Monday, April 15, 2013

Friends of Friends and Privacy on Facebook (More Internet Safety)

Recently, I've received a spate of friend requests from people I don't know. Never met them, not even once. Not someone I knew in college or in high school. Total strangers. How could this be? My privacy settings limit strangers to seeing only my name and photo on my timeline.I can't imagine that total strangers swoon over my picture and decide they just have to know me. Yes, they may come across me in other ways: I do have a Facebook badge on my website, The School and Home Library and when I Google myself, I get about 77,000 results. After reading about me or something I have created on the Web, they may be overcome with a desire to know me; however, I think this is unlikely.

Here's what's really going on: I'm receiving friend requests from friends of my friends (even though my privacy is set to friends only). When I've researched the names, I've discovered that I've already seen them on Facebook. They've posted comments on my friends' posts and photos. They've been tagged in some of the same photos in which I've been tagged. And I guess they're just wanting to expand their circle of friends, enlarge their community. After all, a friend of my friend has the potential to be my friend as well.

So here's the thing: When we post, comment, and tag, we forget  that many people will see what we have put in Facebook. Even if our privacy is set to friends only, friends of our friends will see our info when our friends comment on our posts or we comment on theirs.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. It's just a reminder, and a reminder we should share with our children, that once we post something online, whether its to Facebook, a blog, wiki, or whatever, we no longer have any control over it. We cannot control who sees, shares, copies, pastes, saves, or re-posts it. And we can never take it back. The moral of the story: Think very carefully before posting or commenting on Facebook. You never know who might see it. Share this with your children and teach them the critical thinking skills they need to understand how Facebook and the Internet work.

To learn more, order a copy of book:  Internet Safety for Homeschoolers: A Family Approach by posting a comment to this page.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Children belong to the Collective: My Thoughts

Two days ago, I posted  MSNBC's promo video in which Melissa Harris-Perry states that children belong not to their parents or families, but to whole communities. For many of us, her statements are eerily reminiscent of Hillary Clinton's claim that it "takes a village" to raise a child. These ideas are not new among liberals; what's new is that Harris-Perry is speaking specifically about education. She suggests that once we break through  "the private idea that children belong to their parents," America will make better investments in education. Homeschoolers, parents who have chosen to invest considerable time and energy in their children's education, rightly find statements such as these disturbing.

Having recently completed a Master's degree in library and information science with certification in school media, I can personally attest to the fact that schools of education are rife with the left-wing ideology that leads to radical ideas like Harris-Perry's. In order to be certified, I was required to take a number of education classes in which the following were taught:
  • Social Justice theory: Developed by John Rawls in the 1970s, Social Justice theory is based on a concept of fairness in which all members of a society work together to ensure equal access to all rights and liberties by exposing and ending the inequalities of race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Society must guarantee access to education, employment, unemployment benefits, and health insurance. The focus must be on helping the disadvantaged because they are the most in need. While this sounds reasonable, the end result is not equal access or equal opportunity, but equal outcomes: the belief that everyone must have the same--that we must "level the playing field" and "redistribute the wealth". As you can see, Social Justice theory forms the underpinning of President Obama's policies and initiatives.
  • Critical theory: Critical theory is focused on questioning and analyzing the assumptions that underlie society, assumptions related to social identities such as race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and nationality. Critical theory has its roots in Marxism and German philosophy and is concerned with  ideas of dominance and power. How does one group gain economic or political power over another group? How does one group enslave another? Valid questions; however, when the theory is applied to education, we end up with a revisionist history of the United States, a focus on multiculturalism and diversity at the expense of intellectual rigor and academic achievement, and outlandish policies like allowing transgendered individuals to use the restrooms of their chosen gender.
  • Communitarianism: This is basically a long word that means placing the well-being of the community above the well-being of the individual. The belief is that when the individual works for the well-being of the community (rather than for themselves or the their families), economic and political problems will be mitigated. When the community is healthy, successful, and well-cared for, so is the individual. Unfortunately, this flies in the face of American values like individual responsibility and initiative. Such an emphasis on the community can result in majority rule--which means that the minority is oppressed in favor of the larger community.
In most of my classes, I was in the minority in that I was one of the few who questioned these ideas and how these ideas are applied to education. Most of my classmates accepted these philosophies, whether to earn favor with the professor or because they were true believes, I cannot say. Regardless, the people in my graduate classes were either already teachers or preparing to become teachers. They either had or would have enormous influence over the children in their classrooms--children who would accept whatever their teachers said.

