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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

My Children Will Not Be Appearing On White Dwarf Star Search, Thank You Very Much

When you look up at the heavens at night, a goodly portion of the pinpricks of light are white dwarf stars. Those stars don’t function anymore; that is to say, they are not ongoing concerns in the star business. They’ve run out of hydrogen, and have imploded. They only “shine” because they once were capable of making heat, and it takes a long while for a star to cool off. Apparently there aren’t any white dwarf stars that have cooled off enough to stop being visible altogether, because it takes hundreds of billions of years for them to achieve space’s room temperature. But they are all already kaput; they just appear to be functional. When we look up at the night sky, we’re just having a really long wake five minutes after the murder, so to speak. They’re dead, Jim.

I’m not interested in the TV show these people are trying out for, or Craftsman tools, or much of anything  in the videos. It catches my eye for other reasons. These people are not unusual. It is not their fault they have been gelded and made useless. They did as they were told. I find them interesting, because they appear to my eye to be about average. They have participated fully in American public life, and it has made them useless to themselves and to others. The reaction necessary to shine is missing, and the ingredients have collapsed in on themselves, and they only have the slowly fading appearance of the citizenry they sprang from. God bless them, they’ve got enough mettle to try to squeeze something from the raw material of their lives: Maybe I can be crowned the king or queen of the shiftless, and appear as a Reality Sideshow geek, displaying my underdeveloped limbs and the stubs of my intellect for a few pennies.

Whenever the topic of  our children being homeschooled comes up — and it always comes up, and not by way of us mentioning it — everyone blurts out the same thing: Aren’t you afraid your children won’t be “socialized”? No one ever hesitates one moment to consider that the question might be an ipso facto insult to us, or even to ask themselves what in the hell the term itself means. The lack of thought in formulating the question removes any malice from it, and we never take any offense. Our own relatives ask us the same thing. We just consider it a dumb question, and dumb questions aren’t rare enough in our lives to pick one out and manufacture a barrel of umbrage over it. Aren’t you afraid your children will turn out just like you, instead of just like me? would be a more amusing version of the question.

There is, essentially, no crime in the town we live in. But there was a real, live murder a year before we moved here. A disreputable young woman with some children she doesn’t care much about paid her boyfriend and one of his friends $2000 to murder her husband, who had made her angry enough to try to divorce him, and then kill him because he had once thrown a stick of butter at her. The two boys shot the estranged husband to death, and because he happened to be playing video games with another fellow at the time in his seedy apartment, two men were murdered for the price of one. The murderers turned old enough to drink liquor while being held without bail. All such criminals are short on real savvy and long on what they learned watching TV, so it took about fifteen minutes to figure out who did it and why, and they’re all going to prison for a good, long while. Maine doesn’t have a Casey Anthony drive-up window at the courthouse — yet. The paper took pains to point out the murderers were Honor Roll students, fresh out of the local high school. They were exquisitely socialized. 

We are trying, with no help and a lot of opposition, to produce decent, productive, ethical, moral, well-read, arithmetically capable, ambitious, vigorous, funny, kind, intellectually curious, self-regulating adults. And the only question anyone has for us is: how can we live with ourselves, knowing we’re keeping our children from the wonders of attending the White Dwarf Star Academy.

Somehow we manage to bear up under the shame of it.

22 Responses

  1. One of the blessings of being a missionary in a foreign country is the opportunity to home-school. The drawback is that they have an over-romanticized notion of that long ago time in a far country and their hearts yearn for it endlessly.

    Unlike here, where adolescence is foisted upon the young, other countries have– for lack of a better descriptor– children. They laugh and play together; hold hands unashamedly, and embrace childhood joyfully without the self-conscious angst found in the White Dwarf Star academy.

  2. When my uncle Don who recently passed at 92 was eight years old, he built a birdhouse. At the time of his death it was still sitting atop a pole in his front yard. It was about two feet high in the shape of a lighthouse, twelve sided, and tapered an inch or two from bottom to top. He was famous in our family for being a bit of a braggart, and he would tell the tale every time we so much as glanced at the birdhouse of how his father had taught him to work out the bevel and the taper by dividing the 360 degrees of the compass for his angles, lent him the necessary tools, then set him loose.

