to get into an ivy. If we were, we wouldn’t have skipped. Zie would have taken high school classes during middle school (meaning we’d have to drive every day to drop hir off). We would have forced hir to do competitions. And I’d probably be forcing hir to coauthor papers with me or DH would be pushing DC1 to get programming things out into the world. Not having those special things doesn’t mean a person can’t get into an ivy, but having them makes it more likely.

A small part of me wishes I’d gone someplace like MIT or Caltech as a college student (though not really Caltech because it’s so brutal). In high school and college I was searching for like-minded peers who just loved learning for learnings sake. These two engineering schools have lots of them as undergrads. Students at my fancy SLAC were way more interested in the OJ Simpson trial than in thinking or tinkering. (Not all of them– I did have my people in the math major, but not the econ major.) Any large enough school is going to have like-minded people, but you have to find them– you won’t necessarily get placed with them, and if you’re like DH or me and tend to hang out with people who are geographically close you may not connect with them.  It’s easier if you go to a school that draws more people who share your interests.

Grumpy Nation:  Are there any benefits to choosing an ivy?  Do you have a better answer for Chelsea or any interesting reminiscences?  

*Did I mention that drama may be a problem at small schools?  (I think it’s hilarious that Wikipedia has locked said professor’s wiki page with a note about slander– if no charges were pressed, it couldn’t have happened, right?)

An update on having skipped two grades: the high school years

Looking back, skipping DC1 two grades has accomplished exactly what we set out to accomplish.  DC1 is being challenged an appropriate level in school.  Zie has to work to get As in many of hir classes.  It would be nice if zie always succeeded, but I’m not sure that two additional years would fix the stupidity, capriciousness, or sheer right-wing craziness of some of these English teachers or that one Spanish teacher.  I do think that getting high grades in the other classes would take less work if zie had a couple more years under hir belt, but it is good to learn how to study.

What we are missing out on is DC1 being clearly one of the top genius students in the school for hir year.  Zie is definitely in the top 10% and is taking all 5.0 courses (except one required semester of PE and the first two years of Orchestra which are only 4.0) and a packed schedule of AP classes, but zie is not Tabitha (valedictorian, name changed) or Rylan (top junior, name changed).  Zie isn’t blowing away scholastic bowl (name of team changed) or qualifying for nationals at all three exams for math, chemistry, and physics (in fact, DC1 FORGOT to even take the qualifying math exam last year!!!!).  DC1 isn’t much of a joiner and hates competition… I assume with a couple of extra years zie would have more free time and it would have been easier to bully hir into one of these things.  With more free time, I suspect DC1 would have a bigger sound-cloud and maybe more stuff on hir youtube channel, as well as a potentially viable video game or two under hir belt.  I don’t know how attractive those would be to colleges, but …

Skipping two grades in many ways is much less impressive than single-subject acceleration would be.  (But soooo much easier on the parents who don’t have to drive to middle school to drop a kid off at the high school in the middle of the day.)  It’s more impressive to be a freshman in AP physics than it is to be a junior of the same age in that class.

With two more years, DC1 might have been more attractive to schools like MIT and Harvey Mudd.  (And depending on how viral hir hobbies got, maybe someplace like Stanford, who knows!)  Zie could always take a gap year to explore life and become more attractive to top schools, and that may still happen.

But, I think having skipped two grades, it’s ok to go to a college that isn’t insanely difficult.  Like, I understand why Obama had to transfer from Occidental. Occidental is great, but I would literally have run out of classes to take at my level before I hit senior year.  I’d have had to transfer or graduate early (or get a third major if that’s allowed…).  If DC1 had not skipped a couple of grades and done single-subject acceleration instead, I think zie would be in the same situation that I would have been in given college credit as a high schooler.  Skipping two grades means that it’s ok to get that additional difficulty while picking up a masters (or maybe a PhD, who knows what DC1 will end up doing?).  So going to one of these smaller schools that is likely to take hir is not off the table (for example, zie was really impressed with the love letter the Fiske guide wrote to Grinnell).  I don’t know how competitive zie will be at the regional ivies (ex. Northwestern, Vanderbilt. etc.) but those would probably be fine too, though DC1 seems less interested in them.  I mean, sure if you’re going that level it would be nice to have the cache and excessive grade inflation of a Stanford or Harvard, but these top private universities give excellent educations.

Sidenote:  In the larger scheme of things I’m glad my (prestigious SLAC) alma mater got rid of legacy admissions, but at a personal level I’m a little annoyed!  I do think that it would be perfect for DC1 in terms of difficulty level and support networks, but DC1 is not really that good a fit from a what-they-say-they-want in admissions standpoint.  (I really was a perfect fit in terms of what they wanted outside of grades and test-scores in a way I wasn’t for the prestigious SLAC I was waitlisted at.)  DH’s uni still has legacy.

Before I get too derailed about college admissions, let me get to the part that inspired this post.

So DC1 is a junior now and is the same age as the average Freshman, give or take (younger if there’s a lot of redshirting).  Spanish 3 was so awful (see above note about the terrible teacher) that a ton of current juniors just decided not to go on to Spanish 4.  That means that DC1 is one of two juniors in a class with a bunch of dual-language Freshman who took Spanish 1-3 in middle school.  Originally Tabitha was in that class, but she decided to drop and take study hall so she could devote more time to being the best at sports and extracurriculars.  The other junior in the class was thinking about dropping too, but DC1 begged hir not to– “Don’t leave me alone with all these freshmen!”