How do Harris-Perry's comments apply to homeschooling? Most homeschoolers watch and listen with trepidation to calls for increased regulation of homeschools and homeschool curricula. Harris-Perry is not the first to suggest that the government has an interest in educating future citizens. I often feel this is the crux of the socialization question. Homeschoolers typically interpret questions about "socialization" to mean providing opportunities for their children to socialize with their same-aged peers. Perhaps what the questions is really about is socializing our children to be servants of the state who don't think critically about the government's policies and laws.

The Home School Legal Defense Association has cautioned for years against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which not only does not mention parental rights, but also subverts the role of the parent to that of the state. Currently, HSLDA is supporting the Romeike family's quest for asylum. The Romeike's are German homeschoolers who faced fines, threats of imprisonment, and the loss of their children simply for educating their children at home. The Romeikes were granted asylum by the United States, but it has been revoked. Is the United States response to this family an indication of the administration's view of homeschooling in general? I am quite fearful it is.

Yesterday, Harris-Perry issued a statement  in which she claims her Lean Forwoard promo was an "uncontroversial comment on my desire for Americans to see children as everyone’s responsibility." She provided numerous examples of people in the community who all help children: volunteers, coaches, teachers, crossing guards. In her post she wrote:

I believe wholeheartedly, and without apology, that we have a collective responsibility to the children of our communities even if we did not conceive and bear them. Of course, parents can and should raise their children with their own values. But they should be able to do so in a community that provides safe places to play, quality food to eat, terrific schools to attend, and economic opportunities to support them. No individual household can do that alone. We have to build that world together.

 This I can agree with, but this is not what she said in her Lean Forward video. Ms. Harris-Perry is a very intelligent, highly-educated woman who teaches at the college level and is an author and tele-journalist. She knows how to use language to its best effect. She was not speaking off-the-cuff. Her comments were not extemporaneous. The promo spot was carefully scripted and passed editorial and marketing muster. When she said children belong to communities, she said what she meant and meant what she said. Don't be fooled by her apologetic.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Very Scary: How Those in the Education Establishment View Your Children

Every homeschool family needs to be aware of this. Every American family needs to be aware of this!

According to Melissa Harris-Perry, professor, author, MSNBC television host, and political commentator, your children do not belong to you. They belong to the collective, and once we get past the notion that parents or families own their children, America will be better able to fund and improve education.

Learn more about Harris-Perry here:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

More on Instagram and Keeping Kids Safe

Here's a follow up to yesterday's post about Instagram:

Getting to Know Instagram--Links to Bring Adults Up to Speed

This short post by Marti Weston identifies information sources re: Instagram and reminds parents that the minimum age for this social network (like Facebook) is 13.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Internet Safety: Parents, Are You Paying Attention?

During the past several weeks, I've been trying to sell my new booklet Internet Safety for Homeschoolers: A Family Approach at homeschool conferences, to homeschool groups, online, and by word of mouth. The results have been somewhat discouraging. At first, I thought is was a lack of interest, then I thought it was a lack of concern. Parents would say things like
  • "I let my daughter use my iPad in the car to keep her busy" 
  • "Everybody is on Facebook. What's the harm?"
  • "My kid has a smart phone, but he just uses it to call me and his friends"
Now, I thinks its lack of awareness.

Handheld devices have become ubiquitous. Everybody has them: smart phones, iPhones, tablets, ereaders, game systems. Many kids I know own more than one device and carry at least one with them all the time. So nobody pays attention to how they are being used. Parents don't worry so much about predators, but nor do they think about the digital activities that engage their children. Most parents assume their kids know more about technology than they (the parents) do, so they don't realize their own important role in teaching their kids how to participate online.

