Stolen minds and Certified!

I've read Michael Gaddy's "Ordained By the State: A Recipe for Failure" and made me want to put together something I've been putting off: testing is meaningless.

Certification or test results do not mean a whole lot other than the ability to pass tests.

For example, a lousy people person might be "smart" enough to pass tests for a medical degree but may never be successful in the real world.

During college, I saw some of my classmates taking computer science courses without the passion. Since I self-taught how to program, I had a drive to know more and do better in my class work (study was a no brainer since I already knew most of the stuff being taught). I couldn't understand some of them, those who were struggling to just pass the class, had the audacity of bothering to even major in the subject (computer science).

After reading up on education, homeschooling (home education) and news of various problems at public schools, I now understand how schooling does not equal education and testing proves nothing.

True education is the ability to learn new ideas, as well as the ability to synthesize ideas and/or experiences into new concepts and inventions. These qualitative skills cannot be measured by testing. You can tell it when you see it, but not something you can quantify to identify (let alone predict or check for the potentials of) this ability.

The problem with testing and certification is that the test taker has to predict what frame of mind the test maker had when writing the questions and then come up with the answer which best fits in that framework. You are automatically disadvantaged if you do not have similar background as the test makers (which often results in charges of racial bias, etc.). And English IQ tests do point out that if English is not your native language, results will be lower than if done in one's mother tongue. (For me, English is more native than Japanese but I am far from 100% native, so my test taking on the language/grammar side isn't so hot.) In schools, one has several weeks or months to get used the teacher's test making ability. With standardized tests like Texas' TAKS tests, things can get dicier since most teachers do not have the same framework as the those who created the standardized tests. (Which can explain why some school districts do poorly compared to others -- some disctricts have more/most teachers who make tests the same way as the standard test writers?)

What test prep training courses like Kaplan helps with is to get used to the framework of the standardized test makers (SAT, ACT, etc.). The closer your teachers are, the easier you can pass these tests. The farther they are, the more time is needed to practice tests and somehow get used to the deviating test framework (which some people in Texas complain about: teachers spending too much time on TAKS prep).

In the real world, who cares? When I pick a doctor, I look for someone experienced and not too cold of personality. I don't care what his degree(s) are. Certification doesn't give me any warm fuzzy, esp. those given out by the government.

Over the last few months (end of 2004 and early 2005), there has been many drugs pulled off the market even though they were approved by the FDA. Certified by the government but wasn't done "well enough" such that people died or injured enough to get serious review. The problem with testing and certification is that people will do the minimum to get away with it, even if they have to mess with the test data or even the results.

(Previewing this, it seems I'm all over the map. I may reedit or rewrite this later...)


Plea to Public Schools: give parents the choice

[I haven't made up my mind about sending to Statesman but keep sending me comments! Also I have to cut it down to 750 words if I want it to be published.]

When I read Laura Cottam Sajbel's commentary titled "A plea to Parents: Give public school a chance" February 16, 2005, I couldn't help but respond with: why?

Dumbing down the students: Sajbel wrote "Taking bright and talented children out of our neighborhood school not only undermines the public schools, it cheats society." So she's admitting that public school students are less bright than those who go to private schools (including us home educators)? And she wants other parents to improve the "brightness" of the public school for whose benefit? Her children's? Let's say that my children are brighter. Would I want my children to be in a school where their brilliance is valued for pushing "the learning curve?" Or do I want my children to be in a setting where they are educated and learning new truths at their own pace?

False community: Sajbel wrote "the benefits of their neighborhood public school. It strengthens our community to be able to watch each other's children grow; and it increases our reach, as parents, if there are other caring adults nearby to give gentle guidance as our little ones mature." I, as a parent, would be very uncomfortable letting strangers guide my children without my supervision or direct permission, including my neighbors. I, as a Christian, would not want a neighborhood atheist or muslim giving "gentle guidance" to my children. I want to pick and choose the communities I want to spend time with and allow to influence my children (be it church or other communities).

