Dear Ms. DeVos, Please Handle Education with Care

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Please handle education with care!

Dear Ms. DeVos,

I’m sure you noticed your appointment as the Secretary of Education was hotly contested. Pundits, parents, public school teachers, and politicians all had opinions about why you are not qualified for your new position.

I have my doubts as well. Some of your understanding of educational issues worries me, but we will have to wait and see. I’m willing to give you a chance, but . . .

Before you start this important work, I wanted to ask you to please consider all sides to this educational equation our country is trying to solve.

Educating our children is a multi-faceted problem.

I am a product of our public school system. I taught at public high schools in a union state and in a right-to-work state, and now, I homeschool my most precious student.

So, I come to you from the perspective of a student, teacher, former union member, parent, and home educator.




I understand you plan to reduce the power of the teachers’ unions.

I get it!

I’ve seen some awful teachers with lifelong job security thanks to the union. In some states, the process to remove a terrible teacher is so onerous that hundreds of teachers sit, collecting salary and benefits, until hearings can be held or they’re eligible for retirement. Obviously, change is necessary.

Dear Ms. DeVos, please handle our educational system with care. #BetsyDevos #education Click To Tweet

But I’ve also seen our union stand up for teachers’ rights to a set schedule, equitable salaries, reasonable class sizes, overtime for additional duties, affordable healthcare, etc. I’ve also seen them protect good teachers from from a public that doesn’t always understand the complexity or challenges of a job whose scope seems to grow every year.

Dear Ms. DeVos, You were appointed as the Secretary of Education, but your understanding of education worries me. I'm willing to give you a chance, but . . .

My first request is to treat teachers like the professionals they are. I know your focus is the children, but hear me out.

Teaching isn’t a job. It’s an art.

Something happens inside me when I envision the perfect way to teach an idea or make literature come to life. I bring that light and life to my classroom. Protect our art. Protect your artists.

I’ve seen teachers like me leaving the profession in droves. We aren’t paid or valued enough. Teachers aren’t respected as professionals. We aren’t allowed to teach. Having quality educational artists (teachers) will benefit every child, every school.

I don’t care if my students can pass a Scantron test. I want my students to be productive members of our society, able to write a persuasive letter to their representatives, functionally read books and articles to comprehend the world in which they live, to be curious and question and never stop learning.

Let us do that. Trust us to do that.

Surround yourself with knowledgeable educators that have been in the classroom recently. Always hear our thoughts. We literally are the experts.

Make sure you consider how your initiatives will filter down to the educators, without whom you cannot save education.

Secondly, if your goal is improving education for every child, you have to understand all the parts that go into “school choice.”

More than tuition will determine school choice for many families. Transportation and distance to school are real problems for many parents.

My child would ride a bus for an hour a day to get to our closest public school, you’d have to add at least an hour to get to any private or charter school. I don’t want transportation to steal two hours of my child’s day.

If I had to provide transportation to get her to the school of our choice, most of my day would be just driving her to school and home. I would have to choose between working and getting her to school. The public school at least offers affordable before and after school program and free transportation.

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Will your plan for school choice consider those very real concerns for families in such situations that need free/low cost transportation and before/after school care?

Choice isn’t a choice if it’s still out of reach for anyone.

Transportation and before/after school care are only the beginning of issues that many parents of children with special needs would have in “school choice.”

Most private and charter schools won’t even take students with special needs, of any kind. They don’t have the funds to pay a nurse to disburse medications. They don’t have special education teachers or aides to educate special needs students in the least restrictive environment (or at all). Often private schools do not have the licensing requirements of public school teachers, which includes being versed in educating special needs students.

How will you make all choices attainable for students with special needs?

Will you mandate that private schools MUST open doors to special needs children? How? They are private schools so they don’t have to follow public school guidelines.

How will you truly make this choice accessible for every child? If you don’t consider every child, the public school system will contain only the poorest, most needy, potentially the least engaged students while everyone who can flees to the closest “miracle” school.

I only taught for 17 years, and I can’t count the hours we spent aligning our lessons with the “brand new, miracle” solution that was going to save education. We’d grumble and fuss and do it anyway, knowing all our hard work would be obsolete in a year or two.

Quit throwing away the baby with the bath water!

What we know is that kids need creative, engaged teachers. To be creative, teachers need more planning time: time to study the results of lesson plans and craft objectives based on that data, time to be artists.

