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Homeschool Takeaways

A blog comment indicated that I was leaving the impression that my lack of follow-up on a promised homeschool takeaway post was perhaps because I was in agony about it.

Yikes, no.

The delay is due more to the fact that it’s hard for me to write about the topic succinctly. I tend to plunge in and just go on and on. I’m going to give myself 30 minutes from start to finish on this one, starting….now. 

But inspired by that nudge, I’ll start. I’ll begin with the personal takeaway, and follow up at another time with my Big Thoughts on Philosophical Issues. I was initially going to write about this in terms of “what I learned,” but as I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t quite and accurate characterization of my takeaway. It wasn’t about learning, it was more about things I knew, but perhaps didn’t know I knew…or didn’t know that I believed so deeply.

When in doubt, bullet points:

  • I didn’t realize how much I had internalized the system. I thought I was all flexible and open, but I wasn’t. Homeschooling freed me in a deep way from assuming that once a certain path is begun, that’s the only way. That is – you start high school at this certain school..does that mean you have to finish there? Does that mean you are locked into the 4-year School Family Treadmill? No.
  • I learned that I’m not an unschooler. Sad. Just couldn’t let go of some things.
  • I learned that the reason we divide fractions is by multiplying the dividend by the reciprocal of the divisor is because that’s what division is . (8 divided by 5 is the same as 8 multiplied by 1/5.  8/5.)
  • Now, I say that, not just as a fun fact, but as a representation of a larger point: I learned a lot through homeschooling. 
  • With the math, as I have said before, I’m not mathy but nor am I terrible at math, img_20160819_110905.jpgand I’ve used it enough to still remember most of everything through Algebra. But using the Art of Problem Solving curricula with my kids taught me a great deal, introduced me to the architecture of mathematics in a way that I had never experienced and was sorry I hadn’t – understanding math the AOPS way would have helped everything make so much more sense to me in high school. So with the fractions and division thing – it was always presented as just a rule, with no reason. Sort of a random weird thing you do when dividing fractions. But it’s not random! There’s a reason! And that reason helps a lot of other things – division itself, fractions, decimals – fall together in a reasonable pattern.
  • But oh, so much more. Stuff I once knew, but had forgotten, and so much I didn’t know – about science, history, art…
  • One of the most wonderful things about homeschooling to me was that I think my kids understood that we were indeed learning together. Yes, I can go on and on about certain subjects, and sometimes they both irritate and amaze me with their questions to me and I say, “Well, I guess I should be flattered that you think I am some sort of encyclopedic genius,” but for the most part our homeschool environment was one of mutual learning and exploration, with me providing resources, guiding and explaining when needed, but me also saying regularly, “Wow, I didn’t know that!”
  • I think it became clear to them that the proper way to look at a teacher is as both an authority and expert of sorts, but also as a co-learner. Not all teachers present themselves that way, of course, but be honest. It’s what we are. I am endlessly curious about almost everything – which is not always a good thing, as it can lead to never being able to just calm down and stop researching – and I hope that they picked up that curiosity and open-mindedness, along with some degree of authoritative understanding – makes for a good learning experience.
  • We were also exposed, on a daily basis, to the fluidity of knowledge. Over and over again we encountered points of information that would be presented in a traditional school textbook as just FACT but are in FACT being called into question by current research and new information.
  • I came to appreciate the sciences and engineering and related fields so very much. I think this is a huge takeaway for me. It is not that I didn’t admire those fields – it’s that I come from a total humanities background – English/history/religion/political science/philosophy. Hardly anyone in my family (which is small, so I don’t have a large study cohort to go on) went into any other field but those. Through the reading that we did, the videos that we watched, the programs that we attended, I came to really appreciate the sciences and related fields as truly creative, exciting areas which contribute so much to human flourishing, even at the most technical levels, and this became a point I communicated to the boys over and over.
  • It may not make sense to some, but my goal as a home educator eventually evolved to: Help them become humble, skillful, wise skeptics. 
  • Humble: so we know how little we know and are never closed.
  • Skillful: so we can do what we need to do (write, compute, make)  well
  • Wise: so our minds are in communion with the Word
  • Skeptics: so we know that all human things, including knowledge, are contingent and temporary
  • I learned a lot about my kids. I am not keen on writing a lot about them in a public space, but I will say that my sense of my older son’s aptitude for planning, logic and making connections was confirmed and deepened by our two years of homeschooling and my appreciation of my younger son’s enthusiastic embrace of All Things Nature was as well.
  • Homeschooling them is going to be of great help to me in advocating for them and guiding them as we not homeschool.
  • On a very practical level, homeschooling revealed to me how many resources there are out there – explicitly educational resources, as well as others – both in real life in the community and online.  I wouldn’t have known about them if I hadn’t been up until 1 am following rabbit trails. There is no excuse for having a boring classroom these days. None.
  • I’m about to run out of time. So I suppose my final takeaway will bleed into the next episode about broader issues.  It was confirmed for me, although I had felt it and it was indeed a reason I decided to homeschool in the first place, how much of a time and energy suck school is. We did “school” in at most three hours a day – not counting days when they did classes or activities outside the home – and although we were busy, home was a pretty relaxed place.  Now they are gone 8 hours a day and re-entry into the home is marked by a flurry of papers, the dream2mental effort for everyone to sort out what needs to be done and when and fatigue and the general, already
    aggravated wistful look forward to May.
  • Don’t get me wrong. There are good teachers teaching interesting things in ways that they could not experience at home and systems that are having to build up ways to help everyone accomplish and learn and I get it. I get the challenges. I’ve been there. It’s just taking some effort to not allow the system and its many often picayune requirements pollute that culture of open-minded, relaxed learning that we enjoyed for four years, and in some small way, to keep it alive here in the amount of time The School Family permits.
  • Trade-off. Just keep saying it. Trade-offs. 

