Sunday, May 14, 2006

And the Skylark Sings With Me

Skylark sings — the author’s website

I had forgotten I had ordered this book until it showed up in the mail today. (Clare got the sheet music for Sense and Sensibility, plus Harry Potter sheet music she wants to give to a young friend of hers, today, as well. — she was trying to read the sheet music all morning while we were sitting through the baseball games)

Anyway, it would have been a good idea to save it for the 9 hours in the car tomorrow but I didn’t think of that, so I’ve almost finished reading it! I’ll have to bring something else for the car….

It was a very interesting book. It came at a good time because I was having continued curriculum withdrawal pains. The author is a dad of two daughters and describes how how their life and learning situation was set up. So in that way, it was in the same genre as two other books I enjoyed reading in the past: Nancy Wallace’s “Better than School” and Patricia Joudret’s “And the CHildren Played.” Very personal and observation-based, with some philosophy and research from various sources thrown in, and short booklists after each chapter.

Here are some examples: when his daughter got interested in playing the violin at age 2, he got her a tiny, I think it was 1/64th size? violin and got her lessons. Later she got interested in opera. By the time she was seven or eight she was participating in adult orchestras and running a table at a conservatory, taking college classes.

The point of the book was that his family’s kind of homeschooling was more about relationships and commitment to learning, and about using the community as an educational resource. Not about grades or tests. He describes the Cannery Row mentality of the institutional school — put this in here, that in here, analyze the results, look for leaks, put the leaking cans in remainder bins. He thinks the idea of an “adequate” education is “inadequate” by definition because every child deserves a better than adequate education.

Anyway, I’m glad my library didn’t have the book because it will be a good one to reread for an alternative perspective when I start feeling doubtful. This is not a “method” that I could carry over wholesale to my family because we don’t live in a city, we don’t have just 2 daughters, etc. Plus I get the sense that it is a family of extroverts who are quite motivated by interaction with the larger community, whereas we are not quite like that. However, his perspective on the different “subjects” was refreshing and thoughtful and his attunement to his daughters’ learning modes and interests gave me a picture of how “delight-directed” education can lead to broad-based excellence.

Incidentally, doesn’t have much to do directly with the book, but I wonder why classical/unschooling seem to be so much either/or rather than both/and? Why can’t you have a wide-scope excellence AND internal motivation to learn for the sake of learning? Why do classical homeschoolers mostly talk about pushing kids through things and about diligence and discipline, “no pain no gain”, while unschoolers rarely talk about the high ideal of learning? Just some things that continue to simmer in the back of my mind. This book seems to indicate that following childrens’ interests can lead all over the universe on a very high, human level. But too often, I feel that the different “camps” emphasize one side of it and not the other. I know I’m being too simplistic here but it does seem that they are often seen as dichotomies. So it’s nice to read books like Nancy Wallace’s and this one that show how they can be compatible.

My intuition tells me that for my home at least, the “delving in” approach works better than “just do it.” But the details continue to provide me occasional anxiety. I sometimes think it’s like an abusive relationship. I hated school SO much that I end up perpetrating it on my kids if I’m not careful, just like someone from a dysfunctional family has to guard against carrying on the family pattern. I seem to have this internal traitor inside that tells me that freedom in learning is not very wholesome, even though when I look back I see that everything I learned that I value, I learned outside of those grey walls or only incidentally within them, but certainly not BECAUSE of them.

Some quotes from the book:

“ The content our kids encounter is more than just a series of facts to be memorized. The content they choose to explore propels skill builgin. Once fully assimilated, these skill areas become ‘zones of competence’ — take-off points for fresh explorations and new processes and skills to be learned. The facts or ideas themselves become a kind of bric-a-brac, like shelles along the seashore, singular but serving as points of reference for other information as it is encountered along the way. Over time, the zones widen like ripples in a pond and, if successful, our children begin truly “To see a World in a Grain of Sand/And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.”

…Where we as parents/mentors have been most useful to our kids has not been in chooseing bric-a-brac fro them, though exposure to potential choices is certainly a major part of our efforts. Rather it lies in proving a level-headed assessment for them, based on our experience and judgment, of what skills they are likely to need to master in order to access their chosen content effectively, and how and where they might acquire them.”

“MUch of the bric=a=brac that became the subjects of our kids’ serious study, as well as the way it was introduced to them, emerged, or so it seems, almost by chance: wildlife ecology, reptile-breeding, violin and piano plyaing, singing, opera, Shakespeare, Latin, the list goes on. …”

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