    I worked in the trades for a number of years and I doubt very much that even now I could construct something of the precision of the birdhouse he built when he was eight. They don't teach that sort of thing anymore. Mostly it was just framing holes and then cramming pre-hung doors and windows into them.

    Turns out he had something to brag about.

  3. Hi Joan- Thanks for reading and commenting. Our children are living a life free of irony, much like you describe, up here in Maine, and rather like it.

    Hi Westsound- Thanks for reading and commenting.

    I need to stress that I am not solely pointing out that they are useless for accomplishing manual things; I believe they have been rendered incapable of accomplishing anything whatsoever in any walk of life.

  4. "Aren't you afraid your children will turn out just like you, instead of just like me?"

    That would be very amusing indeed. Let us know if you ever let that dog of the leash.

  5. Well, the one guy did say he was a professional stand up comedian, though he didn't seem particularly funny. Unless useless is funny now. That might explain why our current governing class has not been collectively tarred and feathered by an enraged citizenry.

  6. We're pretty desensitized, these days, given all the lies and crap dumped on us day after day bu both the original liars and their minions who print and broadcast them. Neighbor has a bumpersticker "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention"; I'm pretty sure we're outraged by completely different things and people.

  7. I have a different angle. Spent twenty years in US Navy, enlisted man. Either lived in base housing or rental units. No home improvements allowed in those situations. Growing up, my dad did not do these things, either. Except to mow the lawn and wash the car. I am now fifty three years old and have a co-worker that takes me to auto recycling yards (junkyards) on weekends to pull parts off autos and sell on the internet. Am finding out via this how little I know of manual labor. Did scrub a toilet, swab a deck or two in my Navy days. I was an air traffic controller, a skill that is useless to me now, much too specialized. Working odd jobs last fifteen years. Were it not for my military retirement check, I'd be screwed.

  8. We have homeschooled for the past 12 years. My two eldest have graduated,and, now, as unsocialized stars, are gainfully employed, doing what they wanted to do. My son, is the youth pastor at our church, and also keeps the books for a local farmer. He plays in a band on Sunday mornings. My daughter graduated from Le Cordon Bleu and is employed at an upscale cupcake shop. When she got the job, she posted on her facebook page, "Watch out world." Indeed.

  9. But our educational system has produced this industry:

    Therapy…for which you need therapists. And therapeutic drugs.

  10. Not having kids myself, I would home school them. If somebody asked me the stupid 'socialization' question, I'd say something like 'yeah kids turn feral during the summer, you know' or something to point out what a stupid remark it is. Besides, I thought folks send their kids to school to be educated, not 'socialized'.

  11. I believe that our sun is destined to become a white dwarf. When that happens the White Dwarf Academy will no longer shine any light either.

  12. Nitpick: most white dwarfs aren't visible with the naked eye, even from dark-sky sites like Sippican Cottage. Despite that, the metaphor is better than you think.

    When I was growing up we had a set of turn-of-the-(20th)-century encyclopedias. They were written long before nuclear power was known, and the puzzling question of how the Sun shone was answered by "shrinkage". That is, the Sun's size and mass were known, which gave a pretty good value for the potential energy locked up in its gravity. If it shrank by an unnoticeable amount, that would release enough energy of position to power its output.

    Our Sun doesn't work like that, but white dwarfs do. When they were working stars, their output caused them to expand. Now that the fire has gone out they shrink a little each millisecond, and the potential energy they stored by expanding is released, producing enough power for them to glow a bit. When that and the last flickering bits of nuclear reaction are exhausted they become neutron stars, all their particles packed so tightly together they neutralize one another, an object so totally inert it doesn't even reflect light and is discernible only by the drag it exerts on nearby objects. A very few of the really high achievers (in former times) become black holes, whose accomplishment is to suck nearby things in and destroy them.

    Some of the folks on the teevee have shrunk so far as to become dim, indeed, and seem very close to neutron status. None of them appears to have ever been consequential enough to aspire to be black holes — they aren't truly destructive, just a massive drag. This is why my "entertainment center" hasn't been plugged in for over a year.


  13. I had noticed that on Scott Adams' (creator of Dilbert)blog, his most popular entries were about how incompetent he was at fixing things.

    These two videos are going after that same audience.

    Truly a sign that very few are interested in being good with their hands.

  14. "Our children are living a life free of irony, much like you describe, up here in Maine, and rather like it."

