Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire

faire5

For more than a year I’ve been planning to attend the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire, held each year in King’s Valley, Oregon. One of Dave’s college friends lives with his family just a few minutes from the site, and had mentioned that they’d be happy to have us stay with them the night before. This made everything easier for me — our kids played outside with their kids that evening, we all got a good night’s sleep, and we arrived at the Faire with experienced guides.

faire1

Dave’s migraines did not leave him feeling up to attending, and so to simplify things further I left Mica at home. I had a feeling that trying to keep track of a two-year-old at a busy Faire would be be somewhat challenging and might dim my enjoyment slightly — not to mention figuring out her nap. (We weren’t there long before I knew I was right.) This was just a special adventure for my boys and me.

faire2

I’ve only been to two other similar events in my life, both long ago. This one was by far the most fun. For starters, there were rats. Not the small furry kind, but the large two-legged kind. When we came in the kids signed up to be rat-catchers, and got a plastic bracelet and instructions on how to help rid the Faire of rats. Every time they saw a person with a rat face on their head and a tail tied to their waist, they were to chase them down and (gently) tag them in order to earn a colored ribbon “tail” tied on to their bracelet. At the end of the day they could return and get a small rat pendant for their efforts. Ryan was particularly vigilant in his pursuit of rats.

faire6

faire4

There was also the Amazing Maze of Amazement, where for a dollar each kid got a foam sword and the opportunity to enter the maze and attempt to slay the dragons therein. In theory they were also trying to find their way out, but we distinctly saw our kids double back several times rather than arrive at the exit. They weren’t dummies; there were dragons to slay.

There was wonderful food, too, and some really excellent shows, including knights jousting, many different musicians, playwrights, jugglers, etc. (More on those soon.) We watched coins being stamped with patterns by “The Winching Wench” and the boys tried their hand at a little archery.

faire8

As is apparently traditional, the day was very, very hot. We left the Faire only after it had mainly emptied out — hot, tired, sweaty, and agreed on the most important point: we’ll need to do this again.

A Rant

For the most part I see this blog as a place to keep connected with extended family and friends about the goings-on in our household. Occasionally lately I’ve also been sharing some of my interest in exploring alternative education. But today — please forgive me — I want to indulge in a small rant. You may click away now if you like.

I’ve read a few books in the alternative education realm at this point, and I decided to dip into some other books on education reform that take a more mainstream approach — i.e., books about education that don’t conclude that the system is, by its very nature, the wrong track altogether. (After all, one of the easiest mistakes to make in life is to read only what you know you’ll agree with.) To that end I recently worked through The Death and Life of the Great American School System, a very thorough and thoughtful book by an avowedly conservative author. There is a great deal to think about in that book, and while I’ve been thinking it over, I decided to switch to something lighter: The Smartest Kids in the World, which is much less data-intensive but compares the US to several other countries using the vehicle of following American exchange students to those countries.

It’s an enjoyable read and, while much lighter, also has some good food for thought in it. But yesterday, as I trailed after Mica at Village Free School, reading a few paragraphs whenever she became engrossed in an activity, I read something that was like running headlong into a wall.

In the US we allocate funding to schools based on the property taxes of the nearby households.

The author didn’t belabor this point — he mentioned it, and the obvious problems with it, and then moved on. I, however, did not. I had to re-read it multiple times. Then I had to find the nearest adult to see if they were aware of this.

Apparently everyone knows this. I suppose I should have as well; I’ve heard before that schools in wealthy areas are better funded, but for much of my life I didn’t care about things like school finances, and in retrospect I assumed, vaguely, that effect was about local fundraising efforts, not about what was allocated by central authorities. Somehow I got through 38 years of life without knowing that we take a fundamentally inequitable approach to funding schools.

And finding out has stunned me. It’s like reading that fire coverage is based on local property taxes: live in a rich neighborhood, and the average emergency response time is less than three minutes, but a poor neighborhood could have a response time of as long as half an hour — oh, and residents are sixty times as likely to die in a fire. Perhaps if someone grows up knowing that this is how our school funding works it just seems natural — not ideal, maybe, but hey, it’s the system, you know?. But I keep coming back to this concept, again and again, and I keep feeling the same stunned disbelief.

How is this possible? How could this situation not be seen as inherently inimical to the ideals we purport to believe in? In a nutshell, how can people be ok with this?

And I know it isn’t as simple as that. As Dave points out, it isn’t about people but about politics. It isn’t about individuals choosing based on their own morals and common sense; it’s about a quagmire of bureaucracy and it’s-always-been-done-that-way. I look back now on the arguments that disadvantaged kids just can’t learn as well — because of cultural things, family issues, home life — and now I can see the essentially defensive nature of those arguments. It isn’t because we’ve given them less to work with. Even if the system were equitable, it wouldn’t matter. So why waste the money on them?

