Monday, 31 December 2012

Mediocrity is killing Ghanaians



There are two main criminals in Ghana; teachers and nurses. But now I must add the average Ghanaian to that list. The average Ghanaian consists of the pharmacists, taxi drivers, caterers, and builders. These are people who would more likely take decisions to harm another rather than not. Let’s take builders. Builders or those who work on the construction sites take decisions on a daily basis to steal materials from the site that they are paid to develop. But they don’t just steal cement. They steal iron rods. The iron rods are needed to keep the buildings erect, strong and safe. There is no building without the rods..it’s only a matter of time until the building collapses.
It is with a heavy heart that I write this blog today. Last night I read that an 11 year old boy has lost his life in the Brong Ahafo Region after his school wall collapsed on him. The title of the article read, “The Price of Education.” This title is fitting. Not only did that boy have to worry about his teachers not showing up, lack of materials, lack of space, but now parents must also worry about walls collapsing on their children while at school.
Who will answer to this boy’s parents? Or the parents of the little girl who was hit by lightning while schooling in an uncompleted building. Or the parents of the children who are waiting for the contractors to complete the school they were paid to build.                                              There will be no answers because the “average” Ghanaian does not respect the ones he is paid to work on behalf of. The parents will get the casual “I beg” and the “authorities” would have called it a day. The school has continued lessons under the tree. It has not closed down for reparations and further construction.
This is not the first time this year that a building collapsed in Ghana. We have all heard of the Melcom Supershop disaster. That mayhem claimed more than 20 lives. Those numbers may be even higher since the initial numbers of possible victims was false.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Chi@7

My wonderful Sun, Chiemeka, is 7 years old. Here is a page from his gratitude notebook on what he is most grateful for this year.
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"I'm grateful that I'm 7 now. That means I'm going to be a big boy. Mawuvi (his brother) is a boy who is very thankful to God about me. I'm very very thakful that God created me and my family. God made things that we wanted forever like food, shelter, water and of course our greatest star, the sun."
____________________________________
Chi's first book, based on this journal, will be published in January 2013. Look out for it.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Why I love Kwanzaa



I love Kwanzaa. I started celebrating this holiday in 2008 when my eldest son was 3. I wanted to start a tradition and build a family culture that celebrated Africa and community togetherness. I also wanted a tradition that involved activities and doing something to make the community better or reinforce our family’s mission/vision. I wanted my children to learn that those days require that you do something. And most importantly, I wanted to begin the process of establishing roots and tradition building for our family.
I did not want a holiday focusing on gifts and presents. My husband and I are very particular about providing our children our presence as opposed to presents.
But most importantly, I did not want to repeat the mistakes my mother made with holidays. We did not celebrate Christmas. Never had the tree or the hoop la made about presents and that time of the year. We were given presents, but as an afterthought. There was no shopping, no preparation, no lists. My mother thought it was a pagan holiday and not Christian. Sounded great to me even then, but where was our alternative? What do we have if the pagans have Christmas?
I had wished we were given the opportunity to create our own tradition as a family or as non pagans. I would have taken any chance to understand who we were and why we were not pagans. But like many parents, she did not have the time to be that creative or to recognize that building culture compels you to be creative especially to children who just want to perform an activity/event with their parents.
Culture and tradition is founded on performance and repetition. Someone thinks of an idea of what makes us “different” or “better” and acts on it. Instead of just taking their (often his) word for it, he spends some time on constructing and creating this difference. It often includes food and music. And why not, tradition is to be celebrated.
Becoming a parent also turned me into a quasi performance artist. I dance, sing and clap at a drop of a dime. My children expect that from me. I dance and sing to get children to sleep, eat, use potty instead of soiling the floor, and to learn.

My repertoire also included arts and crafts. And because I was performing and doing crafts on a daily basis, I searched for a tradition that would permit me to combine both.
Imagine my excitement when I began researching Kwanzaa. It had everything that I searched for. It centered Africa, based on African culture, about family, community and was flexible to permit me to do it my way. The way my family celebrates Kwanzaa is most likely different from most people.
My interest was further peaked when I found a set of Kwanzaa worksheets online which included various forms of word games, puzzles, and coloring pages. We did about 3 pages a night during the week and learned a great deal about Kwanzaa. This permitted us to know more about the holiday and got my son excited about this activity. I loved this link even more because it merged learning with fun games and activities. Here is the link to my favorite Kwanzaa worksheet activity.  http://p6.hostingprod.com/@holidaycrosswords.com/nonfiction/KwanzaaWorksheets.pdf
Kwanzaa has been the major holiday in our family ever since. It is an exciting time of the year because we plan community activities that reinforce our commitment to each other and our community. We also celebrate with our community by having activities that bring us all together as opposed to staying at home. Last year the children were given a chance to weave Kente.
Kwanzaa also compliments homeschooling in Ghana. It provides the children a communal reinforcement of what we do daily. We learn about Africa, how to make the world a better place, how to plant trees, grow food and how to keep our bodies fit. Sounds great to me!
Now on to designing this year’s program.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Chi won the Spelling Bee!

