The Road to Serfdom

Serf is a medieval term which refers to a person who worked for a lord. Serfs were low status servants and held a position similar to that of a slave. The book The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek was written for British citizens shortly after World War II as a warning to prevent them from becoming a socialist or communist nation.

One major issue in socialism is determining which policies to implement. Since each person is unique agreement on issues is not necessarily black and white. For example, most people may agree that the government should provide and maintain major highways, but should they be responsible for all roads? Who determines which roads are necessary? What about a road connecting two small country villages used by only a few people?

Perhaps government should assist the less fortunate such as children who are orphaned. But what about less fortunate drug abusers who self destruct and end up homeless? Some people may say yes where as other would say I'm not so sure.

Issues are not black and white, and once ruling powers begin making policy decisions, we as individuals loose the power to decide for ourselves. Therefore, an argument is made in the book that government should only implement policies for which a vast majority of the population is in agreement. Even so, each policy that is implemented leads to more potential areas for government to create policy. With more planning and policy, freedom becomes less predictable.

While living in Germany I learned of a local dance studio run by an American. Her studio was successful because she had identified a community need and her classes were well attended. Unfortunately, she was an American and not familiar enough with the rules (tax laws) where she was operating. More than once she received high tax bills (in the neighborhood of 10,000 Euros) she was not anticipating. One could argue that she should raise her prices and be more knowledgeable of her situation. Perhaps she felt that she was charging a significant price (likely compared to average American prices for similar services). After all her classes were full. Luckily, she was able to receive a donation and continue with her business.

I found this story incredibly interesting, because we also participated in dance while living in Germany, however, we attended classes within the German system. The class my daughter took cost only about 20 euros per year plus a few costume/shoe expenses which amounted to an additional 100 euros. So how could her classes be so cheap while the classes offered by the American were so expensive and her business was failing? My daughters lessons were not offered through a business. They were offered through a private club. The cost was the membership fee. It was a non-profit and the teachers were volunteers (which has its own set of issues).

So operating in the German system there was no monetary incentive for teaching dance. The teacher of the expensive lessons essentially made the same amount of money as the volunteer. Interesting? The point is that the more policy that is created, the less choice available to the citizens.

The book The Road to Serfdom explains how socialism and communism are implemented and why they gain popularity by drawing heavily on the examples of Russia and Germany. It is a college level text and not a simple book, but worth the time. After reading the Richard Maybury books and other easier books recommended in earlier posts I would recommend this book for gaining a deeper understanding of other forms of government.

Lake Michigan Water Quality Field Trip

Living near Lake Michigan we were lucky to participate in a field trip aboard a research vessel to test the water quality of both the big lake and a smaller inland lake. Aboard the vessel, the kids learned about invasive species, local sand mining, salmon stocking of the lakes, dredging and had the opportunity to perform several different tests to examine the water. This was hands-on science at its best!

The children were divided into two groups. One group met on the deck and gathered water from both the top and bottom of the lake. They also examined the water to determine clarity, measured temperature and collect soil/sand samples from the bottom of the lake. The group inside the cabin tested the samples for oxygen content, conductivity, turbidity and looked at the samples under a microscope.

He determined clarity using a test tube with a secchi disk at the bottom. A secchi disk is a circle divided into four quadrants, two black and two white. Water was poured into the tube until the disk is no longer visible. The height of the water in the tube was then recorded.

 The temperature of the lake was recorded on the chart.

Sediment from the bottom of the lake was collected in this scoop.

 Inside the cabin, the kids tested top and bottom lake samples for oxygen content.

 Turbidity data was recorded on a chart.

 pH of the top and bottom samples was tested at this station.

 The sample collected in this cup was used to create slides examined under the microscope.

 The microscope camera was visible on the screen so many people could view the sample simultaneously.

 A poster enabled the kids to compare zooplankton visible on the screen with known species for identification.

A summary of the final data was prepared.

This one-of-a-kind field trip was well worth it. Kids learn so much by doing and sometimes we need to remember to step away from the books and investigate.

Easy Peasy at Highhill Homeschool

My son followed Easy Peasy All-In-One Homeschool.