(Other homeschooling posts here, here, here and here. At some point I’ll do a category for these.)

 

 

I was poking around looking for interesting commentary on today’s Gopel:

And, via the excellent Divine Lamp site, read this sermon of St. Augustine. I loved these passages – a bit of a wandering from the main point, but not really –  and just wanted to share them:

Here then is a precept of not putting off being merciful to another, and wilt thou by putting off be cruel against thine own self? Thou oughtest not to put off to give bread, and wilt thou put off to receive forgiveness? If thou dost not put off in showing pity towards another, “pity thine own soul also in pleasing God.”22 Give alms to thine own soul also. Nay I donot say, give to it, but thrust not back His Hand that would give to thee.

12. But men continually injure themselves exceedingly in their fear to offend others. For good friends have much influence for good, and evil friends for evil. Therefore it was not the Lord’s will to choose first senators, but fishermen, to teach us for our own salvation to disregard the friendship of the powerful. O signal mercy of the Creator! For He knew that had He chosen the senator, he would say, “My rank has been chosen.” If He had first made choice of the rich man, he would say, “My wealth has been chosen.” If He had first made choice of an emperor, he would say,” My power has been chosen.” If the orator he would say, “My eloquence has been chosen.” If of the philosopher, he would say, “My wisdom has been chosen.” Meanwhile He says, let these proud ones be put off awhile, they swell too much. Now there is much difference between substantial size and swelling; both indeed are large, but both are not alike sound. Let them then, He says, be put off, these proud ones, they must be cured by something solid. First give Me, He says, this fisherman. “Come, thou poor one, follow Me; thou hast nothing, thou knowest nothing, follow Me. Thou poor and ignorant23 one, follow Me. There is nothing in thee to inspire awe, but there is much in thee to be filled.” To so copious a fountain an empty vessel should be brought. So the fisherman left his nets, the fisherman received grace, and became a divine orator. See what the Lord did, of whom the Apostle says, “God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty, and base things of the world hath God chosen, yea and things which are not, as if they were, that those things which are may be brought to nought.”24 And so now the fishermen’s words are read, and the necks of orators are brought down. Let all empty winds then be taken away, let the smoke be taken away which vanishes as it mounts; let them be utterly despised when the question is of this salvation.

13. If any one in a city had some bodily sickness, and there was in that place some very skilful physician who was an enemy to the sick man’s powerful friends; if any one, I say, in a city were labouring under some dangerous bodily sickness; and there was in the same city a very skilful physician, an enemy as I said, of the sick man’s powerful friends, and they were to say to their friend, “Do not call him in, he knows nothing;” and they were to say this not from any judgment of their mind, but through dislike of him; would he not for his own safety’s sake remove from him the groundless assertions25 of his powerful friends, and with whatever offenceto them, in order that he might live but a few days longer, call that physician in, whom common report had given out as most skilful to drive away the disease of his body? Well, the whole race of mankind is sick, not with diseases of the body, but with sin. There lies one great patient from East to West throughout the world. To cure this great patient came the Almighty Physician down. He humbled Himself even to mortal flesh, as it were to the sick man’s bed. Precepts of health He gives, and is despised; they who do observe them are delivered. He is despised, when powerful friends say, “He knows nothing.” If He knew nothing, His power would not fill the nations. If He knew nothing, He would not have been, before He was with us. If He knew nothing, He would not have sent the Prophets before Him. Are not those things which were foretold of old, fulfilled now? Does not this Physician prove the power of His art by the accomplishment of His promises? Are not deadly errors overturned throughout the whole world; and by the threshing of the world lusts subdued? Let no one say, “The world was better aforetime than now; ever since that Physician began to exercise His art, many dreadful things we witness here.” Marvel not at this? Before that any were in course of healing, the Physician’s residence seemed clean of blood; but now rather as seeing what thou dost, shake off all vain delights, and come to the Physician, it is the time of healing, not of pleasure.