There’s also a Freshman in hir AP Physics class.  I’m like, this is great, what’s hir name?  You can get to know other high achieving people your age.  And DC1 is like, but zie’s a freshman!

Zie completely and totally identifies with the junior class and with being a junior.  Because of some course selection choices and being in varsity orchestra, zie also knows a few of the high achieving seniors.  Zie mostly socializes with what I would call “normal mostly college-prep kids” and not the other kids who are taking all AP courses.  Zie seems to fit in with them just fine, though this semester in order to protect hir sibling zie is not sitting at their lunch table because they are ignoring social distancing protocols.  Zie says they talk across the table and wave.  Zie does not get invited to things (there was a birthday party once pre-pandemic at a friend’s mom’s apartment, but that’s really it) and doesn’t go to dances or anything like that.  Zie doesn’t text hir friends (I don’t think?) but does have an active life on Discord on a minecraft forum playing and hosting text-based mafia-style games (I think?).  Zie seems really happy with hir level of socialization.  Zie is just kind of a low-key chill person (much like DH).  Most of my friendships throughout my life have been situational as well– just whoever is around without any deep connections.  DH may have been my first really close friend.

Sidenote 2:  DC1 also noted that zie sleeps a lot more than hir friends and gets teased about it.  (Zie is usually in bed by 10pm.  But gets up on hir own around 7am every day including weekends.)

One part of the high school experience that DC1 is missing is the drama(!)  My colleague is always telling me about the dating tribulations of her senior (the salutatorian) and their friendship group (which includes Tabitha).  I reported back to DC1 and zie said, “Why would it take so much time to get over being dumped?  Shouldn’t it be like just a few hours?”  Which… there’s something to be said for doing hardcore AP classwork while *not* worrying about your crush or any of their drama.  (DC1 mostly hangs out with same-gender peers who are also not dating, whereas the super high-achieving friendship groups are mixed gender and sound pretty incestuous in terms of dating– meaning they all date and dump each other.  I am so glad I am not dealing with teenage dating angst either as a participant or first-level observer anymore!  The stories through my colleague are more than enough!)

I do feel a little bit guilty that DC1 is unlikely to be finding true love in high school because we skipped hir two grades, but there’s no guarantee that zie would have followed DH’s family norm (they all have married their first significant others that they met in high school) instead of the more random could happen at any time norm in my family (or indeed, most families).  And zie will still be a good catch in college or out or may decide never to date at all.  That’s up to hir.

So, as a whole, no regrets so far.  DC1 seems to be happy too.  Would zie have gotten into Stanford with another two years?  Who knows.  Is that worth it over wherever zie will end up going instead?  No idea.  We made these decisions for DC1 back when zie was 4 and 5 years old (and zie would have started Kindergarten even earlier if zie had been the decision-maker!)  What comes after is up to DC1.

Ask the grumpies: Children’s chapter books for sensitive young readers

Alice asks:

To the best of my knowledge, my kid read her first independently-read word when she was about 2.5. Now, at 5, she’s technically proficient. If we do every-other-word in a new book, she reads them all with some mispronunciations for more complex words. I’ve really struggled and failed to find books for her that she might want to read independently, though. She’s reluctant. The problem is that from an emotional level, she Does Not Want to encounter (a) rule-breaking/bad choices, (b) mean behavior between characters, or (c) things that scare her. She will ask me to stop reading a book to her if the drama level is too high for her. And it seems like all of the books I can find at her technical reading level are too high-drama for her, even things an adult would look at as no big deal. For more than a year, I’ve been reading nonfiction to her at bedtime, along with a couple of beloved Boynton board books. Nonfiction doesn’t bother her, and the Boyntons are meant for a pretty young audience.

I was a voracious reader, but didn’t learn to read until 6 and didn’t fall in love with it until 7. I’ve been worrying that I’m not setting her up to be a big reader because I haven’t found the books she loves yet. I would very much like for her to be someone who enjoys reading, though. A love of reading has brought me so much good, I want the same for her.

High sensitivity is not uncommon among gifted kids.  DC1 and I were/are very similar (DC2 OTOH, delights in books about protagonists behaving badly– during our last poetry unit, one of hir poems is dedicated to Bad Kitty).  I’m still a little traumatized from Matthew dying (spoiler, but not from Bad Kitty).

Non-fiction is great.  DC1 read a ton of it in preschool and early elementary school.  Scholastic was wonderful for increasing our non-fiction library.

For fiction, one thing to look into is older books.  There are a couple of types of older books.  There’s books like Penrod or The Great Brain that are horrific to our 21st century sensibilities in terms of kids casually abusing each other or their pets– you’ll definitely want to avoid those.  But there’s also early-mid 20th century slice-of-life books where nothing bad ever happens and you just don’t get that emotionally engaged with the characters.  So *early* Henry books from Beverly Cleary, but not later Ramona books (where the reader actually identifies with Ramona and her feelings, or, in my case, with Beezus).

