Two on Standardized Testing


On the standardized testing cheating scandal from “Wrong Answer” by Rachel Aviv in the July 21, 2014 The New Yorker: 

He felt as if he and his colleagues were part of a nationwide “biological experiment” in which the variables- the fact that so many children were hungry and transient, and witnessing violence- hadn’t been controlled. David Berliner, the former dean of the school of education at Arizona State University, told me that, with the passage of the law {No Child Left Behind}, teachers were asked to compensate for factors outside their control. He said, “The people who say poverty is no excuse for low performance are now using teacher accountability as an excuse of doing nothing about poverty.” p. 59-60

…it became clear that most teachers though they were committing a victimless crime. “They didn’t see the value in the test, so they didn’t see that they were devaluing the kids by cheating, ” she said. Unlike recent cheating scandals at Harvard and Stuyvesant High School, where privileged students were concerned about their own advancement, those who cheated at Parks were never convinced of the importance of the tests; they viewed the cheating as a door they had to pass through in order to focus on issues that seemed more relevant to their students’ lives. p. 62

John Ewing, who served as the executive director of the American Mathematical Society for fifteen years, told me that he is perplexed by educators’ “infatuation with data”, their faith that it is more authoritative than using their own judgment. He explains the problem in terms of Campbell’s law, a principle that describes the risks of using a single indicator to measure complex social phenomena: the greater the value is placed on a quantitative measure, like test scores, the more likely it is that the people using it and the process it measures will be corrupted. “The end goal of education isn’t to get students to answer the right number of questions,” he said. “The goal is to have curious and creative students who can function in life.” p. 63

Also of interest: Meredith Broussard’s “Why Poor Schools Can’t Win at Standardized Testing” from the July 15, 2014 The Atlantic.

The elephant in the room.


David has always been exceptionally empathetic and sensitive. He doesn’t like other people to feel sad or upset and he often tries in his own way to make people feel better if he thinks they are sad. It’s a trait of his that I feel is very much God-given and not due to any of our parenting.

John left for Boy Scout camp this morning. We had to take him to the bus and it was a bit of a crazy rushed morning. H. is away at a church men’s retreat, I needed to walk the new puppy, get everyone dressed and ready and help him get all his stuff together. Not to mention that somehow on the way to the drop-off site I got lost twice. I don’t like being late for things and even though we weren’t truly late, we were cutting it close. So I felt kind of frazzled. Even more so when we got out of the car and I realized we had forgotten the fishing rod John was supposed to bring to complete one of his merit badges.

John, like me, tends to worry too much about things like being late or breaking the rules or forgetting things. I downplayed the missing fishing rod so he wouldn’t be upset and in fact the leader said it should be fine, there were ones at camp he could borrow.

Still, I felt bad. Like I’d failed somehow. When we got back home I saw the fishing rod sitting by the door where I’d put it so we wouldn’t forget it. I remarked on how I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten it.

David looked at me sideways and said, “Well, it’s not like it was a giant hippo.”

I laughed, “Yes, that would have been really stupid to forget a giant hippo.”

David smiled and said “Yeah Mom, you would never have forgotten a giant hippo sitting by the door. You’re really good at stuff like that.”

And just like that I realized the absurdity of still feeling bad about something so small. And John? He loves camp so much he’d probably be find if we’d forgotten half of what he was supposed to bring.


The Sometimes Vegetarian: Sesame Eggs



Lunches are my least favorite meal to make. Even though it comes every day without fail, somehow it always seems to sneak up on me. I am at my least creative at lunchtime and find myself making the same things over and over.

The best solution is sometimes to have the boys make lunch for themselves or sometimes for all of us. I started by teaching them fairly easy things: grilled cheese sandwiches, scrambled eggs, quesadillas. John can pretty much make any egg dish (omelets, sunny-side-up, over-easy, scrambled). As they learn basic cooking skills and get more comfortable with cooking they have gotten more inventive. To me, this is where they are really cooking vs. just following a recipe. Sometimes the things they come up with are odd to me but I want them to be comfortable with cooking and I think you have to play a bit to get to that point. And as a bonus, they are more likely to eat their own creations.