14. Let us then think, Brethren, of being cured. If we do not yet know the Physician, yet let us not like frenzied men be violent against Him, or as men in a lethargy turn away from Him. For many through this violence have perished, and many have perished through sleep. The amy-welborn5frenzied are they who are made mad for want of sleep. The lethargic are they who are weighed down by excessive sleep. Men are to be found of both these kinds. Against this Physician it is the will of some to be violent, and forasmuch as He is Himself sitting in heaven, they persecute His faithful ones on earth. Yet even such as these He cureth. Many of them having been converted from enemies have become friends, from persecutors have become preachers. Such as these were the Jews, whom, though violent as men in frenzy against Him while He was here, He healed, and prayed for them as He hung upon the Cross. For He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”27 Yet many of them when their fury was calmed, their frenzy as it were got under, came to know God, and Christ. When the Holy Ghost was sent after the Ascension, they were converted to Him whom they crucified, and as believers drunk in the Sacrament His Blood, which in their violence they shed.

15. Of this we have examples. Saul persecuted the members of Jesus Christ, who is now sitting in heaven; grievously did he persecute them in his frenzy, in the loss of his reason, in the transport of his madness. But He with one word, calling to him out of heaven, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?”28 struck down the frantic one, raised him up whole, killed the persecutor, quickened the preacher. And so again many lethargic ones are healed. For to such are they like, who are not violent against Christ, nor malicious against Christians, but who in their delay are only dull and heavy with drowsy words, are slow to open their eyes to the light, and are annoyed with those who would arouse them. “Get away from me,” says the heavy, lethargic man,” I pray thee, get away from me. Why? “I wish to sleep.” But you will die in consequence. He thorough love of sleep will answer, “I wish to die.” And Love from above calls out “I do not wish it.” Often does the son exhibit this loving affection to an aged father, though he must needs die in a few days; and is now in extreme old age. If he sees that he is lethargic, and knows from the physician that he is oppressed with a lethargic complaint, who tells him “Arouse your father, do not let him sleep, if you would save his life”! Then will the son come to the old man, and beat, and squeeze, or pinch, or prick him, or give him any uneasiness, and all through his dutiful affection to him; and will not allow him to die at once, die though he soon must from very age; and if his life is thus saved, the son rejoices that he has now to live some few days more with him who must soon depart to make way for him. With how much greater affection then ought we to be importunate with our friends, with whom we may live not a few days in this world, but in God’s presence for ever! Let them then love us, and do what they hear us say, and worship Him, whom we also worship, that they may receive what we also hope for.

Regrouping

Why, yes, I do have homeschooling takeaways, but can’t seem to process them enough to put them down on paper in a coherent way. That will be tomorrow morning’s project – to get that going.

I’ll just say that things are going well so far, although I am already enjoying my fully-expected constant low-grade seething about the quality and quantity of various (not all) assignments at both levels (middle and high school).

And yes, homework for elementary – even middle school – students is a bug, not a feature. The school might respond, “Oh, but how can we get everything done without homework?” I respond, to quote another, Think Different. Begin your curriculum and class preparation and planning with the assumption, “We are not going to give homework” and work from there. You will teach differently, and class time will be spent in different ways, but I doubt the results will be worse.

But as to here – in general, people are content, apparently having internalized my “life is a tradeoff” lectures, and understanding that if you want the good things that school offers – friends, instruction from Interesting and Capable People Who Are Not Mom – well, you have to get up earlier, and you’re going to have to do homework.

You’ll be hungry. You’ll be tired!

I will also say that I certainly hope this is not the end of homeschooling. I can definitely see it – or something else – happening again in different forms as they get older and (I hope) as different modes of schooling make their way into our area (Alabama just approved charter schools last year, so in a few years, something interesting might pop up).

