“You just believe!”

November 24, 2013, is a date Houston will always remember, for it marks the day he publicly proclaimed Christ as his Lord and savior. (Click here to see video of this momentous occasion.)

For a boy going on just 6 and a half, Houston is quite serious about his faith. He’s fascinated with Biblical history and delights in learning about the Gospel.

Houston, Gabriel and Zeke can often be found seriously discussing what they learned about in Sunday school or at Awana. Miss Christie recently overheard he and Asher talking about how important it is to get baptized and what it means to have Jesus in your heart.

A shot of Stephen & me during our final visit to Gramsey & Papa’s house — the place where we got married some 13 years ago. Although I’m happy my folks will be moving on to greener pastures, I sure will cherish those Cartersville memories!

How wonderful it is that Houston has friends and brothers who desire a closer relationship with God, as well as share a rhetorical flair for waxing theological. As a parent, it’s a cool thing to behold for sure.

Houston is introspective about what he reads in the Word and how each lesson applies to his life. Always inquisitive, Houston asks probing questions of Stephen and me, inspiring us to reflect on doctrinal complexities and ponder controversial aspects of Christianity.

So, it was no surprise that Houston had been having heart-felt considerations to get baptized for a while now. I won’t say that Stephen and I were apprehensive for him to take the plunge, so to speak, but we were definitely cautious.

Pastor Brian Croft gives five practical suggestions to determine if a child is ready in both head and heart for baptism. Parents and clergy should look for:

  1. A growing affection and need for Jesus and the gospel.
  2. A heightened understanding of the truths of Scripture.
  3. An increased kindness and selflessness towards siblings.
  4. A greater awareness and distaste for sin.
  5. A noticeable desire to obey parents

Speaking of pastures, Gabriel, Kara & Zeke hang out near Gramsey & Papa’s well-kempt pasture for the last time in early November.

We decided that Houston met all criteria, although some day more than others. And isn’t that the same every Christian? We believe, but we are broken, worldly, fallible and often times even downright disobedient and selfish. It’s the human condition after all — a fallen state of which the Bible describes countlessly.

So, Stephen and Houston went out to lunch with an associate pastor from our church to determine Houston’s understanding of this tenet of the Great Commission. And we also talked with him to make sure he grasped the seriousness of baptism — its meaning, its import, its consequence.

Our first clue of Houston’s readiness was that he started the ball rolling in seeking out the sacrament. It wasn’t something Stephen and I were really pushing; rather, Houston felt the desire to get baptized laid upon his heart and was vocal about starting the dialog.

Our next clue was Houston’s persistence. He always kept the topic near the forefront of conversations. Moreover, Houston’s earnestness seemed to convey a longing to want to make a genuine profession of faith, not just do something he thought Christians should do.

The 3 Amigos’ obsession w/ knights, warriors, ninjas & pretty much anything than entails intense fighting & creative dress recently morphed into experimentation w/ war paint. Houston seems pleased w/ the result (jagged teeth & all)!

Also, it seemed to me that Houston was cognizant of our Creator. Like the other day in the car, he said, “Look at those clouds over there, Mommy. Sometimes when the light is shining through, I think God’s talking to me.”

So, after much honest and loving deliberation, we decided that, yes, Houston was prepared to make this “outward expression of an inward reality.” And that he did. As both a parent and a Christian, I see Houston’s introspection and spiritual maturity as an inspiring thing indeed.

Plus, he’s just a sweet dude. “Do you know how much I love you?” I asked Houston after his baptism. “No,” he said. “You don’t?!” I queried. “No, because it’s probably higher that I can imagine,” he replied. Aw, that just melts a mama’s heart!

We’re at Granny’s house right now for Thanksgiving. Tomorrow, we’ll be heading to Sugar Plum Farm to get our Carolina-grown Christmas tree and frolic around on the Appalachian mountaintops! Here are some other fun things we’ve been up to lately …

On 11/6, Houston brought his pal, Alex, to Bring-A-Friend Night at Awana. The 3 Amigos were psyched that their CC buddy got to ride in the van with them across town and participate in one of their favorite times of the week.

Zeke does his best fight-’em-off jig to scare off his tribal enemies!

A couple days later, Sam, another CC friend, came over to our casa for a beautiful fall playdate. The boys ran wild playing knights in the yard, while Miss Maria and I enjoyed some much-deserved adult conversation.

In mid-November, Houston spent the night at Asher’s for his 7th birthday. The next day, Mr. Logan took the two big bros to Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh, where much amusement and adventure were afoot.