The Five Little Peppers are another series of books in this genre.  The first two in particular.  From our adult eyes, bad things seem to happen (and are overcome), but the way it’s written kids don’t really pick up on the problems because of all the “good cheer”.  Similar is All of a Kind Family.  Eleanor Estes has a number of these (here’s Ginger Pye — the Moffats might not work out as I’m vaguely remembering that DC2 loved them and DC1 and I cringed a bit).  IIRC I didn’t have any problem with Betsy-Tacy, but once Tib got added to the mix things got a bit more dramatic (as an adult reading these to DC2, who loved them, there’s a lot of very interesting and pretty modern social commentary on class, religion, and immigration that completely went over my head as a kid).

Similarly, Pippi Longstocking has all sorts of adventures that should make one cringe, but they don’t because she’s so irrepressible.  (Though be careful– Pippi in the South Seas is kind of racist and definitely colonialist.)

L. Frank Baum has a number of short stories set in Oz or related places where nothing at all bad happens– they’re dreams of magical lands made from candy.  DC1 and I could also handle the first two Oz books without problem– there are adventures and from an adult standpoint it seems like bad things happen, but as a kid they weren’t emotionally bad.  In the third book, there are some genuinely terrifying creatures, like the nome king, the wheelers, and a princess who cuts off people’s heads so she can change her head depending on what she wants to look like for the day (this last one, oddly, I did not find as horrifying as the former two when I was a kid).

A more modern book with “just the right size” adventures is The Adventures of Miss Petitfour.  The worst thing that happens in this book is running out of marmalade and that is easily solved by a trip to town (with a bit of magic thrown in).

Books recommended by commenters:

Nate the Great — these are very short mysteries.  They do hit a perfect sweet spot, but they just don’t last very long… they get outgrown pretty quickly.  Cam Jansen is somewhat similar, but has longer staying power, and you may need to screen some of them first.

Frog and Toad — DC1 loved these with what would have been to pieces except they have extremely good binding.  There are a few bits here and there that are uncomfortable but they get resolved very quickly and everything is going to be ok.

minca recommends:

– Sophie Mouse
The Owl Diaries
– My Furry Foster Family
– Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
– Zoey & Sassafras
– Calvin & Hobbes
– Magic Treehouse (she’ll skip any “scary” parts)

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle does have situations that *should* set off people behaving badly triggers, but for some reason, especially in the first two books, they didn’t.  Again, I think it’s that it seems more abstract than personal in a lot of these early-mid 20th century books by American authors so the logic centers are engaged rather than emotions?

As your kid gets older, 20th century American magic books like those by Edward Eager will be readable — they do have bad situations but you KNOW that everything is going to turn out ok… in the end everything always seems to happen for the best.  The same is not true for British books of the same vintage (exception:  Bed-knob and Broomstick … though also compare The Borrowers to The Littles and it’s clear that the American version is more optimistic and fun)– with those there often seems like if anything is going to go wrong it will, and at best they will get back to where they started but with more knowledge, after a lot of fighting.  For a more modern take on adventure where it’s obvious everything is safe underneath, try Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.

Grumpy Nation, what books would you recommend for sensitive children?

 

Our first attempt at a plan to homeschool 5th grade

I made this.  It’s hard to see but I can’t get wordpress to allow anything bigger.  Sorry!

Weekly home schooling schedule (described in more detail in the text below).

As always, all Amazon links are affiliate links.

DC1 did 5th grade in a different state so we don’t have anything leftover from hir experiences that would translate here.  Some subjects we’re fine with following the state standards.  Some subjects we really need to know what is being taught this semester compared to next semester when presumably DC2 will be vaccinated and back in school.  And some subjects I am just fine throwing away whatever garbage is being required by an evil state legislature that cares more about propaganda than educating or protecting.

While DC1 did not do 5th grade here, zie did do 6th grade and it was a total waste of a year with the exception of math and orchestra.

So here’s what we’re planning:

PE:  On M/W/F, DC2 will join DH in the morning for calisthenics.  On Saturday and Sunday we will do something outside in the neighborhood (ex. bike riding, basketball, scootering, roller skating, tennis, etc.  Probably not swimming because there’s more risk there given our neighborhood.)  T/Th are free choices for DC2– 15 min of exercycling, ringfit, YouTube videos, whatever.

Music:  As always, DC2 has 15 min of piano practicing every day and a 30 min less on Thursdays.  New this year is the violin.  DH and I were both brass players so we have no idea what to do here and you can’t really teach the first semester of violin virtually.  Fortunately, DC1 has gotten really good at violin (including tuning!) and remembers learning it and is on board with helping us out.  DC2 got the violin a few days ago and they are ADORABLE.  So far they’ve just been practicing how to hold a bow and hold the violin.  DC1 told me I needed to order fingering tape, so I have done that but it hasn’t gotten here yet.  We’ve also still got Suzuki book 1 and DC2 has been listening to the cd that came with it (DC1 runs away or starts practicing piano or hir own violin which this happens as zie is thoroughly sick of twinkle twinkle little star and all its iterations.) These lessons are for 15 min a day, which isn’t very long and even so I’m concerned about them fitting into DC1’s schedule once school heats up.  But in the worst case scenario, DC1 played trumpet in 5th grade switching to violin in 6th and started placing at regionals in high school so all is not lost.