Here's a great article published earlier this week in the Huffington Post: Beauty is only skin deep, but Instagram is to the bone. The author, Hollee Actman Becker explores how tweens are using Instagram, a photo social networking service owned by Facebook, to hold beauty contests. Becker raises important questions about parents' responsibilities that are all answered in my booklet.

The number one risk factor for kids getting into trouble online is a conflictual relationship with parents, followed by lack of parental involvement. Parents, we are our children's best protection online. Educate yourselves about what your kids are doing. Get involved. Teach your children that your family's faith and values are just as applicable online as they are offline. Don't just hand them the iPhone or tablet. Teach them what it means to be a responsible person in the digital world.

For more information about my booklet, leave a comment to this post, and I will get in touch with you.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Homeschool conventions and conferences: Is this the way we want to go?

I recently attended a homeschool convention and had a wonderful time networking with other homeschool  families and discovering acquaintances from my area who are considering homeschooling . It was fun to catch up with people, share experiences, and both give and receive tips and fresh ideas. There is nothing like a good homeschool conference to re-invigorate, stimulate, and motivate! Nevertheless, I came away feeling somewhat saddened and disappointed.

When I first started homeschooling a short six years ago, homeschool conventions were about homeschoolers helping and educating each other based on their experiences and knowledge. Most conference sessions were presented by homeschool parents or graduates who shared advice, encouragement, techniques, ideas, methods, and approaches. I loved these seminars! Not only did I learn much that I could use, I also received much needed affirmation: Yes! I can do this, too! The presenters were parents, just like me. If they can successfully homeschool their children, so can I.

Over the years, however, I've noticed a change: more sessions and seminars are presented by professional vendors who briefly present some aspect of learning theory and immediately launch into an infomercial on their product. Too often, these presenters are not homeschool parents who have created a business based on their experience and expertise, but corporations who have identified homeschoolers as a potentially lucrative market. While the increased availability of resources and materials is wonderful (I love visiting the vendor booths in the exhibit hall), I sorely miss the more personal, less commercial learning from and with my peers. At the last convention I attended, I felt more like a mark than a friend or colleague.

Further, I am bothered by what seems to be the cynical and manipulative use of scripture and prayer by commercial vendors in their presentations. Even though I am Jewish, I don't mind when homeschoolers include Bible verse or prayer in their presentations. It is a  natural outgrowth of the presenters' faith, family life, and home practice. It is genuine and real. I am perfectly fine with Christian companies like Sonlight and Apologia making an affirmation of faith.  However, when companies that lack a Christian mission include scripture, it feels perfunctory, tangential, and forced. My impression is that Bible quotes and prayer are included because vendors believe this will help sell their product to homeschoolers--most of whom are Christian. I would much rather these vendors focus on the value of their product than mislead us with false statements of faith.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

New book: Internet Safety for Homeschoolers: A Family Approach

I am happy to announce the release of my self-published book, written with Dr. Virginia Wallace: Internet Safety for Homeschoolers: A Family Approach.

Keeping their children safe on the Internet continues to be a concern for many parents. Many worry about predation (sexual solicitation), exposure to inappropriate content (pornography), cyberbullying, and sexting.This short booklet takes a clear-eyed look at these risks and proposes a common sense, rational approach  based on the best research and family values. Topics covered include:

Who is at Risk?
How Great is the Risk?
Adolescent Development in the Internet Age
The Internet as a Private, Public Space
The Nature of the Internet
Parenting Online
Common Sense Rules
When Rules are Broken
Teaching Internet Safety Basics
     Usernames and Passwords
     Linking Accounts
     Creating Accounts on Commercial Websites
     Browser Settings
     Mobile Apps
Building Your Child’s Online Identity
Kid-Friendly Browsers, Search Engines, Filters, and Services
Tips for Tweens
Tips for Teens

If you are interested in obtaining a copy of Internet Safety for Homeschoolers: A Family Approach, contact me at

About the authors:

Whitney Husid, MLIS, PsyD

Dr. Husid is a homeschooling mom with a master’s degree in library and information science and a doctorate in clinical psychology. She is co-author of Collaborating for Inquiry-based Learning: School Librarians and Teachers Partner for Student Achievement and has published numerous articles in school library journals.