False care: Sajbel wrote "Public schools ... [have] many intangibles of educating a child -- a caring environment" Don't kid yourself: Teachers (esp. public school ones) are paid to be teachers. I realize that there are those who teach (or in the system as administrators) in public schools for making postive impact to the students, giving up the potential financial gain in the "real world." However, some (many?) are in it for the pay and benefits (i.e., penty of vacations and able to retire young), rather than real concern for the children. Only parents can guarantee care for their own children. Private, religious school teachers have more than pay in mind when they teach their children so they usually have trancendent, unselfish reasons to care for their students (I don't have any comment for a non-religious private schools, but my father was a school teacher at Christian schools so I know he wasn't in it for the money and I'm sure that he wasn't the exception).

False diversity: Sajbel wrote "Isn't learning to get along with people of all cultural backgrounds a vital skill" Getting along with immigrants' children in America who are trying to assimilate the American way is not the what I would consider cultural education. As an immigrant myself, I recall growing up in California trying to be "Americanized" as much as possible (so much so that I became a naturalized US citizen during college). When dealing with my peers, the only diversity which they were exposed to from me were my skin color difference (i.e., no cultural difference that they could readily tell) -- I even saw myself as an American wanna-bee (until I officially gained my citizenship).

False socialization: "And children who are insulated in more homogeneous schools don't get much practice dealing with different cultures or socioeconomic backgrounds." Public school is too artificial of an environment: Children need to interact with diverse ages, not just with their peers. Being older usually means better knowledge and better (bitter?) experiences, so interacting with non-peers usually bring greater breadth of knowledge (and hopefully some dose of wisdom). Besides, it is up to the parents to deal with different cultures or socioeconomic backgrounds (like immigrating to another county (as my parents did, bringing the whole family to America) or befriending and inviting over families from other cultures). One cannot experience other cultures without personal and family connections, like visting people's homes and seeing how families from other cultures interact (a parent-child relationship cannot be experienced in a sterile, public school environment).

False sense of individual attention: Sajbel wrote "
teachers who teach each child at an appropriate level." How could this be? When there are 15, 20 or 30 students in one class, there is no way each child can get individual attention. What's great about home education is that the oldest child will get the most attention initially but the younger children will learn indirectly from the older children (at first). Then once the oldest gets to a certain age, he can help his siblings directly. And maybe even reverse with the younger helping the older. Unlike schools where the teacher changes every year or so, parents stick with their children all their life (what a surprise) and know the perculiarities of each child (from personalities, to learning style and even love language).

Tax is an expense: Sajbel wrote "Your taxes already support the public schools; given the price tag of our neighborhood's property taxes, it would seem wise to nurture that investment." Let's not kid ourselves: tax spent is an expense, not an investment. Unless, of course, the equation of "properly educated students" = "new tax payers" may be a way of thinking about tax spending as an investment but I don't think this is what Sajbel had in mind. If all parents pulled out their children from public schools, there would no reason to have school tax! I think Sajbel can better choose to direct her money (which is currently being taxed away) rather than some anonymous tax spenders.

Schooling is not education: Sajbel wrote "My husband and I have three children, and education is one of our top priorities. When I heard iffy comments about the school, I went to see for myself." I admire the author taking the time to check out the school but disappointed that her husband didn't go together (for a couple so "concerned" about education). One problem with her commentary is that she equates school with education. Nothing could be futher from the truth. Education is learning new truths and their applications and real education is learning how to learn. On the other hand, schooling takes place during most of the public school business hours (and my children believe that the best class period is recess).

Everyone can win: Sajbel wrote "But when some of our brightest and most successful citizens transfer their children out of the neighborhood school, everyone loses." Actually if everyone takes their children out of public school, every parent and child wins (except maybe public school teachers). Parents will have choices about their children's current needs and their future (and optionally include their children's input) on what's best for them, be it private schools or various flavors of home education. Children and parents cannot help but be winners. Actually, even former public school teachers can be winners, especially those who are passionate about teaching since they can get together and start new private schools (free market will prove how much they were valued by the parents (and students), relative to existing private schools). Some would bring up the "what about the poor" argument but in reality, if the school tax was eliminated, rental properties (e.g., apartment rents) will get cheaper and businesses will charge less money (since they all pay taxes, too) so even the poor will have more cash to spend on education. And those who are financially blessed (along with profitable companies) will have more money to give for educational needs of the poor like scholarship funds or even direct support or individual sponsorship (how about "adopt a child for school" program?). All kinds of great and creative possibilities would open up if school tax was eliminated.

