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Soap Box: Education

Is public schooling better than homeschooling? Who knows? The answer to that second question is obvious: No one seems to know. For some reason, this often turns into a heated debate. We affix some personal and emotional attachment to being right. However, I do not think this is the “right” question. I think a better question would be: Which is the best choice for my family?

No one seems to know which is the better education. Why? Well, homeschooling isn’t the same across the board, just as public schools aren’t the same. Both types of schooling can fall victim to some of the same problems. For instance, in both environments you can find poor teachers. Lazy teachers. Burdened teachers. Teachers who don’t like their students – Oh no, not that! Another area could be parental involvement. Now, this gets a little hazy when the teacher and the parent are one in the same. There just seems to be more success on the part of a child, when parents are involved in their education. To be honest, I do not believe all public school education to be bad or good. I do not believe all homeschooling is bad or good. I also do not believe all flavors of ice cream are good. Some are, in fact, bad.

Another issue with both schooling environments: Socialization. Why does the matter of education become one of socialization? Socialization is a matter of human, and therefore, social development. Tell the truth! You heard someone say that word once and it just stuck in your head. One could argue that school is much more than book learning. Agreed. However, the idea that socialization occurs in public school is a myth. Having 30 ten year-olds cooped up in a classroom for seven to eight hours a day, five days a week is not socialization. Actually, that would be called a social experiment. Totally different.

On the other hand, the idea homeschoolers lack socialization is another myth. Homeschoolers have the opportunity to make the world their classroom. True, not every family leaves the farm. You may even find children locked away in underground bomb shelters, wearing dirt-caked clothing, broken finger nails, eating bugs, and never seeing the light of day. Oh wait, that was a low-budget movie I saw once. Innocent mistake. Home-educated students are not confined to a campus and have opportunities for civic involvement. In fact, my kids participate in several groups that include their peers. To break it down: These are both myths. Please get over it. Better yet, look up the definition of “socialization.” “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” Quick, guess that movie!

Funding could be considered a problem plagued by both homeschooling and public school students. However, I’ve been on both sides and when it comes down to it, I pay a lot less schooling my kids at home. I found our public school constantly asking for money from parents. We have to purchase all of our child’s school supplies for the year, purchase all sorts supplies for little school-year parties, buy this and buy that. Not to mention purchasing lunch boxes, school clothes, backpacks, more binders because some kid at school vandalized or stole your child’s, etc. In fact, I’d really like it if your tax money went to my children’s schooling, too. No, you don’t agree? 🙂

Homeschool families have to consider what curriculum to purchase for the year, any supplies they may need or want, and well . . . that’s about it. I find that we rarely buy any extras. The real savings come down to clothes! I know, you weren’t expecting that one. I have saved a ton of money because I don’t have to run out and buy school clothes. They just wear the clothes they have. When they need something, then I go out and buy it.

Time. Time is wasted in the home and in the classroom. In the classroom, the teacher has a limited amount of time to dedicate to a particular subject or topic. Then the class must move on to the next subject. In the home, the kids can waste as much time as they want, but that dreaded writing project will still be waiting for them. In the classroom, students have to wait for the teacher to help students who need it. At home, the students ask for help and get it on the spot. At home, we actually have time for each other. The kids have time to pursue their interests. When my kids were in public school, they returned home at 4:30. Gavin had about an hour or more of homework each day. We would eat dinner, clean up, and go to bed. There was no free-time. No time to just breathe. Actually, that was probably the most stressful time for our family. Now, the kids are involved in soccer, gymnastics, and piano. They are trying things out. When my kids were in public school, I had lots of time. I spent a lot of time doing nothing all by myself. The kids had time to do . . . nothing. Absolutely no time for an extracurricular activities. None. Also, with regards to time I have to say that there is so much time wasted, both at home and in the classroom.

Homework and busywork. In public schools these exist. Homeschoolers don’t have these. The end.