Math:  This one is easiest for us.  DC2 is in 6th grade math.  Zie is going to continue working through Singapore Math (Not affiliate) and Brainquest Math.  In addition zie will work through Khan academy 6th grade math.  We’re not sure if we should do Khan academy by time or by topic, but we’re trying by time first.  I’m not worried about losing number sense from missing some of the new new math because the new Brainquest has some of that and Singapore math has some of it, and zie has gone through Hard Math for Elementary School at least once and will probably be doing virtual Math Circle this year.

Spanish is a hard one.  DC2 is in dual language and in theory half of hir classes would be in Spanish.  My Spanish is just not good enough to support that.  Based on a commenter’s recommendation, we’ve hired a tutor from Overcome the Barrier (not affiliate), which is ridiculously inexpensive.  The first few lessons have been great but also pretty remedial and the teacher uses too much English (saying, “What color is” instead of “Que color es” for example), but DC2 had some embarrassing summer slide this summer and forgot some pretty standard words (though zie still understands them) so perhaps understandable on the teacher’s part.  (DH says we should wait and see before addressing it with the teacher.)  We figure even if nothing else, this will add someone else to talk to besides us.  DC2 has been doing 15 min of duolinguo all summer, but that’s obviously not been enough.  So M/W/F zie is going to watch a video of hir choice in Spanish (this could be anything from Harry Potter dubbed to Pocoyo), and on T/Th zie will spend 30 min reading books in Spanish.  I have started hir with little kids’ picture books, but the hope is to graduate to chapter books (of which we have many interesting looking ones!)  We also have an unused 3rd grade biology textbook in Spanish along with solutions that zie will do (but that’s listed under Science).

Science:  We’re going to completely ignore what the state is doing and just watch a Sci Show or Crash Course Science video each day, starting with earth science.  On M/W/F when zie is not reading Spanish books for Spanish, zie will do a section of the science textbook and answer questions at the end of it.  Weekends we will try to do experiments.  We still have a few leftover from a virtual summer camp on weather that got cancelled that should be fun!  (We already did a couple that were, but needed to get hairspray and alka-seltzer and freeze ice cubes to do the remaining experiments.)

Social Studies:  Other than acknowledging that this is a US history year rather than a state history year, we are going to throw out whatever the school/state is doing and just watch Crash Course US History.  After that Crash Course US Black History.  Then if we’re still going, Lies my Teacher Told me (which DC1 told DC2 was very interesting, but DC2 tried to read it and said it was sooo boring, which suggests to me that it’s still too advanced for DC2… maybe we should get the younger kids’ version…).  We may also supplement with historical novels sort of as a History/English crossover (lots of Jean Fritz and Mildred Taylor out there… though I find Jean Fritz too “from the perspective of the plucky White boy” so maybe not her).  But that’s going to depend on English.

ELA:  I have no idea what this class is going to cover when.  We emailed the ELA teacher to ask, and she said she’d get back to us but hasn’t yet.  My sister also asked one of her friends who is taking the year off from teaching because she has a newborn and doesn’t want to be exposed to covid, but we haven’t heard back from her yet either.  So… we have Brainquest and DC2’s Spectrum Spelling (6th grade) workbooks.  The spelling workbook is almost done, and I am planning to replace it with a workbook of Latin and Greek roots when it’s finished.  In the mean time, I stole a list of 5th grade novels off a random California teacher’s website and we’re starting with From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, for which I have stolen another random teacher’s questions.  It is shocking to me, but DC2 has never had to read a novel for school before, much less one with comprehension and discussion questions.  DC1 didn’t do that in 6th grade either– all they did was crafts.  DC2 is going to read and fill out questions for 2 chapters a day, and then after work, DH (who is reading the book perhaps for the first time, which also seems crazy to me) will do a little book club discussion with her (questions for which I found online) each day.  This will be very much like my 4th-8th grade ELA experiences back in the day.  In theory, next week the book of children’s poetry I ordered will be here and I plan to have DC2 practice cursive by copying one of the poems nicely and then we’ll have some discussion questions for whatever poem it is.  By then I’m hoping that we’ll have heard back from the 5th grade English teacher to get more direction.  If we hear back affirmatively from my sister’s friend we will just dump all of this on her.

We have a few more rules that we’re hoping will help everybody get work done:

  1.  Hold questions and do not interrupt a parent to ask.
  2.  Mom will stop by to check on you every couple hours when she needs a break, ask her questions then.
  3.  Dad will have a dedicated time to meet with you after his lunch meeting every day and at the end of his work day.
  4.  If you’re stuck, try to figure out how to get unstuck (Google is your friend!) or move on to the next task.
  5.  If you run out of tasks and are still stuck on something, try to figure out how to get unstuck or do more Khan academy or more Duolinguo
  6.  After you’re done with everything you can have free time to read or play or whatever (no screens unless they’re Spanish language only), but if you’re stuck on something you cannot move to free time until you get unstuck.  See 5.

We’re open to suggestions!  Especially for getting DC2 to have virtual human interaction.