October 26 is a new holiday in our house. It is a day celebrating Chi’s win of his first Spelling Bee. He answered words from a list of 50 and 10 more “mystery” words. He competed with children ages 9-12. And at 4th grade and only 6 years old, Chi was the youngest amongst them. Every parent’s joy is when their children succeed after working hard at something. I was very happy that he won, but my joy is deeper than that he spelt words correctly. My joy is that Chi, at 6 years old, competed with children older, bigger and assumingly wiser, but was not the least bit intimidated. He did not have any notions of fear or self esteem issues that can arise in such situations. He was poised, calm and enjoyed himself. The moderator tried to throw him off a few times. She mentioned his age (amazed at his abilities), his size and nicknamed him “Mr. Chi.” All of this extra attention could have thrown off any individual trying to compete and not be distracted by extra activities. And yet, Chi took it all in stride. As parents, I think our greatest achievement is raising stable, happy and emotionally intelligent children. Having children who can be productive members of society and not be a strain; physically and spiritually on the globe. My greatest achievement is having children who can contribute to the peace of the world; by first being at peace with themselves. Chi’s joy was not in having won the competition. He wanted to showcase his talent in spelling. His joy was that he spelled words correctly. And my joy was that he did it with the same ease and comfort that he does spelling at home. Each child was given a sticker for participating. Chi’s greatest delight was receiving his own, like everyone else.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Kirikou!

If you have not already done so; do see the animation film Kirikou. I have seen it over ten times and find a teachable moment each time. The story is set during a turbulent time in West African history; during the Atlantic Slave Trade or the time of the Destruction. I would date that period to the 1800s. One main clue to this fact is that there are only two adult men in the village and one is very elderly. Another indicator of this period is that the men of the village were said to have been taken away by Karaba. Karaba epitomizes the evil plaguing the region. An evil that takes away the able bodied men and leave behind an elderly man, some women and more children; and an evil that no one understands. Since few people understood the dynamics of the global trade of African bodies, it is understandable that some people would think that the problem was a local “bad” person. The fact that the bad person was a woman, unmarried, and one who lived in isolation gives us clues to how gender was constructed during this time. Karaba’s gender is particularly revealing as women tended to lose power during and after the Destruction. Powerful women, which Karaba represents, were to be feared or demoted as witches. Their power was unholy, unnatural and a threat. It should be noted that powerful West African women were the norm, if not the rule, prior to the 16th century. One of the major contributions of the Destruction to West African societies was in the construction of gender. As the men were in the minority; they were perceived as more important as they were needed to help with reproduction and production. In this time of chaos, the important bodies were those who could produce and reproduce; to help society reach some sort of normalcy. As one man was able to help reproduction with so many women, polygamy became more common than before. It is safe to assume that polygamy was the activity of a selected few before the Destruction. In addition, the focus on reproduction also meant that if a woman was unable to reproduce, she would be labeled as “enemy of the state” or as a witch in some circles. During this crucial period, societies needed bodies who could produce ad reproduce; (any) body that was contrary to that was severely ostracized. Another major contribution of the Destruction in West Africa is the proliferation of villages. Before the trade, many people lived in cities and burgeoning coastal towns. These were some of the wealthiest parts of the planet before the 16th century. Kirikou’s village is the complete opposite of what was left from that period. Instead of being large and wealthy, it’s small and poor. The villagers had to travel, quite a distance, to the nearest wealthy city to trade pottery. Those people wore nicely designed clothing with fancy jewelry. People in Kirikou’s village did not have such luxuries. One of the more fascinating aspects of this city is that it was walled. High walls were hallmarks in West African towns during this period. Their construction was to prevent the Destruction. In contrast, the two “West Africas” Kirikou reveals is proof that people found ways to protect themselves. Those who were in the village were victims of the raids; since kidnappers tended to go in the interior to capture people unprotected. In addition, the wealthy city/town shows us that people had found ways to protect themselves which did not include running into the interior. The walls kept them safe. In addition, the walls would also give birth to the idea of “belonging.” Those who belonged within the walls would have constructed a look specific to their people. An idea adopted by all nations constructing an idea of us versus them; especially during a chaotic period.

Monday, 22 October 2012

I hear of another disappearance

I hate to let my mind wonder, but I fear, as a parent, that the growing global kidnappings and disappearances are not isolated cases. I hate to let my mind wonder, but as a parent, I fear that our children are victims to an evil mind on an unknown island in a part of the world not yet identified. I hate to let my mind wonder, but as a parent I wonder what 16th century West African parents felt. What did they call the dissppearances? Did they conceptualize an Atlantic Slave Trade? A Middle Passage? A Maafa? What information did they have as to what could have happened to their children? Had that mom just finished showering and kissing her angel when s/he disappeared? Had she just finished feeding him? Had put him down for nap when he vanished? How did she conceptualize his disappearance? Was it a ghost? The evil ghost? Had they known about the evil that was sweeping the world? The evil that would steal 2 year olds in the name of profit. I hate to let my mind wonder, but as a parent, I wonder if 2012 kidnapped children are not experiencing a similar fate. Victims, slaves, tortured in silence somewhere…somewhere so far, it takes a lot of imagination to wonder about it. So far, that their parents could not conceptualize what happened; only sit in fear of the idea that it did happened. Could the sugar, rubber, cafĂ©, rice, tobacco and cotton barrens be funneling our children to that part of the world? A new land. A new destination; away from freedom fighters and morals. Has the evil of money making truly been overcome? Is innocent blood still being spilled in the name of profit? After Haiti? Had Dessalines not thought them anything? Goodness does overcome evil, but I fear Yurugu does not give up. The restlessness for destruction is his nature. I hate to let my mind wonder, but as a parent, I fear that we are in 16th century West Africa. On the pulse of something new, something evil, and not sure how to contain it. Or what is allowing it to live.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Venting in Ghana

