Tuesday, January 06, 2009

School Things

As for resuming our academics, I just haven't, not yet. Kieron and I discussed during the weekend how we would have to get back to the books on Monday, and he said "OK" with a sort of resigned determination, but yesterday I ended up having him help me with the housework and putting-away, and today he made cookies so that Sean could bring them to the football banquet tonight. (Kevin said the cookies went very fast). He is rereading the Tripod Trilogy, and engaged in various other projects. I don't know quite how to describe why I hesitate to get back to our normal routine. There is an intuition telling me that even though there was nothing that really wasn't working, that all together it was starting to feel like too much... too much " multa" and not "multum" in the right way. I wish I could get the unschooler and the classical magistra in my head to talk reasonably together, but they tend not to, so I can almost equally tell myself we really SHOULD buckle down, and we really SHOULDN'T (and they both have evidence to support their positions, so it's tough to arbitrate).

And the little kids seem to be just thriving without any sit-down type work. Aidan's new thing is to spell out words aloud and ask me what they say, "What does O-F-F-I-C-E-D-E-P-O-T say?" or to shout out happily when he recognizes a word somewhere in his environment. "That says THE!" "That says BOOK!" He has also been fascinated with the sparkly dice that Paddy got for Christmas. He likes to roll them out and try to gather 6's, and he can recognize dice patterns and call their numbers, which I understand is a good skill to build on. I have arranged his puzzles and various manipulatives around his bed on shelves, and he goes happily from one project to another. Unfortunately he has not learned the Montessori way of returning things to their places when he is done. Paddy does not do these specific concrete things, but he is thinking hard, I can tell. His behavior patterns tell me he is in the middle of a developmental surge.

What I intend to do is have a couple more days of teacher/parent conferences with myself: start making notes as I watch the little ones, and start thinking about how to work with Kieron. ... how much we can let go for a while or change around until he has his more customary intellectual charge back. I don't think the magistra and the unschooler-mom will get on the same page, but maybe I can decide who to listen to in what areas.

Speaking of conferences, today I met with Sean's counselor, who is very nice and bears a distinct resemblance to Clare's orthodontist, though I didn't figure out who she reminded me of until I'd left. The counselor had sent out a letter in the fall -- I guess she invites all the freshmen and their parents to meet with her and plan for their highschool experience. But since Sean had football practice we didn't get the meeting arranged till now.

She had Sean's grades for the first semester at hand, and made positive comments about what the teachers thought about his level of work and general attitude. We chatted a bit about the transition from homeschool to school. Then she gave us several papers basically outlaying the high school graduation requirements, plus requirements for different tracks (like community college, four year CA university systems, and private colleges). She asked Sean about his plans for the future and wasn't at all surprised about his athletic aspirations, since she apparently goes to the home football games. Everyone does, it appears, during football season. Sean's geometry teacher used to sit in the announcer's booth next to the announcer. She brought out her brother's rookie card -- he played pro baseball -- and showed it to Sean to illustrate the point that some kids DO make it but that it's good to have a back-up plan. She laid out the NCE2 coursework standards alongside the graduation and regular college prep standards.

Then she and Sean basically sketched out a coursework plan for the next four years (subject to change). She made suggestions and he mostly just nodded his head, but he seemed glad that it was getting settled ahead of time; he seems to prefer the clearcut approach to things. She wrote down the dates of various things like the PSAT you can take in sophomore year, the California High School Proficiency Test they have kids take from sophomore year on until they have passed, and the Take-5 writing the whole school does in the spring -- where they drop everything and write a 5-paragraph essay, I suppose to get them ready for the SAT and other things of that sort.

At this school, they have a senior project which is basically a sort of course the kids design themselves. I don't know if this is standard for California schools or just something they've come up with locally. The project can be pretty informal except that it has to be something that is outside the kid's general experience, and it has to be approved by an advisor. So she said that if he had been assistant coaching for Pop Warner, for example, they would want him to try something different, but if he had never done that before, it would be exactly the kind of thing that would work. At the end of the year, the seniors meet with a group of judgesand present their project, but it's not like a trial, it's supposed to be more affirming and individualized, the way I understand it. One girl had a grandma who was a great cook but had all her knowledge and recipes in her head, so she followed her grandmother in the kitchen, wrote out her cooking ideas and recipes, and at the end made her own complete dinner and served it to her family. A girl at our church taught CCD for her project. That is the sort of thing they are looking for.

