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When You Sigh My Mind Inside Just Flies

If you’re new in town, Unorganized Hancock are my children. One is 20, the other 12. The 12-year-old is currently being homeschooled by my wife. He is interested in computer programming. He has memorized the scripting language for an ancient FPS game called Doom that used to run in MS-DOS, booted from a floppy. If the game sounds stupid to you, you’re not paying attention. It was an amazing piece of programming for the time, and the method the authors used to project 3-dimensional space as you pass through it, using only a few lines of code, is as elegant and clever as Brunelleschi’s version for drawing on paper. I have no idea why he leaned to do that. He just found it interesting.

He gets bored. Playing the drums is just something he does. He’s not all that interested in it. I have maintained publicly that he is the best drummer in the world at his age range for over three years now, but have been mostly misunderstood. People see professionally produced videos of youngsters playing drum solos with no songs attached, or playing along with moronic metal songs from mom’s boyfriend’s Metallica library, but those children are not musicians. They are performing data entry. They hit the drums at a designated time in a designated order. They are not making music with anyone, whether or not the source material is even music at all. When my little boy was nine, he was playing with another person (his brother) for three, one-hour sets, for money, in front of hundreds of people. That’s a musician. He has been the best 9,10,11, and now 12-year-old drummer in the world because he’s been the only one.

As I said, he gets bored. We’re poor and live in an isolated place. He has to amuse himself a lot. He asked his brother to find some free software he could use to make animations. He has been drawing animations in MS Paint, because it came with his computer, but it’s so laborious as to defy description. His brother found a free version of Flash, which is very primitive, but it does allow you to actually animate things. Big brother loaded it on his computer, and he suggested he make an animation to go along with a version of the Beatles It’s Only Love. The boys had recorded it some months ago and didn’t know what to do with it. The recording sounds orchestral, but it’s just singing, an acoustic guitar, and a bass. Those boys can twiddle some knobs, though, can’t they?

No one showed the little guy how to use the software. Homeschooling teaches people that learning is an approach, not a curriculum to be memorized. He just found what he needed on YouTube and then got underway. He worked entirely by himself with no input from any of us. He laid out the sort of little visual story he wanted, drew all the cells with his computer mouse, and aligned the music to the visuals. It only took him a few days to get it all done. When I first saw it, I asked him how he was able to get the mouth shapes to align perfectly with the words being sung. He said he looked up some form of encyclopedia that showed pictures of mouths as they form phonetic sounds, and memorized it.

I asked him how it was possible for him to do all this. He said, “Well, I’ve had the program for almost a week now.”


[Update: Many thanks go out to Saul J. from Warwickshire, UK, for his generous contribution to the boys’ equipment fund via the PayPal button. It is very much appreciated]
[Up-Update: Many thanks to our friend Chasmatic from the Land of Enchantment for his continuing generosity via our PayPal button. It is very much appreciated]

Not Homeschooled

Tell me that one about how my home schooled kids aren’t going to be socialized again. I love that one. It’s a hardy perennial. Love that shite. Tell me again about how screwed my kids are because they’re not pressing meaningless buttons 24/7 on an iSlab on their Jitter stream or their FriendFace page.Tell me about how they’ll never be popular enough to be bullied if I’m not careful. They won’t even be eligible to get whooping cough.

Tell me the one about how my kids won’t be able to go on field trips to the museum if they’re not enrolled in school. I love that one, too. It’s totes adorb. It’s my favorite, except for my other favorites, which are my favorite favorites.  My children never get the opportunity to be chaperoned by someone on the sex offender registry. Of course that’s better than being left at the museum like the other kid in the same story. I think. Pretty sure. Maybe the kid they left behind actually looked at something on the wall in the museum after the batteries in his iBrick ran out. Hey, could happen.

I’m with you, though; I doubt it. We all know if a school-age child’s iBinky battery runs out of electricity, they immediately lie down on the floor and die.

Good Chemistry

I see the dead hand of dad on that young fellow’s video. Not a signature. Brush strokes or something.

My little son is importunate. He starts his pleasant little harangue the minute his eyes pop open. I heard him, bang on seven this morning, begin the little burble of narration he keeps for his life. It’s Sunday and the sun is out and the world is his oyster again today.