I am amazed at how Ghanaians do not respect nor fear each other. As a Haitian I believe that fear is the beginning of respect. Ghanaians do not understand this. If no one fears what others can (potentially) do, than no one respects others enough to do what they are supposed to do. To make it worse, people here are nonchalant at not doing what they are supposed to be doing. They are stunned, to say the least, when you question their behavior. (I shall return with a blog on mediocrity and lack of customer service in Ghana in the near future.) The professionals are the worse. From doctors to teachers, no one does what they are supposed to do at the time they are supposed to do. Ghana's foremost problem with education is that teachers simply do not show up. Yes, teacher absenteeism is one of the major reasons behind this country's failing educational system. And why don't they show up? Because they don't have to. No one will force them and they don't care enough about your children or you to do so. The same goes for doctors. I had a medical emergency last week. We went in to see the doctor. One nurse said the doctor was in. Another nurse said she could not find him. One said she had not seen him. One said she just started working here and does not know him. Another said, he just started working here and she does not know him. Another mentioned he was in traffic. She was not sure where he was coming from or how long he would be because she had not spoken to him directly. She could not find the nurse who had spoken to him. One suggested that I return home and they call me when he arrives. Another said that I should wait for him to arrive; it could be minutes or a few hours. All with a straight face that says, “I do not care about your emergency.” This goes for the lawyers as well. My in-laws have had a case pending since the 1980s with lawyers in Ghana. We’ve had to pay not only consultation fees each time, but weekly bribes if we want the lawyers to even “look” at the files. It’s not enough that we pay extra; our bribes are apparently not enough to keep them interested. It’s been over 20 years. So we are now looking for new lawyers. I am amazed at how this way of doing things is influencing everyone in Ghana. Your office calls you for an “important” meeting that you “must” attend because “everyone” is going to be there. You leave your newborn with dad to return in a few hours. Your office is 2 hours away. You arrive on time and only you remembered the meeting; those unable to make it call at 4pm to cancel. Why call at 4? Why not 2 so I can make alternative preparations? 4pm means you did not care, nor fear my wrath, enough to be courteous about cancelling at an appropriate time. The housekeeper you expect at 7am so you can make a doctor’s appointment at 8 does not show up or call. You finally call her at 7.30am and she is now leaving the house. She arrives at 10am flabbergasted at your annoyance. You cannot expect people to return calls, texts or send you info when they should. They have a 100 of excuses as to why they had not done what they were supposed to do. They ran out of units, they forgot, they are in traffic, the bus did not arrive, and they did not save your number, or the phone battery died. All of this with a straight face that says, “it’s not important for me to show up for you.” How can people be so nonchalant for not having tried on someone’s behalf? Isn’t that what humanity is about, trying/helping others? Isn’t my life connected to yours? Umbuntu? I am because you are. Not you are despite that I am. For the sake of a peaceful Ghana, let us all be the change we want to see.

Friday, 5 October 2012

World Teacher’s Day

Today is World Teacher’s Day. That means teachers the world over get a nod from the global leaders. They get recognition that states, by definition, that they matter and that “we” are paying attention. For so many of the world’s best teachers, this day will not include a discussion, durbar, conference or workshop on what you are doing right. There will be no apples left on your desk or principals waiting to hand out yet another certificate of appreciation or achievement to you. As a home schooling educator, your day is marked everyday with hugs, kisses and smiles due to the magic that you make happen every day. When your 6 year old is doing things that you are now learning how to do; you have achieved greatness that only a few can attest to. Was your child deemed a problem in the public system and now he is out performing his peers? Award and more awards to you! Does your child lay awake with a book that he “must” finish before sleeping? The Nobel Educator Prize goes to you! Does your child use new vocabulary on a daily basis? Well, the Priz de Monde goes to you as well. So the world celebrates teachers and the conversation will not include any of the above award winners. There is something immensely wrong with this picture. In fact, few teachers will receive any awards today. The day will be spent degrading the teacher profession. By professionals, experts and research analyst who think the problem with education can be solved with building more schools. No mention will be made of enhancing the capacity of teachers, but more on the dribble that more children need to be registered into schools…into buildings that may or may not have enough quality teachers/experts/willing to teach them. Education is winning big political points in Ghana by politicians seeking reelection. One party wants to provide free high school tuition to all children. The other party wants to provide more senior high schools. They agree that you need more schools and that free will provide better access, but no one is asking where the teachers will come from. I taught leadership class for three years at Ashesi University. Only 3 (out of 160 students) will ever “consider” teaching as a profession. I wait to hear from these politicians when they are ready for a real discussion on the problems. And as a home schooler, I will demand a State award. After all, I am educating Ghana’s bright black stars.