This is a new creation of John’s but they both enjoy making it now. I think he first made it when he wanted to make fried rice but we didn’t have any leftover rice. It also works well for us as it fits David’s vegetarian diet. There isn’t an actual recipe but it goes something like this as near I can tell:

Sesame Eggs

Eggs (3 per person)
Frozen peas
Other veggies of your choice (carrots, corn)
Soy sauce
Sesame seeds
Chinese Five-Spice Powder

*The Nutmeg seems odd to me but they insist on adding it.

Beat the eggs. Heat some oil in a pan and begin to scramble the eggs. Add the veggies. When the eggs are beginning to solidify (at the soft scrambled egg stage) add some soy sauce (about 1 TBSP). Add a shake of Chinese Five-Spice Powder and a dash of Nutmeg. Continue to cook to your desired level of firmness. Sprinkle very liberally with sesame seeds. The more the better. Enjoy!



Non-Fiction Monday: Mama Built a Little Nest


I loved Jennifer Ward’s fabulous new book, Mama Built a Little Nest. Each page looks at the incredible variety of types of nests that birds make.  A rhyming quartet telling about each nest is paired with a gorgeous illustration by the amazing Steve Jenkins. For the eagle aerie:

Mama built a sturdy nest
by stacking twigs up high-
a breezy house upon a tree,
where talons blend with sky. 

The simple quartets are perfect for a preschooler and by focusing on the Mama (or Daddy) bird-Baby bird relationship, Ward zeroed in on exactly what is accessible and understandable to that age group. Additional text in a smaller font gives more details about the nest construction and the bird relationships for elementary aged kids.

This one is going on my list of possible Cybils nominations for 2014. For more great non-fiction, stop by Non-Fiction Monday.

Brimsby’s Hats


Brimsby is a hatmaker who makes wonderful hats that he sends all over the world. He has a best friend who visits every day and together they drink tea and have wonderful conversations. However, one day the friend decides to travel far away pursuing his dream to become a sea captain. At first Brimsby is lonely but he finds a way to use his hats to make some new friends. And in the end all the friends together visit the old friend in his new home by the sea and “drink tea and talk about hats and shovels and ships and how wonderful it was that they had all been lucky enough to meet one another.”

Andrew Prahin’s Brimsby’s Hats is really a sweet book with a solid theme of grace and friendship at it’s core. It was interesting to me that the child of mine who was most drawn to this book is also our most sensitive and empathetic child. It’s a quiet book that I think has a lot of appeal for the right kid. The illustrations feel like they fit the story perfectly: slightly quirky in the characters and color palette but overall with a sweetness.


June Reading


Fiction Read in June:

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
Perelandra by C. S. Lewis
Both of these were first time reads for me. I read them as research for the first unit I am planning for John for school in the fall. I think they are a little too complex for him right now. He could read them and if he picked them up to read on his own I’d be fine with it. But I think he’ll get so much more out of these complex books if he waits a few years. 

I Am Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
Flavia deLuce has definitely grown on me since I declared her too quirky and precocious on my first introduction to Bradley’s poison loving 11 year old girl chemist and sometimes detective. Count me a fan. 

The Pirate King by Laurie R. King (audiobook)
I continue to list to the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series on audiobook. This one was not my favorite, the setting of a 1920’s silent film and a cast of hundreds didn’t work as well for me. One fun thing: Pirates of Penzance is feature heavily in the plot and quoted throughout. Our homeschool co-op performed Pirates this spring so many of the references were very fresh in my mind. 

The Runaway King by Jennifer Nielsen
The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Nielsen
John and I have both enjoyed the Ascendance Triology by Nielsen. The Shadow Throne, the final book in the series, is a very satisfying end to the story of Jaron, the incorrigible, charming young king determined to save his country from destruction and war. 

