Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What's that red stuff all over the ground this time of year?

If you're anything like me, you often wonder about nature around you. (If not, don't even tell me; I'm not sure we can be friends.) Have you ever wondered what that red plant material is that's dotted all over the ground in early spring? If you live in a climate like Michigan's and it's windy where you live today, head outside right now and take a look.

What you are seeing are some of the earliest flowers of spring, the flowers of Acer rubrum and Acer saccharinum. Acer rubrum = red maple. Acer saccharinum = silver maple.

To give you an idea of the timing of the annual red and silver maple flower drops, where I live the crocus are nearly done flowering. The daffodils have been going strong several days, my forsythia just a couple days and today I noticed the first magnolia just starting to break bud.

Red maple flower.
Together with my in-laws, my family is a small, commercial producer of pure maple syrup. Knowing about the Acer species is part of our business. Each year, we invite students to visit us in the maple woods for tours. I always ask each group of visitors if they think maple trees have flowers. Young children usually guess no. Only about a third of the older students and adults realize that maple trees must flower. Very few can describe a maple flower to me — maybe only a few people in the seven years we've been holding formal educational tours.

Of course the answer is yes, maple trees do indeed flower. The flowers are tiny compared to the massive trees and aren't very noticeable until they fall to the ground. While red and silver maple flowers are red, flowers of the sugar maple we primarily tap for syrup are a bright, almost lime green. That may start to sound familiar to you now. You've probably noticed clumps of red or green maple flowers lying on your car hood or sidewalk in spring, or blown to the edge of the driveway. Reds and silvers are the first to flower.

Silver maple flowers.
Whether the maples are red, sugar, black, Norway, silver or another species, all flower so they can then fruit. The fruit of the maple tree is what I grew up calling a whirlygig or helicopter as a kid. Remember how delightful it was to toss a handful of the dry helicopters into the air and watch them twist and twirl toward the earth? That whirling and twirling is the maple seed dispersal system, sending the seeds inside as far from the mother tree as possible.

To a botanist, those helicopters are actually called keys or samara. (I won't judge if you still want to call them helicopters.) Technically, the seed is only the oblong brown seed coat and its contents at the heavy end of the double samara. The whole unit is the maple tree's fruiting body, but again, you can refer to the whole thing a seed we'll know what you mean.
Not-yet-flowered buds of a sugar maple
(Acer saccharum) in our front yard.

As nature begins to wake up from the long winter, it's satisfying to look down and notice the details — the greening grass at our feet, the emerging wild leeks, the narcissus and tulips in our flowerbeds. I also encourage you to look up. See the tree buds swelling, various species beginning to flower, and the red and silver maples just beginning to produce their fruit now that they're dropping their diminutive flowers.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Hey, Michigan! Burdening homeschoolers with more government bureaucracy doesn't stop child murder.

This morning, two Detroit legislators proposed a bill that would add layers of bureaucracy on the shoulders of Michigan's homeschooling families. Why? Because a crazed criminal killed her two children and stuffed them in the freezer.

What on earth does that have to do with homeschooling? It really doesn't. This is a knee-jerk reaction to a heinous murder because the mother said "homeschooling" as one of her many lies when somebody asked where the children were. (She also said they weren't home or had gone to live with relatives, and no one is proposing a bill to regulate children who legitimately leave their house with a friend or go stay with Grandma.)

Instead of adding another layer of costly government red tape to homeschooling families who are already choosing the more challenging path because they are that committed to their children, how about we solve the actual problem of a severely psychiatrically disturbed mother who murdered her kids? With all the systems already in place that were supposed to protect these children, but failed, why are we using homeschooled kids like mine as the scapegoat? If you are inclined to think we do need to further regulate homeschooling because of what happened to these two children— or for any other reason — consider this:

1. The mother in this case, Mitchell Blair, was investigated twice before by CPS for abusing the same children she eventually killed. How did that government intervention save her children? Should we add additional bureaucracy or fix systems already in place?

2. The children were enrolled in public school until they were murdered, or shortly before. The proposed legislation would ask existing school districts to not only care for enrolled children, but also police homeschoolers. How did public school oversight save these children?

3. Stoni Blair's teacher did call authorities when the girl stopped coming to school, yet no one did even checked into it (and not because of homeschooling either, they failed to act period.) How did this teacher's effort save these children?

4. We all know this mother was not actually homeschooling the [deceased] children, nor did she ever intend to. Had she not been able to use homeschooling as one of her multiple lies, would she have spared the children's lives? Or would she have just come up with a different lie?