Monday, 1 October 2012

The Ghana National Book Fair

The Ghana National Book Fair ended on Saturday, September 29. It was eventful in some respects. We got to meet the Second Lady of Ghana, a librarian who was very excited to chat on home schooling with yours truly. She was impressed and supportive of the initiative. The Fair was launched with speakers from very important Ghanaians including Ebo Whyte. He, and the others, discussed how Ghanaian publishers need to publish materials that matter to Ghana and Africa. That they need to pay attention to materials in the local languages and use information from Ghana to get people excited and eager to purchase books for leisure reading. I hear this speech each year….and each year, publishers prove that they are not listening (or convinced Ghanaians read for leisure) as well as they should. We also met publishers from other parts of the world, mainly India and Australia. One group IAD from Australia publish materials on the Aboriginal population by the people themselves. They voice the Aborigines, using their own languages and world view. IAD also gave us free materials; which was very nice of them. We also visited EPP which is always a pleasure. I was very glad to have found Sedco. They are now the only publishers carrying the Junior African Writers Series (JAWS). I was able to purchase some new titles from them. I am not particularly impressed with educational materials coming from India and the UK. I find them convoluted. I find too much happening on one page; too busy for even the adult. One page can include information on different topics, written in different fonts, colors with new characters. It’s frustrating for the adult to follow the fine print, imagine the child. They turn me off. Unfortunately, these were the highlights on this week long Fair. As always, (I’ve been attending this Fair since 2008), attendance was poor. So the publishers did not make money and as a result, the authors. The publishers also suffered from poor printing. Some materials had massive editorial mistakes; including pages being stuck to each and blank pages. In addition, the materials were often irrelevant at best. There was one publisher selling outdated books on countries, and only 2 African countries were represented in the stack. To top it off, the books, which were published in 1998, were being sold for $4 each! This is a country where the average person makes far less than that…and they have to pay for outdated materials on top of it! How insulting. It was clear that those books were also not published by African publishers but rather purchased to resell. My aim in attending this year’s Fair was to find a book on Ghanaian/African plants and trees. No luck! Imagine that. The Ghana NATIONAL Book Fair does not have any publishers focusing on educational materials using Ghanaian local materials. I was able to find what you would be able to find searching through a US library sale. This is not to say that there were no materials of relevance. There were some materials in Twi; mostly story books. We needed workbooks. There were no science materials exploring Ghanaian plants such as Neem and other plants, but there were materials catering to the curriculum. Not even a book on Ghanaian birds…water bodies, and vegetables. What information is being passed down? The problem with publishers in Ghana is that they don’t have any faith in a reading public. They think those who need books will have to be students; trying to pass the test or schools purchasing for their students. They don’t believe that there is a public out there interested in purchasing books to read for sheer pleasure and to enhance their knowledge; unless works of fiction or romance novels. You would be surprised how many romance novels there were on sale. Until the publishers have more faith and respect for the reading public, they will continue to face problems of poor sales and low attendance on such fairs.

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Pencil/sharpener Conspiracy

Is it me or are pencil manufacturers not doing a good enough job at producing pencils that last? The same goes for sharpeners that get dull quicker than I remember as a child. We have at least 100 sharpeners in the house, but only one that works! In the case of pencils, we use at least 3 pencils a week/per child. Each sharpen reduce the pencil down by a third.
I notice that they break more often and the more you sharpen the duller the sharpener becomes as well. It's also true that the erasers often finish before the pencils do as well. So you have to change pencils because you need an eraser. Those add-on erasers are not dependable either. We spend a good amount of money on pencils and sharpeners; often monthly. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but this does add up. I have at least a few hundred pencils in my house. Some are too short to continue sharpening. I give those and the dull sharpeners away; not sure what those people will think of my donation. I just do not like to throw away things that I think someone might able to use. I give away a bag full of pencils monthly. I would be interested in reading how much money pencil manufacturers make. I’m sure it’s well into the trillions. It’s not just purchasing for schools, but maintaining a useable tool to learn with is what increases their sales. Dixon, HB, MegaBrands, and Office Depot are not as different as they would like you to think. They have succeeded in manufacturing products that keep you buying more.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

A Raisin in the sun

Looking back on my life and the standard of education I received, I can honestly compare myself to a raisin in the sun. I was left to desiccate in the sun without protection and aide. Like most immigrant children, I was left to maneuver and manage the new US system on my own. I went to school and instead of my parents helping me with school work; I ended up having to help them translate letters sent from the school. I knew I had a quick mind for math, but Mr. Hade ( or Hayde from Elmwood Elementary School in Monsey, NY) thought I was a Haitian girl who was probably good enough to clean his house one day…if well trained. The truth being that I had more social and financial capital in my country than Mr. Hade in his, but as an immigrant in his country; he seemed right. So when he told me in plain language that as a Haitian girl (I was the only girl in his math class) that I was not good in math, I did not know who could tell him otherwise. My parents worked 2 jobs each. And besides, they did not speak English and nor were they empowered enough to tell the teacher that he was wrong. I was still an honors level student. My classes were mostly honors and AP level, but when it came to math I was average. Mr. Hade’s ugly mind had stained my image of myself in math. But my 6 year old son has proved him wrong! Fast forward a Ph.D. and three children; I am now a home schooling mom with a 6 year old doing three-digit division and algebra. How did an average math student train a 6 year old math genius? I’m beginning to realize that I was much smarter in math than I was made to believe. I’m also realizing that I am capable of doing many things that I did not know I could.
Home schooling my children have been such an eye opener and an inspiration. I learn so many things from them. This week’s lesson is teaching me just how inept I am in the arts. We went to our favorite book depot and picked up 2 books on how to draw cars and horses. It turns out that I am a GREAT artist! Who knew? I was able to draw those horses to true form JUST by following the directions. I might be blowing my own horn here, but I realized that home schooling educates everyone in the home! My son is also interested in knowing how to make things using paper such as boats, airplanes, etc. Instead of waiting for my husband do those activities with him, I found a site and learned how. So what is my advice to you? Many of you were made to believe that you are not smart enough, especially not to home school. I learned that it is never too late to teach yourself or learn fractions or whatever else you were made to believe was too “complicated” for your “simple” brain. I also learned from last week’s lesson on the human brain and from Dr. Ben Carson, one of the world’s top brain surgeons, that there is no such thing as a simple brain. Our brains are capable of genius, all of us! He was proclaimed dummy at the age of 10. He became the director of brain surgeons at 33. What did he do? He stopped believing that he was incapable. Maybe that is what we need to stop doing as home educators; stop believing that we are incompetent. If not us, who? All we have to do is think big!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Workshop on Home schooling