In the meantime, I am adjusting. It is very, very weird to finish cleaning the kitchen at night and not have the next day’s kid activities on my mind and it is very, very weird, to drop off the younger one at school and return to my house before 8 with a full day, free to work in front of me.

I’m not going to say that I’m ecstatic about it. They are in good situations, but homeschooling was good, too, and I miss it a lot.

I am also not sure what to do with this time. It’s not that I don’t have projects. I do, with hopefully a biggish one being confirmed soon that will occupy my fall. But for four years, my creativity – such as it is – has been focused on homeschooling and engaged, all day and every evening, with conversations on learning with one or both of those boys, and now it’s very quiet, during the day at least.

And yes, how much I yearned for quiet for four years, and yes, I knew from experience that once I got it, I would be a bit at sea – because that’s how it goes with life. You live for the semester to just be over, but once your life isn’t filled with going to class, studying or teaching, you have to recalibrate and you don’t know what to do with yourself at first. People retire and then just…die because their beings can’t compute life without the job.

So yes. In a day or two, more of what I’m taking away from homeschooling, both in specific and more general terms.

One thing I’m doing – besides going on rants about Arthur Miller, The Crucible, the Hollywood Ten and the Salem Witch Trials for the benefit of a 15-year old person who is probably thinking, “Uh…I just need to do my powerpoint now, but thanks” – is reading more, more and more.

And reading more…books.

img_20160816_134204.jpg

I had written about this a few weeks or months ago: as much as I appreciate e-readers – and I do read a lot of public domain stuff I would never be able to access otherwise that way – I am consciously trying to redirect my reading energy to actual paper books.

First, I really do believe I retain what I read better via books. Research is showing that this might be generally true, and I definitely feel that it is true for me. Part of it has to do with the fact that reading a book is a physical experience in a way that holding a tablet is not. It engages more of my body and more of my senses, which deepens the experience. As I have said before, my memory of what I read is often tied to where a sentence was located on a page and what that book felt like in my hand.

And I think that my way of reading on a tablet is different than reading a book. Since childhood, I have always been a fast, gulping kind of reader, and e-readers just exacerbate that tendency, since I’m definitely susceptible to the quick, superficial get-on-to-the-next-thing-because-everything-is-here-on-the-Internet reading habit that the Internet seems to engender, and reading e-books are not exempt from that tendency. I read them faster, I don’t linger, I don’t go back and reconsider what I’ve read because it’s kind of a pain to find my place again.

Secondly, I am very conscious of what I’m modeling for my kids. I can’t very well be super-restrictive with them about screens if I’m on a screen all the time, and sorry, the “but it’s a book” doesn’t wash. Because yeah, it might be a book one minute, but it’s probably going to be Facebook or Instagram the next. So it’s much more helpful on that score for me to settle down in their presence with a book in hand rather than one more damn screen.

(And I will say like many kids, they prefer to read “real” books. The only time they’ve read ebooks have generally been when we are traveling. My adult daughter, who is typical of her generation in her relationship to screens, has gotten to the point at which she prefers to read paper books as well – I think we’re all feeling it. We spend enough time on screens. Give us a book again.)

So…library trip. I went downtown to find a copy of a couple of books for my high schooler, and walked away with a stash.

They had a bunch of Mauriac I had never read, I thought I would read some more img_20160816_134216.jpgMaugham, and they very nicely went to the stacks to get the only copy of Priestley’s The Good Companions available in the whole system. An original, published in 1929, still intact, the subject of some commentary by the librarian who fetched it for me.

I started with the shortest – Mauriac’s The Little Misery. Oh, what a FUN read!

Not really. Quite sad, almost unbearably so, but with a hint of redemption at the end. As is often the case with Mauriac, the story concerns a bunch of terrible people who are concerned with status and wealth more than anything else and who either ignore God or promote some perverse image of God that supports their bigotry, selfishness and cruelty.

I was thinking that with Graham Greene, characters see the truth when they are challenged to do the right thing, at a great personal cost. In O’Connor, the protagonist usually experiences some personal injury, humiliation or other sort of pain. With Mauriac, it seems that characters (finally) see a glimmer of truth when the horrible consequences of their actions on others can’t be denied any longer.

In every case, sure, God may have a wonderful plan for you life, but your resistance is strong, and breaking things is painful.

