Kevin’s Kluge: What’s in a Name…?

Sep 11, 2013

Greetings readers! My name is Kevin McClain, and I am NCHE's newly-elected president. Previously, I served as the organization's education VP, who oversees publications, including this magazine. So, some of my writings have appeared here before. But this is the first issue in which I write as the president; and, let me tell you, it has been more difficult than it should be. You see, historically, the publication has had a personalized name for its presidential column. Therefore, I have had the difficult first presidential task of selecting a column name. One would hope I would be up to this task. The name of the president's column has typically been alliterative. Great examples from past presidents include: "A Moment with Mike," "Spencer’s Space," or "Ernie’s Epistle." There are lots of alliterative options for a name starting with a hard C sound. With the help of my wife, Brea, and the editor, Debbie Mason, we came up with quite a few good ones. Some candidates were "Kevin's Considerations," "Kevin's Convictions" (technically, however, I did not admit guilt) and "Kevin's Contemplations." Of course, if the second word began with a K, even better: "Kevin's Kibbles" has a certain comfort, although I must say, not the degree of sophistication I was striving to achieve. There was always a temptation to change that hard C to a K, because, well, symmetry, I guess. So, of course, there was "Kevin's Korner," "Kevin's Konclusions" and "Kevin's Kolumn." My suggestion, "Kevin's Karefully Konsidered Kolumn from Kernersville," was quickly disqualified by Debbie on multiple grounds (something about the cost of ink, the size of paper, crazy word count, readers going insane and other editorial mumbo-jumbo that I don't really understand, but that I leave to the expert, as she has been doing this for some time).

None of these options quite resonated with me. But what's in a name, really? Well, I have a tendency to think—quite a bit. As an armchair philosopher, I spend considerable time over-thinking ideas and concepts—what distinguishes a thing from another thing—and I place undue stress on articulating these nuanced differences and crafting the correct label. A word, a label, a name, should correspond to a reality. The solution seemed clear: my mother poorly named me, and I was going to have to quickly adopt a new moniker. Before I could complete the necessary paperwork, Debbie informed me that an alliterative column title is not a requirement. The column of Hal Young was called "Hal's About It," a clever play on sound (you get it, right? Hal's/How's About It? I speak from experience—saying it out loud repeatedly helps. The ninth time for me was a charm). Sadly, I am not clever enough to yield such a name. I have every confidence you, dear reader, are, but please stop trying and proceed.

In the end, I realized I had to summon all my leadership power and rely on my wits to come up with a column name. So, I turned to my wife, who momentarily stopped playing one of her eighty-three simultaneous games of online scrabble-knockoff and Googled words beginning with the letter K. I mean this quite literally, she opened a new tab and entered into the Google search bar "Words that begin with K" and discovered that individuals with far more time on their hands than either of us or the combined citizens of small states had collected these words onto pages. This Internet thing is a treasure trove. We quickly dismissed "Kevin's Koala" (I don't really want one, my eucalypti is limited), "Kevin Kaleidoscope" (I have one but I don't see how that is relevant) and Kevin's Kraken (want one, not widely available). But we did, however, land on "Kevin's Kluge," and to be honest, it really resonated with me. I am a huge fan of kluges and frequently engage in kluging. Only one minor issue: most folk don't have any idea what a kluge is!

The good thing is we are educators and believe in teachable moments. For those of you who do not know what a kluge is, this is a teachable moment. A brief definition is: "An imperfect solution using the resources at hand." Think of someone who found something not quite working and had to fix it the best they could, making up the solution as they went along. The word is German in origin and is often spelled 'kludge.' It has two connotations. The spelling kludge is more negative and implies the solution was poorly-executed and the work of someone less than an expert. It is more associated with physical systems, like plumbing. As you can imagine, a plumbing kludge will not likely make you friends. This is the connotation most familiar. But a more positive sense is developing, and I embrace that one. It is more often associated with the spelling kluge and implies that the solution was resourceful and clever. It also revealed insights into new ways of thinking about the problem. The astronauts of Apollo 13 were saved, in part, by the kluging of the NASA staff, who were able to make critical systems work using only materials they had on-board. The connotation of this kluge is more associated with virtual systems, like computing. I work in information technology (IT), and that is how I have come to know it. As information systems have become more and more complex, the ability to quickly adapt, to be agile in one's management is becoming a defining characteristic of the IT worker. Time restraints and user demands often require us to experiment with solutions; to problem-solve on the fly in order to keep things going; to create a kluge. If it works, great! Not working and not really sure why—try something else. Often IT workers inherit systems, and when we look under the hood, so to speak, we discover a history of kluges. Many of them are very, very clever and symbolize the rapid changes occurring in the field of information technology management and demonstrate the previous manager's resourcefulness and ability to creatively think on his or her feet. Often they are a wonder and speak to the tight spot the person must have been in. Some kluges are now celebrated on the Internet as a testimony to how impossible it is to build anything perfectly and—we either succeed or fail. I really like that. I like that because it is honest. It's hard to manage complex stuff, and often mistakes are made. We all think we could do better work if we only had more resources: more time, money or help. We are often tempted to make excuses and even become angry that we have responsibilities. But the reality is that we are limited, and we have to make do with what we have, and that means trying. So, in some sense, the kluge is a testament to someone who is likely in over his or her head, yet took responsibility and still tried.