5. Sadly, this is the third case in the last several years in Michigan in which a parent lied and said they were homeschooling and, instead, murdered their child. Four dead children is four too many. Are homeschooling parents more likely to murder their children in cold blood? Or are murderous criminals more likely to lie? Would murderers give up and spare their children if they didn't have the ability to use homeschooling as their lie, or would they skip town, go truant or use other lies? How many children enrolled in public school in Michigan in the last several years have been murdered at the hands of their own parents? How did public schooling save those children's lives? (My casual observation of the news tells me it is a significantly higher percentage of children killed while enrolled in public school then murdered while their parents used homeschooling is a lie. It would be interesting/horrifying to research.)

6. Are parents who intend to break existing Michigan homeschool law likely to comply with an additional layer of requirements? Or are the parents who would comply with additional laws people like me whose children are not the at-risk ones you are looking for?

7. One report said the two recently murdered children were receiving Medicaid and food assistance benefits for the last two years while their bodies were in their mother's freezer. How did involvement in these government programs, which often require check-ins and medical visits that clearly didn't happen, save these children? Would additional homeschool regulations requiring doctor check-ins get criminal parents to comply?

8. One article revealed the mother told some of her neighbors that she had killed her children. Not one of them stepped forward or told authorities. What role does this play in saving children's lives?

9. The children's grandfather attended the press conference where this proposed legislation was announced. He stood in support of additional regulation on homeschoolers. My heart aches for him, yet I cannot understand his reasoning here. Where was he when his grandchildren were missing for two years? If you are a parent, would your parents or in-laws stand idly by if you lied to them about your children's whereabouts for two years? If you are a grandparent, would you except a myriad of thinly veiled lies if you didn't see your grandkids for two years? Or are there deeper issues here?

10. In the past few days, I have heard a couple people say they know a homeschooling family where the children are not actually learning or doing anything. That makes me sad. Do you know any children enrolled in public school who fall through the cracks and are graduated without reading proficiency, don't do homework or get assistance from parents at home, or drop out? Is it possible the few bad seed parents who pretend they'll homeschool are the same ones who would be miserably failing their children in a public school environment? If we can't get that minority of children in check when they are under government scrutiny already, do we really expect additional laws on homeschoolers would have the intended outcome?

11. Where would money come from to pay for additional government bureaucracy to regulate homeschoolers? Would we raise taxes? Take from education funds that people say are already not enough?

12. One person recently asked if homeschoolers like me have nothing to hide, why would we object to additional government scrutiny? I want people to know that homeschoolers aren't afraid reporting on their children's progress. We're glad to tell you what our children are learning if you are truly interested. Some of us blog about it, share our educational experiences in Facebook posts, and have our children participate in science fairs and presentation nights to show the world what they are learning. The real question is, would government red tape improve the quality of our homeschooling or would it take precious time away from educating our children if we are required to submit additional reports, take our children to additional visits and wait for approval of our curricula?

13. If you think children need to be monitored because parents can't be trusted, what about the children ages 0–5 who aren't yet in school? They, too, are sometimes abused and murdered by their own parents, which is already illegal and already has a child protection system in place to try to stop it. Do we add a layer of bureaucracy on top of all parents because a tiny minority are criminals? Or is there a better way, like neighbors, family and friends looking out for each other and repairing existing systems that sometimes fail to protect children?

14. What laws are already in place to make murder and child abuse illegal? How is it that laws against murder and abuse didn't save these children, but we're supposed to think laws harsher laws against homeschoolers would save have saved these children?

15. Is it possible we are so deeply troubled as Michiganders by what happened to these children that we are thrashing about, looking for answers, ready to cling onto the slightest bit of hope that we can do something to stop cold-blooded child murders? Do we really want to punish the wrong families because we feel desperate and hurt by the loss of these two children?

Believe me, stopping child abuse is so important to me that it has become a key part of my calling as a Christian and as a mother. I would do just about anything if I thought it would save a child from abuse or murder. My husband and I adopted two children out of the foster care system whose lives were irreparably damaged by their birthparents. We did this with open hearts even though it has rocked our family to the core and added stress that's nearly impossible to adequately describe. When I say I would do anything to save a child, I mean it. But regulating homeschoolers? That's not the answer.

16. As those who know me are well aware, I am pro-homeschooling. I am also pro-public schooling, pro-online schooling and pro-private schooling. I am pro-school choice. I choose homeschooling for two of my children and public schooling for two of my children. I am grateful all these options are available. Do we really want to limit educational options, or do we want to solve the real problem of child abuse and murder?

Instead of throwing a tea cup of water on a forest fire (not to mention the wrong fire), how about we get to the real root of the problem? Instead of adding a whole new layer of bureaucracy over top of homeschooling families whose children score, on average, higher than publicly school children in all measures, how about we work on solutions for mental illness? Child abuse? The child protection system? Detroit in general? Poverty? Societal ills that allow people to turn their heads when children are hurt?