Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Homeschooling strategies for coping with toddlers and babies

One of the most common homeschooling questions is surely this: what to do with the babies and toddlers while trying to teach the older children something school-related?

This is a very real problem, and unfortunately there are no perfect solutions. In the world of outside education, schools with multi-age classrooms separate out children under three, but homeschooling moms have to function under conditions of war.

When I began homeschooling last year, my children were 1.5, 3 and 4 years old. My oldest was absorbing the lessons but the other two were having a field day in my home classroom, pulling materials off shelves, drawing on any surface they could get close to, dumping cheerios underfoot and generally leaving paths of destruction behind them, all within 10 minutes of starting my lesson.

What to do? For me, the start of the solution was to change my mindset. I had to accept that homeschooling was different from the controlled environment of a classroom, and that these issues were part of the package. I relaxed about the messes and got more flexible about how I fitted in lessons for my oldest. For a while I abandoned out home classroom completely, and headed back to the kitchen table where it was easier to manage everyone.

Recently this topic came up again in one of my homeschooling Facebook groups, and a good discussion ensued. So I want to share those collected strategies here, for all moms who might be searching for a solution online. Hopefully some of these tips can work for you:

  • Try to get the younger children to "work" alongside the older children. This is important, although it won't buy you too much free time. It adds your younger children to the home school so that they feel included, and gets them learning. They may also surprise you with their early abilities. Even a 2-year-old can try cutting with scissors, coloring and scribbling, doing easy pouring and transfer activities, first puzzles, learning to open and close buttons, sticking stickers onto paper, matching objects and pictures, playing with play dough, stringing beads onto lace, etc.

  • Try to get the oldest kids to learn as independently as possible. For me, this has been absolutely key. The more independent your older ones get, the more hair stays on your head. My daughter is now 5 and she is able to work on her own for at least a part of many assignments. Also, for greater independence it might help to choose a curriculum with teaching CDs (ex. Math-U-See) or online classes.

  • Use nap times. Many moms use nap times to teach their older children. I do this too (though sometimes I wish I could have a nap myself!).

  • Have older children babysit younger siblings. One mom wrote that once she had five children doing official school, she realized that she couldn't teach more than three at the same time, so the others would have to wait and do something independent. She suggested that an older child could make lunch, bake, colour, or go to the back yard, basement or kitchen for a break with the younger children. "Flexibility is key," she said, and that is homeschooling in a nutshell.

  • Use staggered learning. Break up lessons throughout the day to make it easier for the younger ones to endure the wait. Also, try lessons in the evenings, after the babies and toddlers are in bed.

  • Other ideas:

    • One mom recommended the book A Mother's Rule of Life.
    • Have lots of snacks available.
    • Prepare lots of colouring pages related to the day's lessons.
    • Place Lego beside the older children - perhaps so that they can be kept busy while waiting their turn.
    • Playpens. These work well for some mothers, but not for all. Some children climb out of playpens early, while others (like mine) could never stand being confined in playpens. If it works for you, great!
    • High chairs. If your child can be strapped in a high chair or other seating device and quietly sit there for some time, great.
    • Play centres and other toys for young children. Maybe these will work better if they are only brought out at homeschooling time, so they retain some novelty.

Have other suggestions? Help other moms who might visit, and add you own tips in comments. 

Photo: Opedagogen via photopin cc

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Are Baby Gammy's parents really that unusual?

My thoughts on Baby Gammy, over at LifeSite News:
There is an uproar Down Under over an anonymous Australian couple that commissioned twins from a surrogate in Thailand, then reneged and brought home only a daughter after the other twin, a boy named Gammy, was born with Down syndrome. Pattaramon Chanbua, the couple’s surrogate, was left to care for the now six-month-old Gammy, who also has a congenital hole in his heart and will require expensive surgeries.
The Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has rightly called Chanbua “an absolute hero” and “a saint.” When she was seven months pregnant, the commissioning couple apparently asked her to abort Gammy because of his Down syndrome, and she refused because she considered abortion against her Buddhist beliefs. When he was born and rejected again by his parents, she chose to love him and become his mother. Despite her precarious financial situation, she took time off her work to care for him. That is true love, charity and largeness of spirit.
...Read more.
Also, in a shocking development, Gammy's Australian father has turned out to be a convicted pedophile. He is 56 years old, and in the 1990s he was convicted of 22 child sex-abuse charges involving girls as young as 7 years old. He spent time in jail following his convictions.

