Here’s a rundown, in a random order, of last week’s education follies:
- Daily prayer is cobbled from Morning Prayer/Office of Readings/Mass readings. We also pray the Morning Offering and are praying the Pater Noster. They know about half of it by heart now. I keep meaning to do the Angelus at noon, but I always forget. Haven’t remembered a single time. Sad. I don’t know what happens around noon than renders me so empty-headed on a daily basis. Maybe I should set an alarm that sounds like church bells That might do it.
- Math: 7th grader continues with Art of Problem Solving PreAlgebra. Even if you don’t use the program, I highly recommend the videos. Along with Khan Academy, they are the best. 3rd grader continues with Beast Academy, along with brief daily reviews of basic operations: multiplication, division as well as adding/subtraction with regrouping.
- You can see my “unschooling” ideals only go so far. As in – not very far.
- I ran into a local Catholic unschooler at the library. She told me what they are doing and about and I sort of wanted to be her…but can’t do it. Just can’t give up on being directive on the math.
- Writing this week for the 7th grader was related to a book he was reading – this one. His writing was mostly reactions to that in various ways. 3rd grader did some copywork, and wrote about one of his extra classes. Friday Free Write was a 15-minute dash through narrating a secret life. One was a dinosaur in his secret life.
- Writing is improving. My goal is twofold: both more and less thinking. How about that? As in more thinking about grammar issues – don’t be so careless, people! And less tortured thinking about “what to say.” I just want to help them write well with less effort.
- 7th grader had First Lego League. 3rd grader had class at the local science museum on classification. That will be monthly. The classes are very well done.
- Other science at home was reading some Usborne books and others building on those activities as well as doing some introductory physics reading – again, using Usborne. A couple of physics experiments.
- Random science involved 3rd grader collecting leaves from the yard and explaining to me what he’d learned in his classification class with them; examining a huge spider web outside; looking at the moon every night and talking about its various shapes. No Rocket Center last week for him because he had to stay here on Tuesday to do his museum class.
- History and religion came mostly out of prayer time as we talked about the Korean martyrs and other commemorations of the week. In addition, 7th grader has memorized the names of the books of the NT, is reading the Gospel of Mark, doing a bit of Baltimore Catechism and has memorized a few verses of John 1.
- Began talking about Vermeer in prep for next week. (This week at this point. Wrote this point last Friday) Started by talking about the history of the period, including the Protestant Reformation, flipping through art books – both ours and those from the library – doing comparisons. I’ve checked out a slew of Vermeer/Dutch painters books from the library that we’ll go through over the next few days. 7th grader has already read Chasing Vermeer – a couple of years ago. 3rd grader will probably read it early next week if he can tear himself away from Harry Potter after he finishes #5. Will watch this, recommended by Melanie Bettinelli (whose blog you should read!)
- Shakespeare was twofold: working with this book – which is very good – How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. They (well, we) have memorized the first suggested passage – I know a bank where the wild thyme blows…..and Puck’s speech that ends Lord, what fools these mortals be! They don’t fight it, seem to like it, and are actually a little proud of their accomplishments.
- Dug deeper into Twelfth Night, using the text and the film starring Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Kingsley. Sir Toby Belch is super popular. Unfortunately. The 12-year old can do an uncanny impression of Ian Richardson, as Malvolio, attempting to smile.
- (This is the 5th Shakespeare in which we’ve dabbled over the past year. We did a fairly thorough study of Julius Caesar, and saw a live production, did the same with Midsummer’s Night Dream, and did a little less with Macbeth and then just sort of traipsed through the story of The Tempest. As I have written before, I select what we read with forthcoming local productions in mind.)
- Along the way, piles of books checked out from the library are thumbed through and read: on space, reptiles, the Maya and football.
- Next week will be more of the same, with a zoo class, merit badge class, piano lesson, church youth group and then a trip to Atlanta to see Vermeer and Twelfth Night…..
(After a weekend of…Knoxville Zoo, Tennessee Aquarium and then a long Sunday afternoon at Ruffner Mountain)
…it’s next week.
More of the same. Huntsville Tuesday included a quick stop at the small but pretty fun little Cook’s Pest Control Museum in Decatur (yes) and then, for Michael and me, the Huntsville Museum of Art while Joseph had his Lego League. There was a really impressive and moving exhibit of photographs from World War II on display, a pretty good children’s interactive area which included a huge color wheel and a “walk through time” – a brief history of art. Admission was free because of our Birmingham Museum of Art membership, so we’ll definitely be back.
Here was the interesting part of today that helped me feel not so lame as a home educator.
