Friday, April 27, 2012

The Week's Good Reads, Plus a Few Thoughts on Eccentricity

Meet Kate Fridkis:
As an unschooler, I learned early on that work and play can be the same thing, on some level. When you love what you do, you work to get better at it, to learn more about it. Work fits naturally into the pursuit of something inspiring. Because learning wasn't separate from living for me, as a kid, it made sense that I'd have jobs and make money as a part of my education and my life. Everything an unschooled kid does is based in the "real world," so to speak. There's no training period, or special area where you wait to be released into the rest of your life. You're already living it. So, as a matter of course, I worked. My first serious job began when I was fifteen. I still have a version of that job, and it is one of the most fulfilling parts of my life. From the time I was pretty young, I loved having real responsibility. It made me feel important. I think kids like to contribute to the world in real, concrete ways. I had that opportunity, and I learned a lot from it. I also saved a lot of money!

We're far less unschooly these days than we used to be, and more and more drawn to Charlotte Mason, whose philosophy has resonated with me from the beginning, though we're not absolute purists in that direction, either. Still, the following certainly underscores my own experience of the power of books themselves as teachers: 
But really, don't you think they learn more with projects? No, I really don't.  They may remember the projects with great joy, and for that reason, if you like them and the kids like them, and you want to do them, go ahead. But my experience has been that the projects don't really help the children remember (or even make) connections with their learning.
So what do we do? Read a section ask for a short narration if your child is old enough. That seems too simple and easy. It's so simple, that I suspect many of us subconsciously feel that we're cheating, but it's really a very meaty, idea-filled study. (read more . . . )
 And from Dwija Borobia, whose cool kind of name I wish I had (not that I would have to be named Dwija, necessarily, but do you know how many Sally Thomases there are out there?):

Why is this perception of the weirdo homeschooler so pervasive?  Why is it that despite the clear academic achievement of most homeschooled students, the fear of them “acting like that one weirdo guy I knew when I was a kid” is enough to turn otherwise supportive folks against the idea?  I’ve thought about it a lot and the best explanation I can come up with is this: ridicule.

See, everyone is born with a certain temperament.  Parents of more than one will all attest to this.  Same parents, same environment, same rules….completely different reactions from their children.  And some kids- well, some kids are annoying.  And what do I mean by “annoying”?  I mean what people mean when they say that homeschooled kids are annoying.  I mean kids who ask too many questions and know too much information and like certain stuff and refuse to like other things and don’t care what other people think about their silly hobbies and their know-it-all-ness.

When “annoying” kids like this go to a traditional school, they’re ridiculed.  They have a hard, or even impossible, time finding their niche.  They must either hide their true personality and inclinations in order to be accepted or they’re pushed to the fringes and made to feel abnormal.  Not good enough.  Made to feel less likable than those who keep their ideas and opinions to themselves or fail to form any to begin with.  Made to feel that convictions and fascinations are stupid and that pop culture is the only culture.  Not because “normal” kids are mean.  They mostly don’t even know they’re doing it, I assure you.  They just don’t know what to do with someone who’s so, like, weird.  Ya know?

I know.  I was one of those weird kids. (More!)

So was I, and I'd be lying if I said that had had nothing to do with our now-distantly-past decision to educate our children at home. This decision was not, of course, a decision to pack the kids away in bubble-wrap until time for college;  they play -- or, well, interact, since I don't know that you can say that 14-year-olds play, exactly, except maybe by running into each other at full speed with loaded backpacks on, and stuff like that -- with other children almost every day, mostly happily. What I have found is that homeschooling, like anything else short of the Beatific Vision, is not insulation against the occasional comment that you're stupid or weird or a coward -- this last was very upsetting to the person to whom it was said, in the same way that having someone call you the wrong fantasy name on purpose in a made-up game can ruin your whole day. Girls practice their own version of social whatever:  you can play at my house if this other girl isn't going to be there, because when she's not there you're my best friend, but if she comes over I'm going to deny that I ever liked you and then pretend that you don't exist for the rest of the day, or until that girl goes home, at which time I will be perfectly happy to pick up with you where we left off.

The difference when you're a homeschooler is that this isn't your entire day. It's an hour or so in the afternoon, between the time the schoolbus coughs up the rest of the neighborhood kids and dinnertime, and if it gets bad, you can just go home. You're a free agent, not an inmate.

