Sunday, May 28, 2006

Brendan's High School

Last Friday I finished reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to Brendan. It was nice how it tied into our epic theme of the last three years. It was a spectacularly organized and vividly realized poem and the ending was a revelation to me. Before that I read him Thorstein the Staff-Struck and before that 1 and 2 Maccabees. The year before was the Aeneid and then the Gospels of Luke and John, then Acts and Romans, and before that, the Iliad. Every once in a while I read him a Psalm. This is something we do in the first 15 minutes of his daily “overview”, while he drinks his hot cocoa and eats breakfast.
Will we continue this now that he is officially graduating? I do not know, but we will see! I will miss this tradition when he is moving out into his adult life! My father kept a journal of his medical school years and one entry mentioned visiting his mother during the winter holiday and the two of them carrying on their old tradition of ushering in the New Year by reading poetry. So maybe my days of reading to Brendan will not be over even when he is out in the world.
Last week Brendan also finished reading Modern Times by Paul Johnson. I am trying to decide whether it would be a good move to collect some of the other 20th century books I used with Liam last year. He wants to read more about politics but of course, political books are quickly outdated and there are few that are fairminded.
Also last year he read: Triumph, Marco Polo’s Travels, A Taste of Chaucer, 2 Lives of Charlemagne, and Bulfinch’s Legends of Charlemagne.

I am going to have to find his notebooks to reconstruct what he did during his first and second year.
This is how we did the first couple of years of his high school: After the daily reading, we’d move into Math and then Logic and then alternated Latin and German. This would take about 45 minutes and we would both be fried afterwards. Then I would write down his assignments for the day under categories like: Math, Language, Literature, History, Science, Civics/Worldview, Religion.
I also had a category called Free Reading where I would keep track of what he was reading on his own. And there was a Life Skills/Activity category so I could jot down things he did outside the academic box. For example, when he was Simon of Cyrene in the youth group Living Stations of the Cross. Or when he stacked several cords of firewood for the winter. Oh, and composition was another category. A lot of his composition time was devoted to writing his “book” but sometimes I’d assign him either reading and exercises from a composition textbook, or a written essay on the literature/history we were doing. Sometimes I counted verbal discussions as composition, too.

A fairly informal, flexibly-based classical curriculum and it had quite a lot of good in it — EXCEPT that this is not really the way Brendan learns best. Six or seven separate things every day. The math and languages came over to him like pounding nails into wood with a hammer. …. a headachy, insistent approach. I was working with him because he had little motivation to approach the texts on his own, but my speed of teaching left him feeling slow and bemused.
Brendan profiles as an ISTJ in his temperament. He needs things to be concrete, logical and black and white. You would think he would enjoy the clearcut, wrong or right type subjects but there is an element in him that shows up very clearly in his story, which I’m reading now. He needs to prepare, he needs to have his own motivation, and he needs to dig deep and pursue something with lots of intensity. Tours through concepts he had no reason to want to know and then immediate expectations of feedback — DIDN’T work for him. And he KNOWS when he hasn’t mastered something. He is a perfectionist.
Consequently, though I did a lot of the “right” classical things with him and gave him access to high-quality content, I think I did harm as much as good. I reached him with the literature and history — or he reached me — which came first?? But math and language was largely a failure. Next year, we can be more peers in learning and he can set the pace since he will be a graduate who is figuring out what to do with his own life.

The bigger question: is there some way to have these rich educational experiences without the Procrustes aspect? (you know, the robber who fit everyone in the same bed by stretching some on a rack and chopping bits off of others). I will regret it if I don’t have these memories with Sean and Kieron that I do with Liam, Brendan and Clare. I loved the books and the little projects and plans. I just did not like being the cause of “negative learning” in the kids — you know, where the child learns something you did not intend to teach — that I know better than they do how they learn; that they are stupid in a subject; that X subject was boring drudgery.

I guess I would like to have the richness and beauty and diligence in our lives without the push/pull and the expectations imposed from outside.

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