No regrets? Sajbel wrote "We haven't regretted our decision." Only time will tell. My regrets of going to school was being dependent on peers for approval rather than my parents and my sister. I was too bound up with my classmates (i.e., spent more time with them) rather than my family and so I did lose touch with them especially during college years and few years after college. (Looking back, my parents were too busy and not directly involved in my life enough for me to be drawn to them, so it wasn't the schools' fault per se. My parents falsely assumed that the church schools would take care of everything including parent-child relationships.) Relearning Japanese helped me rebuild the bridge back to my parents but after many years of absence, it didn't come (and still isn't) easy for me. Hopefully my children will be different because of the time and love both my wife and I have poured into their lives (as well as setting examples of being in touch with our parents and siblings). "Only time will tell" applies to yours truly as well.


Educating Money

While I was growing up, my parents never really gave visibility into how they handled money. I knew we were poor (always bought old second hand cars, lived in apartments or trailers or rental house, dependent on hand me downs from other church members) and got some peek into our predicament few times, like:
  • My parents tried to run a lawn care business but they couldn't handle it well enough to make a living so they quit after a year. I helped out doing some of the muscle work but not in any other aspects of the business, like customer relations (my English was already near perfect, while their English is pretty bad even today) or any finance (I was already learning math on my own and about to hit that calculus wall).
  • When I thought I had enough money saved up for TI-58 (US$200 at that time, I believe), they were initially reluctant to let me use the money for mere calculator and wanted me to apply towards my tuition. I didn't know any better, so I insisted on going my way and eventually they relented (looking back, I'm a bit ashamed for being so selfish but on the other hand, if only they were more open, I would have been more understanding).
We were so poor that I don't recall going to the movies until I started working full time. When Star Wars were all the rage, the best I could do was read books (borrowed from the library, of course). When Battlestar Galactica came out, I recall recording the audio track on cassettes (since we couldn't afford a VCR) and replayed just the audio. Sure, I envied my classmates who were better off, but not so much that I was consumed with jealousy. Thankfully, my parents lived the Christian life of being content with what we had and didn't borrow to try to live it up for today (and pay later).

I guess I learned to borrow starting with college where the scholarship wasn't enough and I felt that I had to get student loans to get my "education." During college, I wanted to get a credit card so bad, I tried to lie to get it (but got caught lying).

Grad school was no different. I borrowed even more money for tuition and got hold of a credit card! (No income + debt generator were a great combo.) I started using the credit card with no way to pay for it. I quickly learned that it made no sense to borrow and pay high interest esp. without any income! I eventually paid it off but it was a painful lesson.

I started reading up on personal finance, investment (crash October 1987 was fresh in our memories when my company started talking about 401k) and learned a lot about money on my own. Before I was transfered to Japan (or soon after), I've paid off all my student loans. My wife had a car loan before we got married, so we paid that off too as soon as we got married. So, we've pretty much stayed debt free other than taking advantage of free credit offers (the only gotcha's are the ones where they charge some handling or processing fees for the loan, which is such a rip off). The only real debt we have taken on since our marriage is mortgage (I never did really borrow money to buy a car, except when I put up CD (certificate of deposit) as collateral for a loan just to gain credit history -- that is, I never had a lien on any of the cars I've owned).

I thought I was doing OK by saving up money and being generous about donating. I even became a treasurer for a small church and was able to give a helping hand to some of the members. But, my view on money changed when I started seriously studying about what the Bible has to say about it.

First off, 1 Tim 6:10 says "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." Money is not evil, in and of itself. In fact, money is a neutral tool, which can be used for good or for ill. Love of money, or greed, on the other hand can lead to various evils like theft and murder or even family breakups.

And when I started helping out in the financial ministry at our church using Dave Ramsey's materials, it really opened my eyes on the Biblical foundations of money. And I have found that money problem is almost always a desire problem (i.e., "wants" redefined as "needs") not merely income or expense problem. It is greed or pride which prevents people from making hard decisions (like selling one's new car or new home).

In the process, I became convicted of the evils of debt (Prov 22:7 "the borrower is servant to the lender") and, so now, we are preparing to sell our home so we can downsize and buy a home with a more reasonable mortgage which can be paid off in 15 years or less.

