Sunday, February 27, 2011

Everyone Who Doesn't Agree With Me Must Be a Communist

In a recent political discussion with a conservative homeschooler (I would say friend, but she'd probably be offended, given that I'm a communist and all), I was surprised to hear her still generalizing that all liberals are actually communists. Here are some of the organizations she considers Marxist:

The Coffee Party, the Obama campaign, Center for American Progress,, the SEIU, MoveOn, La Raza, Organizing for America, the Alliance for Climate Protection, NPR, and PBS.

Yes, even Elmo -- well, he is already red.

It strikes me that it's really counterproductive for the right to redefine "communism" as anything left of Glenn Beck. If people keep getting told that something as centrist as the Coffee Party is communism, eventually the word is going to lose all power to terrify and subdue. And where you can you really go, after communism has lost its oomph? They'll have to start marching up and down insisting that everyone who doesn't agree with them is a cannibal. Hey, it worked for the Romans. Carthage never got over that particular smear.

For me it's possible the overuse of the charge "communist!" has already lost some of its power to terrify and dismay. Instead of heading for my basement in fear, or defending my honor, I feel more likely to roll my eyes and vote for another Democrat. The fact that the word has already been softened should be a warning to conservatives.

Are there real communists out there? Sure. Ones that want to abolish private property and inheritance, land ownership and the accumulation of wealth. If you hunt hard enough, you can find one or two. Probably they'll be hopping mad that Obama is too centrist, and the Coffee Party isn't progressive *enough.* You may find them at liberal marches or rallies. If they're smart, they're voting Democrat, but it's equally likely they're voting for their own candidates. There is a radical fringe on both sides. Failing to recognize that means you don't understand your own position.

I just want conservatives to embrace some intellectual rigor! Calling all supporters of the Coffee Party, for example, communists would be analogous to us calling all supporters of the Tea Party fascists. It wouldn't be true, and worse than that, it wouldn't be smart. It's more difficult to understand complexity in an idea or a group of people -- easier to shriek "COMMIES!" or from this direction maybe "RACISTS!" and be done. But it's not only incorrect -- it's dishonest. And increasingly, it's ineffective.

People are getting educated - they're waking up to the fact that their neighbors, their third grade teacher, the cops down the street, the firemen downtown... aren't actually communists. They're regular people, trying not to get crapped on so that big corporations and the top 2% of earners can have their tax cuts. And the more that realization comes home to people, the more the Tea Party "Patriots" who dance around shrieking "COMMIES! COMMIES!" are going to be the ones looking foolish.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pendragon Assignments 488 AD

Player 1:

You receive a sealed letter from your father. The handwriting is pretty miserable but it's clear that he wrote it himself. You take it to Gwair, and he reads it to you.

My dear daughter,
It pained me greatly to find that you had left home, but I understand why you did. Your mother told me about your aspirations as a seamstress in the south. I can only hope that you are cutting up lots of fabric, if you know what I mean. I am proud that you have decided to wield the scissors, and hope that you have created many fine garments. I have included a gift for you. I received it from a water nymph with whom I made acquaintance while boating on the Tyne. I give it to you, the better for you to pursue your art. I had the castle wizard enchant it for me so that no one would open it before it reached you. The lock on the case is magical, and can be opened by speaking the answer to this riddle:

What comes through the door without pinching itself?
What lands on the stove without burning itself?
What falls on the table without spilling a thing?

We are hard set about by Saxons here in Northumbria, my daughter. Any news of your safety would be welcome.


Your assignment is to try to open the case, and also to write back to your father. Your letter should have at least 10 complete sentences. You can email it to me, and also print it out or write it out for our next class meeting. If you send me your answer to the riddle, I'll tell you whether the case opens and what's inside.


My dear father,

I am safe and sound. Thank you for your support and understanding in my undertaking. I am an apprentice to a seamstress now. I have made many lovely garments. One was especially large. All the bare threads can be gruesome, but I am learning not to mind. A few months ago a prominent customer came to where I live. He sent me and my comrades to sew for him on a ship. Our vessel is headed towards Northumbria. I hope that soon my sewing skills can be of service to you. I do hope this letter finds you in good health. Please convey my love and good wishes to my mother and sisters.



