Sunday, February 05, 2012

What College Graduates Don’t Know About America


Three years ago, I wrote the following article about whether or not college has a positive impact on good citizenship. It had the boring title, "The Civic Impact of College."  ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ Not surprisingly, it didn't get many views.

But I think it is an important topic, and my last article about college ("Does College Matter?") generated quite a bit of interest, so I thought it was time to revisit the question.

The Civic Impact of College - January 28, 2009

Are you more knowledgeable than the average citizen?

Our Fading Heritage is the third major study conducted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute on the kind of knowledge required for informed citizenship.

Its conclusions are appalling. But lets look at the background.

In 2006 and 2007, 14000 college freshmen and seniors were given a multiple-choice quiz containing 60 basic questions about America - the kind of stuff high school seniors and new citizens are expected to know.

The kind of stuff homeschoolers eat for breakfast.

In both years, both groups utterly failed. And worse, the seniors only had a 1.5% advantage over the freshmen. So, basically, this means that after spending a fortune on college, the students do not gain any appreciable knowledge about America's unique form of self-government. Moreover, the more prestigious the college, the LESS likely the seniors were to know more than freshmen about government, economics, American History, and foreign affairs.

This year, ISI decided to take it to the streets. They asked a random sample of American adults to answer a basic test of only 33 multiple choice civics questions, plus a few other additional questions, then analyzed the data in such a way that enabled them to compare the "civic impact of college with other societal factors."

In other words, do colleges help our students become better citizens?

Now for the appalling part. The answer is a resounding NO.

  • 71% of Americans fail the test
  • Fewer than half of all Americans can name the three branches of government
  • Only 24% of college graduates know that the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of an official religion in the US
  • Only 54% can identify a basic description of our free enterprise system
  • Elected Officials score even lower than the general public
Thirty percent of elected officials do not know that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence. Perhaps this is the reason we have gotten into such a mess.

You can read the whole sad story at the ISI website.

If you are very brave, why don't you take the test yourself and see whether you are more knowledgeable than the average citizen?

Then contrast this with the good news about homeschooling and civics education Homeschooling Grows Up, a report by the National Center for Home Education about behaviors of adults who were homeschooled. According to this report, 76% of those 18-24 have voted in a state or national election within the previous 5 years, compared to 29% of the general US population, and a staggering 95% of those 25-29 have voted versus 40% of the general population.

Now, in the wake of the Obama campaign and his subsequent election, those statistics are probably no longer accurate as far as sheer numbers of younger voters in the general populace are concerned, though a case could still be made about whether those who voted could be considered "informed citizens."

Large numbers of young white voters from elite colleges voted for Obama. Tomorrow's post will examine some interesting information about the "civic impact of elite colleges."

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Last time I didn't actually get around to writing that additional post about elite colleges. But there is a lot of interesting new information from 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 on the ISI website since I wrote this post that I would like to talk about in future posts.




Friday, January 13, 2012

Skills you need for your Home Business

Many people have become discouraged by the continued high unemployment rate. Rather than  looking for work, what they are doing instead is starting a home business. For the work-at-homeschool mom, it may be the pressure of trying to live on one income in these challenging times that drives her to explore setting up a home business.

However, a home business is not just like setting up a lemonade stand on the front porch, which is now such a hassle anyway because of burdensome state regulations, newly enforced by officials with too much time on their hands. A regular home business takes work: hard work, and lots of it.

If you are serious on starting a business at home, there are certain skills you need to master for the successful operation of your business.

Planning

A core skill that is essential for successfully running a business is planning. Before doing anything or going into the business, you must have a concrete business plan. Think of it as building a house. The business plan is the blueprint of the future of your business. Include all your objectives, steps on how you'll accomplish them and your time frame.

If you are serious about having a business, it is also essential that you do market research. You may think your business is a great idea, but market research will tell you if anyone else thinks so, too.  This is even more important for the work-at-homeschool-mom.  You already have two full time jobs that you need to fit this home business into. How tragic it would be for you to start a business selling a product or providing a service no one wants.