As I finish my Crown studies, I hope to take my understanding of money to the next level....

Educational Goal

So what is our goal(s) for our children? It certainly isn't to get into MIT or Harvard. Or any other prestigious (or not) college.

Our goal is to raise up responsible adults who fear God and live by the Biblical principles, say, by 18. Looking back, I was nowhere prepared to live an adult life when I turned 18, let alone 23 (when I started working full-time).

Knowing the Bible, especially through memory verses, is important. So is the ability to read and comprehend what the Bible teaches. (We're going through the reading part. Comprehension is the next area to focus on...)

Learning to interact with all walks of life is valuable (not just with peers). As Asian-American, we do stand out in Central Texas where most of the population is white American. But we do have friendship with various races: hispanic, black (I hate the phrase "African American" since it can also mean white Europeans who've settled in Africa and then immigrated to the US -- I've heard of South African white immigrants checking off "African American" in Census -- as well as black Cuban immigrants who see themselves as Cuban American, not African American) and non-Japanese Asians (including a home educating Japanese Brazilian).

Handling money well is another important area: The Bible talks about money more than any other topic including faith. Crown ministries (I just started taking their study this month) has chockful of information on why money is such a big deal in the Bible and in our lives. No wonder a major cause of family stress and divorce is money! So we want our boys to be able to handle money well: don't get debt, plan ahead and invest wisely.

Getting ready for marriage is another: what love is, how to deal with one's spouse.

And esp. for boys: what does it mean to be a man. My oldest turned 12 and is about to become a teenager. He and two other friends (with their dads) are going through a rite of passage since July and hope to complete in June, before any of the boys turn 13.

Education vs School

Growing up with all sorts of schooling and with my father being a teacher and my mother being a traditional Japanese mother concerned about "education," I was easily brainwashed into thinking that education meant going to school and getting degree(s). Or "schooling = education."

How wrong I was. But before I explain, I need to digress: I was always good in math during elementry and junior high in the US since Japanese math was about 1 year ahead so I was breezing through my American math classes (while struggling in my Japanese classes in the evening). During 7&8th grades, I was able to get ahead but somehow I got bogged down and didn't contiue to advance. In 9th grade, at a new school, I was given a chance to skip Algebra I and went into Algebra II (I was conditionally admitted, since I was tested during signup and didn't pass everything but enough that the teacher let me go on ahead). Did I have a blast: I was a 9th grader with bunch of 10th and 11th grade high schoolers and several of my classmates were humble enough to asked me (a lowly freshman) for help! We moved to another school for 10th grade and I was able to take pre-calculus with 11th and 12th graders.

Well, I was breezing through my pre-calc in 1979-1980 and soon got bored, so I started studying ahead and found myself butting my head against calculus. It took several readings of the textbook to understand the essence of calculus but I eventually got it and it gave me the confidence I needed to tackle any material I wanted to learn. That summer, I took calculus at the local community college and got me going in taking many college courses before I finished high school. (Taking geometry in my senior year was a joke: I spent most of my class time playing computer games since the computer lab (Commodore PET) was in the same math class.)

At that time, programmable calculators were starting to get used and I wanted to learn what this programming was all about. I borrowed a classmate's TI-55 and manual and wrote a simple stop watch and I was hooked on programming. I got my parents to buy me a TI-58 that summer after working at odd jobs. I read books on programming, I got a computer account (PDP-11 hooked up via 300 baud modem) via my high school and started programming in BASIC. I took a college course in computers, which I breezed (since I already studied on my own). When I started college, I was always one step ahead of my courses needed for my Computer Science degree (at least for BS -- MA was a bit more of struggle since I had to take several formal topics, which I didn't care for (same with math, such that my last 2 years of math BA studies were no longer fun).)

During college I discovered Dr. Schaeffer's The God Who is There and learned that Christianity is truth about reality and covers not just spiritual/religous arena but all of life: arts, science, history, politics. I started reading more of his books and his family's books, esp. Franky Schaeffer's Addicted to Mediocrity. The later pointed to two books which realigned my understanding of education:
  • For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaffer MacAulay (This made me realize that education is about learning and that it is OK (in fact, better) if it was fun to learn)
  • The Way Home by Mary Pride (helped me understand what home education was all about)

When I understand about home education during my graduate studies (1986-1987), it dawned on me that I had been home educating myself all along! Once I realized it, I got out of my PhD studies (after taking few courses) and have never really looked back.