So now, this pedophile has taken home a little baby girl. In a further twist, this little girl is not the daughter of his wife. She was "made" in the lab with his sperm and the ovum of a poor Thai woman, a so-called egg "donor" (who got paid of course). Has this pedophile just made a new and defenceless victim for himself?

His adult biological son has come out in the media to say that his father is a changed man. But how would he know? His father didn't prey on boys to begin with. This poor little girl will be the guinea pig for that theory.

Personally, I strongly suspect that this 56-year-old man has very intentionally created this little girl as a plaything for himself. Poor, poor child. Again, this is the world that reproductive technologies have created for us.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ethics should colour doctor's decisions

My article in the Hamilton Spectator:
In a recent column, Martin Regg Cohn throws spears in all directions as he attacks doctors who refuse to prescribe or refer for birth control pills. Cohn wants the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, which is reviewing its human rights guidelines, to clamp down on these doctors and force them to participate in treatments they consider unethical or risk losing their jobs.
First off, Cohn rejects the possibility that there could be sound medical judgment behind the decision not to prescribe birth control pills. He is wrong; birth control is not Tylenol. Popular pain relievers are very safe when used according to directions; their main danger comes from accidental overdose.
...Read more. 
Photo: salimfadhley via photopin cc

Monday, August 4, 2014

Why I support Israel

The fact is, many Jewish people wouldn't even like me. Having worked in New York City alongside many politically liberal Jews, I felt like a total outcast at times with my socially conservative values. The word “Republican” was more like a curse word than a political party among some of these Jewish lawyers. It was entertaining to watch the shock on their faces when my photo appeared on the front page of the New York Times City section one morning, with me holding a rifle at a NYC shooting range. What a scandal.

So I know very well that the affection does not always flow both ways, and it’s not for cuddles and hugs that I support Israel in the present conflict against Hamas. In fact, I don’t like all that much about Israel. Their politics is liberal on many of the moral issues that I care deeply about, and my opinions would not be very welcome there. 

Being attacked gives you the right to fight

If Israel were just targeting innocent civilians unnecessarily, it would be wrong. But Hamas are hiding their rockets and their fighters among civilians, they are using neutral places like schools and places of refuge to hide their rockets and launch attacks. What alternative is there for Israel then? On principle, if someone attacks you, you have a right to defend yourself.

I've seen it suggested that Israel should be more precise in the use of their technology. Well, technology isn't perfect yet, although Israel certainly has the top of the line. As in the case of abortion, the direct and intentional murder of innocents cannot be justified, not even as a "lesser evil for greater good", but where such death is a side-effect of a legitimate self-defence, that is a different story.

The deaths of those innocent Palestinians who have been caught in the crossfire fall on the shoulders of Hamas, not Israel. In its ideological frenzy, Hamas willingly uses its own population as sitting ducks and as human shields for their weaponry. If anything is a violation of the ethical norms of civilized warfare, this is surely it. Hamas forces Israel to fight back through a line of civilian bodies, because it loves the worldwide propaganda this creates against Israel. Hamas is indirectly killing its own people to help it score points in the media. 

It's a brilliant tactic by Hamas, as shown by its incredible effectiveness. The world media is squarely focused on the suffering of the Palestinian people, and many regular people get the impression that Israel is wreaking carnage without justification. If all you look at is the heart-wrenching photos of bloody Palestinian children and civilians, which dominate mainstream media, then the Hamas propaganda machine starts to seem especially smart but evil.

While tactics and photos might sway public opinion, they don't actually move the truth to your side. The principle of legitimate self-defence stays the same, and on that principle Israel deserves support.

Democracy versus dictatorship

Let's not forget that Israel is a modern democracy. Democracies often have a hard time agreeing on anything, and waging war is a big deal for a democracy. There are certain checks and balances present when staunchly opposed opinions have to come together to agree on any major policy like that. So when a modern democracy launches into a war, especially a war of self-defence, I do believe that there should be a certain presumption of reasonableness in its favour, at least until proven otherwise.

On the other side of the conflict, we have a dictatorship run by terrorists. Doesn't that speak for itself? Hamas train teenagers to strap bombs onto their bodies, promise them virgins in heaven, and send them to blow up cafes and buses and other civilian hotspots. They have already launched over 3000 rockets with abandon, and the only reason they haven't been successful at mass murder is that they are technologically incapable of breaking through Israel's Iron Dome defence system. If they could, they surely would - and the body count ratios would change dramatically. Do these terrorists really deserve our sympathy?

Jews, not Arabs, are the world's outcasts

Finally, yet another reason why the Western world, and especially Europe, should be supporting Israel is this:

The Jewish people have suffered so much in the last hundred years that it staggers the mind. The hatred and viciousness that Europe unleashed against them 70 years ago is truly incomprehensible.