Player 2:

You receive a letter from your father, sealed with his seal and printed on his private stock of paper that he keeps in his writing desk. You crack the seal and read the letter:

My dear son,

Your mother and I send our regards. I have much news from your home here in the kingdom of Gorre. I do hope you remember where your home is. I have heard the news that Uther Pendragon has died. I must tell you this filled our liege lord with great hope for a glorious invasion of Logres. If it is possible for you to ingratiate yourself with these people and become a landed knight in Logres, it will be very useful to your true king when the invasion takes place. Knowing we have a friend on the inside will be very helpful when the time comes for the kings of the North to unite and conquer all of Britain. then we will show those Saxons who's boss.

Two of your brothers have wandered off to Ireland to become poets. Your oldest brother spends most of his time with his head in a flagon of ale. That "firstborn" birthright might be closer than you think. I hope this finds you well and strong, and that you will find a use for this helmet. It was to be your brother's, but he only seems to want to drink out of it.

Sir Aeron

The messenger is also carrying an iron helm that will add +3 to your armor when you are wearing it. It is very heavy but it fits great!

ASSIGNMENT: Write a letter back to your father. It must be at least ten complete sentences, but you may write more if you like. Email it back to me and print it out (or write it out) for our meeting on Friday


Thank you for the helmet. It's arrival was just in time- I will go off to fight the Saxons in spring. The King is not dead. I know you mean well, but an invasion from the north would cripple us. As I said, I am going off to fight the Saxons. I am loyal to you, but I also must be loyal to my Lord Cadmon and Uther Pendragon. Please, do not attack. Besides, I'm not a knight, only a squire.
I hope things are going well at home. For your comfort, I do remember where I live.
Send my regards to my eldest brother. Also, tell him I've got his helmet.

Player 3:

You receive a letter from your father. The envelope is very weathered and stained, but inside is a clean sheet of paper, carefully written. Obviously he has paid a scribe dearly to have this done. You take it to one of the castle scholars, who is in charge of teaching Lord Caedmon's children to read and write. He lets you know what it says:

Valiant Talorc,
It has been years since we last saw you. Your absence is aging your mother. She can barely lift a bucket. Please send news. Stay fast and low. The armies of the north stand strong and free. Are you a knight yet? Don't be foolish. Uncle Ort fell off a cliff and died. Here is his mace. Fondly, Da

The messenger is also carrying a solid oak mace with a broad, fierce ball studded in nails. It has been carried by Picts in your family for centuries. When you use this mace, you will add +3 to any damage roll. What a great present!

ASSIGNMENT: Write a letter back to your father. It must be at least ten complete sentences, but you may write more if you like. Email it back to me and print it out (or write it out) for our meeting on Friday.


Dear Father,
I'm not a knight, but a knight has taken me on as a squire.I wish I could come home, but I am going to raid the Saxons by sea. When you get this, I will probably be on a ship, but here is 7 Denari to help keep our house running. Please tell me how my brothers are doing, and I want to thank you for the mace. It is in good solid condition, and I am constantly thinking of you. When I finish the raid, I will try to get back to the house. I want for all of you to know that I want to come home. When I do come home, please have all my brothers waiting. I want to talk to them and all my friends. I love you all.

Player 4:

You receive a letter from your father in Ireland. You open it up and get your friend Gwair to help you read it.

My bright son,
I am writing to you because our king is returning to our green homeland and quitting these shores of Britain. Of course I will follow Sir Hort back across the water. He has been faithful to me and to our family, in spite of the fact that we have not always been faithful to him. Yes, I know about the dog. It has been paid for, child, but I will not be telling your poor mother about the way you repay the kindness of our Lord. Trouble is brewing in Britain, and especially in Logres, my son. I pray to the goddess for your safety. Maintain the strength of your beliefs in the old ways, and don't be turned by the new Roman religion. Please write home with some news of your health and adventures so that I can reassure your poor mother and all her sisters, who ask about your constantly.