Houston was only gone for about 24 hours, but the twins, especially Gabriel, missed him terribly. So even though they fight, get annoyed with each other and sometimes say very nasty things, I guess their brotherly bond really does run pretty deeply. Too cute!

That weekend, Daddy took the crew to the Science Center and then to see Monsters University at the dollar theater. The dudes enjoyed their first boys-only outing in quite a long time, while I appreciated the well-deserved mommy break.

Gabriel’s battle cry is the fiercest in all the land (Celtic land, that is)!

Houston lost his third baby tooth on 11/17. He hadn’t been visited by the Tooth Fairy in ages and now suddenly has three other teeth barely hanging on by a thread! So, I suppose Houston’s finally entering that snaggletooth stage of childhood, which I find so adorable.

We wrapped up our CC semester on 11/19. Can you believe we survived (er, I mean, successfully accomplished) 12 weeks of CC memory work on top of our other curriculum and studies? Way to go, boys!

The next day, I attended my first Bible study — something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but simply haven’t had the time, until now. However, the group happens to fall on the same day as Awana.

We live pretty far out from town and doing both (with boys in tow for each) was actually quite the exhausting feat. But I do yearn to grow spiritually through community and hope I can stick it out for the long run … well, at least through the holidays.

Heavyweight blog, lighthearted photos

As Mark Twain once said, “The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.” Most of us clear-thinking folks can attest to that, but it is especially injurious when a tax payer must support something he vehemently opposes on principle.

Like the pro-lifer being forced to subsidize the abortion racket or the anti-war activist compelled by the state to finance the ever-growing military industrial complex, so too is the homeschooler, private-schooler or child-less citizen required by law to fund the monopoly known as government education.

Public Good theory

Yes, yes. We have heard the political parlance that it’s a “public good,” but that, of course, is debatable. I can see the emotional allure of the notion that a solid liberal arts education for all people will foster a better society at large.

But has this grandiose and exorbitantly over-priced collective experiment panned out? Has the system that raises revenue by coercion in order to inflict forced compulsory government education on the masses delivered on its promises?

In a bold fashion statement, Houston added lots of modern bling to his non-historical knight costume this Halloween.

I think not. And the edu-crats’ drumbeat supporting their dysfunctional system cannot take away from the simple fact that government schools get an F in their one true task: educating children. Bummer, I know.

Sure, there are schools that do their best to buck the trend and, indeed, there are many great teachers. But we’re not talking about exceptions to the rule. We’re talking about a broken and unaccountable system that rewards conformity, punishes innovation and leads to mis-education en masse.

Social experimentation gone mad

Thanks to No Child Left Behind and Common Core, the symbiotic relationship between the policy makers and the teachers’ unions want to create a nation busy worker bees and uninformed derelicts dependent upon the Labor Theory of Value.

It’s subterfuge at its core, enriching its player with both power and money, and all at the expense of the tax payer. Can anyone say conflict of interest?

Zeke is ready to slay those who challenge the Knight’s Code of Chivalry.

And as these busybodies and collective-bargaining bullies hold families hostage, America’s kids truly paying the price. Some of the ways the punitive monopoly of government education is overtly gipping students of the tools they need to succeed, include:

  • the near-nonexistence of US history and Western Civilization courses;
  • the emphasis placed upon multiculturalism and other white-guilt victimologies;
  • an ever-increasing trivialization of non-essentials over math, reading and writing;
  • political indoctrination through chosen and/or lacking curricula;
  • teaching to the test, instead of the child;
  • discouragement of rigorous debate and intellectual curiosity;
  • and the requirement of near total submission to all that is politically correct.

“To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves … is sinful and tyrannical.” — Thomas Jefferson

Political correctness has jumped the shark

There are simply too many PC examples to cite them all, so I’ll tackle the anti-bullying bandwagon, since it’s so vogue these days and yet so fraught with abuse — not by the supposed bullies toward their victims, but rather, by those who craft and implement the programs against those who challenge a school’s social goals and overall status quo.

Anti-bullying schemes are just a tactic in which those in powerful positions, protected classes and/or a special-interest groups cry foul simply as a way to try to control other people’s actions and words. It’s a mantra void of good intentions.

Gabriel, who was a bit more conventional in his dress-up approach to being a Medieval knight, is ready to score some candy!

By pushing acceptance in the name of tolerance, and valuing some people’s opinions and choices while stifling others, the anti-bullying movement is simply a covert tool used to suppress speech.