Why we decided at the last minute to home school DC2

We were not planning on homeschooling DC2.  We’d bought all the school supplies and scheduled the bus and the after school care.  We even had submitted a grocery order full of easy to pack and quick to eat DC-approved lunch foods.

If our schools had the same protections in place that they had last year, we would not be homeschooling.  We were even still planning on sending hir to school with no mask mandate, though we were uneasy about it.  What happened?  Well, first, at schedule pickup, less than 40% of everyone there was masked (it was waaay less at high school schedule pickup, maybe 15%?, though presumably all of the kids in high school have the option to get vaccinated, though in reality they don’t because they need parental permission).  Second:  we found out some really horrifying things about lack of parental notification and how they are discouraging quarantining, in exact opposition to CDC recommendations.  A kid could sit next to an unmasked covid positive person every class period and lunch and the parents would NEVER KNOW.  Additionally, quarantining will only be allowed for covid positive children, not children who have been merely exposed.  Since people can be contagious before they show symptoms or get the results of a positive covid test, this spells disaster.

I think what happened was they saw headlines from other states that had already opened without mask mandates and thought, well, we can’t have 800 kids quarantined for exposure if we don’t allow quarantines for exposure!

We started looking into virtual schooling options a few weeks ago when it became clear that no masking would stay the rule.  But it seems like it was too late and all of the highly rated virtual options were full while the ones remaining got poor reviews or looked scammy.

We are also going to have to be careful with DC1 since vaccinated kids can get Covid too.  We’ve upgraded DC1’s masks. When the weather cools down a bit we’re going to keep windows and doors open and the fans will be on all winter.  We bought an extra air filter for the mystery of the musty cupboard though I’m not sure whether to put it in DC1’s room (as the most likely carrier) or DC2’s (as the most vulnerable).  Possibly we should buy a third filter and do both.

I know there are naysayers who probably don’t read this blog (or who hate-read it) who think we’re being too risk averse.  But the thing is, we do not know what covid is like in a situation where someone without 100% working protective gear is constantly exposed to the virus.  (Healthcare workers wear protective equipment that fits AND they can eat lunch away from the covid ward.)  If nothing changes, these schools will become seas of virus particulate.  And no, I don’t think this is fear-mongering– it is just logic.  There’s a reason we have quarantines!  And we know that there are breakthrough infections and we know that covid infections are worse the more exposure to the virus someone has had.  On top of that, our hospitals are full and the children’s hospitals in our surrounding towns have been turning people away.  Any non-covid emergency is going to be more dangerous because of these problems.  And I’ve seen the full gamut of what can happen to covid-positive previously healthy young adults… there is no way of predicting who will be asymptomatic and who will have a brief hospital stay.  Or who will recover after a few days and who will still have massive brain-fog for the rest of the semester, possibly longer.  And DC2 is a foodie– losing taste and smell would be awful.  Not to mention that we have no idea what the long-run outcomes will be.

I’m a little worried about DC2 although zie assures us we shouldn’t be.  But this summer and last year zie had virtual classes with a teacher and other kids and had regular minecraft playdates with hir friends 2x/week.  The playdates are ending since hir friends are returning to after school care (we’d signed DC2 up too, but that was before our state and school district decided to go crazy).  There’s no virtual teacher to ask questions, no virtual class to socialize with.  And DC1 won’t be home during the day.  We did hire a Spanish tutor and are considering an English tutor, but that may not be enough.

I am also worried about how this is going to affect our careers.  We’re both working full-time.  During the school year I’m already frazzled trying to get all the parts of my job done plus just seeing day-to-day things with the kids.  There’s just too much going on.  This year will be especially bad because we are hiring for 3 open positions and we have several third year reviews happening.  DC2 has been given strict instructions on when we will have time for hir and hopefully that will be enough.  And zie has sworn zie won’t whine or tantrum, which I find extremely draining.  Hopefully zie will stick to that.  If I were planning on staying here forever, not getting stuff out this year might be ok, but I am desperate to leave this state, so I need to be active.

We hope to return DC2 to regular schooling just as soon as it is safer.  Right now we think that means mask mandates + actual quarantining + lower community transmission rates OR DC2 getting fully vaccinated + quarantining or parental notification or something.  But there might be some combination of the above that would encourage us to send hir earlier.  We were told that school returning from homeschool should only occur at the beginning of grading periods, so every 6 weeks we will look at what is currently happening.

I guess I’m going to split this into two posts.  This one explains our reasoning.  Wednesday’s will be a less emotional “what we’re actually doing” post.  Maybe there will even be some dollar values in it, who knows!

Ask the grumpies: What JV fantasy is DC2 really liking?

Turia asks:

I would love to know what juvenile fantasy DC2 is really liking as my E. (10) is exactly the same. He prefers full world-building rather than ‘our world with a twist’ and he’s burned through so much that I’m finding myself wondering at what stage it would be ok to move on to what I see as entry-level ‘adult’ fantasy (Dragonlance, Shannara, David Eddings). Or if there are good YA fantasy recommendations I’d take those too (although I find sometimes the YA stuff is darker than some adult books).