Last year putting together my son's education plan was extremely easy and worked better than any year before. He completed Easy Peasy Fifth reading, writing, computer and thinking along with Year 4 science, history, art and music. In addition, he did Life of Fred Math, Duolingo German and piano lessons each week.

Easy Peasy is a free on-line curriculum put together by a homeschool mom. She wanted her children to be able to work independently and therefore communicated their work load with them via the computer. Eventually she polished it and made it available for other homeschoolers. She did an excellent job!

The program consists of eight years of study 1-8 each containing language arts (reading, writing, spelling and grammar), computer, and math. In addition, there are four courses of study covering different topics in history, science, art, music and bible.

Year 1 - Biology, Ancient History
Year 2 - Animals, Early American History
Year 3 - Earth Science, Geography and Cultures
Year 4 - Physics and Chemistry, 20th Century History

The reason I think it worked so well for my son is that he has always been an independent learner and Easy Peasy enabled him to work that way. In addition, the way in which the science and history portions of the study were put together really peaked his interest. The reading was interesting to him and the combination of videos, small projects, printing out timelines, and completing small bits really appealed to him. 

Although he had done a lot of writing and reading in the past, I felt he needed some work in Language Arts. His writing was very creative, but he had difficulty with structure. He knew about punctuation and capitalization, but didn't feel it was important, and therefore often neglected it. Over the course of the year I saw great improvement in his finished papers. I'm so happy we tried Easy Peasy with him.

Below are a few pictures I snapped of him completing work assigned by Easy Peasy.

Check out these great blog hops for more educational activity ideas.

End of College?

I recently read the book End of College by Kevin Carey.

After graduating from college and beginning my career as a mechanical engineer I quickly realized that very little of what I learned in college was necessary for me to do my job. Instead, my co-workers taught me the new skills I needed to meet the company's expectations. In college I learned many concepts regarding motion (physics, and dynamics), heat transfer, chemistry and more. On the job I needed to design parts using 3D modeling software, call vendors, and analyze parts to ensure they could handle extreme vibrations. In addition, I needed to interact with adults. Although there was some cross over of information, it was very limited.

At work, before I began designing parts I attended a 2-3 week class which met 8 hours/day to learn to use special software for 3D modeling. In college, I had never even heard of ProEngineer. While learning to determine if parts could handle shock loads, I worked alongside a senior engineer and read reports on previous similar analyses. Calling vendors was completely new to me. We often needed information on parts we purchased but didn't have available to look at. I learned the best questions to ask and how to navigate through organizations. Calling vendors taught me my most valuable lesson: if you need a business service (manufacturing, design, samples, odd parts created...) just start making phone calls and searching the internet. In a nutshell, it taught me how to research and accomplish goals. Anything is possible.

So what was the purpose of those four years spent obtaining a mechanical engineering degree? That degree was my ticket to a job. It was a required document that employers knew meant I could set a goal and follow through. It meant I was reliable and capable of working, and smart enough to do the job. Four years seems like a long time that could have been better spent learning skills more applicable to my job. Apparently I'm not alone in my thoughts on this subject. The book End of College makes this point along with many others that leads to the conclusion that we have been and are continuing to pass through a revolution in education.

From high costs, to professors being more concerned with research than teaching, to lots of student free time spent partying; this book address many inefficiencies with our current university education system. Learning about the history of education and how it reached its current state was fascinating, but learning where we are headed was even better.

Have you heard of Mozilla Open Badges? It is a non-profit organization that tracks educational achievements. For example, if you take a free online course through a university, this site could be used to note your completion. It could track passing scores on examinations such as CLEP or track classes taken at stores or businesses. For example, my mother loves to take sewing and embroidery classes and sometimes brings my girls. Their achievements in these classes could be tracked on this site.

At the current time, this site and other similar sites are gaining momentum but in the very early design stages. Professionals, educators and businessmen throughout the world are beginning to explore them and determine how they could be used in their companies. In my mind, these sites could replace some degrees by replacing the degree with a different set of educational accomplishments. Although it isn't crystal clear what the future holds for college education, there is no question that it is changing.

My 14 year old daughter is a typical homeschool student in a lot of ways. Because she has had the opportunity to constantly learn at her level she is more advanced that a typical high school student. This efficiency is the reason many parents choose to home educate. Although I still feel qualified to educate her further, I question how she will receive credit for her knowledge since it will be at the college level.