Such is the case here. The novella (I read it in an hour or so) concerns a woman, Paula, who has married into a somewhat aristocratic family simply for the sake of that. Her husband seems to be suffering from some sort of intellectual disability, we’re going to assume, at least in some symbolic way, from inbreeding. Her mother-in-law despises her and she despise the son who is the result, it is implied, from the one time she and her husband came together In That Way. Paula is bitter, feels trapped, sees nothing but misery for the rest of her life, and is seen as the enemy by the others in her household.

The boy has been treated in a way that has rendered him, seemingly at the same level of intelligence as his father, he is sometimes incontinent, and he is regarded as ineducable. Something must be done, however, so the suggestion is made to seek the help of the village schoolmaster, a married man with known Communist sympathies. During an evening with the schoolmaster and his wife, it is clear to us that there might be hope for this boy, but for various reasons, that won’t do, and…well, you have to read it to see what happens. As I said, it’s very sad, but the events, as they do in Mauriac, make clear to these horrible people in a way that nothing else has, how horrible they have been. It is now too late for some things to get better, but not too late – never too late – for a touch of grace, somewhere.

I always finish a Mauriac novel thinking…don’t be that way. Untie the knots, open your eyes, shake it off, and love generously.

It’s not a Holy Day of Obligation this year. I won’t even start on that one. Fr. Jeff Kirby of the Charleston diocese writes a bit about the issues here.

I’m sharing with you here the chapter on the Assumption from my book Mary and the Christian Life. You can click on each image for a larger, clearer version, or you can just make your life easier by downloading a pdf version of the book here. 

 

 

Interested in more free books? The following are all links to pdf versions of books of mine that our now out of print. Feel free to download and share and even use in the parish book groups.

De-Coding Mary Magdalene

Come Meet Jesus: An Invitation from Pope Benedict XVI

The Power of the Cross

 

 

Fire on earth

Today’s Gospel might startle us if our image of Jesus has been formed by selective catechesis and listening rather than attentiveness to the whole Gospel, which is far more complex and startling than soft textbook illustrations and gentle Tweets might let on.

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already! There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over!
  ‘Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three; the father divided against the son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’

Anyone who has even the slightest knowledge of Christ’s Gospel knows that it is a message of peace par excellence; as St Paul wrote, Jesus himself “is our peace” (Eph 2: 14), the One who died and rose in order to pull down the wall of enmity and inaugurate the Kingdom of God which is love, joy and peace.

So how can his words be explained? To what was the Lord referring when he said he had come – according to St Luke’s version – to bring “division” or – according to St Matthew’s – the “sword” (Mt 10: 34)?

Christ’s words mean that the peace he came to bring us is not synonymous with the mere absence of conflicts. On the contrary, Jesus’ peace is the result of a constant battle against evil. The fight that Jesus is determined to support is not against human beings or human powers, but against Satan, the enemy of God and man.

Anyone who desires to resist this enemy by remaining faithful to God and to good, must
necessarily confront misunderstandings and sometimes real persecutions.

All, therefore, who intend to follow Jesus and to commit themselves without compromise to the truth, must know that they will encounter opposition and that in spite of themselves they will become a sign of division between people, even in their own families. In fact, love for one’s parents is a holy commandment, but to be lived authentically it can never take precedence over love for God and love for Christ.

And yet Christ is our peace, according to the Scriptures. “He has broken down the middle wall: He has united the two people in one now man, so making peace: and has reconciled both in one body unto the Father.” He has united the things below to them that are above: how therefore did He not come to give peace upon earth? What then say we to these things? |439

That peace is an honourable and truly excellent thing when given by God. For the prophets also say; “Lord, grant us peace: for You have given us all things.” But not every peace necessarily is free from blame: there is sometimes, so to speak, an unsafe peace, and which separates from the love of God those who, without discretion or examination, set too high a value upon it. As for instance: the determination to avoid evil men. and refuse to be at peace with them;—-by which I mean the not submitting to entertain the same sentiments as they do;—-is a thing profitable and useful to us. And in like manner the opposite course is injurious

to those who have believed in Christ, and attained to the knowledge of His mystery: to such it is unprofitable to be willing to follow the same sentiments as those who wander away from the right path, and have fallen into the net of heathen error, or been caught in the snares of wicked heresies. With these it is honourable to contend, and to set the battle constantly in array against them, and to glory in holding opposite sentiments; so that even though it be a father that believes not, the son is free from blame who contradicts him, and resists his opinions. And in like manner also the father, if he be a believer, and true unto God, but his son disobedient and evilly disposed, and that opposes the glory of Christ, is also free from blame, if he disregard natural affection, and disowns him as his child. And the same reasoning holds with respect to mother and daughter: and daughter-in-law and mother-in-law. For it is right that those who are in error should follow those who are sound in mind: and not, on the contrary, that those should give way whose choice is to |440 entertain correct sentiments, and who have a sound knowledge of the glory of God.