I can’t really predict what DC2 will like, so what I’ve been doing in the absence of letting hir loose at the library is going to the library webpage and searching “juvenile fiction” and then just getting the first in series and standalones. Then if DC2 likes it, zie tells me and we get more books in that series/by that author.

The stuff from Rick Riordin presents (this is him highlighting books written by POC about their mythologies) is a great place to start.

Here’s a snapshot of what DC2 had checked out from the library when Turia asked her question:

Brandon Mull Five Kingdoms, Erin Hunter Warriors (there are approximately one million of these), Mark Siegel’s 5 worlds series, various Cornelia Funke series (but not all of them), various Jen Calonita series, everything Jim Benton has ever written, various Kathryn Lasky series, the Okay witch, various Katherine Langrish series.

Let’s go through what DC2 liked enough to request to buy that hasn’t already been taken off hir wishlist:

Witches of Orkney by Alane Adams

Storm Runner by J. C. Cervantes

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke (DC1 really liked this one too, so I’m not sure why we didn’t have our own copy already)

BlackBringer by Laini Taylor (but zie didn’t like the second book very much)

Assorted books about Dragons by Laurence Yep, especially A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans

A number of books by Laura Amy Schlitz including Splendors and Glooms

Foxcraft by Inbali Iserles

The Star trilogy by Donald Samson

Kiranmala and the kingdom beyond by Sayantani DasGupta

Addison Cooke by Jonathan W. Stokes

I cannot recommend David Eddings or Terry Brooks books as the misogynist suck fairy visited most of them (I know, I know, when I was much younger I wanted to name a daughter Damsen Rhee, and I still have a very dusty shelf of Shannara in my bookcase) though in my defense Eddings was *always* creepy about women… There’s SO much better stuff out there! I never read Dragonlance, it may or may not be fine (probably depends on the author and I am so afraid to reread my other Weis and Hickman series in case they also got visited by the suck fairy… nobody ever TALKs about them anymore except the occasional reference to Simkin).

Terry Pratchett and Robert Aspirin (which plays with the misogynist tropes rather than giving into them in his Another Fine Myth series– not thieves world) are much better entry-level adult fantasy options, I think (at least both my kids love them– DC2 keeps sneaking into my room to take more Myth books).  Diana Wynne Jones too though there’s a little bit of sex in her adult books, not explicit, but a bit more obvious than when it happens in Pratchett or Aspirin.  My kids like DWJ, but don’t seem to love her to the extent that I did (we own all her fantasy novels, even the ones that suck.)

DC1 loved Lord of the Rings as a kid.  DC2, like me, not so much.  They were both ok with the Hobbit.  DC1 liked The Rook, though it may be a bit much for a 10 year old.

Grumpy Nation!  What juvenile fantasy do you recommend?

Note:  all amazon links are affiliate– we might get money if you buy stuff through them.

Are you in a state that prohibits mask mandates in public schools? You can complain!

[Update:  If you are in a school district where they are mandating masks for under 12s (or older), send a letter or email or call supporting that decision.  Because they’re hearing from crazy people right now and could use some support.  See comments for one school committee member’s plea.]

I am extremely worried about my unable-to-be-vaccinated middle-schooler going to in-person school in a few weeks.  After a couple of weeks with unusually low numbers of new cases, we’re back to creeping up from orange territory even though the college students aren’t back yet.  We’re not in red or purple yet, but we didn’t have case counts this high this time last year and they exploded deep into purple two weeks after the university started back up.

Last year the 5/6 middle-school that DC2 will be going to had low numbers of case counts with masking and social distancing in place (comparatively).  Not so all of the schools (overall 6% of students in our district were out of school for covid reasons and 17% of staff were and the other middle schools had higher numbers than ours).  And, indeed, the big difference I could see between the high school we’re zoned for which had the largest numbers of case counts compared to the other high school in our area that had much lower case counts (almost 2x, even though the student body sizes are similar), was that the principal of our high school would send out group photos of kids with most of them unmasked and the other high school’s principal didn’t.  I suspect that’s correlated with whether or not the mask mandate was actually enforced.  The circumstantial evidence suggests that masking and being careful about social distancing leads to less transmission.  And, despite what crazy anti-maskers say, that circumstantial evidence is backed up by actual science.

This year there won’t be a virtual school option.  And, because case counts at DC2’s upcoming middle-school were so low and spread out last year, we didn’t think we needed one.

But then our state government said that state-run schools (including K-12 and including the university) are not allowed to have mask mandates.

And then all the news saying kids under 12 would get a vaccine in the fall switched to saying, just kidding, approval won’t happen until winter.

Middle school is a time of strong peer pressure.  If the school can’t have a mask mandate, then people will assume they don’t need to wear masks.  If enough people don’t wear masks, then kids on the margin will stop wearing masks.  Kids who do wear masks will be made to feel uncomfortable until they, too, unmask.  Heck, I went into work this summer and wore a mask and felt uncomfortable about it AND the secretaries were kind of rude to me, and I’m an adult with a PhD. (My plan is to wear masks in hallways etc. so other people feel more comfortable doing so, and only take my mask off in rooms if I know that everyone else in the room is vaccinated.  At least until DC2 gets the vaccine.)