I’d been awake for a couple hours. I’d left the windows open in my office last night and so I was outdoors instantly. The sun rose gently over my textual exertions. There cannot be a sweeter place to be than western Maine staring down a sunny day knocking on June’s door.

I went up to his world, filled with talking sponges and grinning dinosaurs and the Google Earth carpet of a cartoon town.

Dad, I want you to help me make a video with Bionicles and muzzle flashes and space ships and galactic battles and dancing robots and talking animals and it won’t be hard because we can do it in 4 fps so the camera won’t die of no battery and the moviemaker won’t crash and mom says you have to work all day today and tomorrow and the day after and even more days so I’ll wait until you don’t have to make furniture one day but don’t make me wait too long because I’m impatient.

There is no quality time. There is no such thing as quality time. There is only time. Time is teflon and adjectives and adverbs just slide right off it. It cannot be condensed, or frozen, or hoarded, or distilled, or saved for later, or borrowed and paid back.

You don’t have any story that anyone wants to see, son.

What is a good story?

It doesn’t matter what it’s about. It just needs to make people want to keep reading it, or hearing it, or seeing it. People need to feel differently when they’re done. That’s all.

I don’t know any stories like that.

You are a story like that. Everybody is a story like that. You’re a little boy. What happens to a little boy?

I don’t know.

Of course you know. It’s whatever you want. What’s in the bowl there in the kitchen?


You eat the banana. What do you become?

A monkey!

That’s a story. There’s an apple. What do you become?

I don’t know!

You have to think of something. That’s all.

(A hint of tears) I don’t know!

Of course you do. Don’t be sad or you’ll spoil your story.

Johnny Appleseed!

Mom puts honey on your waffle.

A grizzly bear! Then there’s cheese and I’m a mouse! Another mouse comes and I’m a cat! Another cat comes and I’m a dog!

And when you’re all done, you’re a boy again. That’s a story. It’s slightly better than every book you’ve gotten from the library for a year.

And then he went out back and rode his bike in a circle because his father lied, and his time has adjectives all over it, and under it, and all around it. The adjectives are stacked like cordwood outside the door.

And so Dad has his story too.

[First offered in 2012, rerun with comments intact]

Homeschool 101: You Know The Drill

If you’re new in these parts, these are my homeschooled children, who call themselves Unorganized Hancock, performing at a function hall in the little town where we live in western Maine. The older one is still younger than many high school seniors, but he’s got his diploma already. The little one is eleven now.

I’ve written from time to time about homeschooling, but no one pays any attention to anything I say about it. The Instapundit and many other large, ocean-going  ships of the blogosphere have linked to my essays about homeschooling, and strangers come and go, and usually launch into their diatribes about how homeschoolers are weirdos that don’t vaccinate their kids and only learn about chemtrails or how fracking causes autism, depending on which cable TV shows you prefer. Others assume my kids won’t have time to learn to read and write because they must be chanting the Paternoster all day, with no time left for none a dat book lernin‘.

I’ll try one more time to explain what’s going on, then I’ll give up. What you’re looking at are the fruits of the only approach to education that works. I won’t equivocate one iota: It’s the only approach that works. Please try to understand what I wrote, right there in simple, declarative, italicized words, so that you can ken what I’m driving at. We teach our children at home because we want to use the only approach to learning that works for humans. The. Only. One. Here it is. You’re welcome:

Drill, Drill, Drill — Test

There is no new math, or old math for that matter. No matter how many other approaches other people try, how much mewling is transcribed on the Internet about socialization, or how many tennis balls you put on the bottoms of the legs of your kindergarten chairs, it’s all wrong and it doesn’t work. Like a volume knob that makes the radio louder when you turn it clockwise, and diminishes the sound when it’s turned counter-clockwise until it clicks off, the design was perfect on the first attempt and cannot be improved. Every variation after that will be worse. People who want to break new ground without doing anything constructive will change the way that knob operates to become notable for the novelty, but it’s always worse.

Human children can only learn constructive things by one approach: Drill, Drill, Drill — Test. What you’re looking at is the culmination of Drill, Drill, Drill — Test. To be more specific, you’re looking at the test. Like duck’s feet on the pond, the drill, drill, drill happened in the rehearsal room where it belongs. When drill was done, they were ready for the test.