Selling

Although not all businesses directly involve selling, almost all businesses have some form of selling, even if it is selling yourself as an expert, or a service provider, or a trustworthy individual who has a trustworthy product.  If you do not understand how to sell your product, you will have a great product that no one knows about..

Investigate your competitors and see what they are doing. You can tailor your own selling approach by studying their strengths and weaknesses. Knowing your target market is vitally important. Know your customers needs' so that you can reach out to them.

Marketing

The marketing plan is always vital to a business. Notice that this is distinct from "selling." Effective marketing is generally the key to your business success. Start with giving out business cards to your friends, family members and acquaintances. Make sure that people are aware that you have a business.

Fliers are also a good idea. Hand out fliers around your neighborhood. Post them on bulletin boards. Remember to include on the flier the essentials about your business.

Make time to learn some internet marketing techniques, and don't forget to take full advantage of social media platforms like Facebook.

If at all possible, "do what you do best, and hire out the rest."  Do not allow your business to take precedence over your responsibility to care for your children or your commitment to take responsibility for their education.

These three skills are the pillars of a good business. Remember to get support from your family members and friends. Get the necessary permits and licenses and procure the necessary equipment for your business.

Starting your home business will not be an easy task, but mastering these three skills will help you to maximize your business growth and profit.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Do You Have What it Takes to be a Mommy Blogger?


Many stay at home moms are able to care for their families while making some money on the side with a home based business. But this can be especially challenging for a homeschooling mom, who already has two full time jobs: being a mom to your children, and assuming full responsibility for their education.

One way to make money that is often overlooked is blogging. I'm not talking about blogging for exposure - that is a good thing too, and can drive visitors to your own blog or site where you may be able to convert them to customers. I'll talk about that in a minute.

I'm talking about bloggers who are independent contractors who work for clients that need bloggers on a daily basis, or who design blogs for themselves that rely on Google AdSense and affiliate links to make money. Some people laugh when they hear how blogging moms make money, but the truth is that there is quite a bit of money to be made blogging for yourself. You do have to know how to drive traffic to your blog, develop a following for your topic, and how to present your affiliate links and Google ads to make money.

Blogging for someone else enables you to receive upfront pay. This is the preferred method of blogging for many moms. You can expect to be paid a minimum of $5 for a three hundred word post up to twenty dollars a post. I have been paid as much as $50 for a blog post. You can find many blogging jobs at sites such as ProBlogger and Craigslist. Companies use blog writers to keep their blogs updated every day or every other day. If they started a blog but never update it, it will not drive enough traffic to make any money, and they need you to generate enough advertiser or other income to keep the blog running.

Some moms that work at home write content for their own blogs. They start a blog in a niche that they enjoy writing about to attract traffic. An obvious example is this blog - I started this blog in 2006 as a way to talk about the challenges I was experiencing trying to homeschool and work at home. Some of the people that visit this blog will see Google ads and click on the links. Every click makes some amount of money. If you choose the right keywords, the Google ads can amount to quite a bit of money.  It is worth taking a little time to learn how to select the right keywords.

Bloggers also join affiliate sites to host banners for big companies such as Petco, Baby Bee and even Sears. Many people use Commission Junction, or one of the other affiliate link programs to find commission ads. Still others are members of individual affiliate programs for products they feel strongly enough about to recommend. Others are popular enough to attract advertisers who will pay to have banners or other display ads on their sites. These are just a few ways to make money blogging for yourself.

You can also run contests and free giveaways to bring traffic to your blogs, and over the past few years, special tools have been developed to help you manage contests and giveaways. One of my favorite giveaway bloggers is at http://www.mikishope.com - she specializes in giveaways of books, but she also gives away lots of other things. There are as many different kinds of giveaways as there are blogs.

Although writing is part of the blogger's job, if you don't have any marketing experience, you probably should join forums and message boards so you can participate in discussions with a link as your signature. Everyone on the discussion boards sees this link and they can click the link and check out your blog. This is just one way to generate more traffic that can lead to more Google ad clicks. It's more writing, but it is free, and that is usually a consideration for a work-at-homeschool mom.