There is nothing more frustrating to a parent than not being able to help their children. I meet parents all the time asking me to teach their child or just simply asking me how they can do what I do. Parents have been so disempowered that they think that someone else educating their children is more productive than they. I hear “I just cannot do it,” “he won’t listen to me,” and “I’m not smart enough.” And I think wow! Parents need more help than the children. This is why we are hosting a one day workshop on home schooling. We will touch on how to get started, where to get materials, motivation, testing and more. This workshop has been in the works for a while. Ever since appearing on Ghana television, parents approach me all the time about helping. That is why I started a list serve and a support network. I send links for good cites, worksheets, crafts ideas and I host weekly extracurricular activities to solve the socialization quagmire. However, I soon realized that was not enough. We have been planning this workshop for a long time. I thought it was sufficed to provide parents cites where they could find materials for their children. I did not realize that many parents feel overwhelmed not only with teaching, but with having to find materials as well. Others are further frustrated not knowing which materials, what levels, which subjects and which curriculum to use. I do not know why the Spirits have moved me to Ghana. Could home schooling be my calling? If so, I am more than willing to take on the badge of service. Our workshop will be held either at the end of September or early October; depending on space. We are looking for support from the community. Want to help? Just spread the word that help is on the way.

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Wonders of Ghana!

I love living in Ghana for many reasons. If you have not visited Ghana; suffice it to say that you can teach ancient and modern history with complete ease. I won’t bother to list all my favorites about living in Ghana. The main reason for this blog being the abundance of history available at my finger tips. And as a historian, I cannot stop gushing about Mother Ghana! This latest epiphany was realized after our latest field trip to the Ghana National Air Force. It was fantastic! The children learned about the history of the Force. They sat on the various aircrafts. They got to wear the equipment and the staff did everything to make sure we had a great time. Parents realized how historical this moment was and spent the entire period documenting their children’s part of it. This trip was particularly relevant for our family. My children’s great uncle was part of the Air Force. The main street at Burma Camp is named after him. He is part of G
hana’s great modern history. The “Rawlings Years” or the 1980s cannot be discussed without Robert Kotei. He is one of the martyrs of Ghana’s recent turbulent past. Having visited the Force brought them a bit closer to him and that legacy. I’m sure if he is watching that having my children take a picture on his street would bring a smile to his face. Another reason why I am crushing on Ghana today is that another mom, (www.esheabutter.com) emailed to invite us to an orchard in Akosombo. The children would learn “how to identify the trees, other species of plants and talk about composting among other things.” I wish I had these learning opportunities when I was younger. I would have finished my Ph.D. at 21! Isn’t that fantastic! Where else in the world would children have such wonders at their fingertips? So today, and I hope for many days to come, to continue crushing hard on Ghana. God bless Ghana!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Applause is in order!

As I prepare for another day of amazing home schooling with my wonderful children, I have to stop and thank the many educators who make it easier for me to educate. It’s understandable that teachers will feel insecure once in a while. We worry about not teaching the materials “properly” or fear that we don’t have enough materials. Well, that is no longer the case. It’s as though the world is united in the home schooling movement. Materials abound, all over the web and most are free, targeting home schololers and educators in general. I want to send a big virtual hug to some amazing educators who make my teaching efforts all the more rewarding. Teachers Pay Teachers ( is my latest find. I get tons of free materials from them; a network where teacher design worksheets and other materials are sold to other educators. However, they also have free materials. I am also grateful to Little Lovely Leaders (). Her site has tons of hands on craft activities that are fun and easy to do. I also want to recognize the wonderful educators on Pinterest (www.pinterest.com) who share and share wholeheartedly. And of course, I cannot forget Mrs. Lonnice Hammond, the wonderful teacher who turned me onto those sites. Good educators unite! The world is listening.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Telling the truth about history @ Olympics 2012

I was looking forward to the Olympics for many reasons. This is the first Olympic game that my 6 year old would watch and remember. I planned to chronicle this moment of his story. This was going to be a great few weeks for our family; like a vacation via the television. This Olympic was also going to be an opportunity to view some of the world’s best athletes. I was going to use that opportunity to discuss good competition and how working hard always ends in best results. But most importantly, the Olympics was going to provide me many geography and history lessons. I was going to show how Africa, the Caribbean and other nations were colonized and enriched the United Kingdom. It was going to show how the world was connected via the Global Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Imagine my disappointment at the lie presented as national history at the opening ceremony of the Olympics in London. The story the organizers chose to tell was that of the rise of the Industrial Revolution and the modernization of the United Kingdom. However, no mention was made of how and what boosted that revolution. No mention of the Atlantic Slave Trade, Slavery in the Caribbean and the Colonization of nations around the world which meant the legal seizure of their resources for the total benefit of British people. Why is it OK not to tell the truth? Not even a sentence or a picture of sugar, coffee, indigo, and gold sacks heading to the UK? Not even a picture of the world’s first global economy? Were there no historians on that panel? Or were they OK with the silence as well? We know how dangerous silencing critical and crucial aspects of history can be and yet, in 2012, in a country where people have access to information and are home to intellectuals, this blatant lie can be live coverage. The only statement alluding to the fact that non white people were in the country was when the commentator stated a group of “others” from the Caribbean “also made their way” to England. Is that all? No mention of the Brits going “there”? The world should be embarrassed at this blatant denial. This is not ancient history. These facts are relatively recent. If we are OK with this silence now, can our children expect to learn the truth later? Telling the truth about history should be the standard. Not telling the truth should be considered a crime against humanity for the perpetual denial will truly help repeat itself.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Hurray for Ghana National Fire Station at Legon!