“Freedom of speech includes the freedom to offend people.”
— Brad Thor, American novelist

Is it really bullying to call someone a name, even a slur; not accept his lifestyle; offer an opinion that runs in opposition to his; pray to a God that he doesn’t believe in; or to defend your own principles, even when unpopular? Let’s look at a definition.

bully: a person who uses superior strength or influence to harm or intimidate someone who is weaker, typically to force him or her to do what one wants. So, just because a student might not want to participate in Spirit Day, we can see that that’s not bullying; it’s just good old-fashioned dissent.

Consequently, bullying is so overused a phrase that it has become almost as empty a term as racism, which is saying something in our race-obsessed times. And as a result, freedom of expression is gasping for breath in schools across the government-education empire.

Show me the money

And let’s not forget about the money. From the NC Education Lottery, constant school bond referendums and proposed property tax hikes in nearly every locality, to a ballot initiative in Colorado that tried to undo the state’s flat income tax in an effort to raise funds “for the kids,” government education is awash in cash.

Although disgusted by having to pull the innards from our pumpkin, Zeke & Gabriel get excited about the prospect of eating its roasted seeds.

Per pupil spending in American public schools dwarfs the money allocated to students in other industrialized nations. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, such spending ranged from $6,212 per child in Utah to $19,076 in New York.

The statistics from fiscal year 2011 include, “Of the $595.1 billion in total expenditures for public school systems:

  • $522.1 billion is comprised of current spending (i.e. operational expenditures, not including long-term debt).
  • Expenditure for instruction amounted to $316.3 billion (60.6 percent) of the total current spending,
  • while costs for support services amounted to $178.7 billion (34.2 percent).
  • Instructional salaries [including benefits and pensions] were the largest expenditure category for public elementary and secondary education, accounting for $208.8 billion in 2011.”

“On the revenue side, public schools received $599.1 billion in total revenue for 2011, an increase of 1.1 percent from 2010.

  • The largest source of revenue is from state governments at $265.9 billion (44.4 percent of total revenue),
  • followed by local governments at $259.5 billion (43.3 percent)
  • and the federal government providing $73.7 billion (12.3 percent).”
  • Notably, “Property taxes accounted for 65.6 percent of revenue from local sources for public school systems.”

Houston relaxes w/ our freshly carved jack-o-lantern, lovingly referred to as Pooty the Pumpkin.

Are we getting bang for the buck?

The short answer, no. Despite massive investment, overall student achievement is abysmal, proving that feel-good programs, multi-cultural curriculum, special education, and counselors galore are not what students need to thrive intellectually in our increasingly competitive world.

According to the 2009 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) Reading Test, 1/3 of American 4th-graders scored scored “below basic,” while a whopping 67% are “below proficient,” meaning not reading a grade level. And nearly half of these students come from low-income families.

Older kids didn’t fare much better on the NAEP, with about 26% of 8th-graders and 27% of of 12th-graders scoring “below basic,” and a trim 32% of 8th-graders and 38% of 12-graders reading at or above grade level.

Globally, stats aren’t much better. Even in an assessment done by the government-policies-can-cure-all-social-ills group, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, American 15-year-olds were ranked 25th out of 30 countries in math and 21st in science.

Casey (seen here w/ a gleeful Papa) flew into town from New Orleans to attend Mom & Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary party in early November.

It’s a moral issue

Money is just a symptom of the problem; rather, it is a moral issue about empowering parents, like those who feel they are being held hostage to compulsory education cartel, due to their crime-ridden neighborhood and/or their limited resources.

And it’s about choice. Parents need to be able to pick a school that best aligns with their values, whether that be parochial or secular; conservative or liberal; private, charter or magnet; homeschool or brick-and-mortar.

It’s about letting those who want to opt of a discordant educational system the ability to do so without heavy government regulation and oversight. By giving the families the financial and legal means of school choice, parents get to decide what’s best for their kids — not the local school boards, the state, the feds or the teachers’ unions.

And the cool thing about all this school choice is that it would increase accountability and competition among all schools as a consequence, providing a better pool of options for all families, despite their address, income-tax bracket, race, religion, gender, political affiliation or sexual orientation. What could be more egalitarian than that?

Mom hangs w/ Mike, Tommy & Betty, who happen to be both awesome friends & family!

So, what is a public good?

As economist Randall G. Holcombe explains, “A public good, as defined by economic theory, is a good that, once produced, can be consumed by an additional consumer at no additional cost.” Does government education really fit the bill?

“(My family’s) hopes & dreams shouldn’t have to be sacrificed on the altar of a government fiefdom.” — Jason Lewis, radio talk show host

Holcombe explains, “The persistence of the theory of public goods makes sense if the theory of public goods is considered as a tool of the government to justify the legitimacy of its activities and make it less costly to get citizens to comply with its wishes.

