Current Events, Entertainment

AMC’s TURN: One of The Best Things On

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Every once in a while, a TV show comes along that just grabs you.  For whatever reason, and it is hard to admit it, it almost consumes you because it is just that good.  For myself and millions of Americans, TURN on AMC has become that show.

At first it was the allure of seeing what it was like living in the Colonies during the American Revolution.  Yes, we had long since sat through the films in school and read our Social Studies textbooks but from the moment AMC started promoting this show, there was just a different feel about it.  I got excited and started ingesting anything and everything I could find about the show before it even aired!  The series follows the unexpected evolution of what would become known as the Culper Spy Ring, whose main members were childhood friends in the town of Setauket on Long Island, NY.  The first spy, a reluctant farmer named Abe Woodhull, became known under his pseudo-spy name, Mr. Culper.

Woodhull, played perfectly by British actor Jamie Bell, is brought into the spy business by way of his childhood friend, Continental Army officer Ben Tallmadge portrayed by American-born stage actor Seth Numrich.  Soon after, Abe is made aware of the fact that his old buddy Caleb is also working for Washington and not long after, they recruit strong-willed Anna Strong, played by Heather Lind.   I just have to throw this out there, I love Anna for the simple reason she has no fear to get in the face of the other three if they need a good dose of common sense.  The natural beauty of these four is that they have known each other their entire lives and this is what makes them so successful; they know each other so well that their faith in each other is unwavering.

I have watched each episode at least twice and often times three times, and I am not the least bit ashamed to admit it.  First, the casting director for this series did an incredibly stellar job with casting these characters, who, I might add, are, with a few exceptions, based on actual individuals who played a significant role in the American Revolution.  Yes, the writers have taken a few very minor liberties and strayed a bit from the historical aspects of the story making it, shall we say, sexy to be a spy for General Washington.

The acting is simply superb.  I cannot tell you how many times, as I was lost in what was happening on my TV screen, I had to remind myself that this was a TV show.  The wardrobe people, make up, I mean it is all there, every last bloody drop of a revolution.  They ingeniously wrapped the battles, the people, the day-to-day life and the inventive spirit of the time all into a nice neat little spy package.  The sub-plots are all things that we can relate to; father vs. son, love vs. loyalty, faith in your childhood friends vs. those who have never met them and the indelible thrill of trying to get away with something.

What surprisingly drew me in was the realization, as I got to know the characters in the early episodes, that these people, these farmers, traders, tavern owners, were risking everything in the name of freedom from the Crown.  I don’t know if it was just never explained to me in such a way before or if I just wasn’t able to grasp the concept in my younger years, but if this spy ring had fallen on the losing side of things at the end of the American Revolution, they would have not just lost their lives, their families who were left would have had everything taken from them as well.  The level of risk that this group of friends took on in a time where families and neighbors were warily suspicious of each other – it is almost beyond comprehension.

While it pains me to focus on just a few of the insanely talented actors that walk across my screen each Monday evening, I must admit my favorites are Ian Kahn as General George Washington and Daniel Henshall as the bravely rambunctious and often sarcastic trader-turned-spy Caleb Brewster.  Khan brings through the genius of Washington as well as his passion for the cause is nothing short of beautiful fashion.  Henshall personifies the fun of being a spy.  He is the first one to say, “Let’s do this!” and the first one to volunteer for the most dangerous of duties, all with the smile of a Cheshire cat.  Idara Victor does an amazing job as a former slave turned house maid of British Major John Andre.  Idara’s character Abigail uses her position in the André household to collect information that she shuttles back and forth to the others right under the trusting eye of her master.

Yet, beyond the story, beyond the acting and the costumes, for me, the true value of this show is that it gives me the patriotic opportunity to share this show with my teenagers to not just help them bring their school lectures to life but to also give them a sense of precisely what our Founding Fathers and everyday colonists like Abe, Anna, Caleb and Abigail were willing to risk to give us the nation we proudly call the United States of America.

Every Monday, you can find me anxiously awaiting the 10 PM EST start time, then lost for the next hour to only be left with that sinking feeling once the final credits roll and I am struck with the reality that I am going to have to wait an entire week to know what happens next!

Now we anxiously, and not so patiently await Season 3 …

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Current Events, Education

Homeschooling : The First Year

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Homeschooling conjures up all sorts of images for Americans.  With the recent introduction of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) the number of homeschooling families has exploded in the past two years.  A concern over an untested set of standards that are controversial in their origins as well as the latitude that they give teachers to teach topics and ideologies that many believe have no place in a public school are at the heart of these decisions that more and more US parents are making.

