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Newspaper nullification April 29, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, writing.
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Back in the dark ages, i.e., my first year of college, I was elected with four other people to be an editor of the school paper.  It was an interesting experience and solidified my interest in writing.  (I even spent some time as a journalism major!)

At the end of the year, I was responsible for putting together a flyer to send out to the incoming freshman.  It was supposed to let them know about the newspaper and inform them how to become involved, if they were interested.  I put together a traditional letter, very similar to the packet of letters that I received before arriving at the school.  However, I decided that was sufficiently boring, so I also put together a collage, pasting various clippings, pictures and other things that had actually been printed in the paper during the previous school year.  I photocopied it onto the back of the letter and was set to go.

Admittedly, I was a freshman in college and didn’t have the best taste.  Also, we had no journalistic standards.  Regardless, my choices were apparently not appreciated and the collage was pulled.  There were comments about scaring the parents of potential incoming students.  It made no sense to me as these were things we’d actually published at one point or another.  If they were freaked out by the stuff in the paper, then obviously they hadn’t been at pre-frosh weekend.

So much for journalistic freedom of speech.  (I know…apples and oranges.)

That happened almost exactly 20 years ago.  Thanks to the internet, I can put this out in public so all those poor freshman from the class of ’98 can see what they were missing out on.


Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

So why do I bring it up now?  Because I found it the other day and took a good hard look at it.  Aside from it being a fairly interesting trip down memory lane (and a bit of a time capsule to boot), I pondered what I would do if my son, who will be entering college next fall, received something like this.

I have to admit that I’m baffled.  It was certainly goofy, but I still don’t understand what the big deal was.  And if my son received something like this, I might actually be a little amused.  I still think it’s more interesting that that stupid, boring letter.

Or maybe I’m just a warped parent.

(ETA: I suppose there is one circumstance where I might be concerned.  If my son were going to be a journalism major, I’d probably be recommending other schools.)

To borrow or not to borrow… February 6, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, older son.
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Some of you may remember that, about a year ago, I took the boys on a big tour of colleges.  I wanted the older boy to see what his options were and make an informed decision when it came to college.  (I have to admit that this was a result of the fact that I only was able to visit one college before choosing, and I felt like I would have made a better choice if I’d been able to see others.)  The older boy surprised me when, late last year, he informed me of his decision to live at home and go to college locally.

To be rather blunt, I was disappointed.  I felt like he could go to a much better college if he chose.  However, he said that he was nervous about starting college and moving out and basically jumping from being a high schooler to an adult all at once.  I was surprised at this, but it really did make sense.  Obviously, I wasn’t going to try to force him to go someplace else for school.

(I was also amused because, when I was his age, I deliberately chose to apply to colleges that were as far away from home as physically possible.  This is how one goes from North Dakota to Los Angeles.)

I’m now even more convinced that this is a good decision.  The older boy started a part-time job.  We sat down and ran the numbers and determined that his income from the job would pay about half of his tuition and give him some spending money.  Because of the hours, he can also work another job over the summer and probably make up the difference in tuition costs.

Finally, he will likely start as a sophomore because of all of the college credit he has earned or will earn through CLEP exams.

Based on this, he can likely get through school in three years and come out potentially debt-free because he will be able to pay his tuition himself.  When I look at how much he would have had to go into debt to earn his degree at the other schools we looked at, I have to admit that this is a pretty intelligent way to go.

The one reservation I had about this is that I felt like he needed to get out of the house.  I don’t want to stifle him by living at home all through college.  As I was pondering this toward the end of the semester, I had a speaker come to my class and discuss the study abroad program at the school.  I was surprised at how affordable the program is.  I brought a brochure home for older son, and we discussed it.  Rather than transferring to another school later, like he initially thought, he’s going to try to go abroad once or twice.  That way he can get the experience of not only visiting another school but another country.  Even with this, he can still probably get through school without any debt.

I’m surprised how much the financial aspect of this has changed my perspective.  Maybe because I and other people I know are still paying off student loans.  I’m curious what my readers would say to their kids if they were facing the same choice.

October sucks October 13, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, family, older son, personal, teaching, work.
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I really am starting to dread October.  Being in the midst of it, I understand why.

October is when *everything* happens.  There’s no way to handle it but to keep going until the sheer exhaustion kicks in.  For me personally, I have NSF proposals due.  I am deep in the throes of teaching and grading.  I have reports due and conference papers to prepare.  My kids have all their various sports and other activities in full swing, meaning that we have activities going on 3 or 4 nights per week.

This year is definitely worse than last year because I’m still recovering from my medical fiasco last month, complete with lots of fun follow-up tests, and still am not able to engage in complete stress relief on a regular basis (i.e. running).  Further, the older son is going through the college application process, which is generally more time consuming than either of us really likes at this point.  I am hoping that these factors won’t be present in Octobers to come.