And this Christ has also declared to us in another manner; “He that loves father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me: and he that loves son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me.” When therefore you deny an earthly father for your piety’s sake towards Christ, then shall you gain as Father Him “Who is in heaven. And if you give up a brother because he dishonours God, by refusing to serve Him, Christ will accept you as His brother: for with His other bounties He has given us this also, saying; “I will declare Your Name unto My brethren.” Leave your mother after the flesh, and take her who is above, the heavenly Jerusalem, “which is our mother:” so will you find a glorious and mighty lineage in the family of the saints. With them you will be heir of God’s gifts, which neither the mind can comprehend, nor language tell. Of which may we too be counted worthy by the grace and loving-kindness of Christ, the Saviour of us all; by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen.

Ready for Advent?

No, not kidding…I mean…it’s August already!

Well, if you are involved in parish ministry, you just might be thinking a bit about Advent and Christmas, and I just went and saw that the devotional I wrote for Liguori is up on their website.

Go here to see:

"amy welborn"

 

It won’t be available until October, but as I said, if you are a part of a parish or school that usually provides Advent devotionals for individuals and families..file this away for future reference, and pass it along. It will also be available in Spanish as order time gets closer.

Almost done, now.

One more practical post, and then next week, Big Thoughts.

Oh, and how is it going? Seems to be going well. It is very interesting to hear the experiences of a child experiencing school for the first time in four years, and with only the faintest memory of the last time, which was first grade. He’s been in classes in other settings, but of course, two hours once a month at the science museum or every other week at the zoo is a little different from…school. He’s pretty intrigued by the process. Aspects of classroom life that other students probably either take for granted or are tired of he finds interesting. It’s hard to explain. 

All right, I need to finish this part up. Let’s go. Yesterday, I outlined how we approached religious instruction. I probably should add that year before last was Confirmation year for the then-8th grader, and that was handled through an excellent school program.

As I have indicated so far, I didn’t homeschool so I could sit my kids down with books and worksheets. I was wanting to provide them with something different than what school was giving them, because I had come to see that school – as it was constructed, as they were experiencing it and as the Forces That Be are determined to make it – is not learning about the world in its complexity and depth, but about being rewarded for making the educational system’s priorities your priorities. Or at last pretending that they are.

What a way to spend almost every day of your life for twelve years.

So in terms of daily life – you can get a taste of it in the Daily Homeschool Report posts, which are all over the place – we did certain things almost every day, used a few textbooks in a few areas, did some drilling in things like cursive and math facts, but other than that tried to prioritize reading, discussing what we were reading and then experiencing life outside the home.

One or both of themselves participated in a lot of outside classes and activities.

McWane Science Center homechool classes

Birmingham Zoo homeschool classes

A Lego robotics group up in Madison, which is close to Huntsville. There was probably one in Birmingham, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find it, so I’m thinking there probably wasn’t one after all at the time. Both of them did it at first, but then the younger one lost interest, so we would go up there, J would do Lego robotics and M and I would go explore – we went to the Rocket Center a lot that fall.

Art classes at the Red Dot Gallery

An art class at Samford Academy of the Arts

Piano instruction through Samford

Boxing at Juarez Boxing

St. Thomas Aquinas Academy – drama and history of science

Weekly homeschool gym and social time on Friday afternoons

Those (except for the Red Dot classes and Piano) were for homeschoolers, particularly. During the time, they both did basketball every year, the older one did scouts, the younger one did children’s schola at the Cathedral for a year, they served Mass in the parish and the convent, and this past year, the younger one has become involved in Fraternus, a new Catholic boys’ and mens’ group.

Those were just the various regular activities. They also participated in various single events – like a rock climbing class, a class at the Birmingham Museum of Art, a field trip the Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

So…books. Interspersed in the post of photos of some of our bookshelves. To save me time.

Handwriting

This is important and awful to teach, unless you have a kid who gets into it. (I once was making conversation with a teen-aged homeschooled girl and I asked her what her favorite subject to study was. “Handwriting,” she said. So there’s one for you.)

But we forged on.

Writing our Catholic Faith

Wacky Sentences Handwriting Workbook

The older a kid got, the more work was done in cursive.