“The theory is promulgated by the state-supported education system,” he adds, “giving educators, as employees of this state-supported industry, an incentive to promote the theory of public goods. This all-purpose justification for government activity serves the government well by arguing that its activities are legitimate means of enhancing social welfare …”

“(The theory) does not do a very good job of explaining what the government actually does, or should do, but can be better understood as a tool that the government employs for its own benefit,” Holcombe concludes.

Long lost cousins: Hanging out for the first time in probably 20 years, Matt & I have fun catching up at the anniversary party!

Allocation of money is the cure

It’s easy to see that school choice would make educating children less costly for everyone, make high-performing schools more accessible or allow homeschooling as a greater option for lower and middle-class families. But how to accomplish that end?

Some school-reform proponents are for vouchers, while others are for letting the funds follow the child, not the school (as is done in many Western European countries). But with both of these options, there is still heavy government involvement in the allocation of tax-payer-funded revenue.

Other reformers want to go back to a time pre-compulsory education in the form of total privatization of education. While I like that idea on principle, I think that’s too radical an idea for a nation dependent upon entrenched bad habits and its inclination to worship at the altar of “public servants,” like teachers.

“It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.”
— Voltaire

Therefore, I am in favor of tuition-tax credits. However, many homeschoolers, including Classical Conversation founder, Leigh Bortins, is wary of this solution. In fact, she likens the prospect to being “pimped by the state like any other crony capitalist.”

dina & grams

Dina & Mom are looking hot to trot @ the party — proof positive that youthful genes run in the family!

By this logic, Bortins falls into the trap that getting to keep one’s own labor (your income) is somehow a “state-financed” system. She posits that credits would intrinsically tied to government oversight and control, like vouchers, and thus, antithetical to choice and liberty.

But my point is that tuition-tax credits would give all families greater control of their own money and let individuals decide how the fruits of their labor best be spent on their own kids’ education.

Plus, there’s Supreme Court precedent to buttress my point. In ACTSO vs. Winn, where the court ruled in favor of education tax credits, they ruled that”

“A dissenter whose tax dollars are ‘extracted and spent’ knows that he has in some small measure been made to contribute to an establishment in violation of conscience … (but) awarding some citizens a tax credit allows other citizens to retain control over their own funds in accordance with their own consciences.”

As is their wont, Mike, Dad & Matt enjoy cutting up for the camera.

In other words, tuition-tax credits would be harder to attack and regulate since they aren’t a subsidy; they’re simply are vehicle allowing tax payers to keep more of their own money.

“The desire of gold is not for gold. It is for the means of freedom & benefit.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Moreover, many Americans are taxed twice in our current paradigm. They’re forced to purchase one product (government education) while opting to buy another (homeschool or private school).

So, tax credits would put to an end what would be an anti-trust violation in any other sector of our economy, while simultaneously lessening the financial burden of excessive taxation for all.

The only thing that would be preferable to tuition-tax credits is to reform the tax code as a whole and implement a flat-rate federal income tax. Unfortunately, that is not as tenable a political proposition in our current social climate of greed and envy, so it’s a moot point for now.

Real educational equity

If Otto von Bismark was right that “Politics is the art of the possible,” then I firmly believe that many Americans could get on board with tuition-tax credits.

Sure, many politicians aren’t for school choice, since they already opt out of the system by sending their kids to private and prep schools and/or are beholden to the teachers’ unions.

Meredith, Jacob, Stephen & David have fun celebrating Gramsey & Papa’s golden anniversary.

But if tuition-tax credits are framed as a matter of freedom, conscience, choice, tax fairness, educational equity, fiscal responsibility, and raising the bar of educational performance for all children, I think it’s a winning strategy that most common-sense folks could embrace.

Freedom of choice

In conclusion, political satirist P.J O’Rourke summed it up best in his eloquent and scathing Liberty Manifesto — sentiments that are as true today (if not more) as they were when he penned the proclamation more than 20 years ago:

“(Freedom) is not an endlessly expanding list of rights — the ‘right’ to education, the ‘right’ to health care, the ‘right’ to food and housing. That’s not freedom, that’s dependency … Those aren’t rights, those are the rations of slavery — hay and a barn for human cattle … There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please.”

And with more of your own hard-earned money in your pocket from tuition-tax credits, that’s exactly the free-market power American parents can wield as consumers deciding on their kids’ education. The choice is up to them.