The University of California at Berkeley included a discussion of actual preparation hours for class.
The newsletter contained the guidelines that distinguish between a class a teacher has taught before and a new class. For a class taught before, the teacher should plan to spend 2 hours out-of-class for each hour of class for preparation and grading. For a new class, the teacher should plan to spend 4 hours out-of-class for each hour of class.

What I could have done with 2 hours per class?! I got one hour to plan per day (5-7 hours of instructional time) in my school day, the rest came outside of my paid work week.

Which is a joke. Teachers are already working 50, 60, even 80 hours a week. We can’t take any more of the weight of this “failed” education system on our shoulders. Sociological studies show a child’s neighborhood and home environment are more indicative of success than anything else.

How do you plan to change the culture?

Real educational change has to start in our culture. We have to change our ideas of education and intelligence.

Not everyone needs calculus. But we all need to know how to do our taxes! #educationreform Click To Tweet

We have to return to vocational education and tie our core subjects to conceptual and functional learning. Not everyone needs calculus, but we all need to learn to do our taxes.

With the current push for every student to reach proficiency, students at the top are also ignored. We need the freedom to enrich the education for those already proficient. America soared both on the shoulders of geniuses and the backs of those who built their dreams.

Lastly, you may be the first Secretary of Edcuation to truly consider homeschool as an option for parents. I love that! I think homeschool is a great option. My daughter is getting a rich education that includes character building and strong family relationships. It’s beautiful.

America soared both on the shoulders of geniuses and the backs of those who built their dreams. Click To Tweet

Yet, how do you plan to attach funds to a child in a way that protects parents’ rights to homeschool as we see fit? Homeschool parents don’t want government interference in our educational choices. And unfortunately, some children might need protecting from parents (or schools) that would might misappropriate those funds.

How will you balance freedom and protection?

Your statements have been that you intend to turn more control back to the states and communities, but unless you drastically change the property tax method of funding education, nothing will change. Rich neighborhoods will have good schools and poor neighborhoods will have less.

Coming from outside the system, you might just be the voice of reason. You might just shake things up enough to make a difference. But if you don’t surround yourself with seasoned educational experts, veteran public school teachers, you won’t know how your policies will shake out in real life.

Ms. Devos, be the best kind of leader. Find the best of the best educators and educational law experts and educational financiers and listen to them. Put them in a room and let them brainstorm. Throw in parents from all different backgrounds.

And please take them seriously.

Because we all have skin in this game. And we, parents and teachers, are playing for keeps.

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What 2016 taught me

What did you learn in 2016? I learned a lot. But I can’t begin to measure what 2016 taught me.

It wasn’t my best year in concrete ways. I lost count of the challenges and financial setbacks somewhere around June.

Only to find higher and higher hills each month, culminating in complete physical and technological breakdowns that have left me physically wounded and without my computer to write and at least virtually step outside this broken body.

God is forcing me to BE STILL so completely right now. I’ve been trying to revel in the stillness despite its frustrations, and listen in it.

I have made no attempt to blog until I couldn’t let go of God’s sweet presence with me this morning. I am slowly and painfully typing this on my phone. But I wanted to write this down at least for myself.

I had times this year that I was so sad, I struggled to breathe in my despair. I felt hurt and inadequate, alone.

But what I learned there was what made me realize in the end, 2016 was exceptional in ways that defy measuring.

I drew closer and closer to God, pressing in, crying out for guidance and solace. I wept, arms outstretched to heaven, praying, groaning. Mostly seeking His answers and peace.

And I learned the greater blessing in that.
The blessing isn't a storm free life, but God's peace and presence in the storms. Click To Tweet

This morning, I was reading in Isaiah, chapter 65 God’s promises for His people and I ached with hope.

“I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.

No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.

They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭65:19-24‬ ‭ESV‬‬

After spending this year immersed in such a tremendously broken world, oh! how I long for this day of God’s promises: long lives and children who always grow up and personal health and prosperity.

If 2016 taught me anything, it is that without God, all we have are the storms of this life without any hope or joy or peace.

What did you learn in 2016? It was a challenging year, but I learned the blessing isn't a storm free life, but God's peace and presence in the storms.
With God, we still have storms. Sometimes, they are even more challenging with being rejected by the world and attacked by Satan.

But we have PEACE.