The only argument I can think of to support this practice is the argument of homeowners saying that they want the taxes they pay to support their kids education — and no one else’s. That argument has some intuitive weight to it, right up until I apply the fire coverage analogy to it. Do we see education as a public good, or as a service we’re paying for? Do we believe in equal opportunity or not? Is education like television (you can get limited, lousy amounts for free, or pay to get a premium package!) or like fire coverage (we value human life and strive to protect it regardless of income level)?

So now I need to go out and do some more research. How did we get here? Are there other arguments in favor of it? Or is this one of those things that we don’t really talk about, and everyone feels vaguely uncomfortable about, but when it comes down to a vote most people quietly, guiltily vote to keep it because hey, I need to give my kid the very best chance, right? And anyway it’s always been done that way. And it’s really too bad that so many kids keep dying in fires, but maybe if we just make the whole system better that won’t happen so much. Yes, I know we’ve been trying to reform the system for 100+ years, but still…

End Of Summer

One of the advantages of homeschooling, I always felt, was not having that artificial transition at the beginning of September — from the heady freedom of summer to the rigid schedule of school. I really enjoyed, in past years, the sense of sailing right over all the Back To School hype, and just letting the natural pace of the season unfold.

So I feel a slight wistfulness this year, because now that we’ll be going to Village Free School for three days each week, it definitely feels like a transition. One that I’m looking forward to — there are a variety of things going on this year that I’m excited about. All the old staff is returning, but they’re adding some new interns and volunteers, including one from Germany and one whose business card lists him as a “visual storyteller.” And I know there are plans in the works to try out some new project tools, and to introduce some new concepts this year.

Most exciting of all for me is that the kids are looking forward to school as well. They’ve really missed some of their schoolmates over the summer and are looking forward to seeing them; plus Nathan this year is planning on doing Project Time and working on his animations during it. (Dave has fixed up his old laptop for Nathan’s use.) I am really looking forward to seeing him engaged in Project Time and all the other Room B things that go along with that. My sense of Nathan for a while has been that he’s been transitioning out of his early-childhood mode, and becoming ready for new challenges and ideas.

Hopefully there will be lots of those going forward.

Dirt

It really is the best toy…

dirt

dirt2

Rocket Stoves

It’s always entertaining to leave Dave and the kids for half a day; I never know what I might return home to. Just recently I came back to find that Dave had invested in a pallet of fire bricks and was busy testing out designs for a rocket stove.

rocket_stove1

If you are not familiar with rocket stoves, the basic idea is to create a stove that uses small amounts of fuel, burns it very efficiently, and produces surprising amounts of usable heat. A handful of twigs in a suitably designed rocket stove can be used to fry an egg. (At least, in theory. So far we have not tested this on actual eggs.)

rocket_stove2

Why does Dave want to build one? I could say that it’s to replace our rock-shard-spitting fire pit, which it would, or to have on hand in case of Zombie Apocalypse. But I think it would be closer to the truth to say: Because it’s cool. Or, equally: Why wouldn’t someone want to build a rocket stove?!

rocket_stove5

Dave has experimented with a couple of variations so far. The coolest part to me is that Nathan has been interested enough in the process to build his own — first a small stove of his own design, and later he built his own version of Dave’s latest. He did an excellent job on it, and we even fired it up one night to roast marshmallows. I can’t vouch for an egg, but it fried marshmallows like a champ.

rocket_stove3

rocket_stove4

Just A Picture

Our smallest helper…

cleaning_stove

Cream Revisited

I decided recently to revisit the whipped cream activity I’d done with the kids a year and a half ago. Messy, edible, and fun, right? Best of all, it’s summer, so this time I could do it outside where cleanup is as simple as a hose!

cream1

I only ran into one difficulty. It wasn’t that the boys were uninterested; I sort of expected that. They’re old enough that I was surprised they got into it the first time. No, the problem was that Mica is apparently now old enough that she doesn’t like to get her hands dirty.

cream2

She was interested in the cream when I dumped it on the little baby-sized table we have outside. But only about 60 seconds after dipping her fingers into it she turned to me, held up her creamy fingers, and said “Wash hands?” I brought out a couple of spatulas for her, which she used briefly. She was more interested in the food coloring we dropped into it, and in fact liked doing that bit. But then, as though to give the lie to fact that she spends roughly 90% of her waking hours spreading some form of chaos, she ignored the cream entirely and spent long happy minutes packing the food coloring back into the box.

cream3

Which is fine. Let them do their own thing, right? Next time I’ll skip the cream and just let her pack tubes into a box.