And I do mean Europe, not just Germany and not just the Nazis. So many more people were complicit, so many ordinary people, neighbours and colleagues and friends, people who never had any fingers pointed at them after the war ended. Anti-Semitism runs very deep in Europe, and it is still there to this very day. We should all be ashamed.

After what the Jews endured in World War II, much of the world agreed that they deserved their own land, free of harassment and hatred. Let's not forget that Israel was created with support from the United States, Britain and the nascent United Nations after the war, as a place of refuge for the raggedy remains of the nearly annihilated Jewish people.

I believe that it is still our duty, as the descendants of those who caused the Jewish people to suffer so terribly, to help them and support them. I am not aware of any actual anti-Semitism or participation in the Nazi genocide by my own Czech ancestors, but anti-Semitism seems to have been widespread among the Czech people before the Second World War, so we contributed to the climate of discrimination which Hitler used for his evil purpose. There were concentration camps throughout Europe, even in Czechoslovakia.

(Note: Today, the Czech Republic scores fairly low on the anti-Semitism scale, as measured by a recent major survey by the Anti-Defamation League. The CR came in at 13%, and many other European countries measured much higher).

The genocide of World War II happened recently enough that some of the survivors of concentration camps are still alive, and many Jewish families still bear the pain of having lost almost their entire extended families. It is not ancient history. It is way too early to wipe the slate clean and say that what previous generations did does not concern us.

So that sums it up for me, and this is why I support Israel in the present conflict, in the right to defend itself, and in the right to exist.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Christian doctors and the end of tolerance

For decades, tolerance was the golden rule of left-wing ideology. The public school system indoctrinated children about the absolute importance of being non-judgmental, and conservatives were told to love rather than moralise. We were all supposed to be headed towards some nirvana of values-free caring and sharing.

But it’s not turning out that way. Now that tolerance has done its work of confusing the populace and muddling popular common sense about right and wrong, the tune has suddenly changed. The left isn’t singing John Lennon’s Imagine anymore, they have moved on to a new song that could be called “My Way or the Highway.”

It’s time to wake up. The magic flute of tolerance which enraptured our society has been leading us along a pretty, winding path that ends in a new dictatorship.

Driving freedom out of medicine

A case in point is this week’s article by Martin Regg Cohn in The Toronto Star. Cohn wants doctors to leave their “private moral framework” out of the practice of medicine, and he urges the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to enact guidelines that would end the religious freedom of all doctors.

Cohn is undisturbed by the thought that many religious doctors might leave the practice of medicine if they are no longer able to conscientiously object to treatments like birth control pills, which may violate their religious and ethical values. Good riddance, says Cohn:
If a doctor is so antediluvian as to be anti-contraception, he’d best transition from medical to pastoral work. Playing God isn’t in the job description of physicians.
So much for tolerance towards those who disagree with the liberal ‘sexual rights’ agenda. Cohn is now telling faithful Catholics that they need not apply to medical schools. And, in a true dictatorial spirit, Cohn would like the Ontario government to force this policy if the College refuses to change its guidelines:
If the college fails to reassert itself as a self-governing authority, let the provincial government step in to defend patient rights under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Queen’s Park could do that by de-delegating the college’s authority and re-regulating medicine on our behalf.
This is a dangerously totalitarian way of thinking. What do the words “freedom of conscience and religion” mean to people like Cohn?

To be free means to live out our faith

In the past, our society understood freedom of conscience and religion to refer to every person’s right to live according to their own moral and religious precepts. We believed these rights to be foundational for our democratic society and enshrined them in our Charter as fundamental freedoms. Our Supreme Court has explained them this way:
The essence of the concept of freedom of religion is the right to entertain such religious beliefs as a person chooses, the right to declare religious beliefs openly and without fear of hindrance or reprisal, and the right to manifest religious belief by worship and practice or by teaching and dissemination.
These words by our highest Court closely echo Section 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that the “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” includes the freedom “to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Such passages recognize that living out our core values in our daily lives, which include our workplace, is the essence of true freedom. But that is merely a slight inconvenience for the new liberal ideology, which is busy moving the debate into the realm of “patient rights”.

Apparently, Ontario patients now can’t tolerate even a single “no” to any request for birth control, even if they can easily get their prescriptions of referrals elsewhere. As such, Cohn would take away Charter protection from doctors and make them into mere machines, just to save patients from the inconvenience and annoyance of going to the next clinic.