Non-Fiction Read in June: 

The Rocks Don’t Lie by David Montgomery

The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne
It’s somewhat hard to sum up this book but I can guarantee you’ve never read anything like it. Unless you know of another book by a librarian who has Tourette’s syndrome. And is 6’7″. And enters strongman competitions. And who is LDS and writes openly and graciously about both the faith of his family and his own struggles with faith. I picked this one up on a whim off the shelf at my own library and was captivated by Hanagarne’s story. I have to love a guy who loves libraries as much as this:

I love to tell kids that everything in the library is theirs. “We just keep it here for you.” One million items that you can have for free! A collection that represents an answer to just about any question we could ask. A bottomless source of stories and entertainments and scholarly works and works of art. Escapist, fun trash and the pinnacles of the high literary style. Beavis and Butt-Head DVDs and Tchaikovsky’s entire oeuvre within ten feet of each other. Every Pulitzer-Prize winning book and National Book Award winner. Picture books for children. An enormous ESL collection…Art prints you can borrow and put on your wall for a month. A special-collections area of rare books. Full runs of ephemera from The New York Times to the original Black Panther newsletters.

If I could bring my bed, expand the fitness room, and kick everyone out, I wouldn’t need to pursue Heaven in the next world. I’d be there.

Read Aloud Thursday: Summer Reading


Ok, I just realized that the post I wanted to write today for Read Aloud Thursday is technically not about read-alouds. But I think Amy will forgive me since it still fits with the overall kids and books theme.

We’ve participated in our local library’s summer reading program for years, since before John could read on his own (Aha! That’s the read-aloud portion of the post.) It’s fun but for the past couple of years I’ve wanted to figure out how to make it into something a little more challenging.



John is a voracious reader. He reads all the time. In fact, just tonight we came home from a family dinner and couldn’t find him only to realize he’d stayed in the car to read. (Before, I get comments about children being left in cars, realize that he is 10 and fully capable of coming in the house by himself. He was just too absorbed in his book.) His genre of choice is fantasy and he reads deeply in that category. I’m a believer in letting kids read what they want. However, I also have felt like he could use some gentle “encouragement” to help him get out of the fantasy rut. Or at least to have him try some books in other genres. I also wanted to see him challenge himself a little more as a reader.

IMG_0818Hence, the Summer Book List was born. I made a list of 12 books. The poster is made from printing off covers found online and glueing them to a poster-board. Then I gave him the goal of reading one book a month from my list. He should (and will) read much more than three books over the summer, but he only had to read three from my list.


David’s a very good reader but he isn’t as passionate about reading as John. That’s ok, they are wired very differently. This year he started many many chapter books that he never finished for various reasons. He reads a lot of picture books, which is fantastic. I love picture books. However, I’ve wanted to encourage him to stick with longer books as well. My goal for him this summer was to find longer books that he would truly love and that he would finish.

IMG_0819David also got a poster of 12 books and an assignment to read one a month from my list. So far, the lists have been a success. David just finished his June pick: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. He loved it and I think had a fair amount of pride in finishing a long-for-him book. John has finished three of the books off his list: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. He loved the first two (which were really in his preferred fantasy-adventure genre) and liked the third one pretty well. He’s also read several other fantasy books of his own choosing and re-read the entire Harry Potter series, so my assignments don’t seem to be slowing him down too much.

What are your kids reading this summer? Do you assign books or let them read at their own whimsy?

John’s Book List

Hoot by Carl Hiassen
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Paperboy by Vince Vawter
Carry on Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham
Nothing But the Truth by Avi

David’s Book List

Soup by Robert Newton Peck
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
Tornado by Betsy Byars
Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill
When the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Taylor Made Tales: The Dog’s Secret by Ellen Miles
Wolves of the Beyond: The Lone Wolf by Kathryn Lasky
Lionboy by Zizou Corder

Be sure to stop by Hope is the Word for this month’s Read Aloud Thursday round-up!

