Wednesday, October 31, 2012

School Today

I've been so sluggish and lethargic lately. Today I decided I'd just (for one day) give into the inner slug. It's 8:12 AM, I'm still in my pajamas and in bed. Adam has brought me coffee and orange juice.

So, what does a homeschooler do on a sluggish day? Each homeschooling family is different; we all have our own coping mechanisms and methods of teaching and not-teaching. That's one of the glories of homeschooling -- its flexibility. But today? Today, here's my plan: Julia will read from about 8:30-9:30. Right now, she's reading The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. Great story, set in the French Revolution. From 9:30-11:00, Julia and I will paint. Her weekly painting workshop is over until after Christmas, but I want to keep her painting, if possible. It's a gift in my child I want to foster and nourish. Another benefit of homeschooling is the flexibility to focus on aspects of academics for a particular purpose, for your child -- sometimes to strengthen a weak point, sometimes to encourage a strength.
At 11:00, she'll do math with Adam for an hour. After lunch, we'll watch one hour of the Ken Burns documentary Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, one of his best films. That's it.

As we cover Lewis and Clark, we remind Julia that this important event in 1804 is tied to Thomas Jefferson's presidency, to the situation in France and Napoleon's efforts there, and his need for cash to fund his exploits. I remind her that during this time, Jane Austen was working on her novels. It's important to place events in one's studies in a historical context.

I say this because Peter, who is a college freshman, recently mentioned that a classmate of his said that the American Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement both occurred in the 1930s. (Heavy teacherly sigh inserted here.) This occurred during class, in one of his Honors College classes. He's at Western Carolina University. That means that a student successfully escaped from his/her history studies in high school, without a teacher ever effectively communicating these simple facts. This student is supposed to be a scholar, an honors student, one of the upper echelon.

Peter was surprised at this. He knows better, and not just because he's pretty smart. He's had a better education, one in which most of his teachers didn't drop the ball. And even when I was aware that some of his teachers weren't among the brightest stars in the heavens, we're just an academic bunch at home. We talk about stuff like this. Even a child of ours who never darkened the doorway of a school, nor ever had a lesson at home, would know that the Civil War occurred in the 1860s. That's just a simple fact of life, and if you don't know it, you're really not mentally prepared for life.

I had a teacher friend once who praised my sister-in-law, a homeschooler, because she had desks in her home. Five little school desks she'd purchased second-hand, for her children. She had a room designated in her home as the "school room."  Nothing wrong with that, if a homeschooler thinks it's helpful. But my teacher friend was entirely missing the point; a homeschool is not excellent inasmuch as it resembles a classroom. It is excellent inasmuch as it utilizes all the exceptional benefits of homeschooling for the advantage of the children in that home. Because that's something regular schools simply can't do. The bigger the school, the more industrial the school, the less they can do that. It's a cookie-cutter education out there, folks.

And if you want that for your child, that's fine, and I do mean that. Some people value conformity in the citizenry. Some don't. Some people accept the governmental standard for education as uniformly adequate or even satisfactory. Frankly, we don't. Almost all homeschoolers don't.  Peter's classmate's misinformation reminded me of why.

You may say that Peter's classmate simply had a couple of points of misinformation, something that could be corrected in a moment. No big deal! If so, why was something so simple and so significant, neglected for so long? What errors in the system allowed that to happen? Did it affect his/her classmates also?  How many? And if it's a weakness in that school that's indicative of a more systemic lapse, how much ignorance has been allowed to fester there? And does anyone care?

Homeschooling isn't the answer to all scholastic ills. Neither is private schooling, nor more government money, nor more parental involvement. Perhaps the best answer would be for all of us to value learning, especially in children, and to strive to give today's children a better education than we had ourselves. That may seem like a vague generality, but it's the disposition I use with Julia every day. What books did I not read, what connections did I not make, what loves were not fostered, what weaknesses were allowed to fester? -- These I long to correct in her life.


  1. yes, and since SOL's -standards of learning- were introduced, it's a BURNT cookie cutter "education". wait.
    isn't that an oxymoron?
    umm. maybe not.

  2. Good points, M.K.
    Obviously the classmate hasn't a grasp of American history. That would involve more than statistics concerning dates and events. You could have a list of those in your pretty desk, but if you don't have parents who talk about everything under the sun with you, it's very easy to miss the big picture that education is.

  3. Gretchen, that's what I was thinking. I mean, this student not only doesn't know dates for these events, she doesn't understand them. She doesn't know that they must happen in their spots in history b/c of their relationships to other causal events. This is a total failure in history instruction, not just misinformation about dates. So sad.

  4. Our older children were appalled at the ignorance they encountered in their college classes. Students could barely read and write. And write a term paper? That's a joke.

    We have a house like yours where we talk about the past like it's the present and love it. We're always talking philosophy, English, history, etc. Math not so much! Ha!

    Education is 'caught' more than it is 'taught'. If you're passionate about a subject, the student will be too. I always said that a boring teacher should be shot. Not literally, of course, but you know what I mean.


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