Today was a great day. We went on a field trip to the Fire Station to learn about fire safety and how firefighters work. It was a great day because the Fire service personnel actually gave us a show! It was fantastic! Instead of telling us about what they do; they allowed the children to experience it for themselves. I particularly enjoyed the trip because it helped redeem the image of Ghana’s bureaucratic and unproductive institutions in my mind. I am so glad the children did not see what so many of us assumed. School children do not take many trips in Ghana. This is because the adults in their lives assume there is not much to see. And the few places where they do go; those adults assume there is nothing to tell. Those trips end up being fatiguing for the children and the teachers who might have spent weeks scheduling/rescheduling/calling/rehearsing/and smooching to bring it all to fruition. I am glad to say that this was not my experience today. The Ghana National Fire Service proved that institutions here CAN work. And when they do, great things are to be expected. There is protocol for visitors. There is protocol for receiving children and activities planned for them. We were not the first group of children they had seen. Nor were we too small for them. We were visitors and they welcomed us with open arms; in true Ghanaian Akwaaba style. Here are some highlights. The children used a fire extinguisher which they sprayed for themselves. They then played with the cool gas like agent. After that, the firemen, dressed in full regalia, demonstrated how they prepare to fight fire. The children climbed the truck. They were driven in the truck with alarm on at full speed down the street. They then experience holding the water hose turned on at full speed. They realized how heavy and dangerous water can be if not properly managed. The Ghana National Fire Service gave us all the pomp and splendor deserving of these trips. The parents were more excited than the children; even clapping and cheering after each activity. But why were we so excited? The sad truth is that we had not expected anything better from the Fire Station. We had assumed what we all do after living in Ghana for a while. We thought they would have brushed us off with a lazy and bored speaker too tired to engage parents let alone children. We had thought they wouldn’t have prepared for us. We thought the speaker would have pointed at equipment and then chide at the children for wanting to touch them. We assumed that the firemen would not be too interested in their jobs let alone the children to discuss it in any length. We all thought this because that is the sad truth of institutions in Ghana. Ghana’s National Museum is one place where children should have the best of time while learning. Yet, the Museum and its curators are too boring for the parents. You go once and would not return if not for the sake of visiting a National Museum in Ghana. Same can be said for the Slave Fort museums. We visited the National Zoo a few weeks ago. It took us over an hour to find the Zoo, while inside the zoo. There were no signs, no paved roads and no guides. The Zoo was a big secret. No one knew they were there and no one dared venture in unless the misguided and bold. Although we eventually enjoyed our tour of the animals (we saw a camel, ostrich, monkeys and so much more), the time wasted trying to find the entrance in about 10 acres of a forest could not be forgotten. Thank Goodness for the Ghana National Fire Service. They proved that institutions in Ghana do have modus operandi. Although few want to follow it; we all win when they do.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

© UNESCO/WWAP/ "According to UNESCO General Conference Resolution 12, the requirements of global and national participation, and the specific needs of particular, culturally and linguistically distinct communities can only be addressed by multilingual education." ___________________________________________________________________________________ How long until African institutions in Africa (and Haiti) begin to pay attention to this data? There are few countries in Africa where children are taught in languages of their communities. Instead, they are forced to take exams in a language with cultural biases foreign to them. And the statistics in Ghana; most of the students fail the State and regional exams. Those who pass do so by a very slim margin mixed with luck. Is it surprising that African children will not be able to compete on the global level with other children trained and educated in languages of their communities? How secure is the future of the African continent and its population if education continues to fail the majority? What use is development if this gross mishap in education is not dealt with? Could American children pass State exams written in a foreign language? Who would pass that law? Such injustice fail the children and Africa in general.

Monday, 18 June 2012

My skills

If you are a home schooling parent like me, you don’t fully value your competence and your expertise. Although you have a three year old reading at first grade level, you don’t think you did something great. Your friends and colleagues congratulate you, but you don’t congratulate yourself. I use to be that mom, but I know better now. I want to share what I do and how I taught my children to be full fledged readers at 3 years old. I begin teaching my children by focusing on alphabet (song and recognition). I use a series of tools. Brainy Baby DVDS, my own voice and other educational DVDS with relevant materials. I also allow lots of scribble time. I have tons of notebooks and scrap paper, readily available. I sing the alphabet as the preferred lullaby. In addition to that, I encourage them to start spelling words, or noticing letters in word formation. Once they mastered that, I move on to the sounds of the letters. From sounds, we begin reading. The experts (my hubby) state that recognizing alphabets and sounds are reading. My 3 year old just finished an entire book, published for 4-6 year olds, today. I also love Reader Rabbit software once they learned some basic reading. Once reading is mastered, I begin addition. Along learning the alphabet, I also teach the numbers. We have a number wall chart. They begin by counting to 20. It’s easier to get them to 20 because it’s a no brainer after that. They learn the pattern and feel pretty good about themselves. Once numbers are learned to 20, they start tracing numbers and coloring them as needed. I begin arithmetic once we get to 100. Here is my early math program. I have a collection of water bottle caps. I number two sets 1-9. I also have three extras which I use for signs and symbols of math (+, -, =, etc.) We begin by using the numbers to form equations. Then we use real tools to help us solve the equations. For example, we can use either trains, pencils, or anything that the child has an affiliation for to show how they can get more of that special thing or share and get less. Again the experts state that making math more relevant and hands on is the way to get them excited about it. The abstract math of yesteryear is well passĂ©…finally! Here is a sample problem. 3 + 2 = Under each number, the child puts the object (trains, pencils, etc) under each number. And to solve it, they bring them together. So the problem becomes: you have 3 trains and mommy gives you 2 more, how many do you have in all? The object is in is hands; it is real. He can relate and able to solve it easily and with more interest. The sky is the limit after this foundation has been laid. I hope this helps you, but remember that each child will learn differently. Be flexible and enjoy!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

My salary with a Ph.D. working in Ghana is equal to that of a McDonald’s worker in NYC.