The Rocks Don’t Lie


I first heard about The Rocks Don’t Lie from Janet at Across the Page. David Montgomery is a geologist who in his own words set out to “present a straightforward refutation of creationism…” [by creationism he means young-earth creationism]. What he ended up writing was somewhat different. He doesn’t come anywhere close to accepting a young-earth creationist viewpoint but he does discover a “much richer story of people struggling to explain the world-and out place it it” than the “standard conflict between reason and faith” that he was expecting.

Montgomery looks at the history of the development of the field of geology and the history of different theories about Noah’s flood and Biblical creation. The interesting thing is how much these two histories intertwine. Early geologists were often also clergy who were setting out to find proof of a Biblical flood. He also traces the emergence of modern day young-earth creationism.

Overall, I found the book very interesting. I felt like Montgomery is mostly fair to both “sides” although young-earth creationists may disagree. He is somewhat dismissive about a trip he takes to the Creation Museum, but I found that understandable. As a Christian who definitely believes in an old earth and in evolution, I found his treatment of faith to be very reasonable. I disagreed with some of his arguments about Biblical interpretation but that was a relatively small part of the book and not his area of expertise. The other major flaw is that color pictures or maps/diagrams would have added so much to this book. A lot of the descriptions of rocks made my eyes cross a little trying to imagine what he was describing in my head. A color photo would have been very welcome.

In the end I most appreciated the central thesis which is that it is possible for science and religion to coexist in a way an attempt to better understand our world.

..just because science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God does not mean that it says religious faith is an illusion. Thoughtful discussions of the relationship between science and religion are impossible when fundamentalists disguise religious arguments as science and scientists dismiss religion as childish superstition. In reality, faith and reason need not be enemies if one views ignorance as the enemy of both.

What We’re Reading


Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good. This is often the case for me with blogging about books. I feel like I need to think about a theme or look for new books to blog about in order to make it worth the reader’s time. Sometimes that works well with what we are reading for school or sometimes I happen to have pulled off a bunch of cool new books off the new shelf at the library. But sometimes, the books we are actually reading neither fit together or are new and feel “blogworthy”. Such has been the case lately. So I decided to try a new thing: books we liked this week/what we’re reading.

The first book to share has been Ruth’s clear favorite for the past couple of weeks. Ballet Kitty by Bernette Ford and Sam Williams is about a kitty who loves ballet and pink and who is having a playdate with another purple loving princess kitty. I think that’s really all I have to say to explain why Ruth, age 4 LOVED this book. Loved, loved, loved it.

I think my favorite picture book this week was The Secret Olivia Told Me by N. Joy. I don’t typically like books that teach a lesson and this one has a lesson (the dangers of gossip and breaking a friend’s trust) but overall this one is so charming that the lesson isn’t too heavy-handed. Rhyming text tells what happens as a girl accidentally tells a friend’s secret. The real charm though lies in the illustrations by Nancy Devard. Done entirely in black and white silhouettes they are striking in their simplicity. A red balloon in the background gets bigger and bigger clearly representing the growing secret itself and providing a clever visual representation of the theme.

A Funny Little Bird by Jennifer Yerkes actually was off the new shelf at our library. Often we like the same books as a family. But sometimes we don’t. This was a case where several kids really liked a book that I just didn’t. The funny little bird of the title is white so that on a white page anything he stands in front of disappears. At first this makes him sad because he is ignored by everyone. But after venturing into the world he discovers that his ability can also help him hide new friends and himself from danger. I think it’s supposed to be about learning to like yourself and your quirks or unique abilities but something about the story just fell flat. The graphics are cool but not cool enough for me to make up for the story. I think I couldn’t get past figuring out if the bird was white or invisible or both or what the deal was. Like I said, earlier, my kids are more accepting and thought this one was really funny. Ruth asked me to read it several times to her and I saw her ask David to read it also. David read it to himself at least a couple of times. So, I’m including it here in the list of the books that caught our attention this week because from their perspective it was a clear hit.