Half-way there, though.  Just a couple more weeks, and things will ease off.  One of the sports that both boys are in will be done until spring, NSF proposals will be over, most of the major grading I have will be done…and there will be leftover Halloween candy.  As long as someone saves me a peanut butter cup, I’ll be fine.6a0120a5580b8e970c013485bc4913970c

Making fun of Fix the Family September 13, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, religion, societal commentary.
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I came across a blog post on facebook.  It was one of those that’s so absolutely stupid that you simply can’t help but respond.  I realize I’m potentially feeding trolls here…but you have to see it to believe it.  The one redeeming value in this post was that, for once, it was actually worthwhile to read the comments.

What post is this? Six reasons not to send your daughter to college  Except it’s not six reasons: after posting, two more reasons were added.

Yeah, seriously.  Not only do people still believe this crap, they’re apparently stupid enough to post it in a public place for all to mock.  They begin the article by supposedly diffusing all claims that they’re misogynist and sexist (not to mention blatantly anti-feminist).  Here’s what they have to say:

  • You don’t believe in educating women.  Sure we do…as long as it’s to become a stay-at-home mother.
  • You believe in oppressing women. Bingo!  But we’re not going to call it that because we’re in denial about our position of privilege.
  • You believe in taking away opportunities for women and trapping them into a subservient role.  As long as she’s only subservient to her husband…cuz God says so.
  • God calls women to use their talents.  As long as those talents are raising children and keeping house.
  • A  woman needs to have something to provide income in case her husband dies, becomes disabled or leaves her.  But this never happens to people who are responsible.  If this is a problem, it’s because you stupidly didn’t take care of it when you could have, you idiotic woman.  Or you weren’t subservient enough to keep that dead-beat around.  Either way, you’re still stupid.

So now that we’ve established their real stance, let’s take a look at the actual reasons women shouldn’t go to college.  I tried to provide a translation to make the meaning more transparent:

  • She will attract the wrong types of men.  You see, college men are the wrong types.  They’re all lampreys, seeking the perfect woman to support them and take care of them while they sit at home and play video games all day.  Once they have the perfect woman trapped, they will inevitably give up their career goals and sit at home eating bon-bons all day while she wears the pants in the family.  None of them would consider actually being responsible, pursuing a career, or desiring to marry a woman who is actually an equal in the relationship.  Obviously, a man’s life goals are going to crumble in the face of that particular temptation.
  • She will be in a near occasion of sin.  You see, women are too inept to actually be able to handle sexual temptation.  They might find out they like having sex, and that’s not okay unless they’ve been duped into marrying someone.  Then it’s okay to like sex because it blinds women to mens’ faults (which is the only way to maintain a civil marriage), and more important, it makes teh babiez!
  • She will not learn to be a wife and mother.  College is useless, you see, because women are only there to raise kids and take care of their husbands (as long as they remain subservient to them).  So obviously it’s not teaching her the right skills.  If she wants to have the right skills, she must get hitched and start making babies immediately, obviously with a man who she meets at church because those college guys are just too lazy…otherwise she’s just wasting her life.  Baby bootcamp is the only way to go…and women should get there as soon as possible.
  • The cost of a degree is becoming more difficult to recoup.  You see, men are obviously worth more in the marketplace, so it makes economic sense for women to only take on menial labor tasks until they can find someone who has real economic value to take care of them.  Then they can do the job that they were meant to do: make babies!
  • You don’t have to prove anything to the world.  Women only go to college because of peer pressure.  In reality, fulfillment and independence really have no place in the decision.  The only fulfilling thing a woman can do in her life is raise kids.
  • It could be a near occasion of sin for the parents.  Parents are financially responsible for their children might not pop out as many babies as physically possible, so they’re just a bunch of sinners.  Parents should only be responsibly financial for their sons because girls don’t really need educations: they’re only going to be mothers, anyway.
  • She will regret it. Women may think they want to go to college after high school, but once they are a bit older, they’ll wish they’d made more babies instead.
  • It could interfere with a religious vocation.  If she doesn’t want to be a mother, she might want to be a nun, and college degrees are useless for nuns and may make them ineligible, as well.

I guess I’m lucky I don’t have any daughters and I’m not Catholic or I might be in a quandry right now.

Too easy… August 15, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son.
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The older son began his schoolwork for the year.  We looked at what classes he needed to finish in order to get into college next fall, and we decided that he should probably take some high school classes via correspondence. (That’s the old-fashioned term…I guess they’re now all ‘online’ courses.)  This afternoon, he sat down to get started on one of his social studies classes.  After an hour, he had finished reading the first of 8 units and had done one of the three or four assignments for that unit.

“It just seems too easy,” he said.