Grades. Again, public schools use grades to show mastery of information. However, grades absolutely do not reflect understanding. I was hung up on this, too, until one day it sort of clicked. Grades show that students turned in their homework and were able to sit down and take a test. At home, there is no homework, there is school work. When their work is completed and a concept well understood, the student moves on. There is one exception, Tristan is tested in math and science. Because his work is mainly independent, his test scores are recorded. However, test scores reflect how well he can take tests. His true understanding is demonstrated when he can tell me what he knows with accuracy and with confidence. However, my kids do not really receive grades for their subjects (spelling, English, history). If they did, they would get straight A’s because, as I’ve mentioned, they do not move ahead until they know their stuff. It’s sort of a hard thing to grasp, kind of like taking attendance. Why on earth would a homeschooler keep a record of attendance? Schooling happens every single day.

Now, you may be wondering (or maybe not) why I felt the need to share. I’ve shared some of these thoughts before. Well, some things just refuse to die. Myths about socialization is just one. I could go on and on about that. You may, or may not, have noticed that I did not directly address private schools. We have some experience with a private school, as well. It was a unique experience which occurred in a different country. Therefore, I hesitate to comment. We had a mixed experience. The first couple of years were wonderful and we were blessed with amazing teachers. The last year was a disappointment. A lot depends upon the teachers. Great teachers = great experiences. Poor teachers = disappointing outcomes.


School Marm


The Year of My Discontent

I’m no John Steinbeck.

Our family has in the States for a year now. Sometimes that year feels immeasurably long, while other times I cannot comprehend how this length of time averted me.

This has been a difficult year. We reintegrated and have been in a constant reverse-culture shock ever since. Honestly, it is so hard to live in America after living somewhere else for so long. You may think me crazy or snobbish, but things that Americans do without a second thought make me sick-hearted. The amount of waste, the amount of money being thrown around to impress people that you don’t know or like, the quest for bigger, better, and beyond, and finally the apparent absence of morality among this country’s citizens has me reeling. For the most part, I cannot relate to the people around me.

Thankfully, I spend my days with my kids. That at least brings me some measure of comfort. Homeschooling them turned out to be the right thing to do. Also the fact that we can drive to see our family. That, too, is a positive. But I thought things would “feel” different. In reality, some of things are not different at all. We literally could be living on the other side of the world.Excitement. Interesting. Adventure. Those are what I crave. Not the mundane and mediocrity. I can do that anywhere.

But what about day-to-day, moment-to-moment living? Sometimes I feel that I’m being suffocated by the garbage around me. Or maybe I just have too much room to breathe. Can that be?

I miss Crete. I miss my friends. I miss having friends. I miss the water and beach bum living. I miss the sand between my toes and wearing a bikini. I miss being able to wear flip flops, a tank top, and shorts without feeling like I’m insulting everyone around me.

I also miss not being weighed down by all the animals we currently have. Hey let’s go to the Grand Canyon. Oh wait, we can’t. Hey, how about a couple of days  . . . nope. Any more than a few hours and it isn’t going to happen. Good grief. Not a surprise – just a reality. I just can’t do anything that I want to do, because I have so many stink in’ animals. Sure, I wanted chickens. But not a rabbit, hamster, and puppy. Less is more in my book.

Very, very stressful.

I am “home,” yet this place feels like a temporary stopping point. Oh, I know where the problem lies. It lies within my own mind. That is my real prison. Why can I not change my attitude? Or better yet, why do I not want to?God what do you want me to do? Am I not doing it?

The pieces are all right, just not in the correct order.

I have been changed by our time oversees. Now, I’m just trying to find out where I belong.


Devastation in the Desert

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We sure do love rain around here. Rain. Glorious rain. Not hail! I woke up to a devastated garden. It literally looks like someone took a baseball bat to the garden. Zucchini leaves were just decimated. My sweet cucumber plants were annihilated. The melon plants were smashed. Tomatoes were a close call. There were countless broken stems and little maters scattered about the ground. I’ve been waiting patiently waiting for a tomato. It looks like I’ll be waiting a little longer. Pepper plants . . . well some will recover and […]

Middle School Years

The scene: An eight grade boy sitting beside a fifth grade boy at the kitchen table.