UNESCO just came out with the same old findings to new research; that not enough (well paid) teachers pose serious challenges to education in Africa. While there is a demand for teachers, few students dream of becoming one in the future. Why? Teachers are the most underpaid and underperforming group. Why wouldn’t that affect how children are taught? Why is no one discussing this? I made $18,500 working as a professor at Ashesi, one of the world’s most promising universities. While some would assume that living in Ghana is less expensive than the “developed” world, let me give you an idea of my expenses. I pay $700-900/month on rent. Most renters have to pay 2 years in advance for property; so that is $700x24=$16,800. And unlike the US where property value is determined by where you live; in Ghana, your house is valued based on how it looks. For example, I live in a “good” house, but my next door neighbors are squatters. They live on a huge piece of land which they have turned into a farm and they sleep in a one room shack on it. Gasoline prices are relatively higher here than in the US. And most of my colleagues are US educated, so we are all wallowing in paying higher debt. I owe about $50k…yes, US, American dollars! Here is the dilemma of working in Ghana. Not just in academia but in general. No one wants to pay workers what they are worth. And of course, teachers of any kind are the least paid, although professors are highly regarded. When was the last time you paid rent with high regard? I digress. Furthermore, because educators are not highly paid, the highly educated ones join and form the brain drain out of Ghana. They can be found in the hallways of Sidwell to Harvard. And the ones left, the least educated, the least able to pull higher salaries are less motivated, less trained and less willing to give their best to our children in the classrooms. However, that is not considered a problem for that particular education institution. Why? Because institutions in Ghana consider their workers “privilege” to be working for them! Schools are operated like any business in Ghana. One has the demand, in the right part of town and some gadgets to set them apart. This “new thing” brings about demand and higher cost, but does not trickle down to the employees. You see in Ghana, employees are also considered part of the demand. People are looking for “good” places to work. Good places open up. With few good places and higher demand, the employer is able to pay workers at the lowest prices possible. Hence why I would accept $18k at Ashesi than something hire in an older bureaucratic institution where politicking keeps much work from getting done. If I had not worked in Ghana, I would have been one of the people thinking the education systems need to focus on students as opposed to teachers. I know better now. Poor education systems won’t be overturned if more is not done for teachers and the perception of working in Africa. If teachers are not better trained and better motivated, they will continue hurting our children and ruining their abilities to compete in the future. Hurt people; hurt people. We have already seen the results of their hurt, when will we begin to address it?

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Review of Carol Ottley-Mitchell’s Adventures at Brimstone Hill by Dr. Mikelle Antoine

Children need history books highlighting their achievements to the past. Learning history from their perspective is the surest way to get them more excited about this subject and to ground them in the present. I started reading this book with my 6 year old son who reads at 4th grade level. He beamed at the sight of the word Caribbean. He smiled at the fact that the main character was a boy. He also smiled with pride that Africa was included in the story. This is a good indicator that history makes sense to children (or anyone) when they are able to connect with the characters.
Similar to the approach used in the docu-drama Sankofa, Ottley-Mitchell’s main characters are transported back in the 18th century, during slavery days. Unlike the main character in Sankofa who was bound to repeat the past because of her ignorance of it, the children of in the Adventures at Brimstone Hill “went back” due to their interest and desire to know and shape it. We get a glimpse of the “past” through the children’s eyes; neutral and unapologetic. This book is not about slavery, but rather how children, excited about the past, engaged in serious “adult” issues; while in the present. We know so very little about how enslaved children lived. This book allows us to explore this very sensitive topic while also highlighting a major silence in the field of Caribbean history.
One of the main questions I struggle with as a parent and as an educator is when to introduce the topic of slavery. How do I introduce the fact that Africans came to the Caribbean out of force and were brutalized and enslaved? What is the best way to introduce this topic so my children see the strength and victory that was overcome? Do I want to burden them with this history? Hence the beauty of Carol Ottley-Mitchell’s Adventure at Brimstone Hill; part history and part fiction, this book sheds light on some important aspect of Caribbean history, providing you a good opportunity to start this topic.
The best way to teach history is have children re-enact it; as players and stake holders. My son is interested in making his own whale ship. We can explore items carried, how and where. It’s also important to me that the book discusses a UNESCO Heritage Site located in the Caribbean; raising awareness of the regions’ institutional history.
And for these reasons and more, this book should be read by all. It opens so many doors for analysis; both academically and culturally.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Raising Black children in America