The impresario running this performance approached me halfway through and told me that the other acts didn’t show up, and asked if my boys could play for more than their scheduled half-hour. UH pulled this song out of a hat, and many others, and played them more or less perfectly, and even added mugging for laughs by the little one. Simply playing the song was nothing for him or his brother. Playing that song was just the residue of drill, drill, drill, long ago, and they’d done their homework.

Before someone says, sure, if the kids spend all their time on music at the expense of their other studies, anyone could produce an eleven-year-old playing music for money, and a big kid that can do the same with only an eleven-year-old to help him, I need to be plain again: Music is treated as extra-curricular activity at our house. The little one doesn’t even care about playing the drums. He likes electronic music. And before you try saying these kids must have a leg up somehow, like private tutors or something, you need to understand that we are profoundly poor, living way below the poverty line, and they learned to play music like this in a room with no electricity or heat. You don’t need those things to Drill, Drill, Drill — Test. If you like the way they play a Beatles song, you’ll love the way they decline verbs, because the same approach is used for everything.

Both children receive Drill, Drill, Drill — Test for every subject, taught by their mother. They can write, and spell, and add, and know the difference between carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, and everything else kids in public schools do not know, because the administrators won’t let the teachers drill, drill, drill, but make the kids take the tests anyway, and fail miserably.

Drill, Drill, Drill — Test is the only approach that works. There isn’t another one. If you’re trying another one, you’re wasting your time, and another human being’s life. It’s really that simple.

Samba de Uma Nota Só

My two sons, AKA Unorganized Hancock, are back with their version of One Note Samba.

One Note Samba is a part of a profoundly influential series of songs from the 1960s by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Bossa Nova doesn’t translate well into English, but it means new wave, more or less. It certainly was that. There have only been three BIG THINGS in music in my lifetime.

1.The Beatles making rock music important, then self-important, then self-absorbed, and then self-destructive, then atomized.
2. I remember the first time I heard Desmond Dekker very clearly. It was a revelation.
3. Bossa Nova.

As usual, the sixties get the credit for all three, but all of these things were born in 1950s culture. The fifties were supposed to be this sterile uptight time, but that’s a joke to anyone that can crack a book. If you know what a wandervogel was you know that being a hippie wasn’t anything new. Anyone that knows who Mies was knows that sixties modern was really twenties modern –the twenties being another maligned decade when everything happened while nothing was supposedly happening. No, it was the fifties that gave birth to those three things, and everyone just noticed in the sixties.

My children are homeschooled, but they receive very little musical instruction from me. For the little drummer, his lessons are an afterthought, the same as any extracurricular activity would be in a public school. If the public school had the slightest idea how to teach anyone anything, results like these would be possible with almost any kid who gave good effort. But more important than instruction is guidance, and with music, knowing what to avoid paying attention to is as important as any aspect of learning.

There isn’t a dime’s bit of difference between one rock group and another, more or less. Metallica sounds about like The Bay City Rollers if you look at it dispassionately. The format is banal, and easily understood. You have to be pretty sophisticated to play ol’ One Note, though, and know why it’s important.

[Update: Many thanks to Kathleen M. in Connecticut, whose constant support of my children’s efforts via our TipJar is remarkable]
[Further Up The Road Update: Many thanks to Sarah R. for her kind words and generous visit to the TipJar!]

Still Better Dialog Than Anything George Lucas Ever Wrote

Kids writing scripts for grownups. It’s glorious. As opposed to Hollywood, where grownups wearing toddler clothes write scripts for kids pushing sixty.

We don’t send our children to public school, but we hear all about what goes on there. They’re always maundering on in the local papers about their bright new ideas — generally already discredited since the 1960s — about “teaching children to be more creative.” See, there’s your problem right there.

I don’t know exactly how dull you have to be to be a public school administrator, but school is supposed to try to put some sort of lid on a child’s creativity, and get them to add single digits without using a sundial as a stopwatch, and put apostrophes where they belong once in a while, for five goddamn minutes a day, at least. Children only have one problem, and that’s creativity. The reason you’re all still sitting at the dinner table after an hour and fifteen minutes has come and gone is because your seven-year-old is still building stonehenge with his french fries. That’s creativity, isn’t it?  The reason your bathroom smells like a cattle stall is all the creative ways that little Magellan you’re raising has figured out to circumnavigate the bowl. This video is like shooting fish in a barrel, which incidentally produces a very similar kind and amount of splashback.