As is usually the case, a spider constructed an enormous web overnight in front of the house. For writing time, we went outside, sat on the front steps (or wandered around the front yard) and talked about words that would describe the spider and its web. They first jotted down some ideas separately, then we BRAINSTORMED with the WHITEBOARD. Because that’s what we do. We talked about how we might describe this spider and her work, and after a lot of discussion, realized that vague words like “big” or “strong” aren’t interesting and lists of traits or qualities don’t catch interest, either.
I was actually pretty proud of what the 12-year old emerged with – yes, we were working together, but it was mostly from his brain. What interested them most was the spider itself. I think it was this – a “Florida spider” – except its back was greenish yellow, not white. Unfortunately, an enthusiastic helper erased the whiteboard before I could commit the final product to memory, but trust me – I think some lessons got through, as the paragraph worked up nicely to “its back looked like a green snowman with a mohawk.”
(Also Darth Maul, but I told him not everyone would know who that was so he should probably go in a different direction.)
We then snipped a bit of the web and examined it under the microscope. What interested them most was a pattern of thickened segments on the outer strands. Quite consistently placed, every inch or so, obviously to lend strength to the final product. They were excited to see that under the scope – a single strand that then exploded into a stretch of white tangles, as if your ancient grandmother had cleaned out her hairbrush.
It’s sort of random, although not completely. The math is not random at all, and for some of what they do, I track a bit with what I discern is going on in their old school. I wonder about the randomness sometimes. Okay, a few times a day I wonder about it. But what I finally come down to, every time, are the lessons I learned from classroom teaching ages ago.
As in….(as I would explain to the listener, willing or unwilling)….there’s this much knowledge that could be imparted. (Spread arms wide)….but you only have time to impart this much (hold thumb and forefinger together). You just have to accept the limitations and convey what you can with depth and passion.
So the question becomes….what should an 8 year old and a 12 year old know?
Are they missing out if their science education is centered on museum and zoo classes and what’s inspired by that as well as every day life rather than following standards and a certain scope and sequence? And can we say the same of social studies or language…and everything else?
Radical unschoolers would say of course not, not at all, and I almost would say that, too, but not quite. That math. Always that math!
And a year ago, I was far more anxious about this question. But as time has gone on, and I’ve watched my children learn, my thinking has changed. Once they get to high school, if they go to a traditional high school, they can get on that road, and I’m confident they’ll be ready. But I don’t think there’s anything sacrosanct about the most common scope and sequences for middle school science or social studies. What I see happening is the growth of a couple of mostly enthusiastic learners. I don’t make them write essays on Shakespeare or even do character or plot analysis (I know, you’re saying…they’re like 8 and 12…who would? Well…some people. You don’t have to search too far to be totally intimidated by what some folks do with kids and Shakespeare)… I just want them to enjoy it, be nourished by it and come to experience it has a fun and normal part of life that also illuminates life. They’re jazzed by science. Most kids are, of course, until too many worksheets and too much emphasis on methods leeches it out of them. They look at questions about word origins, grammar construction and math as intriguing little games.
I guess what I’m trying to do is to help them de-school so that they can discover their passions in an more spacious, mentally free environment…..and understand, if they go back, that school is just one of the places they learn.
Last week, this article made the rounds – a father attempted to do his daughter’s 8th-grade homework for a week and was beaten down by the task.
What struck me about the article was not necessarily the amount of homework, but the subject matter. In this admittedly high-level, high achieving school, it’s accepted that all 13-year olds need to be spending their days and evenings reading Angela’s Ashes (79 pages in one night’s homework), doing pretty high level math, intense Spanish conjunctions and analyzing late-19th century American labor relations. And doing some advanced science. Don’t remember what it was.
Look, I’m first in line to decry the extended adolescence of American youth and idiotically low and mindless academic standards. I have ruined my 8-year old for institutional school for good, I suspect, as he gets to hoot at poor Malvolio’s yellow stockings, study a spider, do some math and read one more damn book about the Maya, punctuated by rope-swing, Lego and sword-fighting breaks. Point being, he’s not going to ever want to go back to math worksheets and committee-constructed reading books after this weird combination of pseudo-“advanced” subject matter and play that we do here. I think that those who want academic intensity should have it. And obviously, this author and his daughter chose this school for her – she wasn’t forced to go there against her will, nor is it a typical education for the masses.
So in a sense, what this author’s doing is what I described as my ideal – finding the education that suits you and pursuing it. But what it prompted in me was another round of questions for me about what 12- and 13-year olds “need” to know and casting more doubt on the whole concept of wide-ranging, all-encompassing educational standards imposed from above.
Mass education has served a vital purpose in human history, and still does. As I wrote before, there’s a reason education is denied oppressed peoples. But does that way of thinking – beyond the basics of literacy – work any more? When there’s this much knowledge that is so much easier to access than in years past, who gets to decide the this much that gets taught….and why?