Even though you should write about something that you enjoy, you also should do some research to see what types of blogs get traffic before you start. You can make as many blogs as you like free with Blogger. Therefore, you might have more than one blog that increases your chances of making money for yourself. The most successful of these blogs is going to be the one about a topic that you are passionate about, that also happens to be a topic that gets massive searches that people are dying to read about.  Generally speaking, a "mommy blogger" is someone who writes about topics of interest to mommies.  But there is another sense in which a "mommy blogger" has become one who writes about mommy issues and attracts boatloads of mommies. The goal of any blogger is to draw traffic to her blog so that she may get some clicks on affiliate sites or Google ads, and the mom who attracts enough traffic to begin to also attract sponsors achieves the level of a serious "mommy blogger."

Blogging for yourself is a slow process, but if you participate in discussions at forums and message boards with your link, you can increase your traffic and increase your chances of making money. If you need guaranteed pay, you can apply for blogging jobs that pay weekly or monthly. If you blog for a big client, you can actually make as much as one hundred dollars a day just writing five blog posts a day.

The only disadvantage of blogging in a particular niche, is that you may grow weary of your topic if you have not selected it carefully. If you are working for a client, the greater the chance that the topic is going to become tiresome. This is something that you have to consider before starting any blog or blogging job. 

Some bloggers also make money making their blogs available for advertisements.  One way is to allow the advertiser to show an ad on their blog. Advertisers are always looking for blogs with a large readership where they can promote their products. Miki's Hope has an Alexa ranking in the US of less than 15,000. That's a lot of eyeballs to attract advertisers.

Another type of ad you can have on your blog is called Paid to Post. Companies and individuals pay you  a certain amount of money to write up a post about their product or website and post it on your blog. Depending on the size of your blog audience, you can make as much as one hundred dollars for a three hundred word post.  Of course, it is important to disclose when you have been paid for a post, and the FTC has strict regulations about this. Ignore them at your own peril.




You can also blog for exposure - by that I mean, you can write a guest post on someone else's blog that has a resource box that links back to your blog, or you can write something that you are excited about just for the sheer joy of doing it, with a few links to sites who may send traffic your way once they get wind of your post. I'm thinking of the post I did about Topsy Turvy Garden Bags on this blog a couple of years ago.  I totally should have gotten paid for that. But I was more excited about my awesome tomatoes than I was about getting paid.  And that post has been widely seen by people searching on gardening topics in general,  and Topsy Turvy in particular - enough so that it is still listed in my "Most Popular Posts" sidebar widget even two years later.

Whether you want to work for someone else or blog for yourself will depend on the amount of money you want to make, and the amount of time you have. You can do both paid blogging and blogging for yourself and increase your income, as long as you remember that your primary responsibility is caring for your family and secondarily, teaching your children.

Friday, December 30, 2011

10 Tips To Avoid Work At Home Mom Burnout


Working from home is a great way to stay home with your kids while still supplementing the family’s income. On the flipside, it can be challenging to be mother and employee at the same time. Your stress level will rise quickly when you have deadlines to keep or phone calls to make while your little ones are acting out. Implement a few of the ideas below to prevent Work at Home Mom Burnout. 


1. Don’t work more than you have to. Money isn’t everything. You family needs a happy and sane mom.


2. Create a schedule or to-do list both for work and your personal life. Just realize that you won’t always get everything done and don’t worry if you don’t. There’s always tomorrow. 


3. Designate an errand day. Spend one day a week running around town getting everything done for the week. This is when you will grocery shop, drop things off at the drycleaner, go to the post office and anything else you need to do. 


4. Enjoy your kids. Take some time to play with them every day. Have a picnic lunch in the yard, take them on a little field trip or just play catch for a while. You’re a work at home mom because you want to spend time with your kids. Work and house chores can wait while you play. 


5. Go out on a date with your spouse. Make date night a regular occurrence and connect with your lover. 


6. Have lunch with a girlfriend. We need some adult conversation every now and then. Make time to stay in touch with your friends. 