If your kid doesn’t compose at least one insane opera a day that lasts from sunup to sundown, he’s not normal. A kid with that little imagination is luckily not common, but when he or she grows up, they’re likely to cause trouble, likely by becoming a public school administrator or a state senator. Claiming you’re going to teach children to be creative is like claiming you’re going to teach Mike Tyson to be aggressive. And your Common Core plan for teaching creativity? Well, as Mike once said, everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth. 

Why We Homeschool

My wife and I teach our children at home. My wife does 99 percent of it. I teach the kids music as best I can. We’ve had good success with it. Our older son is now college age. He’s not attending college. He doesn’t want to become anything that requires credentials that are the result of attending college — you know: doctor, lawyer, engineer. He wants to be a musician of some stripe. You can go to college to be a music teacher in a public school, or play in a symphony orchestra, but other than that, a diploma is superfluous. You just have to know how to play. He’s like a monk right now. He doesn’t do anything except work on music and shovel the driveway. No college would be as intensive.

The little one is just ten. He doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. I’m still trying to decide what to do with mine, so I don’t judge. He’s recently become enamored of the idea of opening up his own restaurant. He says he wants to call it “The Meat Shelter.” Catchy, that; but there’s something about it that makes me wonder if he might abandon that line of thinking before he starts shaving. Little boys are interested in all sorts of things.

He already plays the drums. He plays the drums like an adult. He plays the drums for money. He and his brother call themselves Unorganized Hancock. They are very likely the most famous persons currently residing in the town we live in, but no one here knows that. You can watch the boys playing Crooked Teeth at the New Musical Express website if you like. They’ve sold copies, on two continents, of music they composed and recorded themselves, which makes them INTERNATIONAL RECORDING ARTISTS.  Snicker.

The Spare Heir, as we call the little one, has taught himself to use a music software program called FL Studio. It’s a digital audio workstation. It incorporates a sequencer, which means you can program notes and sounds into it, and it will repeat them. You can make loops with it, i.e.: a few bars of a drum beat or something you need repeated over and over, or you can assemble an entire song or symphony or jingle or whatever from scratch with any number of instruments or sounds on it. I have no idea how to turn it on. He learned it all himself by watching YouTube video tutorials.

He started composing songs. They said they were EDM. I didn’t know what that was either. It’s like Kraftwerk for dancing, is as best as I can describe it. He has composed dozens of EDM songs, usually about six or seven minutes long each, all completely coherent and interesting. He had to painstakingly program all the notes into the interface one at a time. I thought it was incumbent upon me to give him piano (keyboard, really) lessons to make his composition easier. Typing is faster than block printing, after all.

There’s kind of a problem. I don’t know how to play the piano.  I was a musician when I was younger, but I never played the piano. Upon reflection I feel as though I should admit that I never learned to play anything properly, or sing worth a damn, either. But that didn’t stop me from working. So it shouldn’t stop me from teaching, either.

I understand the piano as a machine. I know the names of the keys and so forth, but The Spare knows that already, because of FL Studio. I don’t have a lot of time, so I can only teach him at lunch. I searched my mind for a song that might get him interested in playing it, and that encompassed a few important techniques and had an easily understood chord  structure. I showed him a video of a man playing A Whiter Shade of Pale on the organ. That was Tuesday. Three days later, here’s a video of him. I know he understood everything I showed him about the song, because he threw in a sus4 chord resolution at the end to jazz it up. He’s a pisser.

My wife and I have no credentials that allow us to teach. We simply have an approach. It’s very simple: Every day, we just make sure our children know something they didn’t know the day before. We require measurable results — from them, and from us. That’s it. That’s all. That approach is not attempted — that approach is not allowed — at the public school.

