Sunday, April 25, 2010

What are we really after?

"Genius is more often found in a cracked pot than in a whole one."
E. B. White

I've been doing some thinking lately about what it is, exactly, I hope to accomplish with this whole learning at home business. There are the obvious answers--children who can read, write and compute, of course. And then there are the extra credit answers--the ability to write creatively, reason intelligently and to become the kind of people that everyone wants to have on their Trivia Night team.  

But with the obvious and the hopeful outcomes aside, what am I really hoping will emerge?

As I've thought about this I've decided that, until just very recently, I have put an inordinate amount of weight on tangible intelligence.  You know, the kind that everyone can see and admire (or loathe, depending on the circumstances).  The kind about which grandparents can boast to their friends.  The kind that justifies to your friends (whether the parents of public, private or homeschooled kids) that you are not ruining your kids potential and that you are "qualified" to do this learning outside of the norm.  The kind that, according to popular wisdom, gains you entrance to great institutions of higher learning and, as a by-product, even more admiration and respect.  After all, that's how I did it.  Those were the expectations placed on me by those whom mattered most and they were the hopes that bolstered my actions and hard work.

Only because of the incredible clarity that comes with hindsight am I able to pose this question, to myself and anyone else:

But what did I really learn?  Really?

I obviously learned how to do what it took to progress from one grade to the other.  I learned how to stay out of trouble (there was that one really bad instance my sophomore year, but that was the exception) and hang out with "smart" kids which helped show others that I was serious about my education.  I learned how to take my natural interests (scouting, volunteering, political activism and public interest) that I would have pursued regardless of outside pressures and turn them into vehicles for personal advancement (college applications). And I learned that if I kept on this path of "do right-ness", that I would most likely succeed and earn the love and respect of people.  

In many ways, those were valuable lessons.
And, in many ways, I was successful.

Successful at playing the game, that is.

But what if this intelligence we're after has nothing to do with all of those things I mentioned?
What if I want, more than anything in this world, for my children to not be intimidated into playing a game that doesn't really have winners?

When my son discovers that other kids his age have already "covered" a particular topic, how do I want him to respond?  Do I want him to quickly read up on the subject so that he can be considered on par with their "age appropriate" subject matter?  Do I want him to be able to say, "Oh yeah, I know that too"?

Well, that's what my better self would answer.
The person with whom I'm most acquainted, the person within whose skin I've lived most of my life, would say, "Well, that would be the way to know you were on track."  But I'm beginning to know better.
I'm beginning to see how to respond in that way would be playing the game.

If I want this education business to be more than what I experienced, my children have got to be motivated by something much deeper.

He is more than welcome to run out and read up on the water cycle or fractions or Alexander the Great.  Go for it.  Be my guest.
But only if he wants to do it for himself, borne out of his interest and his desire to know more. 
Because the truth is that to do it for any other reason is to play the game.

I'm tired of games.

I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less slowly. Let him come and go freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table while a sweet-voiced teacher suggest that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of colored paper, or plant straw trees in flower pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences. - Anne Sullivan

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Things I LOVE about Spring

Spring has officially moved into these parts but it has an inferiority complex of sorts and thinks it is Summer so it has been, well, hot.  Like 82 degrees hot.  Five days in a row.  Then some more days in a row.  My perennial herb garden on the side of the house looks like it has always been there and I could easily begin harvesting leaves for meals if I wanted to.  Creeping thyme, lavender, tarragon, chamomile, sage, oregano and a gargantuan horseradish plant (I know, not an herb but...).  We're looking to add rosemary to the perennial bed and then we will have basil, cilantro and parsley in our other small bed by the house.  That bed is also coming into its own with brussel sprouts, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and spinach.  And we haven't even tilled or sowed the "real" garden yet!  The tomato seedlings for that plot are growing upstairs in our window sills.  I have to give all credit to my husband, John, for making this all happen. I take care of the herb and flower beds but he does all the dirty work for the vegetables.  Growing things, and growing them well, takes work, yes but it is oh so very worth it.  We are still eating tomatoes and squash from our freezer and last night I made pasta with pesto that John had frozen at the end of the season last year.  So, the cycle begins anew.  I wanted to take a moment, though, to simply list some things that make my heart glad.  It has been said that "thanksgiving is the soil in which joy thrives" and thus, I want to share some of my joy.

Things I Love About Spring:

1. The return of the Eastern Phoebes that have come back, once again, and built a nest in our barn's lean-to, only feet away from last year's location.  They craft beautiful places to lay and raise their young, perfectly "nest" shaped, covered in green moss and lichen and cleverly located on top of a empty light box in our rafters.  We can sneak a peek inside if we bring a ladder.  Last year, every one of their eggs hatched and fledged successfully.  We're hoping for the same outcome this year.

2.  The deafening songs of, first, the Spring Peepers and then the chorus frogs and bull frogs.  Our neighbors across the road have about a 5 acre lake for their backyard and so we have access to a wonderful natural observatory.  We explored the edges quite a bit towards the end of winter and we have enjoyed watching the plant and animal life come alive with the warming temperatures.  We're hoping to do a lot of fishing from the banks this spring and summer.

3.  The way the woods behind our house fill up with green foliage, almost overnight, and provide an instant natural screen that obscures any evidence of a subdivision behind us.  One morning, last week, I woke up to discover that we lived "in the woods", not plopped down in the middle of development.

4.  The fact that my boys want to be outside constantly.  Sometimes, it is just to sit on their rope swings in the walnut trees and quietly think and observe.  My dad always wonders, "What are they thinking about?"  The proper answer would probably be just another question, "What aren't they thinking about?"  Sometimes, I'll find them stretched out in the grass, soaking up the sun like a lizard.  Other times, I'll find one of them talking to the chickens, asking them about their day or what they are up to.  Aidan has stated, on numerous occasions, that he is able to understand the chickens and that they, too, can understand him.  I don't doubt it one bit.
August insists that we eat lunch outside every day, which is fine with me.  Maybe this year I can find the perfect cafe table at a garage sale and we can dine in true alfresco style.  I did fine some great little glass lanterns (clear and green) in the dollar bin at Target.  They only had three left, all of which I bought, and I would have bought more if I could.  Now, August insists that we read outside, by candlelight, before bed.

5.  The fact that, because we choose our home as our base for learning, we can fully succumb to the sickness of "Spring Fever" and take everything outside.  Or we can make "outside" our focus for the day.  The flexibility to enjoy this glorious season is such a gift.

I'm sure I will add to this list but I just wanted to share a little of the joy.

Have a beautiful Spring.