Come on Cohn, is minor inconvenience really too high a price to pay for the fundamental freedom of our doctors, or any citizens?

Is Cohn in the majority?

Apparently, many citizens today would answer that yes, the “patient is always right” approach is more important than religious freedom. At least, this is the impression one would get from reading the secular media.

The ratio of articles that have been published pro and against doctors’ religious freedom is telling. Over the last couple of months, about 20 articles have attacked the freedom of conscience of doctors, in various major secular Canadian newspapers and some mainstream online sites (not counting LifeSite News and other pro-life or Catholic media). In contrast, less than 5 articles defending the freedom of conscience have made it into the same forums.

On the other hand, the online poll on the College website is far more encouraging. Out of 22,597 votes, 67% said “yes” to the question “Do you think a physician should be allowed to refuse to provide a patient with a treatment or procedure because it conflicts with the physician’s religious or moral beliefs?” (When I last wrote about this poll, the results had been exactly opposite, so this is an excellent development).

Common misconceptions

Still, many people are not quite sure where they stand on this issue. While they might support religious freedom in theory, they are also worried about doctors putting patients at risk because of fringe religious ideas. Where should we draw the line?

The answer is, we already have a very good line, and it is working just fine. For instance, Muslim doctors already can’t opt out of treating women. The present College guidelines prohibit doctors from refusing to treat someone “on the basis of the individual’s or patient’s race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status and/or disability.”

What about a doctor who refuses to treat someone in a life-threatening emergency because he doesn’t want to give blood transfusions? Answer: this is already not allowed. Doctors have a duty to treat patients in life-threatening emergencies, and any patient who needs a blood transfusion can rest assured that he or she will get it.

The only gray area in the current policy is that doctors in remote rural locations have the same freedom of conscience as city doctors. Clearly, if rural doctors refuse to prescribe birth control pills, this could be a major hardship for women who would need to travel to other doctors.

The media keeps bringing up this scenario as support for ending conscience rights, but the fact is, this situation has never arisen in Ontario and it remains speculative. There are very few doctors in this province who refuse on religious grounds to prescribe birth control pills and related treatments, and they already shy away from jobs in the middle of the woods. Without even a single real case to speak of, it would be premature and highly disproportionate to eliminate the religious freedom of all doctors on account of this unconfirmed fear.

Keep the course

The College will wrap up its public consultation on Tuesday, August 5. Until then, we still have a chance to let them know that they would do best to keep the course.

Patients don’t need a draconian policy that ends the religious freedom of Ontario doctors, and such a policy would only be counter-productive. Rather than improving our health care system, it would undermine the foundations of trust that are so important in medicine, and drive principled doctors out of the profession.

As it turns out, the best protection for all patients, as the last stand against bad medicine and unethical laws and regulations, is the freedom of conscience of our doctors.

Click here to participate in the public consultation and to vote in the CPSO's online poll.

Photo: a.drian via photopin cc

Friday, July 25, 2014

Petition to protect the religious freedom of doctors

There is a new petition circulating, and it needs all the signatures it can get. Here is the text of the petition:

To: The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario
Re: Review and Public Consultation of the Policy Guidelines “Physicians and the Ontario Human Right’s Code”

In light of public debate regarding physicians’ rights to freedom of conscience and religion, we the undersigned, urge the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) to uphold policy guidelines that respect the freedom of physicians to practice their profession in a manner that does not violate their conscience or moral and ethical beliefs.

Forcing physicians to disregard their conscience or moral and ethical beliefs in the provision of legally sanctioned non-emergency medical services has serious and far-reaching consequences that affect the integrity and practice of medicine. Cultivating a medical culture that encourages physicians to disregard their conscience by forcing them to do what they believe to be wrong or harmful has the potential to compromise the well-being of patients, physicians, and society.

Freedom of conscience and religion are fundamental freedoms in Canada under Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A policy that restricts the freedom of physicians to practice their profession in a manner consistent with their conscience or moral and ethical beliefs infringes upon these Charter rights. We urge the CPSO to defend these fundamental freedoms that are essential to the proper functioning of a free and democratic society and hope that the CPSO will uphold the rights of physicians to practice their profession without compromising their integrity, conscience and moral or ethical values.


Please consider adding your voice to this initiative. If we don't act now to protect the fundamental freedoms of our doctors, then when will we ever act?

Click here to sign the petition.

Photo: tudedude via photopin cc

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Are Catholic working mothers kosher?

This is a topic that I have thought about a great deal, and my thinking on it has gone through a bit of an evolution in recent years.