A peace that makes no sense outside of Christ, but is so real and so profound that I know as hard as this year has been, for all the losses financially and emotionally and physically, I’ve been blessed spiritually beyond measure.

I’ve grown in how I process my hurts and fears. I’ve grown in how I respond more than react.

Each storm prepared me for the next. While I would have rather not had the challenges, I would not trade the reliance on Christ I’ve gained.

Each type of season passes. Both busy and slow, joyful and difficult seasons eventually give way.

Every season passes - both joyful and difficult seasons give way, only God is eternal. Click To Tweet

I wouldn’t mind a season of fewer struggles, yet I know I’m heading into 2017 facing some difficulties that may not make for an easier year.

But when I gave up my life to follow Christ, I gained back a life that is blessed beyond measure in ways that cannot be counted.

I am still human and struggle against grief and fear, but through overcoming this year, I have an underlying current of trust and hope that the end of Isaiah speaks to so beautifully.

He writes a stunning dichotomy of God’s wrath and punishment juxtaposed against prophecies of Christ’s redemption of His people and glorious eternity in Heaven.

Joy and pain balanced with hope and promise, which is a pretty good way to end 2016. Happy New Year!

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Going Gluten Free

Going gluten free isn’t a journey I ever wanted to undertake. I LOVE chewy, warm, rich bread.

But being a parent takes me to places that I never would have imagined.

Our daughter started complaining about stomach pain early into 2016. In her squeaky, small voice, she would say, “My stomach hurts, Mommy.”

And I would answer, maybe you’re hungry or maybe the milk was bad, maybe you have a stomach bug (that led to an interesting conversation!), but at some point, the complaints got more numerous, then nearly continuous.

I never planned to go gluten free, but parenting takes me to places that I never imagined. Click To Tweet

She was uncomfortable and hurting everyday. She seemed able to function and play, but if she sat still, the pain was too distracting. It was rarely so bad that she was crying in pain, but she hurt everyday.

We had an ultrasound and liver enzyme blood tests done, yet there was no clear reason for her discomfort. But after months of charting her pain, I finally couldn’t stand to watch her suffer anymore.

I took lactose out of her diet, but it didn’t seem to help.

A trip to our clinic for a physical led us to decide to try removing gluten from her diet. Days before a cross-country trek wasn’t great timing, but we went for it, desperate for answers.

Going gluten free isn't a journey I ever wanted to undertake. I LOVE chewy, warm, rich bread. But being a parent takes me to places that I never would have imagined.

After a few weeks, she stopped complaining her stomach hurt. After a few months, I threw away her pain chart.

And of course, we’re willing to go gluten free for her, but I am still mentally adjusting to this change. It changes so many things I didn’t anticipate.

She can’t often have the snacks at church. I have to do extra planning and preparation for playdates and babysitters. I’ve had to teach my six year old how to graciously decline snacks when I’m not around. I always have to carry safe food.

On National Talk like a Pirate Day, Krispy Kreme gives free doughnuts for customers who talk like pirates. As we drove past, she asked if we were could get our free doughnuts this year. No, honey, doughnuts have gluten.

We’ve found some swaps for bread items and just changed our diets to a larger extent, but the holiday season is making this adjustment really hard. Some things just aren’t the same.

While gluten free recipes and flours improve every year, some dishes are just different and others have been kind of gross. We all have had to adjust.

I’ve had to learn more scratch baking, no more prepackaged pie crusts for us. I’ve never had xantham gum in my kitchen before. I’m still a little unclear about what it is, but Google and Alton Brown are my friends.

I got distracted at a party a few weeks ago when my daughter asked if she could have one of what I was eating. I handed her a bagel chip without thinking. Face palm.

As much as there is a learning curve for going gluten free, I hate to complain. Her health and happiness are paramount. It isn’t a life threatening allergy (if it’s an allergy at all-see below), and I give HUGE PROPS for those with serious allergies.

Knowing she may never have flour again is one thing, but knowing she may never be able to casually order from a restaurant menu again is a little emotional.

We went to one of our favorite restaurants last week only to realize she can’t eat anything there. They had one gluten free option, plain grilled chicken with green beans. The kitchen staff wasn’t even clear on what gluten is. I was literally reading the ingredients labels for them.

We went to a church potluck, and it was so hard to watch her dejected face at the dessert table when she couldn’t have a single one. Luckily, someone brought a bowl of candy which was all gluten free.

I hate watching her be disappointed. It breaks my heart more than it breaks hers.