Most universities accept some CLEP credits, but limit them so that students will be forced to take classes at the school. This increases revenues to the college, but ignores whether or not the student already knows the material. There are however, a small number of programs available where students receive degrees based on knowledge as opposed to time spent studying at the institution. I'm still researching and searching for the best solution for my children on this matter.

In the mean time, I would like to highly recommend the book End of College as I hope our future generations will be able to learn in a more efficient manner for everyone.

Check out these great blog hops for more educational activity ideas. Simplify Life

Civil War - Big Government or Slavery?

To understand how American Government works today it's important to understand the past. Over the course of 150 years the federal government went from one of limited power to one that controls the states and regulates many aspects of our lives. Our freedoms have slowly been reduced especially during times of war when presidents present issues to the public to further their ulterior motives.

The Lincoln Administration was no exception. The Federal government gained an extraordinary amount of power through the front of the Civil War. In school we learned that Lincoln was a great president because he held the union together and stopped slavery. The book The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War presented a very different picture of the great president Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln was a long time member of the Whig party and the Whig party wanted a strong central government. The party didn't have a strong stance on slavery. It did however, want to increase the power of influential businesses through special favors. Sound familiar? Lincoln set much of the framework for the way our government operates today. When Lincoln became president, he was a member of the Republican party. The Whig party had broken up, and although he was new a republican, he implemented the Whig party agenda. A central banking system was formed under the Lincoln administration and almost immediately, low interest rate loans were given to good friends.

Many big businesses were located in the north, and the south was the customer. Europeans produced goods which were competitive with the goods of the north. To force the southerners to purchase northern goods, the north wanted high import taxes placed on foreign goods. The south wanted the ability to choose which goods to purchase based on price and quality. The tax issue was one of the real reasons for the Civil War.

Another question I always had about Lincoln was "If he was so great, then why did people want to kill him?" That never made any sense to me. Well the book The Real Lincoln answered that question. In public speeches, Lincoln often contradicted himself by telling people what he thought they wanted to hear. He didn't really care about slavery. He cared about strong central government.

Once the war was far underway and the Union appeared to be loosing, Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation. Unfortunately, the document was responsible for freeing few if any slaves. It was written in a way that it didn't make much difference. In locations where the Union had control, they were not permitted to free slaves. The only slaves that could have been freed were those in locations where the Confederacy had control.

In addition, the public was outraged when Lincoln tried to turn the Civil War into a war over slavery. The southerners wanted slavery because it was a cheap source of labor. The north didn't have need for slavery, but also didn't sympathize with slaves or blacks. They saw blacks as workforce competitors. Racism was rampant. Once Lincoln attempted to change the purpose for the war soldiers deserted and riots began. Europeans hated the proclamation as well, and only saw it as an item which would create slave revolts.

Although approximately 2% of the population known as abolitionists wanted to end slavery, the rest of the country was fighting in the Civil War for economic reasons. If the South left the Union, the north would not be able to charge such high prices for imported goods. Lincoln was a Northerner. 

Reading this book offered a new perspective on history which makes sense. If you have questions on the history taught in the schools, I encourage you to read this book and then form your own opinion.

Check out these great blog hops for more educational activity ideas.

The Move Outside

The chickens moved outside.

When chickens are about eight weeks old, and the weather is above 70 degrees during the day they are big enough to move outside. I was ready for the chicks to move. When they first were placed in the bath tub they were no problem. The cute little chicks peeped around all day. At night we could sometimes hear them, but with the door to the bathroom closed they were no louder than birds in the morning and the older they got the more they settled down during dark hours.

As the got older there were two minor issues having them in the bathroom. When their downy feathers turned to chicken feathers the dust storm in the bathroom was intense. We placed an air purifier in the bathroom and kept everything closed. All the counters and surfaces were wiped down every three days or so as they were covered in dust. Once they were about six weeks old we stopped using the bathroom and shared with the kids. The dust was just too intense.

Baby chicks don't smell. But six week old chickens do. Once they hit the six week mark the smell intensified. Although it was never terribly gross, it was a sign they were ready to move onto bigger and better places. Outside, they would have more space, and fresh air. They were almost ready.