You forgot this, maybe in the haste of your departure. I thought you'd like it with you.

Best of luck to you,

Wrapped in a cloth you find your favorite griddle. It's special to you because you've ground one side of it into a sharp blade, which you used for chopping vegetables and also chopping up enemies. This weapon / kitchen utensil can be used as an axe, and will give you a +3 bonus to any damage roll.


Dear Dad
I met up in an inn first with Gwair, from Gorre, then Guenon from Northumberland, and Talorc from the Out Isles. The strangest part was that we were all heading to maiden castle because of the news we heard. As you know, I fought the dog, Gwair was the son of a night, going to make his fortune, with an unexpected visit from his older brother, trying to kill him. Talorc fought a deer, then falling unconsious, shortly falling off a cliff. We found a horse trotting down the road with no rider. We put Talorc on the horse, because he was wounded, and we set off to find it's rider. We then found the squire of the knight who rides the horse, a warhorse charger. Gwair went off not trusting the squire. We worked together to find the knight, in which we succeeded. We accepted his offering of the horse, and set off for maiden castle. After a cold hard winter full of traveling, spring sprung it's way into the path in which we were traveling. We met this old beggar who went by the name of Merlin, and he gave us a mission. He gave me a book called the Mabinogion and told me to illustrate the first story. We took him to the fort Bath to drop him off and then we descended into the woods. Not too soon after we entered the deep dark wood, we ran into a bear! It struck me and part of my arm hung off, so I ran away as quickly as I could. The rest came and tried to do first aid on me, and I later healed at an abbe where I attempted to read my first story, the lady of the fountain. Alas, I see a lot of black marks on the parchment in front of me. What do they mean? I went to see Gwair, who was the only person I knew who could read. I found him chatting with Guenon. I then found out that he was a she! I do not have the time to tell my whole adventure. I will continue another day.

Pendragon Assignments 485 AD

Player 1:

You are Gwanona of Northumberland. You are a Cymric (Welsh) person and a Christian. You are 15 years old, the fourth daughter of a squire. Your character can neither read nor write, but she has an amazing ability to memorize things she has heard, word for word, and has perfect recall. Your father works for a knight attached to Wandesborow, which is at the eastern end of Hadrian's wall, the boundary that separated the Roman territory from the free lands to the north. Wandesborow is on the coast of the North Sea. You can see just where you live if you go to and search for "Newcastle Upon Tyne". There is a major city there now, but maybe the castle was located here, where Bamurgh Castle now stands: Your mother's job is to help her husband's knight's wife, to take care of their household, and do her dirty work. You help her with this.

Your mother loves your older sisters, but she knows that they will be fine marrying men who hope to be squires, but will probably be farmers or woodsmen. She knows you are different, and she knows the bravery of your spirit cannot be contained in Northumberland, and your desire for adventure and new experiences cannot be served by a quiet marriage and a lowly life. However, she knows there are not many choices for women outside of marriage, and that there are very few female knights in the service of any king. One morning after she has served at the knight's table for breakfast, she pulls you into the kitchen to tell you that she has overheard exciting rumors at the knight's table. Britons in the south are joining together to fight the Saxons and drive them back to the continent for good. The knights of your homeland of Northumbria had been fighting off Saxon attacks from the North Sea for decades. Yet, you and your mother both know that there is no future for you as a knight here, where you are already known as a squire's daughter. Your mother gives you her permission, if you wish to leave home, to travel south to seek your fortune. She tells you she will help you to pack as many supplies and as much money as she can help you pull together, for the trip. Will you leave the safety of your home and travel south to seek your fortunes in Logres?


Choose one of these:
1. Your nationality is Cymric, which means Welsh or Celtic. Research a little bit about your people and tell me ten things about your Welsh heritage. Try starting here:
2. Your character needs to decide whether she should pretend to be a man, and keep her gender secret, or try to make her way as a female in this male-dominated world. What does she choose and why?