Thinking about how this will affect her life forever gets a little overwhelming, so I try not to, just taking one day at a time.

And today, I don’t know if going gluten free will be permanent for her or not. The doctor wouldn’t order the blood test for gluten allergies without any clear diagnostic reason, but in order to get a diagnostic reason, we had to take all the gluten out of her diet for months to see if that made any difference.

Thinking about forever can be overwhelming. Take health changes one day at a time. Click To Tweet

Once we believed it made a difference, the doctor was willing to test her, but she has to be eating gluten for two months before the antibodies can be tested for an allergy.

SIGH

So, we’re gradually adding gluten back into her diet. A few bites of bread here, a slice of pizza there. I figured if we have to do it for the testing, we might as well do it over the holidays so she can enjoy our favorite treats, and I can practice with some gluten free recipes for next year.

We’ll see what the next two months bring. Perhaps she is just sensitive to it, not allergic. Maybe it was the pesticides, and the wheat needs to be organic or non-GMO??? Maybe it was something else entirely.

We really don’t know what will happen.

I do know that I have a better understanding and greater compassion for parents with children who have food allergies. If nothing else comes from the past two months, I am grateful for that.

Many of our homeschool friends have serious allergies like Celiac’s, nut allergies, dye allergies, etc. And for the first time, I’m more than aware of it, I get the seriousness of it and have serious respect for those moms!

Every ingredient has to be investigated.

A homemade recipe by a dear friend could be dangerous because they might not know how to examine labels the way you do. Gluten hides in crazy places: soy sauce, taco seasoning, Twizzlers! She can’t have Twizzlers on a gluten free diet.

Cross-contamination is a real risk.

So, a product that might be edible alone is rendered unsafe because it was made in a factory that also processes wheat or nuts or eggs or soy or milk. This often includes our own kitchens, especially for celiac’s and nut allergies!

Reading labels has helped me understand just how many products are off-limits for people with serious allergies, especially nut allergies.

It is so true that things just don’t hit home until it’s your child.

I am grateful I’ve had this chance to learn how to be mindful of allergies for food preparation and hospitality.

Seriousness of food allergies (Cross-contamination and reading ingredients) doesn't hit home until it's your child. Click To Tweet

I found myself turning down invites to parties or lunch because it’s hard to find many places that offer safe food. I know more seasoned allergy moms have some great strategies for handling these things, but for now, I’m still learning.

No matter how her tests turn out in February, I have learned so much. I’ll always have something safe for guests and label food items for potlucks, making sure to be the one to think of those with allergies.

Going gluten free is a journey. And we’re in a weird stretch right now, but we’ll keep taking one step at a time as a family.

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How you can give better this Giving Tuesday

Today is Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday follows Black Friday, Shop Small Saturday, and is an opportunity to focus on the real meaning of the holiday season, the greatest gift of Christ and His love which frees and transforms us.

Honestly, in my opinion, Giving Tuesday should precede Thanksgiving. Maybe we would all be less focused on the commercialized shopping if we started our season with giving. And, it is a good reminder that we are to honor God by giving of our firstfruits, not what’s leftover.

Proverbs 3:9-10 ESV  Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

Giving has always been something important to me. When I was five, I got passionate about supporting the missionaries at my church. I went home, dumped out my checker cup, and went door to door for donations without telling anyone.

I’m lucky my parents didn’t kill me! I can’t imagine my six year-old being missing for two hours. But I did collect some money for a good cause. 

That intense heart for causes and passion for people never changed.

Giving should be something we do all year round not just at Christmas, not just on giving Tuesday, but today’s a great day to focus on why we give back and starting the season with the right heart and the right attitude.

Giving should be part of how we live all year round, not just on #GivingTuesday Click To Tweet

Number One

Give where you are passionate.

The world has millions of different causes. Even important work would get overlooked without people like us finding the ones that matter to us.

God gave each of us diverse interests and put us in specific places for a reason.

Find something that speaks to you and give there.

For example, I have several causes near and dear to my heart, but SavingEliza.com is extra special. A friend of a friend has a daughter who has Sanfilippo Syndrome, a tragic childhood Alzheimer’s, a disease orphaned by modern medical funding.

But the people who love and care about the children affected with Sanfilippo syndrome knew science had a potential treatment that just needed funding to get it through the final FDA stages.