They day they turned six weeks, my son brought his cage to the bathroom and caught each one. Did you know chickens can be difficult to catch even when they are confined to a small space like a bathroom?

He eventually got them all including the grey araucana who did not want to leave.

Mexican-American War

Did you study the Mexican-American War in your American History classes growing up? I didn't.

The most likely reason for this part of American history being skipped is because the war does not project the image of how we want to be viewed as Americans. In a nutshell, American president James K. Polk wanted to expand the American territory to the Pacific Ocean. So he offered to buy the land which today makes up the states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Texas and Colorado. When the Mexican government refused to sell, America declared war and took the land.

At first, the public was in great favor of the war and many young men signed up to fight. In what is today Texas, the Mexican government identified the Nueces River as the boundary between the two countries. The Americans however, recognized the Rio Grande River as the boundary despite the fact that the majority of people living in the disputed land identified themselves as Mexicans. Around the time the Americans put in their offer to purchase the Northern half of Mexico, the Mexican Army killed a handful of American soldiers and captured about 50 more on land in the disputed territory. The incident was widely publicized and the government had public support.

For nearly two years, the countries fought battle after battle. As the war lingered on, public support dwindled. The people began to realize the initial reason for the declaration of war was in great part presented to appear as if the Americans were defending their liberties, when in fact, they were fighting to take land they desired which was not for sale.

Check out these great blog hops for more educational activity ideas.

Economics Books for Elementary Kids

We all want our children to grow up to be financially independent adults. Therefore reading elementary aged kids a few books showing examples of financial responsibility is a fun place to start.

 Arthur's Funny Money - When children work hard to get something they want they learn lessons that will last a lifetime. This book is a fun place to start teaching kids about the importance of money.

 Arthur's Pet Business - Responsibility is a big step in teaching kids to be financially stable. Even very young children will be able to relate to Arthur when he puts together a pet business to earn money.

 As Right As Right Can Be - How perfect is your appearance? When you purchase a new dress do you also need new shoes? This book shows how that type of thinking can get out of control.

Check out these great blog hops for more educational activity ideas.

Abraham Lincoln and the Constitution

Was Abraham Lincoln a great president? Most people say yes because he brought slavery to an end, but maybe he could have done it in a different manner? In school, learning that Abraham Lincoln forbid the southern states from leaving the Union always bothered me. I never understood how he could make an order like that. It was that tactic which lead to the Civil War. The Freedom Answer Book: How the Government Is Taking Away Your Constitutional Freedoms by Judge Andrew P. Napolitano answered my questions and now the history makes sense.

Abraham Lincoln told the southern states they were not allowed to leave the union. This always seemed over the top to me and out of line. If the states were allowed to join the union, why couldn't they leave? It's like being allowed to walk into a business, but being locked inside upon entering. Yes, he brought an end to slavery, but this method seems unethical. Why could states join, but weren't allowed to leave?

Well, what Abraham Lincoln did was unconstitutional. He changed the way the Constitution was implemented and in the process took away one of the checks on the Federal Government.

Here's a quote from p. 164 of the book.

Lincoln's actions were unconstitutional, and he knew it. Before running for president, Lincoln was quoted as saying that the Southern states would not be permitted to secede (not, significantly, that they did not have the right to secede). By barring their departure, Lincoln preserved the geographical Union but tore apart the Constitution. He blatantly ignored the rights of the states to secede from the Union, a right that is clearly implicit in the Constitution, since it was the states that ratified the Constitution and thereby decided to enter the Union. Surely these same states had the right to decide to undo that act. The right to secede from any confederation, group, or union is derived from the Natural Law of freedom to associate.

Although we may applaud him for bringing an end to slavery, many other countries were able to end slavery with much less bloodshed. England, Puerto Rico and Brazil all made slavery illegal and compensated existing slave owners financially to bring about its peaceful end. There were other options. He chose to ignore the fundamental document of the United States as part of his method for ending slavery. I just ordered the book The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War and I can't wait to read more about his presidency.

In conjunction with reading the Freedom Answer Book we read This Country of Ours and watched many video documentaries on American History. It is important to see issues from many viewpoints so that children are educated to form their own conclusions.

Check out these great blog hops for more educational activity ideas.
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