[Related:  Governor Lauds Maine Students’ Prodigious Ability To Turn On Mysterious Devices And Stare At Them. From The Rumford Meteor, natch]

[Update: Kathleen M’s continued generosity is a wonder. Many thanks for hitting the PayPal button]

[Additional Update: Welcome Instapundit readers. Glenn’s doing yeoman work highlighting the growing alternatives to public schooling in his latest book. I guess we’re one of those alternatives. Some of his commenters seem to think I write like a dullard. I find that gratifying to hear, of course, as I only aspire to achieve a studied imbecility. Dullard’s better, I think. I guess. Well, how would I know?

I’m told I’m a fair-to-middlin’ music teacher, though:

Last Thursday, I Lied

[Editor’s Note: Welcome Instapundit readers. Since you’re new here, I should explain that our little boy in the video is three years older now, and not all that interested in Presidents anymore, but he is the Greatest Ten-Year-Old Drummer In The World.]
[Author’s Note: There is no editor]

Er, I misspoke. I was wrong. Flat wrong. The wrongness, it burns. I messed up. Brain fart. Don’t be mizzled, brother; I misled you. I disseminated misinformation to the point of dissimulation. I bore false witness, even if it was against myself, mostly.

Here’s the whopper I told, almost without thinking:

Our children are homeschooled.

That’s not quite correct. Mi dispiace. I best get to expiating my guilt by explaining myself to you fine people, before I end up asking a ghoul with a hot trident for a glass of icewater for all eternity.

Words mean things. At least they used to. They’re currently debased and euphemized until nobody knows nothin’ about nuthin’ by reading the newspaper. “Homeschooling” has been freighted with meaning, and it’s not the meaning I want it to have, but I used it anyway, because newspapers that call someone’s boyfriend their “partner” have worn me out. I tried using the lingua franca to save time. It was a mistake. Let’s fix it.

It would have been much more accurate for me to tell you that my children are receiving a public school education at home. They are. They simply don’t attend the public school; they’re getting this education from my wife, inside my house.

Hmm. But that’s bound to give you the wrong idea, too; you’ll assume that means we’re giving the kids the same sort of education that’s being offered in those buildings they still call public schools. You see, there are no public schools in America that I know of. They’re reeducation camps for people that weren’t educated in the first place, maybe, or little prisons, or pleasure domes for creepy teachers, or places where tubby women work out their neuroses about eating on helpless children at lunchtime — but there’s not much schooling going on in school. A public school is a really expensive, but shabby and ineffectual, private school that collects their tuition with the threat of eviction from your house.

I grew up in the same town as Horace Mann. I know all about public schools. The concept is as dead as a Pharaoh. The idea that universal literacy and a coherent public attitude toward citizenship would result in a better life for the country as a whole was a sweet one, and it worked for a while, until they “fixed” it. They’ve been fixing the hell out of it for over half a century now. They fixed it the way a veterinarian fixes dogs, to my eye.

Here’s Wikipedia’s list of Horace Mann’s reasons for public schooling:

(1) the public should no longer remain ignorant
(2) that such education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public
(3) that this education will be best provided in schools that embrace children from a variety of backgrounds
(4) that this education must be non-sectarian
(5) that this education must be taught by the spirit, methods, and discipline of a free society
(6) that education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers. Mann worked for more and better equipped school houses, longer school years (until 16 years old), higher pay for teachers, and a wider curriculum.

Let’s take them in turn, and see how Old Howlin’ Horace’s ideas have turned out in what’s called the public schools, but aren’t anymore.

1) Is that cursive? I don’t read cursive.
2) The public seems completely uninterested in what happens in public school, or they wouldn’t send their kids there. Anyone really interested in public schools is horrified by what they find out. Talk to a teacher about what they’re required to do in there — after they’ve had a few drinks. I have. One I spoke to referred to themselves as a “tard farmer.” Do you want to sent your children to a “tard farm”? We don’t.
3) My children are from a variety of backgrounds, all by themselves. We didn’t turn either of them away. Tell my Irish grandmother and wife’s Calabrian grandfather that all white people are the same. Bring a weapon to defend yourself. A “back-up piece” is probably a good idea if you’re talking to my grandmother, by the way.
4) Public Schools aren’t non-sectarian. They teach their own religion, and persecute any vestige of any other, except for momentary alliances with subcultures that will help them persecute what they feel is the dominant culture outside the school.
5) Parents are not allowed to enter a public school, even to walk their children to the door. Children are routinely persecuted for any behavior that deviates one iota from the what a militant vegan on a recumbent bicycle prefers. That’s not the spirit, method, or discipline of a free society.
6) Teachers are well-trained and professional — just not in delivering an education to children. They are trained to be vestal virgins in a weird temple that forgot where they put the statue of the deity of mammon they worship. If public school worked, everyone who graduated from it would be capable of teaching in one.