I am really worried.  Yes, I know my kid is 9 and probably won’t get major complications.  But I also didn’t eat cold coldcuts during pregnancy.  Some 9 year olds are going to get major complications.  Masking seems to be the same kind of cost-benefit analysis as microwaving my coldcuts, and if we’re looking at this from an epidemiological viewpoint it will *save lives*, not just of infected under-12s but also all the people they come into contact with.  And if you don’t care about the lives of the unvaccinated, masking in schools will also lower morbidity of the vaccinated who still catch covid.

On top of that, kids are growing and losing a sense of taste seems like it could have overall effects on say, growth.

We don’t have to be silent about these worries.  We don’t have to take them as given.  We can complain.  There’s still time for a last minute exemption.  Once one ultra-conservative governor flips, the rest will too (especially if the FL governor makes a switch) because they’re all idiot copy-cats.  Worried “soccer moms” (or just parents in general) are still considered to be a voting bloc.

Who do you call?  You can find your elected officials here.  If you have state legislators or state representatives, that’s a great place to start.  You can also call your state governor, especially if he’s eliminated the ability for K-12 schools to have mask mandates by fiat/executive order rather than it going through the legislative process.

If you’re brave, call during business hours.  If you’re like me, call after hours or in the wee hours of the morning and leave a message.

It doesn’t really matter if you ramble or if you have a perfectly crafted statement that you read out.  I tend to do both– I need the statement to start with because I’m so bad on the phone.

My script:
Hello, my name is [Firstname, Husband’s last name]. I’m calling from [City, Zipcode] where I am a constituent. I’m calling to request that school districts be allowed autonomy regarding mask mandates, particularly for schools that have kids under 12 who cannot be vaccinated. I have a [9] year old who is unable to be vaccinated and I am incredibly worried. Last year with masking and social distancing, 6% of the student body and 17% of staff got covid. Without masks, those numbers will be much higher for the unvaccinated population, which includes my [daughter/son]. I am very worried about her/him catching covid, especially with this new Delta variant which is more contagious. Even if (s)he doesn’t get very sick, (s)he could still lose his/her sense of smell which might affect her/his growth. Also, last year, because of masking, the school was able to not quarantine entire classes if someone got sick. Now the choice is either to let covid run rampant or to quarantine the class every time a kid gets sick, which will be very disruptive to their learning. The American Academy of Pediatrics [and just now the CDC] just came out with a statement recommending masking in K-12 schools and the FDA just said kids under 12 won’t be able to be vaccinated until winter. Please remove the order prohibiting schools from requiring masks so that school districts can make decisions based on the covid numbers in their area and healthcare recommendations. Again, I’m calling from [City, Zipcode].

After that I had some worried rambling. Because I am extremely worried.

If you don’t want to call, it is better to email than to do nothing.

If you’re super awesome, write a letter to the editor of your local paper about the problem.  I’m not that awesome, but I did call.

You can also call or email your school super-independent to ask what they intend to do and encourage them to lobby the department of education to lobby the state government.  I don’t know what is going on behind the scenes, but I am sure that being able to say that they have frantic/worried parents of kids under 12 can only help these decisions.  DH has that on his list to do this coming week because he’s a hero.  (He also called our elected officials last week.)

https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/jul/18/rise-in-cases-gives-parents-pause/

https://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/2021/07/23/texas-students-wont-be-required-to-wear-masks-what-does-that-mean-as-a-new-covid-strain-spreads/

 

Are you worried about school starting in your area?  What’s your state’s situation in terms of masking in public schools? Do you also feel like nobody cares about or even remembers kids under age 12?

Kahootie academic planner (for school kids) review

I got these undated academic planners from Kahootie for my kids at Target, but sadly Target seems to be out of stock.  Amazon does carry them though (affiliate link).  Kahootie doesn’t know we exist.

In any case, they are PERFECT for what my kids needed this summer and I’m hoping they will work well in the fall too (though I have some doubts about DC1 remembering to write down things like assignments).

They’re a weekly spread across two pages, which I like.  What’s even better is that they have a column for school stuff and then a column for *after school* stuff (something DC1 frequently forgets!).  And there’s a daily chores tracker on the right that they can check off.  DC2 loves the little space under the chores tracker and fills it up with pictures from books zie is reading or lists of pokemon zie caught that week etc.  Saturday and Sunday have smaller spaces, but that works too.

Week of DC2's planner with camps and chores listed.

One week of DC2’s planner.

DC2 has really gotten into hirs.  Zie updates it on Sunday or Monday morning.  Zie excitedly checks off chores.  Sometimes zie puts down weekly goals (“learn how to lightening strike a pig in educational minecraft”) and the weekends usually say what baked good DC2 is going to make that week.  More recently, zie has moved the two evening Minecraft dates and one piano lesson to the “After School” column.

DC1's much sparser planner

DC1’s planner. Pen obscures a password.

DC1 is getting less use out of hirs.  Zie actually *has* done the daily chores, zie just doesn’t check them off.  Zie doesn’t put in assignments (that blue in on Sunday is my writing…) or really use it for planning at all.  The class times are in the planner, but they’re also in Google calendar.  We’re hoping that a combination of the two systems (electronic and paper) will help DC1 remember to TURN IN COMPLETED ASSIGNMENTS and GO TO AFTER SCHOOL ACTIVITIES once school is back in session, but it’s not looking hopeful.  Maybe being a year older will be enough.

