Difficile, difficile (Homeschooling rant)

1.  Difficile, lectu mihi Mars


Difficile lectu mihi mars et jonicu difficile.

So goes the entire text of this witty Mozart canon.

This is not the only instance in the German language where some text is made to sound Latin.  We call it “Jaegerlatein” (“Hunter’s Latin”).  Also, the scatology of Mozart’s canons is overplayed these days as ostensibly indicating that he had some or other psychological problem (typically he gets “misdiagnosed” as a Tourette’s Syndrome).  This is a misinterpretation.  German can be pretty crude, much like Afrikaans, and there are many Germans (and Austrians, as in the case of Mozart) who will use strong expressions without having a nervous collapse or any fear of causing one for someone else.  I doubt it would have been different in Mozart’s time.  Back then, fewer genital expressions were used for strong language and apparently, more scatological ones.  Mozart was by no means alone with his scatology.

This particular canon is one of various he wrote for a particularly conceited baritone by name of Peyerl.  The singer had a way of mispronouncing words and syllables in order to give them “airs”, while at the same time having a strong Bavarian accent.  He is reported to have sung the words of this canon never even realizing what they really meant.

2. “Moribundus”

Medical legend has it that a man who was terminally ill, made a miraculous recovery in hospital and came out as good as new.  As he was convalescing, his friend visited him and asked how he’d managed to escape death.

“It was a miracle doctor,” said the man.  “I was lying in that miserable hospital knowing that my last hour had come, and all the doctors were congregating around my bed discussing how they had tried everything, and then another doctor entered – a god among doctors! – and took a long hard look at me and muttered an incantation.  From that moment I started recovering.”

“And did you hear what he said?” asks the fascinated friend.

“Oh yes,” replied the man.  “He said, ‘moribundus’.”



These two unrelated instances are both examples of literacy.  Which is something that I as a homeschooling mom must instil in my children.  And it starts, obviously, with reading levels.

Today every decent word processor has a little function called the “Flesh-Kincaid” which measures reading ease, and reading level.  There is also something known as the “fudge factor” (which is what Mozart exploited in his canon), which is the opposite of reading ease.

Lawyers, pharmaceutical companies and scientists use a high fudge factor.  The fudge factor of a contract is what slows you down reading it (e.g. “domicile citandi et executandi” instead of “home address or address where summons must be served” – not a direct translation but the translation of the intent!)  On vaccine inserts they talk about “adjuvants” – which is nothing else but unspecified additives, and one needs to ask more specifically what “adjuvants” are actually in there.  Even food labelling uses this cheap trick:


Gelatine – Emulsifier / Gelling Agent

You may not find this E number 441 on food ingredients listings anymore because instead of an additive, Gelatine has now been classed as food (made of animal skin and hoofs) in it’s own right. Remember, all types of gelatine are animal based and can be found in dairy products like yoghurts, plus many kinds of confectionery, jellies and other sweets.

The entire “E” class of food additives contains a wide range of substances, as diverse as gelatin, chemicals like magnesium stearate, and cochineal (“carmine red”, extracted from insects living on cacti). (Yuck, right?)

Fast-forward to 2016, a young girl having been removed from the schooling system, among other reasons because of focus problems.  (Rant alert, stop reading now if rants offend you.)

Was she failing the system or was the system failing her?  My Wildest One still had high marks even though she missed many days of school due to illness.  But she also didn’t do her homework, missed projects, and was constantly in trouble (and chronically ill).  In these last few months I’ve managed to nail down the problem (to something she didn’t have before she started public school):  Focus problems.  (Some would call it “ADD” or “ADHD” but I’d have to be a qualified shrink to give it such a label.)

My response:

More specific violin practice; a time limit on her math; and trying to get her to read at a higher level.  AND:  restricting electronic media.

Her preferred reading materials hang around the 8-year-old level.  😦   Many children I know read the first three Harry Potters (more or less reading age 12) at age 8.  She is not one of them.   Electronic media and too-easy content over many years in school have dumbed down her thinking apparatus.  If academic work is always easy, it never stretches the brain!  And little PS shoot-em-up games do nothing to build anything whatsoever – they just waste many hours that should have gone into creative play.

So I get her started on slightly more intelligent books – she is 12, for heavens’ sakes, so I give her Gerald Durrell’s “My Family and Other Animals” – and the next thing, here’s a well-meaning family member giving her little fun booklets at reading age 8, about.  Gerald Durrell gets put aside, never to be opened again (“too complex”).