Virginia L. Wallace, MLIS, EdD
Dr. Wallace, formerly a professor of the School of Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina, has a master’s degree in library and information science and a doctorate in instructional technology and distance education. She is the author of School News Shows: Video Productions with a Focus and coauthor of Collaborating for Inquiry-based Learning: School Librarians and Teachers Partner for Student Achievement. She has published numerous articles in school library journals, presented at international conferences, and provided leadership and training as a library ambassador to the former Soviet Union.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My Experiment with Reading

Getting my children to read is not difficult. They are both avid readers and love going to the library. Getting them to read books for school (re: literature)--now that's a different story. My son admits that just having a book assigned takes all of the fun out of reading it even if its a book he would have enjoyed on his own.

Every year since we started homeschooling, my daughter has fought me when it comes to the study of literature. The first year (sixth grade) was very difficult as we adjusted to homeschooling. After all, it was a very big change from the private school she had attended. So, struggling with assigned books was just part of the larger struggle. All she had to do was read the book and discuss it with me. Those conversations were like pulling teeth! I finally made a rubric for expected behaviors during the conversation and gave her a grade based on her performance. During seventh and eighth grades, I tried to focus the conversations on different elements of literature: the plot, character development, symbolism, themes, etc. It was a nightmare, and we never finished all of the books on my list. In ninth grade (last year), we used Excellence in Literature: Reading and Writing Through the Classics  an outstanding classical curriculum by Janice Campbell. I thought using a curriculum would help by removing me from the equation. My daughter would independently follow the instructions, do the research, read the books, and write the papers. I have never heard so much whining and complaining, and in the meantime, my daughter read only 8 books.

So, inspired by Donalyn Miller and her book The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Reader in Every Child, I decided to take a different approach this year. Donalyn  questions the standard approach to teaching literature in which one book is read and studied over several weeks. She feels this discourages reading by tuning it into a mind-numbing  chore. She suggests that children are encouraged to read when they are allowed to read widely and at their own pace from books of their own choosing. Genres, literary styles and devices, plot analysis, character development and themes are all covered in short classroom lessons, and then kids are free to read for the rest of the period. Donalyn asks whether it is better to have students study 8 to 9 texts in depth and destroy their love for reading or to have them read widely from a broad range of choices.

This year, my daughter is studying world literature. At the beginning of the year, I compiled a list of 88 books from 18 different countries. All of the books were on lists of books to be read before college or were award winners. I told my daughter that she had to read 23 of them, specifying how many she had to read from each country. She gets to choose which books she reads. When she finishes those books, she has to read 10 more of her own  choosing. We still have brief lessons about literature--not about the specific books she is reading-- and she still has to write the occasional paper.

So far, my daughter has read 10 books, and we are only half way through the school year! She is excited about reading and for the most part, enjoys the books she chooses. Every once in a while, she comes across one that she does not like. She doesn't have to finish it. She can just choose another .And she does not shy from challenges. She took on Hugo's Les Miserables (well over 1000 pages and not easy reading) and rewarded herself by seeing the movie. Even if she does not read the required number of books, she's already read more books than she read last year or in any of the prior years, and she is becoming familiar with a wide range of literature. She's happy and I'm happy. Thank you Donalyn.

Follow Donalyn Miller:
her blog
on twitter @donalynbooks
her website:

Thursday, January 10, 2013

NAEP Vocabulary Scores and Homeschooling

As a professional educator, school librarian, and homeschool mom, I sometimes find that the educational worlds I occupy are like alternative universes or realities, each with it's own pedagogical philosophies and theories. What I learned in graduate school, particularly in my education courses, often conflicts with  my psychology background, personal beliefs, and experience as a homeschooler. My worlds collided when I saw the most recent scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). On the 2011 NAEP, eighth-graders scored an average of 265 out of 500 in vocabulary. Fourth-graders averaged 218 out of 500. Vocabulary is embedded within the reading exam; needless to say, reading scores were low and have been relatively stagnant since 1992.