So now I see "education = self learning" (+ learning to teach this ability to the next generation).


Private vs Public Schooling

I grew up attending several church run schools from k-12 and 4 yours of college, all administered by one denomination (unnamed to protect the innocent), but in two countries, taught in two languages: Japanese and English. In between, I attended my first 3 months in the US at a public school in 1st grade and several community college courses (during high school) and few public university courses during college (I wanted to learn Latin for a year and didn't have a choice).

I recall that the public school children (in 1st grade in California) were mean and used racial slurs against me (a great introduction to America). The private school classmates on the other hand were never overtly discriminatory but there were subtle discrimination which I felt but couldn't put my finger on (nor had any proof). Around me, I saw problems like clique (the "in" group and all others) and, during high school, heard about teenage sex and even abortions. Back then I was too shy (and too geeky) to go on dates, let alone have a girlfriend, so most problems I knew about were hearsay.

I became a Christian during junior high and started to grow in Jesus Christ. The denomination I was part of, had rather conservative standings on several technicalities like sex before marriage was wrong, homosexuality was wrong, baptism (must be performed by the denomination's minister) were very critical part of salvation and tithing strongly encouraged. Despite it all, during high school and college and partly into my graduate studies, I had pretty much a "progressive" beliefs, mainly absorbed from classmates and media: Christianity is exclusively in the spiritual and religious arena, the Bible may have errors (thought inspired), money was the root of all evil, getting married without any children was a good thing (or not a bad thing), and had no clear stand on abortion. So I was pretty much a moderate, in spite of my church attendance and active participation in church related activities.

I suppose if my parents held more conservative values and had direct involved with my spiritual growth, things might have been different but by the time I hit college, our language gap had grown (during grad school, I lived in Boston and I had lost my Japanese ability so much that I was only able to talk about superficial matters, like the weather).

Dad's Retreat '05

I attended CHEACT's Dad's retreat this weekend and it was very good. Norm Wakefield from Elijah Ministries gave a talk on the importance of having the goal of oneness and unity (not uniformity) with one's wife: so that's my challenge as I prayerfully work at implementing what I've learned.

One thought which I had a spark of an idea but far from complete: the Protestant idea of "priesthood of all believers" is misleading, since even though we all have direct access to Jesus, the priest is the husband/father of the home. Just as Jesus is the priest of the His bride (the Church), the husband is to be like Jesus and perform priestly functions, not so much to control access to God (since we are all equal before God), but to lead and guide and set examples for the family in all matters such as spirituality as well as material and time management. (The thought process started after long talks on our (men's) need to focus on Jesus and learn to identify with Him. As my identity is in reflecting Jesus, my wife's identity is in reflecting me. Submission of a wife is not so much to be a slave but to reflect (or so is my understanding) the husband who leads the family (which makes so much sense because in (traditional) Japan, when a wife joins her husband she becomes part of the husband's family rather than trying to integrate her former family with her husband's family). And then something about priest really clicked in for me with Catholic's priestly hierarchy vs Protestant's "priesthood of all believers" and how Christ's model didn't fit either model.)

Another thought is the reminder about our rewards in heaven (2 Tim 4:7,8 and 1 Cor 3:13-15) and helping to clarifying the two books described in Rev 20:11-15 (at least it made sense to me).


Why Start Now?

I thought about putting my blog in my old web page but I guess I like the idea of starting fresh. So here goes my comments and experiences as a home educating dad.

First off I'm working at a day job so my lovely wife does the heavy lifting of educating our two boys.

I am a naturalized Japanese American (so I was born in Japan and choose to become a U.S. citizen) and raised in a Christian home. I am well schooled since I attended both Japanese and American schools from 2nd grade to 8th grade while growing up in Los Angeles area. I started taking college courses since 10th grade. I got my AS (engineering physics), BS (Computer Science) and BA (Math) in four years in California while I took another year to get my MA (Computer Science) in Boston, MA.