Prior to having children, I was sure that I wanted to stay home with them full time. Part of my thinking was that I believed, and still do, that children need their mothers more than anyone else, and that it was best for them. I still think I made the right decision in that regard.

But another part of my thinking was that I believed at the time that to be a good Catholic mother, I ought to stay home full time unless I really needed to work in order to make ends meet financially for our family. On that count, I have changed my perspective.

In fact, some self-described Catholic organizations do preach this thinking. Without picking on anyone in particular, I have come across organizations which present themselves as Catholic and use that platform to propagate the idea that women should stay home as mothers and wives, going as far as to say that any woman who wants to work outside the home has been brainwashed by feminism.

I have even seen such Catholic organizations say that young Catholic women should be encouraged to get married right out of high school and avoid going to university, because getting university degrees would just sidetrack women into careers that they shouldn't be chasing. These organizations present their attitude as faithful to Catholic teaching.

But as it happens, the Church already spoke on this topic more than 30 years ago in a document called Familiaris Consortio, and it left no doubt about its own position on these matters. Here are some quotes from the section "Women and Society" in this illuminating document:
Without intending to deal with all the various aspects of the vast and complex theme of the relationships between women and society, and limiting these remarks to a few essential points, one cannot but observe that in the specific area of family life a widespread social and cultural tradition has considered women's role to be exclusively that of wife and mother, without adequate access to public functions which have generally been reserved for men.
Notice how Familiaris Consortio identifies the practice of women staying exclusively in the home as a "social and cultural" tradition, not a "religious tradition". This clearly indicates that our faith does NOT actually require women to stay home exclusively as wives and mothers. God is not asking this of women; rather, it is men who have traditionally asked this of women.
There is no doubt that the equal dignity and responsibility of men and women fully justifies women's access to public functions. On the other hand the true advancement of women requires that clear recognition be given to the value of their maternal and family role, by comparison with all other public roles and all other professions. Furthermore, these roles and professions should be harmoniously combined, if we wish the evolution of society and culture to be truly and fully human.
This is a very clear statement. The Church believes that women should be able to work on a footing equal to men. The Church is NOT sending women back to the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. The Church is saying that work and motherhood should be harmoniously combined. It is possible to be a good Catholic wife and mother, and still have a job outside the home. The Church is not saying that women should focus exclusively on motherhood to the exclusion of any work outside the home.
...While it must be recognized that women have the same right as men to perform various public functions, society must be structured in such a way that wives and mothers are not in practice compelled to work outside the home, and that their families can live and prosper in a dignified way even when they themselves devote their full time to their own family.
The way I read this: women who choose to work outside the home should be fully able to do so. Women who choose to stay home should be fully able to do so. Makes perfect sense. It is tragic when mothers have no other choice but to work, especially when their children are small and need them most.
...Furthermore, the mentality which honors women more for their work outside the home than for their work within the family must be overcome. This requires that men should truly esteem and love women with total respect for their personal dignity, and that society should create and develop conditions favoring work in the home.
That would be a great development, but in a culture obsessed with personal success and achievement, good luck with that goal happening anytime soon. Society has a long way to go before it fully appreciates the work that, for the upper castes of our society, is mainly done by maids, nannies, personal shoppers, secretaries, taxis and hired drivers, gardeners, meal-delivery services and take-out restaurants.
With due respect to the different vocations of men and women, the Church must in her own life promote as far as possible their equality of rights and dignity: and this for the good of all, the family, the Church and society. But clearly all of this does not mean for women a renunciation of their femininity or an imitation of the male role, but the fullness of true feminine humanity which should be expressed in their activity, whether in the family or outside of it, without disregarding the differences of customs and cultures in this sphere.
I love this passage from Familiaris Consortio, because even 30 years ago the Church clearly understood the need that the secular world is only starting to appreciate: the need for the working world to treat women as women, not as clones of men.

Women have their own way of participating in the working world. Their role as mothers often puts women on a different trajectory than men in the early years of their employment. Small children need their mothers, and women should not be penalized for making a space for children in their lives early in their careers.

The linear workplace is heavy on face-time and long on hours, and reduces the career potential of anyone who ventures off the full-time career path for any length of time. Women don't do well with arrangements like that. We need on-ramps and off-ramps, we need part-time arrangements and work-from-home arrangements, we need more flexible deadlines and the ability to incorporate family responsibilities into our work day.

Some workplaces are now starting to understand and accommodate these needs. It's quite amazing that Familiaris Consortio already recognized the need for these things in 1981.

Photo: Paul Mayne via photopin cc