Currently, public education focuses on teaching critical thinking skills rather than specific knowledge and content. The belief is that with the ever-increasing fund of knowledge, it is more important to teach children how to learn (find, evaluate, and use information) then to teach them content (reading, vocabulary, history, science). I saw an example of this in a first-grade class I visited during one of my internships. The teacher read the students a short story and then asked them to "draw a conclusion" based on the story. These poor students had no idea how to draw a conclusion, let alone read the story to themselves. I asked the teacher about this. She said the lesson came from the language arts curriculum required by the county. I pointed out  that most first graders were not capable of drawing a conclusion, an act that requires the higher-level thinking skills of  analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Shouldn't we be teaching them to read before we teach critical thinking?

E.D. Hirsch, raises a similar point when he criticizes "the principle of 'progressive education,' which assumes that students need to learn not a body of knowledge but 'how-to' skills that (supposedly) enable them to pick up specific knowledge later on" (Dec. 13, 2010).  He points out that children learn new words by guessing their meanings from the context within which they are read. In order to do this, they must have a broad range of content knowledge: they must know facts and information.

As a school librarian, I know that the best way to improve reading and vocabulary is to a) allow children to read rich and engaging texts of their own choosing, b) let them read widely, both fiction and nonfiction, and c) provide them with frequent, uninterrupted time for reading. Researcher Stephen Krashen has repeatedly proven the power of free reading for academic achievement and intellectual development. Teacher Donalyn Miller, in The Book Whisperer, shares the excitement,enthusiasm, and growth of students who are encouraged to read voraciously rather than being limited to studying one or two books each marking period. Keith Curry Lance demonstrates through his research the central role school libraries play in student achievement.

As a homeschooler, I share Hirsh's emphasis on content knowledge and the school librarian's emphasis on reading. Both are consistent with the classical approach to education or the trivium. In grade school, the focus is on learning and mastering the basic facts in each subject area. In middle school, students begin to study logic and reasoning, and in high school they learn the art of rhetoric, or how to put information together in a useful and persuasive manner. This approach is consistent with children's cognitive development and acknowledges that the higher-level thinking skills cannot be attained or practiced until students have a firm foundation of knowledge on which to base these skills. Unlike Hirsch, however, I believe vocabulary should be taught (in addition to exposure through reading). For instance, by studying the Greek and Latin roots of the English language, my children are constantly building their vocabulary. Good, solid resources include Vocabulary from Classical Roots, The Latin Road to English Grammar, and Wordly Wise

Reading is the best way to improve vocabulary and to increase comprehension. The classical curriculum emphasizes reading, especially classic fiction and nonfiction, as a source of knowledge as well as examples of excellent language use and reasoning. Most school librarians would disagree with this emphasis on the classics: many articles have been published recently espousing the use of current fiction to engage students in reading. My children are avid readers. In their free time they may read whatever they want. Their academic reading, however, is comprised of the classics. The classics expose them to
  • new vocabulary
  • outstanding use of the English language
  • some of the greatest thinkers and writers in the Western tradition
  • the essential questions and philosophical challenges with which we still grapple today
  • history, and
  • the development of the Western literary tradition.
When my children read the Harry Potter series, they were able to identify themes, ideas, characters, and precedents from mythology, the King Arthur legends, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Tolkien. When they read The Hunger Games, they noticed imagery and ideas from The Lottery by Shirley Jackson and The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell. Reading the classics has allowed them to enter the great literary conversation that has been developing for over 2000 years. Public school students, those who participate in the NAEP testing, cannot be a part of this conversation: they do not have the vocabulary, grammar, or depth of reading experience common among homeschool students.

Hirsch, E. D., Jr. (December 13, 2012). Vocabulary declines, with unspeakable results. The Wall Street Journal, p. A15.