Each family that makes this decision has their own personal story and the reasons vary from family to family.  Families with strong religious objections to what is taught in public schools, until recently were the overwhelming majority of homeschoolers.  Today, parents are making this choice for some unforeseen reasons.  Some do not want their children used as test subjects in what amounts to an experiment in public education, others do not want a social agenda pushed on their children and others still,  were left with no other choice simply because CCSS was destroying their children both emotionally and academically.

 The sudden increase in expectations and the unfounded assumption that by taking students who were more than three-fourths the way through their public school experience and telling them that they will be expected to perform at a higher level without having had the foundation and practice in prior years for many was just too much.  Being told that they would simply be expected to “catch up” was for some, the last straw.

Our family was one of those families.  With the CCSS thrusted upon school districts without giving them the necessary time to internalize the Standards, discover how to put them into a framework for the school setting, and most importantly, prepare the much-needed in-services or conferences to give teachers a clear understanding of the expectations – teachers all across America are simply floundering and our students are paying the price.

Students with mild learning disabilities were being overrun with unattainable expectations and teachers were so weighted down with preparing materials, reporting student learning objectives and simply figuring out, often by trial and error, what the hell they are supposed to be doing.  In our case, after three major attempts to reach out to teachers and ask for implementation of specifics from our student’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) we were almost forced into homeschooling.

We are presently winding down the last few weeks of our first semester of homeschooling, we have found that it has been the best thing for us.  Because we had the ability to slow things down, work at our own pace and analyze our student, we have been able to clearly see where strengths and weaknesses are and fill in the holes and gaps that were left uncorrected for the sake of expediency in the formal classroom.

Thankfully, our student is very self-motivated and has, for the most part, worked through Algebra as an independent study.  Because of the mild learning disability that we were presented with, areas like Social Studies and English Language Arts, have required us to have very unique teaching tools.   Yet, by knowing your child already and knowing how they work both personally and academically, our student has flourished and regained confidence that was torn down by the ineffective teachers that were simply perpetuating the misconception that if you throw more content at students that they will learn more.

Many critics of homeschooling scream about things like socialization, elitism, little monitoring, etc.  Then there is my favorite, “You are destroying public education by being selfish.”  This article from the Daily Kos answered the “selfish” question the same way we do –  “Stay and work from within, at the cost of my son’s future? I don’t think so.”

The reality is that with more and more parents homeschooling co-ops and social events are planned which makes the socialization question moot. Just about every area of every state has a Facebook page for homeschooling parents to plan co-op, social events and share information and programs.  Elitism?  The wealthy have been sending their students to prep schools and other private schools for over a century, some more for convenience than anything else, and no one has batted an eye.  Monitoring? A decade ago many states had no real regulations for homeschooling parents; that has changed dramatically.  In our state parents have to submit a detailed curriculum, quarterly grades and also take a end-of-the-year proficiency exam (they give us several choices).

Others are concerned that homeschooling will have a negative effect on our student’s post-secondary options.  More and more colleges and even major universities are opening their doors to homeschoolers.  There are many online programs that, in the end, give you an accredited diploma that is accepted at the overwhelming majority of major US universities.  Yet, even if you choose your own curriculum, without an official diploma, that still doesn’t mean much anymore.  Entrance exams like the SAT and ACT can tell a university what they need to know about what a student really has learned from homeschooling along with taking SAT II Subject Tests.  Colleges and universities are looking for well-rounded students more than anything else.

For now, we are following the same general content as the students in public school, but at our own pace and with our own emphasis and there are more than enough resources available free online that we honestly spent less than $100 on textbooks for the school year.  Keep in mind that there are hundreds of websites that resell used textbooks at deeply discounted prices.  Do not just depend on Amazon or Barnes and Noble for textbooks.  I am an avid reader and several year ago found http://www.thriftbooks.com/ .  This was a goldmine for textbooks.  We actually found everything but the workbook for Social Studies on this site.  In fact, the Algebra textbook we wanted was only $9.  Another great thing about this site is that when your order is over $10, shipping is free.

If you find yourself in the predicament where you have to choose between your child’s future or allowing the public schools to destroy them, know that homeschooling can work and with enough planning, thought and input from your student, it can be awesome!