I didn’t get much use out of paper planners in middle school or high school either.  I’m not sure how I remembered to get things done in high school (in middle school I just finished all my work in class so it was irrelevant).  I guess I just had a separate notebook for each class and a binder and checked those daily.  I started using a weekly planner (similar to the small weekly Moleskines, but with nursing branding on the front) in college some time when DH gave me one that his mom didn’t want.  Then I got free branded econ ones. Then I started having to buy my own Moleskines (or rather, I started having to ask for a small Moleskine planner for Christmas, which is an excellent thing to put on the Amazon wishlist for the in-laws who aren’t sure what to get you).  Along with those small weekly planners with meetings and deadlines listed, I had lots of loose leaf to-do lists.  These Kahootie planners look like they should have enough space for middle and high school to-dos, but I guess we will find out next semester!

Did you use a planner as a kid?  (If applicable) Do your kids use planners?  Have your planning needs changed over time?

Rules and telling

I had no ideas for Wednesday posts, so here’s one that I apparently started back in 2019 but never polished up or posted!

Agaishanlife discusses the idea of tattling here.

Back when we were growing up, there was a very strong non-NARC culture because we would get punished if we ever “tattled”.

Thankfully, that has changed.  “Tell someone” and “Use your words” are now “in” so we have thankfully not had to deal with our children being admonished for “tattling”.  Back at the wonderful daycare that went out of business, they’d use telling a teacher as a way to model for the children to work out their differences with teacher facilitation until they were able to do it on their own without teacher facilitation.  So basically, if a kid told on another kid, the teacher would be like, “X took your toy without asking?  Did you ask if you could have your toy back?” and if the kid hadn’t then, the teacher would tell them to ask for their toy back.  And if they had, then the teacher might go to the other kid and moderate a discussion about playing with the toy.  K-4 there’s less of that, but they also don’t punish children for telling things.

I really don’t think that kids are capable of understanding the differences between telling about something important and the kind of “tattling” where teachers used to think that kids were trying “to get other kids in trouble”.  I genuinely think little kids cannot separate the idea of trying to get someone in trouble just telling an adult when something is wrong. They do not generally know which rules are important or why (maybe with the exception of a few major things like biting/hitting). It seems really arbitrary to a kid when they’re punished for reporting some things but not others.   [Back in 2019] I do not think my 7 year old is at a point where zie would really understand the difference, and zie is pretty socially ept for a 7 year old.

There are so many things in retrospect I should have told adults but never did because I’d been told not to tattle.  Because I’d been used to being punished for telling when I was in preschool so as I got older I assumed I was on my own. I always thought so long as I wasn’t being physically harmed I had to keep it to myself. I could have avoided a lot of bullying, including really misogynist stuff as late as 8th grade if I had realized adults would support me instead of punishing me. This all stems from my being punished for tattling as a 3 year old (and later reinforcement, no doubt).

I don’t think we should even use the words tattle or snitch.  We should encourage kids to protect themselves by letting an adult know if they’re being harmed.  We should encourage kids to let an adult know if something dangerous is happening. I don’t think the other stuff needs to be addressed at all– it’s just confusing for the kid.

[One] morning [in 2019] zie told me that I wasn’t supposed to be eating breakfast in the living room. (This is true– nobody is supposed to be eating in the living room.) Zie wasn’t trying to get me in trouble with myself. Yet, when zie says the same thing about hir sibling I might think zie was trying to get DC1 in trouble.  (And of course, if I accidentally spill something in the living room, I’m also the one who has to clean it up and also the one who has to pay for any replacements.)

Really I think often they want to know what the limits of the rules are. They want things to be fair. They want to be able to do things that other kids are doing. There are a lot of reasons they “tell” on people that aren’t just about getting kids in trouble that could be misinterpreted by adults as such.

Did you get punished for telling adults about problems as a little kid?  

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Ask the grumpies: How to pick a college?

CG asks:

How did you pick a college? Do you think you made a good choice? How have your children picked their colleges (if they are old enough)? How did you advise them?

#1:  I knew I wanted to go to a SLAC, and I read the Fiske Guide to Colleges and picked some good midwestern SLACs.  Then I took my list to the guidance counselor at our fancy school and he suggested a few more higher ranked SLACs not in the midwest.  I was waitlisted at my first choice and got into the second.  I think it was a great choice– I could go into detail about why but that would make it clear what my undergrad was!  Suffice to say that I’m a fan of highly-ranked SLACs generally.

#2:  Went to the state flagship R1 along with most everybody else, which happened to be a top school for her major and also where her now husband was going.  It was an excellent choice.

Our oldest hasn’t picked a college yet, but we will be giving hir a copy of the Fiske Guide* to colleges when it comes out in July.  I’ve already vetoed a few schools as we’ve been getting mail every since DC1 took the sophomore PSAT.  (No, you are not going to this over-priced meh-ranked local religious private school!)  I have no idea where zie is going to end up, but we’ve saved for an expensive private school.

*all amazon links listed give us tiny payments if you purchase through them

Grumpy Nation, what are your answers to CG’s question?