Raising black children in America is a daunting task for so many reasons. The main reason is you have to burden children with understanding racism as more than a concept. It’s not enough to unload the history of the Atlantic Slave Trade. You have to discuss how black skin and male gender equals danger in America in the mundane.
It is with sadness as I write this piece. I just finished reading the story of the latest victim of racism in America. Trayvon Martin, a teenager, was walking home when he was shot in the chest by a volunteer cop. As I read the article, like many Black parents, I was hoping to learn from Martin’s mistakes to protect my children from falling victim to the same fate. Surely he must have done something to be killed. I was reading for clear signs of what Martin did “wrong.” Did he run? Was he looking like a hardcore rapper? Was he holding a stick like object such as a pencil? I read to know what Martin did “wrong” so I could protect my boys from EVER doing the same thing. And yet, similar to the other senseless deaths before him; Martin’s only crime was not being white skinned.
Nonetheless, I did pick up some mistakes. First, Black people should realize that they cannot live freely in just any part of the United States. They need to stick in towns/cities with a sizeable Black population. This is because the white dominated towns/suburbs further marginalize Black people living in a white dominated country. Black children, as young as kindergarteners, are suspended out of school more than their white counterparts. It’s no wonder that home schooling is growing fast among the African American community. The second flag was that Martin was walking home wearing a hoody. While any white kid can walk around with expensive Tommy Hilfiger hoodies indicative of their style and class, Black children walking with hoodies represent danger and violence. Living in a racist country means you have to pay attention to how color influences everything; from what we experience to what we consider threatening.
What a burden to be black in America! The Black population has to be on guard all the time. Those of us with children have to be worried twice as much as white parents. It’s not enough to worry about their general safety and health. A Black parent has to worry about whether the children walk or run in the street. Both can lead to their death.
It’s not just whites who are threatening the lives of Blacks in America. A racist society makes everyone fear each other and themselves. So Blacks would have the same, to some degree prejudices against black males, as their white counterparts. They are socialized by the same media and Hollywood/MTV. While some blacks would be discerning to the news, it is typical that others in the society would be influenced by receiving similar education. Black security guards would trail a Black child in a store with the same instincts as a white security guard.
In the blog, black and married with kids, the blogger list rules that govern the lives of most Black children in America. One of the rules is:
Know who you are. You can’t do everything they do. In other words, just because your white friend does something that doesn’t mean you can do the same. Whether it’s hanging at the mall or going to a house party, police, teachers, and other authorities treat white children differently than black children. …
No child should have to live with the concrete examples of what it means to be marginalized. Are Black people free in America if you cannot go where you want?
This is one reason why I chose to raise my children in Ghana. I did not want to burden them with racism. I also wanted them to live in a country where they can be as free as any other citizen. It’s so sad that many African Americans do not realize that they have an option to live elsewhere. It’s unfortunate that they have to contemplate leaving a country built by their ancestors’ blood, sweat and tears; however, the reality is that those who dominate are running a country whose mission and vision is to wipe out the Black population. Did we not learn anything from the native population? How many African American males are rotting in prisons for offenses most white boys would get a verbal warning for? We know the numbers.

Friday, 9 March 2012

The Parent Revolution

Parents of the world unite! Californian parents are voting on whether or not parents should be given the mandate to take over a school district. This historic moment can add much momentum to the home school movement. As more parents get involved, they are bound to realize that they can do more than just affect a school district. They might even start a global revolution with the need for educational reform at its core.
The world is buzzing about educational reform; so much that Hollywood has already responded with an upcoming movie entitled, “Won’t Back Down.” To learn more about the Trigger Law and become inspired to begin our own movement towards parental take overs in Africa’s education, visit www.parentrevolution.org.
This movie and the documentary “Waiting for Superman” did what the rest of us in the home and Unschool movements were doing on a small scale. “Waiting for Superman” voiced the concerns of millions of un-united and frustrated parents and students. As opposed to seeing educational reform from the lens of conservative religious and political groups on the periphery of society, this documentary centralized the debate on human right issues. Why should children, our future, have but the best in education? How do we protect their futures and ours, if we are not invested in providing them the best of education?
The film “Won’t Back Down” is about parents and teachers uniting to take back a school district. They unite to fire teachers and other ineffective administrators. Parents and teachers are often perceived to be on different sides, but this film unites them. Parents are not alone in feeling dissatisfied with what our children are given. The teachers, the face of the system’s failures, surely do not feel empowered being put in such a position.
It’s fantastic that the world is responding to education reform in this way. This battle is not limited to the hallways of UN bodies, but is fought daily in the homes and schools of people fighting for the very best for all of our children.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Has the shift occurred?

I am very pleased when I read articles, particularly from UNESCO and other UN bodies that specify the difference between schools and education.
I am also very pleased when such documents stress the need to provide education for our children, and understand that this does not always take place in a building labeled school. One such document stress the need to provide education to children. In the past that sentence would have used “schools” or worse used the two terms interchangeably.
However, as a UN body and a progressive one at that, it is understandable why UNESCO would be so advanced in their writings and outlook.
After a meeting with representatives from Total Oil, I completely think that the shift has occurred in other industries as well. In the past Total focused on building schools and construction of classrooms. However, now, they realized that constructing schools does not necessarily support education and that education can take place “without the four walls.” I couldn’t believe a representative from Total was speaking like that. Total signifies the most corporate and least education friendly or sensitive industry to me. They dig oil for Pete’s sake! But now this oily and money hungry industry is trying to be more social responsible in their relationship with the communities in which they work. They realized their mistake and working towards it…now on to the environment Total, to be discussed later. Do something about that!
So the battle on separating schools from education has been won… now on to the war!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Disadvantaged children

Another study has been completed and the findings are the same; parental involvement separates advantaged from disadvantaged children. So much so that advantaged children go on to do better in their academic lives.
Duh! It seems real simple enough and yet so many of us are not getting it. Why are parents not able to give their children the necessary time to allow them a heads up in life? Because most parents, like mine, are busy working to put food on the table. They are duped into believing that money raises children; presents, not presence.
In fact, we hardly saw my parents during the week and never had time with them growing up. We raised ourselves, with some help from television. Luckily we never had cable so much damaged was avoided from that front.
I know I am not alone. I use to babysit a small boy who is now facing life in prison. He wasn’t a bad boy. Similar to all children, he needed the guidance of his parents, which he was not able to receive because she was working her life away to buy him “stuff.” He did not know his father and the male figure in his life, his step dad, was exactly that.
My favorite quote states “raise your children the way you wish you had been raised.” Not sure who said it when first, but it should make us all remember what we went through growing up so we can work towards not repeating the same mistakes with our children. So many of us forget what it was like being a child; the good and the bad. We need to analyze our days more and pay attention! I think another great quote is “remember your days as a child, and work from there.” That’s by me, right now.