PS Here's another page that might be interesting:

Player 2:

You are Gwair of Gorre. Your culture is Cymric (Welsh) and your religion is Pagan. Your father is a knight, and his name is Sir Aeron. You have five brothers, all older than you are. Three of them have already become knights and You are 15 years old and you live in Gaihom. You were born in the year AD 470. Your passions are Loyalty to your liege, Love of family, Archery, and Power.

You receive a letter from your Uncle, your father's older brother, who lives in the land of Logres, to the south. When the letter arrives in your father's manor house, it creates quite a stir, since letters are very rare, and you, being the youngest son, have never received one before. Pretend this is written in Latin. He writes:

Greetings, Gwair, to you, your noble father, your wise mother and your brothers. Good health to you now and forever.
I am writing to let you know about an opportunity for you here in Logres. I am offering you this information instead of giving it to your older siblings because you have always been my favorite. And anyway, they are all idiots. A baron knight here in Logres has a mad, brave plan to restore Maiden Castle to its former glory as a fortress. This was that place, Gwair, a thousand years ago, where our proud Cymric people built one of our finest forts. This is the place, five hundred years ago, that we lost the battle with the Romans, where Vespasian knocked down our defenses. This is the place, my favored nephew, where we may make our stand against the filthy Saxons, now the Romans have gone. I know you're only fifteen years old, but I think you could find honor and adventure in a career as a squire with Sir Cadfael of Aron. Bring with you a letter of recommendation from your father, as well as all the money and supplies he can spare you for your journey. I hope to call on you soon at Maiden Castle, reborn. Your loving uncle, Ifan of Amesbury.


Choose one of the following writing assignments. You are the only one of the four players whose character would be able to write, so you will be writing "in character," that is, pretending to "be" Gwair:

1. Write a letter to your father asking for money, supplies, and permission to take the trip.
2. Write a letter to your uncle (keeping in mind you may have to take it to him yourself.)

Please respond to this email letting me know if you plan to make the trip to Maiden Castle or take your chances as a sixth son in Gaihom. If you want to google/wikipedia "Maiden Castle" or "Amesbury" or "Welsh people" or "Welsh language"

Player 3:

You are Talorc, a Pictish pagan of the Out Isles. You live in the northwest part of what is now Scotland. Go to and look up Isle of Skye and you'll see where you were born. You are the second son of a squire. You are fifteen years old, and you cannot read or write. You have been trained as a mason and have worked cutting stones for farm buildings and the mountain fortresses around the lochs and cliffs of your land. Your homeland was never conquered by the Romans, so you hesitate to travel south of Hadrian's wall, where the Saxons and Britons are fighting it out. However, your dream is to be a knight, and you know that as the son of a squire, you are not going to get very far.

While you are working on repairing a hearth in a meeting house in a local village, you overhear a conversation between a local man who traveled south to Logres and became a knight, and his father who he was visiting. The knight's name is Sir Morleo.

Father: Son, I'm glad you're home for good.
Sir Morleo: Don't be foolish. I'm going back to Logres as soon as I can visit my sisters and sell my estate here on the Island.
Father: Why would you go back? Can't you make a life for yourself among your own people?
Sir Morleo: There is a rich knight in Logres named Cadfael. He has a plan to build a fortress on the site of the old hill fort, Maiden Castle. He is in need of many knights to create an army to defend this fortress against the Saxons, and keep them from entering the lands to the West.
Father: Forget it. It's not our war. We are Picts. Let the Saxons overrun those wretched Welsh fools. We defended against the Romans, we can defend against anyone, but here, in the North.
Sir Morleo: The Britons have asked us again and again to help them keep the Saxons on the continent. We must respond.

After thinking about this news, you wonder if you shouldn't try and make your way down to Logres yourself and investigate this army that intends to fight the Saxons. Perhaps with all these knights, many squires would be needed, and you could lend your aid, perhaps someday become a knight yourself. Will you travel south, to Logres, to check it out?


Choose one of the following writing assignments. Since your character can't write, you will be writing this as Stephen.