And family questions my decision to keep her away from electronic media except for looking things up?  What do kids do with electronic media?  They look for more games.  “You supervise them” – right!  That’s what I’m doing, by restricting access!

“What’s wrong with electronic media?” – and, “… as long as she reads at all…”


Firstly:  What’s wrong with electronic media?  Kids don’t use them as the explorative research tool writers do.  They do two things online:  Play games and splash around on social media.  My two girls spent hours at some point last week just reading autocorrect blunders and creaming themselves.  Sure, those are hilarious.  But, hours?  By evening they were still at it!

Even offline, if they have a game in their hands, that will put paid to any other activity.  Games are the new drugs.  They don’t chemically wreck one’s brain, but by now there is solid evidence that they do physically damage the development of a child’s brain capacity.  I don’t say that lightly and I wish I had an English translation of the videos I’ve seen, by Manfred Spitzer, but concerned parties could find and read his book “The Mind Within The Net” (deutsch:  “Digitale Demenz” but he couldn’t use that title for his English translation as someone had already nabbed it for a novel).

Yes, electronic media damage the development of our children’s brain power!

Conversely, more new research indicates that reading books (the experiments were done using fiction books) builds the brain, not only the language abilities but by simulating the experiences in the book in the brain of the reader.  ECG measurements showed that readers had almost the same brain patterns (centres activated) after reading a specific scene as people having physically experienced such a scene.  Such experiences leave physical traces in the shape of growing axons and dendrites (brain cell connections).  We call it “memory” but it physically exists in the structure of the brain.  (I linked to the article in this post and here’s the original experiment.)

So…  “as long as she reads at all” –

Again:  No!

It makes a difference what she reads!  Comic books and “first reader” style fiction, no matter how cutely laid out, will not prepare her for reading the textbooks and understanding the backgrounds of the veterinary studies she still has her heart set on. Filling your reading time with oversimplified stuff is destructive!  It 1) gives the child the idea that the more age-appropriate books (like e.g. Gerald Durrell – come on, you can’t call him “boring” and “dried-up”) are “too hard” to read.  And 2) it slurps up the time allocated to “reading”, without adding any value.

The heartbreak of today’s novels is that if they are above Flesh-Kincaid reading skill level 4 or 5 (that’s equivalent to a 10- or 11-year-old child), publishers tend to reject them outright as “not reaching a large enough market”.  I think publishers are making a dire mistake.  People who can’t read at a higher level than 4 or 5 are often the same people who’d rather play a game than read, or if they read, opt for comics.  And while Shapiro is a brilliant artist and satirist, his opus is not exactly Tolstoy, nor is it a textbook for veterinary science.

Literacy is to be able to read that contract and figure out what “domicilium” means, what a “moribundus” is and why “lectu mihi Mars” is a brilliant and very funny way for Mozart to take the mickey out of a highly conceited but only modestly educated singer.  And literacy is not achieved by reading “easy”, “early reader” style storylets.


If it were food…

Imagine a lactose-intolerant child who throws up whenever she eats any milk products.

But the relatives are so sorry for her never being “allowed” ice cream by an overly “strict” and “unreasonable” mother, they pump her full of ice cream at every visit.  “Aw shame, the poor kid!  All kids are allowed ice cream.”  And once back home, little girl has one massive puking session.  Because of course she is too young to resist the temptation of eating that delicacy at the relatives.

The cruelty in that setup is clearly visible.

It’s not as easily visible where it comes to brain-food; but when “home-school fails” because of that kind of sabotage, it’s the mother who “failed” who gets the blame for having “dumbed down” her child, not the relatives who brought in the forbidden food and disrupted the program of healthy brain food.  And then, no matter how poorly the system school worked for or failed the child, the home-educator is blamed for the failure.


An appeal to extended family of the homeschooled child.

Article 26.3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:



That includes home-schooling.  A prior right, that means they have the first right before anyone else including well-meaning extended family or the child itself.  (The child would by default opt for “unschooling”.  This is why kids need parents to take responsibility!)

No, it is not cruel to take away electronic media during a school day.  It is not cruel to restrict it all through the week.  On that note, would your child like a little dose of cocaine today?  Electronics have been recognized as the new addictive drugs.