The Sometimes Vegetarian: Lentil Tacos


So about a year and a half ago our seven year old David (then just turned six year old) decided to become a vegetarian. This is because in his own words he “loves animals and doesn’t want to eat them.” It began with the Thanksgiving turkey, which as a bird-lover he just couldn’t do that year. Then he gave up chicken, and then other meat. For awhile he would eat meat that wasn’t as obviously meat (bacon, salami, hot dogs). But then he decided he couldn’t do that either. He’ll tell people that this isn’t because he doesn’t like meat; he freely admits that bacon is delicious. He just doesn’t want to eat it.

We’ve let him make this decision. It’s obviously important to him. However, it can be challenging at times. Partially because he’s a picky eater anyway. He didn’t eat many vegetables when he made this decision and we firmly told him that had to change. He couldn’t be a “pastatarian”. The best, somewhat unexpected, outcome from this decision is that he has become a better eater and the rest of us eat healthier too as a consequence. He eats a lot more beans and lentils. And he’ll eat a lot more veggies than he used to. Still, he doesn’t like potatoes or tomatoes which leaves out a LOT of easy vegetarian options. The rest of us still do eat meat, just less frequently. Ruth, the carnivore of the family, is the most distressed by this change in our family diet. When we do have meat she’ll do a little happy meat dance and yell “Hooray! Meat!”.

I get a lot of questions about how I cook for one vegetarian in a family of omnivores. There are several strategies:

1) We eat meat and he eats something completely different. This isn’t super-often. Usually only if we are having something like steak that is just impossible to adapt. In those cases he’ll have leftovers, just eat the sides that we are having or in a pinch he’ll eat a peanut butter sandwich. You could use things like veggie burgers for this and when he first became a vegetarian I bought a bunch thinking that would be an easy solution but he doesn’t actually like them much.

2) We eat a meal with meat and adapt it for him. There are a lot of recipes where this works well. I’ll make chicken chili without the chicken but have some diced chicken for the carnivores to add if they want. When we have hamburgers he’s quite happy to have a slice of cheese with lettuce on a bun.

3) We all eat the same meal that is vegetarian. This is often the best scenario: healthy and easier than cooking separate things. But it can be challenging to find vegetarian recipes that don’t heavily rely on potatoes or tomatoes and that are appealing to carnivores, in particular a picky four year old carnivore.

However, we’ve found a few that work well and I thought maybe other families would enjoy. So I’m starting a sporadic series where I share the recipes from our sometimes vegetarian family.

The first is one that we all like and has the added benefit of being easy and fairly inexpensive. Traditional meat tacos were a favorite of David’s before he became a vegetarian and one of the last things he gave up. They are always a hit with the kids, I think because they get to add whatever toppings they want which makes it fun. Our assistant pastor’s wife told me her family liked lentil tacos and I searched for some crock-pot recipes. This is a combination of a few different recipes that I played around with.

Lentil Tacos

chopped onion (about 1/2 of a medium onion)
1 garlic clove
1 1/2 cups of lentils
3/4 cup quinoa
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsps cumin
1 tsp oregano
6 cups of water
some salt to taste

Combine all in crock-pot and cook on low for about 8 hours. This will seem like a LOT of water for a crock-pot recipe but the quinoa acts as a sponge and soaks it up. If you are around while it is cooking you can check it and may even need to add more water as the time goes on.

(If you think you don’t like quinoa, try this recipe anyway. It makes the taco filling very thick and gives it the texture you expect from tacos, almost meat-like. You can make it just with lentils but you’ll have to adjust the water a bit. And I think it’s better with the quinoa.)

Use the lentil mixture as filling for tacos, soft or hard. Add whatever toppings you like (cheese, sour cream, lettuce, pico de gallo, guacamole).

I realize all good food posts include food pictures. But I’m terrible at food photography. And the lentil filling, while delicious, is really just  brown gloppy looking stuff that would be difficult eve for a food photographer to make look appealing.

So I’ll end with a photo of our resident vegetarian instead.


He’s so cute he makes you want to eat quinoa, doesn’t he?