    In 1991 I was a fresh college graduate purposely loafing around in Chapel Hill, N.C. working food service jobs and trying to play in a band. A species of alternapunkpop rocker, I suppose. I distinctly remember walking down a street there, right downtown, with a girlfriend and stating that I hated irony. She had no idea what I meant, and I had a hard time explaining, because I barely knew, then. But I knew.

    Not much later that awful "Isn't it Ironic" or the "Irony Song" or whatever it was by Alanis Morrisete came out, where most the examples she sings about aren't even irony. I really hated that.

  15. If there's one phrase from high school I remember teachers yelling at us it's, "You're not here to socialize!"

  16. Not homeschooling, but we escaped suburban American meta-living by moving to Israel, and enrolling our kids in religious schools. And we escaped the creeping Israeli wanna-be worship of American pop culture by moving to a small village (what your media calls a "settlement").

    While we don't have agriculture, several nearby places do – symbol of the new reconnect between ghetto Jews and real-world stuff. And a lot of my neighbors are proud officers in the Army (another recent reconnect for Jews).

    We seem to have outrun the middle-class strivers of Israel just enough for our kids to be real people.

    If you're puzzled by news coverage of Israel – or why Israelis seem to do and say stupid, disloyal, reckless things – consider that the same cultural split is happening here: growing prosperity, secularism, and media exposure have generated an "ironic" generation of meta-Israelis. They are the ones responsible for the Oslo Peace Process, disparaging remarks about the Israeli Army, and other White Star brilliance.

    As in the States, these meta-people have nothing but contempt for the folks who still talk about patriotism and religion without irony. And since their contempt matches that of most journalists – you can trace this pattern in the news coverage.

  17. This has got to be a Comedy Channel show right? Please tell me it's a Comedy Channel show and all these people are comedians.

  18. pngai- I actually think that many people do want the ability to be productive. Public schools got rid of shop class and home ec…and what do we have now?

    Martha Stewart.

    Bob Villa and Norm Abrams

    and an entire DIY Network.

    People want to be prodctive, but it does seem the way of modernism to handicap that proclivity.

  19. I enjoy all your posts, especially the ones on education. I am a public school teacher (didn't join up until 2007) and spent the previous 25 years of my life raising children, including homeschooling. I joined the ranks of the public school slackers because I thought I had something to contribute, that all I had learned in my previous life could be brought to bear in education…also I desperately needed a job as my husband died and left me in desperate straits with a chronically ill child…ANYWAY…my point is that the homeschooling was the best thing I ever did for any of my kids…my daughter is a doctor, my middle son a noted musician poet songwriter, and my youngest is pursuing teaching and coaching with the same passion that I do. I approach teaching much differently from my fellow teachers, (needless to say I am not popular, but I do not go to my job to find BFFs) and try to recreate the community of learners I enjoyed with our home schooling in my class…I also loop and take my kids from first to third grade…did I say I also teach only boys? I adore their energy and essence of boy…their attacking everything in their quest to learn…chairs are optional (!)I love your borderline blog for boys…my classroom looks more like one from the old "Our Gang" comedies (esp. the ones from the 20s, where boys were boys) than what one would see in any other contemporary school. Let me say every day with those boys is a joy. Also, did I say I teach in a quite socioecomically disadvantaged area? Mostly Hispanic immigrants? Nope, I don't speak Spanish. They need to learn English…and they do with me! Not sure actually what the point of this was beyond saying you are right about home schooling and education, but some of us in the public schools are trying to do things differently. With the same passion as in your "Moonlight Sonata" posting.

  20. Hi Jane- Thanks for reading and for your trenchant comment.

    In many ways my wife has a lonely time of it. She does 99 percent of the education of our children. She doesn't get any encouragement from our families or many neighbors. It's very welcome to hear from other people like us who are simply trying to educate children as best they can in the circumstances they find themselves in.

    We've had quite a few public school teachers that tell us that they understand perfectly what we are trying to do, and compare notes a little. There seems to be this big, invisible, useless hand pressing down on the public schools, an alien and unwelcome framework of curriculum and behaviors, that good teachers resent and work around. We're doing the same thing, and so we are recognized as fellow travelers by lots of educators that don't drink the Kool-aid.

    Thanks for telling us we are not alone in this world.

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