Street art by Banksy





12 thoughts on “Difficile, difficile (Homeschooling rant)

  1. Actually, don’t groan, but I didn’t like Durrell. I think it was a compulsory set text. But in first year at senior school we were reading Jane Eyre, Romeo and Juliet, and our entrance exam had included a text from Mill on the Floss (Maggie and the rabbits as I recall). I think I was reading Agatha Christie back then for light reading.

    What continues to perplex me is that back then, we jumped from Enid Blyton to adult fiction. There was no NA, YA, anyothersortof A. The creation of ‘teenage’ books is a sheer (clever) marketing exercise.

    Those vet studies sound like a long way away if her reading age isn’t moving on 😦 Good luck, Gipsika. Not a rant btw, more of an eminently sensible post.

    • 🙂 Hi Roughseas. It doesn’t have to be Durrell. I picked his books and also James Herriot because of M’s special interest in animals. Jane Eyre, Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes – all these are great, and even Nancy Drew is better than the reading level of what today’s middle-school children get to read. In fact the Goosebumps series is better “literature” at a higher skills set than what she was given to read recently. Her older sibs at the same age were reading Tolkien and had already read the “Solar Wind” at ages 8 and 9 respectively (“YA”).

      Yes, I agree, those vet studies are currently endangered animals!

      Thanks for the “sensible” verdict (you shouldn’t encourage me in my evil 😀 ).

    • 🙂 Most of what I read back then was in German. We had Karl May – a 19th-century writer who wrote absolute tomes about the “Wild West”, real epics but we devoured them. When I started reading English fiction, I battled with the very dialectical English in “Treasure Island” but when I discovered Tolkien I instantly fell in love with it.

    • She was in an Afrikaans school so far, but as we are English at home, many of the books she read so far are English. She read the Afrikaans equivalent to “Goosebumps”, and also quite a few of the “Goosebumps” themselves. She was on “Pixie Hollow” booklets for a while and “How to Train Your Dragon” “encyclopedias”. She did read a number of the Harry Potter series, at least. And she’s read Terry Pratchett’s “Tiffany Aching” canon. The other day she took out “Through a Glass, Darkly” and read it cover to cover and read me parts of it and persuaded my mom to read it. It appealed to her so much because of its depth. She is not conceptually behind her age; just reading-lazy.

      Yes, once I was an adult I found “Treasure Island” a great read. It was only the language transition that tripped me up originally.

  2. I was a fairly precocious reader. My mother’s attempts at homeschooling (she’d been a nursery teacher) involved ensuring I could read before I went to Kindergarten at age 4. By the time I was in my teens I was into well heavy weighty classics. Although, it took me to 50+ before I read Tolkien, who, incidentally I love.

    Sadly, I am incapable of discouraging you. I think reading is critical, and computer games are mindless. Manual dexterity? Learn to type, sew, plaster walls, make bread. Hand/eye co-ordination? Play tennis, squash, badminton. Mental and physical agility? Climb trees or rocks.

    Grumpy old roughseas.

    • 🙂 Nix “grumpy old”. Thanks for strengthening my back. More scientists and neurologists are finding solid reason to condemn electronic media especially for children. The overweight “epidemic” in America is largely caused by social media-related physical inactivity. (Shucks! “largely caused” – really no pun intended, they creep up on me!) Savvy families know that education is in the first place about reality, not virtual reality. The “vision” a generation seems to have had for a fully electronic world as being “more advanced” has been unmasked for what it was: Fiction. Sure, there are fantastic inventions and there is amazing progress (e.g. 3D CAD for dental crowns – seen that one in action!), but they don’t get developed by people who spent their childhood playing Candy Crush.

      (And I do plead guilty, I play Candy Crush and recognize it for the evil waste of time it is. It’s not all I do, luckily.)

    • Confession. I had a fantastic farm. Never played Candy Crush. Farmville was pretty much the only one I did. I introduced a mate to it (I needed friends for a bigger farm) and he accused me of putting crack cocaine in his tea 😀

      Much as I am on the internet all day I don’t see it as an improvement in life. Sure, I work internationally, but I hanker for paper! And travelling? Endless selfies and always in touch with home? What sort of adventure is that?

    • Agree!! The best travel is the one where you leave your laptop at home. But I’ll always take a camera. Not for selfies, for memories.

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