1. Find out a little about your character's origins. The Picts were called "The Painted People" -- why? Who are the Picts? Where are they from? Start here: Tell me ten things about the Picts that I should know.
2. If you decide to go to Logres, your character will have a long journey ahead of him. What supplies will he need? Where will he get them?

Please respond to this email letting me know if you plan to make the trip to Maiden Castle or take your chances as a stonemason in the Out Isles.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Kinetic Choir: Week 2

Great to see the kids back this week! I had such a good time with them.

Today's class:

Breathing exercises. Deep breathing, and a game called Zoom. Ask your kids about it!

Vocal Warm-ups. We played a game to help them visualize what it means to have higher notes and lower notes. In this game one person (first me, then all the kids had a turn) puts her hand out in front of her, and gives us a starting note. Then the leader raises or lowers her hand, sometimes quite drastically, sometimes more slowly, sometimes in jerks and skips, and the group follows by raising or lowering the pitch they're signing. This was fun! Lots of giggles, but a good way to start thinking about relative pitch, intervals, and good watching practice.

Composition. Several children had written verses to the song "You Are My Sunshine" and we had a great time listening and singing those gems.

Form: We practiced "Rocky Road to Dublin."

Interval Training: We reviewed "Bought Me a Cat" and learned "Little Bird, Little Bird." One has a major third and one has a minor third. We learned the songs thoroughly, and then practiced hearing intervals on the piano and deciding whether it was a "Bought Me a Cat" or a "Chipsy Chopsy" or a "Little Bird." They were really good at it! We'll work more on thirds next week. The goal is that they'll be able to identify major and minor thirds, and also sing them when asked.

Parts Singing: We practiced "My Paddle Clean and Bright" and "Rose Rose Rose Red."

Thank you choir! You had a great day!

Newspaper Class: Week 2

Our second class went great! The kids are on fire with ideas and questions. We do not have time in the hour to accomplish everything these bright minds want to talk about and explore, that's for sure!

Here's what was decided:

The newspaper will be named The Norfolk Post. The first editor is Maggie More and her email is written in your child's folder (if you don't have it, please email me). All written material and photographs should be submitted to Maggie this week. Sales will be by individual paper and also by subscription. Subscriptions are $10 for ten issues, and individual papers are $1.50.
We will mail papers if that is desired.

We decided what graphic look the newspaper should have and in what format it will be printed.

Your child has a folder for each job he or she decided to take on.

Subscription sales: These two representatives of the newspaper were selling subscriptions to the paper at lunch on Tuesday. The Subscription Manager is Martina and she will be in charge of the bookkeeping surrounding subscriptions and also individual sales.

Reporters: Reporters should each write one article on an event. It can be an event inside or outside co-op. They should report what happened, who was involved, where it took place, and when it happened. They may or may not have a photo to go along with it.

Columnists: Columnists can write any type of column they choose. They might write an advice column, a how-to column, an interview column, an opinion column -- whatever they like.

Photographer: While the reporters may submit photos connected with their stories, the photographer's job is to take a picture that is its own story. It can have a caption but should speak for itself.

Editor: The editor puts all the material together and compiles it in the template, and also writes an op-ed.

Cartoonist: The cartoonist draws a cartoon, scans it, and emails it to the editor as an image.

DEADLINES: The reporters, cartoonist, columnists, and photographers need to get their materials to the editor by the end of Friday. She then has Saturday and Sunday to work on putting everything together, and will submit her finished work to me by the end of Sunday so I can get it printed.

Now, this next part is important: There are many parameters that were not defined. There were many questions left unasked. Part of letting the children own this project is letting them figure out the questions that need to be asked instead of just helping them figure everything out in advance. If your child feels like they haven't had enough direction, encourage him or her to go in whatever direction is interesting and inspiring.

There may not be a paper this week -- this may be our week to figure things out and come at it with more information next week. And that is totally fine! Our goal is to put out ten issues, so we have some wiggle room in terms of the schedule. Let's be totally unstressed, totally positive, and whatever happens, we will work it out.

The most important thing this week is that the kids start communicating with each other, start learning what's possible in terms of word count and photo size, and have the experience of working for each other.