Tension? Oh yes, there is some tension.

Giggles? Yep.

Uncontrollable chit-chat? How’d you guess?

It’s hard to believe that we have finished two years of homeschooling at the Barker Academy of Higher Learning. After last year’s start, stop, and restart execution of home education, I thought I’d keel over from emotional turmoil. Turns out . . . our decision to keep the boys home was a good move.

We are now preparing for our third year. This year the boys will be studying Rome to the Reformation from My Father’s World. The boys are diligently working through the summer with a few breaks here and there. Tristan is finishing up his Pre-Algebra and we are quickly drawing closer to the final week of Creation to the Greeks.

Although I am the Mean ol’ School Marm, I have decided that we all need a break before diving into our study of Rome.

Now, quit the chit-chat and get back to work!

Your favorite teacher,

Mrs. Barker


Where’d the Baby Go?

As we were driving to my parent’s house over the weekend, I looked back and saw my baby and Hank, the head of ranch security. Here is a then and now photo of these two guys. Hank was 5 weeks old then and now he is almost 7 months old.

Pork: The Other White Meat

What do you call a whole pig that has taken a trip to see the butcher? A pork.

Matt got the call that there was one pork ready for pick up. Not a pork chop, mind you. A pork. I’ve never had to pick up a pork before. Yet, the boys and I are taking a trip with our lovely neighbor Tammy to do just that. We’re taking either Nancy P. or Hillary C. and putting her into our nearly empty freezer.

I am so excited! Wait . . .  that seems weird. But, alas, I am excited to have a freezer full of food. A freezer full of pork.

Our neighbors raised these two pigs. I remember when the girls came home. They were so cute. But how they did grow! And how they could eat! They ate like . . . pigs? Yes, like pigs. There is something very special about knowing where your food comes from. Usually, I focus on the fruits and vegetables, but meat is no less important. A lot of care, time, and compassion went into raising the pigs. We are grateful to be able to partake in this pork endeavor.

On arrival . . .

We paid for our pork and many boxes were loaded up into the vehicle. Many boxes of goodness.

Thankfully, our freezer had room to spare. We had a few things that needed to be consolidated or relegated to another shelf (a.k.a. smashed together to make room for the good stuff).

Sausage – Bacon – Ham Steaks – Ham Hocks – Pork Chops – Ham – And other delicious cuts of Porky Pig

I will say, that we have had some bacon, sausage, and pork chops. Those were the best pork chops I’ve ever eaten. Scrumptious.

*Please note that the packages say “Not For Sale.” I’m pretty sure that means “Don’t share.” I wouldn’t want to break the rules.




The Fiasco of Indoor Seeds

I started seeds indoors a long time ago. I mean, they are old enough to be planted outside. The problem is that they all sprang up nicely and then started dying. The soil was so dry and I watered them regularly. After just about everything died and I tried to nurse them back, I took some time to do a little research. I found the problem.

Actually, there were two main problems. First, I needed to hydrate the soil before I planted. I have never had to do this before. Germany is humid and dry soil, indoors was never an issue. The second problem was how I was watering. I had always watered from the top. That’s just sort of how you usually water plants, right? Well, not when you’re starting seeds in cells and indoors. I learned to pour water into the tray and let the plants drink for about 30 minutes. If you pre-moisten the soil before you plant, the water in the tray will be soaked up quite easily. BRILLIANT!

Let me just say that these two quick fixes have already proven to be very helpful. My sick seedlings came back and I replanted some with hydrated soil and guess what? They are so healthy and lush. I replanted some herbs a few days ago and they are already coming up. The best part is that the soil never looks dusty.

Another trick I learned was to disregard that plastic dome. I thought that was the best part of the tray thingy; having a mini greenhouse. But no. I don’t even use that thing anymore. The bottom watering trick is essential for growing seeds in a dry climate.

Lessons learned.