“That,” I responded, “is what high school classes are like.”  I hadn’t realized it before he said something, but except for math, all of the classes he’s done the past couple years have been college-level.  I guess realizing that made me understand why it was such a jolt.

I imagine that it’s also a bit frustrating to have to go back and do work that seems overly simplistic, but he understands that this isn’t so much about him learning something as it is about jumping through the hoops in order to get into college.  Given the classes he’s already completed, he knows he’s capable of doing college-level work, but the admissions counselors seemed doubtful.

Maybe I need to get him one of these to take the edge off:

A tale of two colleges April 2, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, older son, societal commentary, teaching.
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I quickly came to the realization, after coming up with a list of potential colleges for the older boy, that we should try to visit some campuses now.  I teach in the fall and taking time off during the week would only be possible around Thanksgiving, so this would be our last chance before applications are due.  We hurriedly put together an itinerary and are doing part 1 of the college tour.  (Part 2 will be in another, more distant state and will therefore have to occur during the summer sometime.)

The first college we visited was close to the top of the list.  It’s a nice state school in a great town, and the older boy was very psyched about the visit.  Everything sounded great on the tour, and the overview presentation only reaffirmed that it would be great.  Then, however, we talked to an admissions counselor.  We explained that older son has his GED, has done or will soon finish all the necessary testing, and that most of his curriculum was courses that he CLEPed.

The counselor informed us that we needed to do the whole transcript thing and affirm that he had taken four years of English, math, etc.  I took a deep breath and then asked, “But, does he really have to have four years of English classes, for example, when he’s already demonstrated he can do college-level work in the area?”

“Yes, the tests show he has some knowledge, but we need to see that he’s done the work.”

My first reaction was to wonder who in the world could really pass these tests without doing the work, in some form or another.  Second, I wondered why bother saying you accept a GED if this is what is required.  Third, I got angry.  Is education really about parking your butt in a seat for four years and not so much about learning anything?  Is that what will be expected of him at this college?

The worst reaction was when I looked at the older son and saw his face fall.  “Oh no,” I thought.  “I’ve totally screwed this kid over.  How will he get into college?  Did I just mess up his life because of insistence that he become prisoner to my educational values while ignoring pragmatism?”  Of course, that’s utterly ridiculous.  When you’re dealing with a kid who is gifted and learning disabled, the best way to ruin his or her life is to leave them in a situation where they are obviously miserable and non-functioning, which then destroys their self-confidence and motivation.  No, I got him into a situation where he was learning and was able to demonstrate that using objective criteria.

Still, after that meeting, the older boy and I were both awfully bummed.  After hearing a similar but slightly less uptight message at another school, I started wondering if maybe we needed to worry less about other criteria and find some places that were more friendly to homeschoolers.  I’ve realized that we really need to talk to admissions counselors at each of these schools and see if there’s even any point in him applying if they’re going to be extremely skeptical of his accomplishments.

Today, we may have hit the jackpot, however.  After getting an overview of this school’s very flexible and creative approach to education, we talked with someone about the older boy’s background and what we’d been doing for schooling.  Rather than the reaction we had been getting, they said it sounded like he was rather accomplished.  They were fine with his GED, saying that gave them a very good normative comparison, and were impressed with his accomplishments thus far with his CLEPs.  That college is, as of right now, at the top of older son’s list.  He’s really happy to have found a place that doesn’t view getting a degree as simply a matter of checking off items on a list of requirements.

All of this made me curious.  I never knew why he had issues in high school, but it was obvious that once he took his GED and started studying for his CLEPs that he was suddenly excited about learning.  I decided to ask him.  His response was that he hated how you had to do everything together in high school.  The stuff that was easy, they would drag out forever.  When they got to stuff that he wanted to look at more carefully or had trouble understanding, he said they’d rush through it.

“College is a lot different, though,” he said.  “You’re expected to do a lot of work on your own, so I’ll be able to spend a lot more time when I feel like I need to and, if the class is going slow, I can spend my study time working ahead.”

Apparently something sunk in as he knows he can take responsibility for his own learning.  That, in my mind, is very much the point.  Education shouldn’t be just a process that happens to you.

A class of his own March 16, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, older son.
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We’ve started making a list of potential colleges for the older son.  It was fairly easy to do because he had some set criteria: location, size of school, religious affiliation, etc.  Based on this, we narrowed it down to 17 choices…initially. Since then, he crossed off one, added two others, and is unsure about another because, even though it’s big, he still wants to check it out.  We’re waiting for viewbooks to come in the mail.  Once he’s narrowed down the list a bit further, we’ll do some campus visits to a few in April.

In the college guide we used, there was a statistic stating, for each school, how many people attending are from the top 10% of their high school class.  At first, I just sort of took it as a measure of selectivity of school.  However, we started discussing this.