Just yesterday we were over at the church -- my description of pretty much any day of the week could begin with that clause -- and Father, passing Crispina on his way to the office, asked her whether she was looking forward to her First Holy Communion next week.

"Yep," said Crispina, rewarding him with some kind of goofy smile which caused him to remark to me later that in case I hadn't noticed, all my children are really eccentric. "In their own way," he added hastily, in concern for my maternal feelings. "I mean, they're all . . . distinct." 

Yep, I might have said, with probably the same goofy smile.  They are that. Eccentric and distinct. God made 'em, counter, original, spare, strange, and we like 'em that way. 


Epiphany said...

Nice save, father.

Ma said...

Amen, Sister, amen!!!

Anne-Marie said...

Thanks for the Borobia article. My fifteen-year-old is one of those kids. The other day, she said, "I can't wait to go to college, where people won't make fun of me for thinking theology is interesting."

Sally Thomas said...

Well, E, he manifestly meant it as a compliment, and I took it as a compliment -- but it did sound funny. As he realized, even as the words fell from his lips . . .

Anne-Marie, I hate to think of anyone making fun of your sweet girl (any of them, actually). But any of my kids could probably say, or have said, the same kind of thing at certain points. My 14-year-old is taking a class in WWII history at the college right now, and it's been a huge source of sustenance for him: partly because of the rush he gets from seeing that he can do the work, but largely, I think, because for an hour and a half twice a week he's spending time with people who care (and know from squat) about something he's been obsessed with for years. It's opened out his world tremendously already. Otherwise, at home he does have free rein to follow these obsessions (the other one right now is bacteriology), and nobody's going to ridicule him, or suggest that he ought to be interested in whatever it is that other people his age are interested in. I guess it's telling that I don't really even know what that would be.

Willa said...

Great links and thoughts! And I didn't realize you were a onetime- quasi-unschooler, so it was nice to hear a bit more about your homeschooling background.

Sally Thomas said...

Willa -- we were pretty unschooly in the beginning. Early in our first year, with a 9- and a 5/6-year-old, a toddler and a new baby, I dropped all pretense of doing any kind of formal school, and we just read aloud and went places. This lasted for about two years. Other than adding in a little math, we used literature and outside classes and play for our learning.

In stumbling around on the web when we began to be interested in being Catholic, I ran across the Mater Amabilis site, and it was the answer to everything I'd been looking for as a homeschooler: I knew that the kinds of curriculum that came with subjects like "Third Grade Health" weren't for us for sure. I've never been able to make myself reinvent the wheel: no point in spending instructional time on what any reasonably sentient child couldn't figure out from real life. MA on the other hand was a whole new world of literature (and learning through literature) and faith. I never followed it dogmatically, and I really don't now, but it's been an important template for me, though we continue to be pretty eclectic.

And even now, for my younger kids (2nd and 3rd grade) I keep their "core" of seat-work-type subjects really small. Most of our relatively short, flexible school day is spent on literature, then a half-hour, maybe, of workbooky stuff, then the rest of the day is for play/the Masterly-Inactivity thing.

So I don't know that I'm *that* un-unschooly now, in some ways at least -- I definitely want my kids to benefit from a lot of freedom and flexible time. On the other hand, I have found that it's more helpful than not (to my kids, anyway) to learn some basic things according to at least a rough scope-and-sequence -- I'm thinking mainly of math here, where I'm always striving for a good balance between the joy of play with concepts and the usefulness of mastering basic facts and skills. I am determined not to be "driven" by what curriculum we do use; I view things like math workbooks and the CHC Language of God series as ways of giving my kids useful tools for thinking and working, so that whatever they want to do next, they won't have to stop and learn ground-level skills before they can move forward.

My older children, by middle- and high-school, have so far been very academically driven, so for them (my current almost-high-schooler in particular), child-led learning looks like a LOT of formal academic work. Our family tilts that way in general, so my choices for the youngers are in the direction of keeping that door open for them.

Which . . . is not really an apologia for much of anything, philosophically. I have a hard time remembering what our learning was like years ago, and am always surprised when I happen on old blog posts of mine talking about unschooling, or when I look at the homeschooling blog I no longer keep, but which does document some more free-wheeling days when everyone was younger, including me.