I think educators and information technologists have much in common: both work with information and knowledge. Some say the nature of information is simple: garbage in, garbage out. However, the nature of knowledge is not so simple. Knowledge is more ephemeral, and like a vapor, it changes so quickly. Our knowledge of the world changes under us. Solomon was wise when he articulated the fact that "all of it," that is all the constructs we humans make, is a kind of folly. They work, to some degree, but they are not truth. As a Christian, I hold onto the conviction that Christ is The Truth. After that, everything is a kind of glorious kluge. Given the realities of sin, it is a miracle anything works. I think an honest home educator recognizes this. We make plans: select our curriculum, purchase our books, draft lesson plans, take our field trips, talk with our students, but plans often don't work as we had hoped. We often have to adapt to our students and our circumstances. And so we kluge, and we keep at it. My theory is that part of the power of homeschooling comes from this, the resourcefulness of parents and the willingness, for the sake of our children, to simply try. Let others see our imperfect solutions. We are trying. In humility and grace, we are trying.

We are trying at NCHE, as well. We at NCHE love North Carolinians and believe our children and our communities will be enriched by home education in all its variations, and so we try to help. The need is greater than ever because North Carolina just exceeded 50,000 homeschools. As an organization, we focus on 1) protecting the right to homeschool, 2) providing encouragement to homeschoolers and 3) promoting homeschool as an educational alternative. Do we know what we are doing? Well, we have some experience under our belt, but to be honest, there are times when we make the best decisions we can and then watch to see how it goes! There, I said it: we are klugers! Our only goal is that our kluges serve you. If our activity fails to serve, then we will try something different, because that is what klugers do. I am convinced that Christ is sovereign, and so, for the time being, He is content with our trying, as we ultimately rely on Him. Any success we experience is not from our own labor or our own knowledge but from God and is to the glory of Christ, who is Truth.

This year, we engaged in some significant kluging and have, I feel, experienced some success. This publication, GREENHOUSE, is a kind of a kluge. This issue marks the completion of its first year in the current form. Producing it has been both a challenge and a pleasure. I think it is working well, giving readers a better experience and raising the profile of North Carolina homeschoolers. It made me happy to see the Graduate Issue so embraced by family and friends at the Graduation ceremony on May 25. I talked to an elderly gentleman, I imagine a grandfather of a graduate, who told me it was beautiful. I also hope GREENHOUSE is something you can be glad to share with your neighbor who is inquisitive about homeschooling in North Carolina.

I feel we just wrapped up a great annual conference and book fair. Along with all the tried and true offerings, this year we provided a three-session newbie track. Mike Smith, the president of HSLDA, was a featured speaker. After the conference, he complimented NCHE by writing “In thirty years of speaking at home school conferences, I had never attended the NCHE conference until this year. I was blown away. The cost of the conference was underpriced; the location was central; the vendor hall was full of more than anyone could expect; NCHE trustees were all engaged and super helpful, volunteers were friendly and knowledgeable; the facility was convenient in every respect, and the lineup of speakers was unparalleled. Simply put, all things considered, the NCHE conference is the best homeschool conference in America.” This is high praise, for which we are thankful.

This year NCHE also introduced an amendment to the NC homeschool law. It was needed to clarify the authority parents have in their school. The twenty-five-year-old law, originally crafted by NCHE, has served North Carolinians well, but times change and new instructional options, like virtual schooling, and movements like Common Core exist. Two bills, SB189 and HB230, were jointly submitted. Our legislative VP and our lobbyist worked many hours with legislators to explain the new developments and the amendment. Both bills passed their respected chambers unanimously. On May 30, Governor McCrory signed SB189 into law. Spencer Mason, our legislative VP, was at the ceremony. Spencer and the NCHE board are to be congratulated on seeing the need, recognizing the opportunity and acting swiftly and wisely. All North Carolina home educators will benefit from this change.

This presidential column is perhaps a little longer than usual. But then, it's a kluge (can you tell?). It's my first attempt. I trust, dear reader, that you will see that NCHE is an organization oriented toward serving, and that means being willing to reflect on what we are doing and to try new things. We'd love to consider you a partner; come kluge with us!

GREENHOUSE is NCHE's flagship publication. 

GREENHOUSE magazine is published quarterly, with an annual graduate special issue published in May. That's five issues, each containing at least 40 pages of full color for $3 an issue.

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