I came from a high school class of around 200, so the metric has some meaning there.  However, Mike’s high school class had twelve people.  That means that he and 1/5 of another person (approximately) constituted the top 10% of his high school class.

And then there’s the older son: he’s the whole class as he’s homeschooled.  He’s therefore in the top and bottom 10%.

Coming from that perspective, this metric is about as useful as grades.  I have no idea how I plan to do some sort of transcript and am considering just telling him to report his GED scores.  I could give him grades for the classes he’s done based on his CLEP exams.  Honestly, though, that would be unfair to him.  He completed a year of college-level US history as a freshman in high school, but he got an average score on the exam.  Do I give him a C?  Doesn’t it matter that he was doing work typically reserved for someone four years older than him?  It’s so subjective.

Another issue I have is that colleges typically request you have so many years of different types of classes.  I’ll admit that while I was pretty structured with his math, I’ve found that the easiest way for him to learn everything else was just to let him follow his natural reading instinct, although I would occasionally hand him a book and say, “Read this.”  It doesn’t seem relevant, to me at least, whether he spent four years chugging through textbooks if he can easily pass a college-level course in the same area.

As you can tell, he’s going to have a lot of fun filling out college applications.  I hope he’s in a very creative mood when he starts.

It’s here! It’s really here! March 4, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, older son, personal.
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The older son recently celebrated another orbital trip around the sun, and it made me realize that it’s pretty much time to get serious about this college thing.  Part of it was the realization that I teach in the fall (which came up because of other reasons), so if the older boy plans to make any college visits, it’d be ideal if they were in the next couple months.  The fall will be difficult, at best.

Of course, we’re also sitting here wondering if maybe just staying local for a couple years would be fine.  He could start here (or even keep on taking exams for placement), live at home, and transfer out should he so decide.  However, I want him to evaluate all of his choices carefully.  He’s starting to look at potential majors for college, we’re going through the mess of signing him up for standardized tests, and probably most importantly, Mike is panicking about the potential bills showing up in the mail which also has the older boy starting to think about scholarships.

You know, I thought looking for colleges was stressful when I was in high school.  I don’t think it’s really any easier as a parent.  In fact, in some ways, it’s worse (although in other ways, it’s certainly better).  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  I am glad that I read Crazy U a couple years ago, though.  I think it made me realize that getting really worked up about the whole process is probably counterproductive.

Inflexible students September 6, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, teaching.
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One of the assignments I give my students is to choose a class and try three new note-taking methods in that class.  This means that I ask my students to step outside of their comfort zone and try something new for three hours of their life.  The idea behind this is to try and see if they find something that helps them learn better in my (admittedly weak) attempt to teach them to be self-regulating learners.

And it never fails: I have half a dozen students who will inevitably tell them that they simply cannot do the assignment.  You see, some of them simply don’t take notes.  Others already know that what I’m asking them to do won’t work.  And then a lot of them have classes where they get powerpoints, so of course they have no need to take notes or consider trying new ways of notetaking.

When I tell them they must, they seem to think that I simply don’t understand why they have a very good reason not to do it and, if I did, I would obviously just excuse them from such a superfluous assignment.

The funny thing about this is that the notetaking assignment is optional.  They don’t need to do it if they don’t want.  But they always seem to come up to me and need to justify why they don’t have to do it.

The disappointing thing to me is that this demonstrates how rigidly some of them are stuck in their ways and aren’t open to new experiences.  Isn’t that what college is about?

Paying for college June 25, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, older son.
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Nicole and Maggie’s post about teaching kids money management led me onto a slightly divergent path.  I’m trying to figure out what to do about college.

Growing up, we had no money. I was basically told that if I didn’t want to grow up to be in a situation like my parents’ , I should get a college education.  (Although I’m sure the education will help in the long run, it has not yet paid off.  I’m in a decent financial situation because I happened to marry someone who was gainfully employed and didn’t mind that his wife was an educational junky/freeloader.)  That being said, I was expected to pay for my own education as my parents really had nothing they could contribute.  I took out student loans and am paying them back as we speak.

But what do I do about my kids?  I don’t like the idea of saddling them with debt for an education.  On the other hand, I think they ought to assume at least a chunk of the expense as their own responsibility.  If they are going to benefit, shouldn’t they invest in it, as well?

By the time the older son starts school, I am hoping to have a job somewhere…maybe even a university-type place.  That then begs the question of whether older son ought to be required to go to such a school if I get a discount.  But what if it’s not a really good school?  I have also been reading about the trade off between a nationally recognized alma mater and actually being able to afford one’s tuition.

I have to admit that this looks like a majorly difficult optimization problem…and it’s difficult because of the variable and unknowns.

I do have some thoughts on this…but I’m curious what other people think.  How do you plan to handle college expenses?  What is a fair trade off between what you want and what the kid wants?  Are there certain places that are worth it no matter what?


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