With a handful of hope, several families with children suffering with Sanfilippo made an incredible push to get it done. They raised millions through people like me and you who care about giving. And children are starting to get treated!

Every year for her birthday which is right before Thanksgiving time, I make a donation and often a few times during the year because so many children are still waiting for their chance to get this potentially disease halting treatment.

Secondly, give locally or personally.

Giving to someone in need near you is a powerful way to be a light in a dark world. Just this week, I had a chance to give to someone during a deeply difficult family loss. Sometimes, we don’t know what to say and other than prayers, we feel helpless. Donating to a fundraiser is one way to say I’m walking with you.

Or take the time to give personally, mail a check, slide a grocery gift card under their door. Make a difference for the people in your life.

Today is Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday follows Black Friday, Shop Small Saturday, and is an opportunity to focus on the real meaning of the holiday season.

Third, gifts don’t have to be financial.

Volunteer. Offer to cook food for an event. Babysit the neighbors’ kids so they can have a night out.

Give of your time, your talents, your treasures. Look for ways to help people. I find that if I slow down, I realize how much need I can be missing by just being too busy. Sometimes people just need our attention.

Also, pray about need. God will sometimes bring someone to your mind. This summer, He did just that for me and I felt like I was supposed to mail her a check. It was kind of strange, but even as I was writing it, I made it out for more than I initially thought.

It wasn’t much, but I was blown away when she called and said there had been a problem with her husband’s paycheck through finance. Our small gift was enough to make some ends meet.

I love seeing how God is uses us when we take the time to get quiet and listen to His prompting.

Lastly, research your charities. Lots of great causes are represented by non-profits that pay millions in salaries for CEOs or even celebrity endorsements, and sites like Charity Navigator are great ways to see how much of your donation goes where it should.

My personal rule of thumb is 90% or more should go to doing what I intend it for.

I don’t have much compared to some, but so much compared to so many, and I want to make a difference for Christ.

#GivingTuesday is one opportunity to show others the light of Christ that shines in us. Click To Tweet

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We Gather Together – Thanksgiving 2016

After a year of tremendous division and fear in our country, we need Thanksgiving more than ever. As I thought about giving thanks today, I couldn’t stop singing the classic hymn We Gather Together.

The lyrics seem extra poignant. Maybe, I’ve never really paid attention to them before, but they drew me in today.

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing;
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Not only is gathering important as friends and family, but especially as Christians for fellowship. Living separate from the world but in it, can be lonely. We gather together to encourage and be encouraged, reminded that we need not fear because we belong to the Lord.

Hebrews 10:25 (NASB) 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
We gather together for fellowship and encouragement, remembering to Whom we belong. #Thankful Click To Tweet

I love how the hymn discusses a body of believers gathering to seek His blessing, His chastening.

Chastening is God’s correction of the sin in our lives. And it is a blessing, He corrects our steps, sets us right. I’m not always grateful for the correction in the moment, but I’m learning to see it correctly.

God promises us He reproves whom He loves.

Discipline isn’t punishment, it’s guidance. When I punish my daughter, it’s never vindictive. I want her to learn, grow, mature so that she’ll be prepared for obstacles to come.

God chastens & reproves those He loves. It is part of His blessings for us. Click To Tweet
Revelation 3:19 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

In the hard times, I’ve learned to seek His face. When I hit a wall in a friendship, my marriage, or parenting, I’ve learned to search out God’s will, even if it means I must change.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

After a year of tremendous division, we need Thanksgiving more than ever & the simple words of the hymn We Gather Together create such a beautiful picture.

I think about all the small ways God ordained my every step this year. The devotionals I read that challenged and convicted me at just the right moment, the lessons I learned at exactly the time I needed them.

I’ve faced some heartbreaking moments this year. But God orchestrated my paths to and through them. He stood by my side through it all. His picture is an eternal one.
I am especially grateful for the way His word is always relevant for me, everyday.
Today’s daily passage was Revelation 3 which reflects the hymn I had already been singing and writing about.
Revelation 3:10 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be;
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

We lift up His name in praises today, seeing His leadership and dominion, asking for Him to defend us against the tribulations of the world.

What tremendous safety we have in Him.

And much like the company that shared our feast today, God promises His great desire for communion with us.

Revelation 3:20 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

I imagined the Lord sharing my table today, seeing Him through the blessings of friends who joined our celebration because of providential happenings, and know God is present in our thanksgiving as we gather together.

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