7. Call a friend. If you are having a bad day, call a good friend and just talk for a little while. You’ll be relaxed and rejuvenated when you get back. 


8. Get some exercise. Go for a walk, join a gym, or try a Pilate’s class. Exercise will not only keep you in shape, it’s also a great de-stressor. 


9. Play some upbeat music and dance around the living room. Who cares if your kids and the neighbors think you’ve lost it? You are having fun and are releasing all that build up physical energy. 


10. If you own a business, stick to one until it more or less runs itself. Don’t burn yourself out by trying to run several businesses at the same time. 


Start implementing a few of these ideas today and watch your stress level go down. You will prevent work at home mom burnout and get to enjoy life more. Your family will appreciate spending time with a fun and relaxed mom. That’s what it’s all about – spending quality time with your family



Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dealing with stereotypes - What does a Work-at-home-school mom look like?




One of the hardest issues to contend with as a work-at-homeschool mom is the perception of others that you aren’t working. Many people think that working at home isn’t working at all, and that you have all of the free time in the world. Those who have spent any time working at home know that there is a lot of time and energy that goes into effectively working at home. Friends who call in the middle of the day, spouses who expect you to be doing more while home or family members who make offhand comments, can undermine those efforts. Add homeschooling to the mix, and you have a recipe for misunderstandings and frayed tempers.

Not all stay at home moms work, and they certainly don't usually try to work and homeschool. If you have friends who do neither, it can be hard impossible for them to understand that your days aren’t free. Calls during your working time, invitations to lunch and uninvited guests can throw a wrench in your work schedule. In order to get your friends to respect your time, it’s important to make your working schedule clear to them. And to make them understand that homeschooling is not a hobby or a whim, but the most important part of your "work" day.

If you don’t have a clear work schedule, then it is time to make one for yourself. Since school is obviously a priority, you will have to be intentional about setting aside hours that you designate as "work."  By setting office hours for yourself, you will make it clear to everyone around you that you are serious about your work. It will also help set boundaries for your time. Tell your friends that you will be unavailable from a certain time to a certain time, but you’d love to talk before or after those times. Make sure your children are able to work independently, or that your older children can supervise the younger ones during the time you are "in the office." You may even go so far as to turn off your phone. If you do answer the phone and someone wants to chat, politely let them know that you are working but can speak after a certain time. Also, schedule things like lunches or visits for one day per week. This way you’ll reduce the drop-ins and spontaneous invitations.

Spouses can sometimes have difficulty understanding why, if you are home all day, the housework isn’t done. This problem can best by solved by familiarizing him with the nature of your homeschool and your business. Show him exactly what you need to do each day, and how long it takes to do each task. Help him understand your work schedule, and how much time you need to work per day. Happily, homeschool dads are usually good about recognizing the sacrifice you are making to homeschool your children, and they just need to walk through your day realize the benefits of your work as well.

Then ask him to help you come up with solutions for working at home and maintaining the household. Make a list of things that need to be done each week, and assign duties to you, him and the children (those who are old enough). Then taking care of the house becomes a family priority and something that you all share responsibility in. Notify him of any special projects by keeping a work calendar on the wall. That way he can see what is going on with your work schedule, and why you have ordered pizza for dinner three times in the last week!

Many work at homeschool moms can be hurt over offhand comments about working at home. Family or even friends can say things like “Well you have the time, because you are at home.” These are usually the same ones who cannot understand why you homeschool, or what it entails. In situations like these, you have two choices. You can either get upset and offer a flustered defense or you can take their comments with a grain of salt and offer a calm response. Depending on the situation you can say something like “Well, school ends at 2pm, and after that I have several hours in the office. Let me check my work schedule. I know I am not available on these days” or “That would be great on Friday afternoon, which is when I leave time in my work schedule for those types of things.”

Remember, working at home is new territory for many people although the numbers of moms who are trying to work at home and homeschool  are growing. It may take some time for the average person to understand the commitment and scheduling that it takes to effectively mix a home business with homeschooling. You may never convince some people that you are actually teaching and working while at home, but establishing respect for your own time is one way to make them see that what you are doing is important.