Copywork

I became a huge fan of copywork while homeschooling. If you want to read about the rationale behind it, go here. I think it is a very effective way of practicing the mechanics of handwriting and internalizing good writing. There are a lot of ways to use copywork. img_20160812_102749.jpgSometimes I took passages from books they were reading, interspersed into a more general schedule of that rotated Scripture passages, poetry, passages from literature and sayings/aphorisms. Fridays we did not do copywork – we either did “Friday Freewrite” – from the Brave Writer method – or they illustrated one of the previous week’s copywork passages.

Copywork is so much better than the stupid and invasive trend of beginning-of-class journaling writing prompts that you see in so many classrooms. Here’s a sample I pulled off of a website just now:

10. Persuade a friend to give up drugs.

11. Five years from now, I will be… 

12. Write about a day you’d like to forget. 

13. Invent and describe a new food. 
journal writing prompts
14. Describe an event that changed your life forever, or make up and describe an event that would change your life forever.

15.  Describe someone who is a hero to you and explain why. 

16.  Write about a time in your life when you struggled with a choice and made the right one. 

First of all, answering these prompts teach nothing. I suppose the purpose is to unleash the right brain or get juices flowing, but you have 50 minutes to teach – I don’t know if this is the best use of time.

But that’s not even my most serious problem with this type of activity. Look at those questions – and they are not atypical.

We have become accustomed to schools and educational systems getting personal with our kids. After all…we’re a school family. They’re given surveys on their family lives to fill out, they’re told to put personal information on tests, and they’re tested for drugs. Their reflections about and reactions to material they’ve learned rather than simply learning it and moving on. They’re asked “how do you feel” or “how would you feel” or “have you ever felt.”

Do you know what?

My kids’ memories of a day they would like to forget or an event that changed their lives forever or when they struggled with a choice….is none of their teachers’ business.

What a great day it would be, the day that a class began with kids copying out a passage from, say, To Kill a Mockingbird, noting the specifics of grammar, punctuation and appreciating the mode of expression – instead of being required to share their feelings about some aspect of their personal life with a 27 (or 45 or 60) -year old adult stranger who has a certain degree of power over them.

How about this? How about we tell our kids that if they are asked to “journal” in class in away that violates their privacy that it’s okay for them to just…. make stuff up? I have no problem with that.

People, I taught religion and I never crossed that line. I constantly made connections between what I was teaching – Scripture, history, theology – and the rest of life, and I invited and challenged my students to think about those connections and told them that faith was indeed, all about making those connections and living them, but I never asked them to write personal reflections on anything for me to read. I consider that kind of stuff inappropriate and even an abuse of authority in a classroom setting where students are required to attend and are giving you work on which you will give them a grade that will go on their transcripts.

Also, lazy.

Grammar

I did a bit of grammar with them the first year or so, then tapered off. I think grammar is very interesting and think that sentence diagramming is a powerful tool, but at some point, everyone understood what adverbs were and I decided they were better served by img_20160812_102739.jpgreading more literature rather than parsing grammar – we were also doing more Latin, and doing grammar in that context. I didn’t use one single curriculum for this, but various workbooks. Sometimes I just pulled things of the Internet, but I did make use of these:

We started off with Seton’s English for Young Catholics – grades 2 and 6. I thought they were pretty good. We did those in Europe.

Then we went to the Critical Thinking Company’s Language Mechanic and Editor-in-Chief. Both were fine. I did a lot of skipping around, because some exercises were just too simple.

The Grammar Minutes workbooks are good review.

I would not recommend the English grammar materials put out by Singapore Math.

Now, we never used Singapore Math. Yes, it’s the gold standard that all the Intense Homeschoolers use, but I was told early on that it was too challenging and too different to plunge into midstream and, in short..stay away from the Singapore Math unless you are a img_20160812_102622.jpgTrained Professional!

Okay, that’s fine. I wasn’t really tempted anyway. It looked complicated, with all those bars and such. But then I saw that they had grammar materials, and I thought…well, they must be pretty good! So ordered a few of the books. Received them, looked them over..and filed them away to sell or give away.

I don’t have them anymore, and it’s been three years since I looked at them, so I can’t recall the specifics, but the problem was essentially that the materials were written to teach aspects of the language to non-nativeEnglish speakers. The issues highlighted were not those that a native speaker would be dealing with. I’m sorry I can’t piece the specifics together, but really, if you go to a ESL website and look at the exercises, you’ll probably see what I mean.