The teachers in public school are as much at the mercy of this weird situation as the students. A teacher recently told us she has to keep a dossier on every child in the class, every day. That’s the Stasi, not Goodbye, Mr. Chips. They said that it’s not possible, really, so they have to make stuff up to finish it. All that time is subtracted from what little time they have for the kids in the first place. The teachers don’t know where all these weird directives come from any more than you do. They just don’t want to get fired for forgetting to rat out little Timmy if he chews his Pop-Tart in to a recognizable weapon-like shape. They go along to get along.

We like our kids too much to go along to get along, so my wife and I set up our own public school. The desks are in a row. There’s only one row, with one desk, but still, it’s a row. There’s a flag on the wall, unironically hung, because we’re not ingrates. The public –our children — have not remained ignorant. My wife and I would appear to an alien as the most “interested public” on the face of this earth, since we’re doing it ourselves, with no help and no money, and a lot of opposition, while the rock-and-roll moms abandon their children at the public school so they can go get their infected tattoos looked at. Oh, and by the way, 100 percent of our students are immunized against childhood diseases, because Jenny McCarthy isn’t regarded as an adequate peer reviewer for Jonas Salk at our school. She is at the public school.

Our children are taught moral rectitude, by word and deed, just like Horace Mann intended. His term, “non-sectarian,” had nothing to do with being irreligious. He explicitly said one kind of Christianity shouldn’t trump another kind in school. That’s it. A very strict Know-Nothing religion, consisting of little more than a fetish for recycling and ancient imaginary score-settling, is all that is allowed in public schools. That’s not non-sectarian. That’s one sect. Hell, we allow our children to know that there’s more than one kind of light bulb. That’s blasphemy in public school.

As I said, I grew up in the same town as Horace Mann. So I know for a dead cert that they tore down Horace Mann’s house and put up a shitty stripmall in its place in the 1960s. It’s the absolute perfect metaphor for what happened to his idea, too.

Try To Get Through Ten Bars Before The Andalusian Buddha Says NO!

They try to block YouTube on the computers they hand out at school, because they wouldn’t want you to ruin your education by having Andres Segovia give you guitar lessons.

Last night I taught my ten-year-old how to play Brown Eyed Girl on the piano. It took about ten minutes. He doesn’t know how to play the piano. Come to think of it, I don’t know how to play the piano, either. But it happened. If you know how to learn things, it’s all just lying on the virtual ground.

Remarks Offered At The High School Graduation Ceremony Of A Home-Schooled Son

I can remember, distinctly, the last time my son held my hand when we crossed a busy street. It seems a very long time ago now. I remember it well, because at the time, it struck me as just that: The last time.

We caution our children to look both ways when they cross a street, in order that they can cross alone when the time comes. It’s just one of a million things we teach our children — by word, a little, mostly by deed — in the hope that it will be of some use to them when they’re older. It’s a terrible thing parents undertake, to teach your children to go away on their own, but we must do it if we are to be worthy to be called a parent.

My wife and I wanted our son to be an honest, productive, kind, intelligent, well-educated  and friendly person before we sent him out into the world. We thought we could do that best by educating him at home. His mother worked very diligently at it for him, and his brother too, and I resolutely stood by her side, ready to accept any credit for anything that turned out all right.

By his intelligence and effort my son has made himself all those things I mentioned earlier, and more.

He’s worked hard on his studies, and will continue to do so, of course. He didn’t just learn things – he learned how to learn things, which is better. In the process, my wife and I have watched those childish things we treasure disappear one after another: The charmingly mispronounced word; the unsteady walk; the impolitic question about that lady with the tattoos in the grocery store; the little hand in yours when you cross the street.

We’ve entirely ruined him for ourselves, and made him useful only for strangers. I hope you’re all happy. We’re miserable about the whole thing. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tag: homeschooling

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