Memoirs of an Arizona Gardener

I lived in Germany for many years. Each year, I made it my goal to get acquainted with the earth. The first year I dabbled with bulbs. The second year was the year of the strawberry. The last two years in Germany, we had quite the garden going. We had tomatoes, green beans, peas, tons of strawberries, a sunflower, carrots, tons of herbs, tomatillos, and more. We succeeded in just about everything we grew. We did have a little trouble with cucumbers because the slugs kept eating the blossoms. My point is that it was so easy to grow food. Throw out some seeds and then you’d have a plant.

Fast forward to the Fall of 2013 . . .

We moved to Arizona and bought a house with a garden bursting with yummy goodness. I thought, “Great. My garden is going to be even better next year.” Then, I decided to plant a winter garden.

I planted a winter garden. And then, I replanted it. And then . . .  I  . . . replanted it . . . again. Actually, I kept replanting all fall and winter long. I even broke down and bought some little plants to put into the garden. My winter garden is best described as an epic failure.

Why? Well, I was convinced rabbits were eating all my seedlings. I would see all my seedlings popping up and the next morning when I went to water my budding garden, all the seedlings would be mowed down. The first leaves would all be missing and little itty bitty stems would remain. And then, the next day the stems would be gone entirely.  Rabbits, mice, rats, birds, or lizards. You pick.

This happened every single time I planted my kale, lettuce, spinach, and such. Then, I finally bought some kale and lettuce and planted it. I thought that since they were sizable plants that they might have a fighting chance. They did. For about a week. The kale seemed to slowly disappear. I felt like I was in an episode of Looney Tunes.

We put up a garden fence to keep out the rabbits. This was in addition to the woven wire fence around my yard that is reenforced with chicken wire. This did nothing to keep my garden vermin-free. Then, I decided to walk the perimeter of my yard and find out exactly where the rabbits where coming in. I found all kinds of holes and spaces where they were coming in. I piled rocks and filled in holes and did all kinds of stuff to keep them out. By the end of winter I had three lettuce plants and they were looking really bad. And of course, I found two rabbits in my yard! They could get in, but couldn’t find their way out. Annie took care of them for me, but the trend hasn’t ended.

Now it’s spring, and I’ve planted again. I guess I’m hoping that the rabbits will find tastier treats outside the yard now. I put rat and mouse traps in the garden and have caught nothing. I planted a few weeks ago and have had quite a lot of seedlings coming up. And guess what? I’ve noticed that they are starting to disappear again!

I started some seeds indoors (another fiasco). I’m afraid to plant them out in the garden. I have rosemary, parsley, cilantro, and celery outside. They seem to be just fine. It’s everything else I plant. I even have carrots and nothing has been eating them!

I’ll be honest. I have never had this much difficulty in having a garden. How do farmers do it? There’s no way to keep rabbits, mice, birds, and lizards from destroying your garden.

I’ve replanted my spring garden for the second time this year. This doesn’t include all the time and effort that I dedicate to the indoor seedlings. I’m pretty sure that this will be the last time for a while, with the exception of planting my indoor babies outside. I’m running out of motivation and feel discouraged. Apparently, I’m really great at growing marigolds, mesquite trees, and crab grass in the garden – all reseeded & not planted by me, of course.

Re-seedingly yours,



Market on the Move

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Matt and I braved the wind this morning to stock up on veggies. We recently discovered that the Market on the Move comes to our area. What a great opportunity to stock up on fresh vegetables at a low, low, low price. A semi truck unloads boxes upon boxes of vegetables. I mean boxes! Then many workers help direct you through an assembly-line. We stood in line and were handed two boxes. Then we paid $10 to have a go-around. You can pay $20, $30, etc. and then receive the […]

The New Baby

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We have a new little baby boy in our lives. He was born January 1st, 2014 and he bites. We named this little bundle of teeth, Hank. We named him after a character in one of Gavin’s favorite series of books, Hank the Cow Dog. He is a Blue Heeler (a.k.a. Australian Cattle Dog). Before bringing him home, the boys built Hank and Annie a dog house. I only agreed to have another canine if they stayed outside. Since our weather is mild in the winter, this is acceptable. Matt […]