If they want to keep track of the questions and problems that occur to them as they're working/thinking/planning, that would be great! They can write right on their assignment sheet.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Kinetic Choir: Week 1

We had a great day in choir today -- as I told the children, these are the choir pioneers,
blazing a trail for an HSoBX choral tradition. They were very good sports even
with our small numbers, and made some beautiful music!

Today's class:

Breathing exercises. We learned the difference between our talking voices and singing voices. We don't use our singing voices for talking, or in most cases we'd sound like Cinderella impersonators all day. Likewise, we do not use our talking voices for singing -- we want to access that sweet, higher voice that feels like it's located up in your forehead, not in your throat.

Vocal Warm-ups. We sang Me-balaba You-balaba Me-balaba and Mommy Made Me Mash My M&Ms. And we're not explaining. And we're not sorry.

Composition. We talked about how most songs have verses and a chorus, and we
looked at "You Are My Sunshine" as an example. The children's first composition
assignment is to write a new verse for this song! They can write about whatever
they like -- we talked about how songs can be about love, about a favorite
thing, about a person, about an event that happened, or really about anything.
I'm very interested to see what they come up with, and look forward to
incorporating their own work into our repertoire.

Form: In the morning class we talked about verse / chorus structure more as we
introduced "The Rocky Road to Dublin" in which Travis will sing the verses while
the choir claps a rhythm, and the choir will join in on the choruses.

Interval Training: In the afternoon class we learned the concept of intervals
and learned about thirds. We sang the song "Bought Me a Cat" which has a lot of
thirds in it. My goal for the class is that the children will be able to
identify and also produce all the different intervals on the major scale. That
will be a real accomplishment!

Parts Singing: Both classes began to learn the round "Rose Rose Rose Red" which
we will learn to introduce parts singing. We also learned "My Paddles Clean and
Bright" in the earlier class.

Next week I will have folders for the kids -- I was trying out some different
things today to see what would stick. I have a better idea now of the directions
we can go. I'm pretty excited about how well they did today!

Listening Links:

Rose Rose Rose Red

Bought Me a Cat (karaoke version)

Note: If you search around on YouTube for "I Bought Me a Cat" you will find many
many links to the Aaron Copeland version of it, but this is NOT the version
we're doing, because it doesn't have the same thirds in it that I need for their
ear training. The one we want goes "Do-Do-Mi, Do-Do-Mi, Do-Do-Mi-So-Mi-Re-Do" if
that makes any sense.

My Paddle Song

You are My Sunshine

Rocky Road to Dublin

Have fun! See you next week. Interested in choir? We have room!

Newspaper Class: Week 1

Yesterday we had a planning meeting, and debated a lot of important questions.
It's vital that the children have ownership of their plans and ideas, so they
can really get behind the effort to produce a paper. I'm trying not to tell them
what to do or make decisions for them. It might take us longer to get organized
this way, but in the end it will be a more memorable learning experience if they
have to wade through some of these potential pitfalls themselves.

The students broke down responsibilities for organization this way:

1. Publishing: Jacob and Stephen are in charge of researching printing options and comparing
prices from several different vendors for black and white or color printing.

2. Market Research: Sarah Berry is in charge of putting together the survey that we will be sending
in your direction. There are three market research questions to help guide their

3. Corporate Planning: The others in the group are tasked with coming up with a tagline and mission
statement for the paper. What is our goal? What is our scope? What do we hope to
accomplish? And how do we plan to present ourselves to the world?

What is a tagline?

Think of these examples:

"Let your fingers do the walking."
"Think different."
"All the news that's fit to print."
"Just do it."
"Fair and balanced."
"Can you hear me now?"

Here's a good article about creating a tagline on

What is a mission statement?

A mission statement is a document created by a company to focus its purpose and
goals. It should define what we want to do and how we want to do it. It's our
reason for existing, defined in a paragraph. What need do we fill? What do we
believe in? How will we reach our goals?

So, those are the assignments for this week -- let me know if you have
questions, and feel free to have the kids email me for clarification or help!