Upshot? I think we “did grammar” for a year and half, then I stopped and focused on just writing.

Math

Speaking of math…

As I mentioned in a previous post, we began with what their old school used: Pearson’s EnVision Math. There is a lot of hate for this program on the Internet, even from teachers, but I confess that I, a non-math person, did not hate it. It was deeply flawed, but I actually could see the rationale behind it.

Yes, the program sometimes breaks down problems in what seem to be strange, counter-intuitive ways. But what was interesting to me about it was the presentation of different problem-solving strategies for a single problem or area of study. Given that there are, img_20160812_102633.jpgindeed, different ways to look at mathematics problems, and different ways that make sense to different people, I saw this as helpful.

But where the program collapsed, I felt was in expecting the student to demonstrate mastery of all of the techniques and strategies. That seemed to me to contradict the first premise: that different approaches are all valid and more helpful to some than others.

By the time we had finished those books, I had discovered The Art of Problem Solving programs, and I was all in. I had Joseph (6th-7th) grade do the Pre-Algebra program which was very challenging, but excellent. Michael was a bit young for Beast Academy at first, so we transitioned by using Math Mammoth – which is good, and the Life of Fred which is certainly popular among homeschoolers, quirky and interesting reading for a child, but not a comprehensive math program by any means. It’s good because it gives a narrative understanding of mathematics, but it is really not sufficient.

Wait, you’re saying. You’re a humanities person. What are you doing, talking and teaching math?

Well, I managed, and believe it or not, I was so convincing in the charade that last year, my son would come to me with questions about his high school honors Geometry class expecting me to have the answers! Ha!

But do you know what? I could help him, most of the time. I’ve never considered myself math-y at all, and I never took anything higher than what we called “Advanced Math” back in the day, but I suppose was some sort of basic pre-Calculus and Trig, but I don’t find math impenetrable. And the Art of Problem Solving stuff is so good, you really don’t img_20160812_102644.jpgneed “help” in understanding it, and it’s very well-presented that even I found it interesting. The program digs so deeply, yet effortlessly into the foundations of math, what had been taught to me in a way that seemed just random, actually made sense.

Oh, and I have a theory about education that pertains here.

People become educators for various reasons, but specialists get involved because they love their specialty. Which is great!

The problem, however, can be, that if you are a specialist, and if you are really good at something, if you have a gift for understanding or processing a certain subject…you might not be the best person to teach others, others who don’t look at the subject with a flash of intuitive understanding, but have to slog through the fog of confusion to reach the point that you just “get.”

So no, I’m not a mathematician. But I have had to think through the processes in a way – not only when I was in school, but in helping my older kids – that makes me, at the very least, not useless in accompanying my sons on their Math Journey. As we say.

So..yes to Art of Problem Solving. Even if your kids are in school…consider looking at img_20160812_102902.jpgBeast Academy for younger kids as a supplement and the high school classes and other resources on the website for kids who like math and are not being challenged in school. I consider it one of the best, most valuable discoveries of our homeschooling.

Oh, and since the younger one was learning his multiplication tables during part of our time together, I’ll mention that the best drilling app I found was this one: Quick Math.

Latin:

I started them both with …Getting Started with Latin – one in 6th and then the younger one in 5th grade. It’s a super casual, easy introduction. You are probably not going to remember what you learn in this way for the rest of your life or maybe even longer than a year, but as I said, it’s painless and somewhat entertaining. If an authorial sense of humor can shine through in workbook translation exercises, it does here.

We then moved to Visual Latin with the older one, and while the videos were entertaining at first, we both found the course wearisome after about ten lessons. The instructor’s schtick gets old and there was just something about the mode of watching videos and doing printed off worksheets that made retention a challenge. I don’t recommend it, but if you are determined to use it, I can sell you the DVD’s of the first course for cheap!

When it came time for the younger one to hit Latin more seriously, I moved to Latin for Children I had briefly reviewed a friends’ copy and it looked good. I was generally pleased with it, and the lessons stuck. The only thing I would say is to not bother with the activities book. It almost seemed as if some of the puzzles had been computer-generated rather than pulled together by hand, and they were in general either too simple or needlessly tedious.

Okay, that’s it. There’s more, but I’m getting tired of writing about this. I may pick up a few more areas on Monday, but if I don’t, check out the Homeschool Daily Reports. Most of the rest of it – the history, science and literature – involved non-textbook books and activities, anyway.

Are you a homeschooler? How many quarter-filled out activity books do you own?!

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