It is really interesting to compare this lay-out with our homespun one. I could have used the organizational help, particularly with the testing schedule. I remember finding that whole process agonizing to work through the first time, with Liam, and even now I could wish someone would just take over that whole aspect of it for me. The rest I am pretty comfortable about in comparison with the public school.

The senior project, it occurred to me, is quite a bit like what a homeschooled highschooler tends to do naturally, only usually there are several going on in the life of the homeschooled teenager. Liam helped informally with a lot of Aidan's therapy, just to mention one example. He actually did a lot of the groundwork that got Aidan eating by mouth, for instance. They would cook together and then Liam would portion out a bit of his food for Aidan's plate. At first Aidan just wanted the plate for a prop, so he could feel like a big kid. Then he actually would taste it and that was how he reversed his food attitude from gagging at the sight, to actually tasting and finally eating.

Brendan wrote a complete novel, and also extensively researched trees and took samples wherever he went, among other things. Clare's projects were numerous, as well. She took up sewing, various musical instruments, she cantored at church (and still does on occasion), she took over some of the little ones' musical education.

It's interesting to have this experience of Sean going to a fairly decent country-ish small school, and comparing that to our homeschool. I think you have to plan the environment to meet the goals, and the goals are simply different in a standard high school than they are in a homeschool. They have to be. I don't think I'm a complete unschooler because I don't have a problem with the way they do things there, even though we do it differently. They are decent people taking a challenging situation and making it work-- budget cuts, small school and a whole variety of different young people with different backgrounds. So far as I've seen, the staff does really try to support the kids, though the support is of a different kind than we have in the family environment. It has to be.

Sean is having a hard time transitioning back into school,.... He got comfortable being home for two week and it's hard now for him to have to go out into the cold dark morning and face 8 plus hours away and then homework. The counsellor asked what he liked best about school "The other kids" and what he liked least "Getting up in the morning!" I've been driving him to the bus stop even though it's only a couple of hundred feet from our house because otherwise he has to slog through snow banks over 2 feet deep and arrive at school with damp shoes. He is counting the days until Martin Luther King Jr Day.


lissla lissar said...

I have also not learned the Montessori way of returning things to their places when I'm done, yet.

The senior high school projects sound very interesting. I wish I'd had something like that in my senior year, instead of Canadian Lit.

Sorry. I just loathe most modern Canadian novels. They're all set in Newfoundland or the prairies, during the Depression, and feature alcoholic abusive fathers/husbands, and an unappealing female protagonist. Unless they're set in Winnipeg. Or Regina.

Anonymous said...

I think everyone finds getting up in the morning particularly difficult at this time of year. Darkness and slogging through snow just make morning that much worse.

and I'm sorry Lissla had such a bad experience with Canadian Lit in high school. I've read some great Canadian lit. Perhaps another example of school turning us off things.

lissla lissar said...

I should clarify- I really like W. P. Kinsella, L. M. Montgomery, Stephen Leacock, and many pre-50s authors. I do not like Margaret Atwood or Michael Ondaatje. Or Alice Munro. Those were the writers we were studying.

They're all brilliant writers, and very good at writing- I just always finish Atwood novels feeling depressed and faintly grimy.

Willa said...

I only read one Atwood book, and I disliked it, though it was long ago and I don't remember details. Didn't know she was Canadian, though. I haven't heard of the rest -- hey, some new author names! : D

What do you Canadian folk think of Robertson Davies? I remember enjoying his books way back in my 20's when I read several. I don't know if I'd feel differently now. Sometimes when I reread a book I enjoyed as a young person I am surprised pleasantly, and sometimes quite unpleasantly. Vice versa, too; I didn't much like Flannery O'Connor's stories when I first read them, and now I like them a lot.

Willa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lissla lissar said...

I haven't read him. He wasn't required in my classes- although Fifth Business is often required reading- and I really do have a near-allergic reaction to reading a) Canadian fiction, and b) modern fiction. I keep meaning to pick up his books, but I always find other things when I'm in the library.

Got a couple of quotes up on my blog that I think you'll like.

Us! said...

Oh this is too funny Willa. I have those two people in my head as well. When either of them wins full out (but especially the classical Magistra) our days are sure to end in disaster. (Let me know when you have reconciled them.....)

I remember sort of liking Fifth Business, but again it was so long ago. I haven't read many Canadian authors as of late. I did read a Miriam Toews book last year (definitely modern) and it was very interesting. We live in a downtown neighbourhood that has a pretty bad reputation and her book was set close by. During the summer when the kids and I hit the wading pools it felt like I was stepping right into her book. It definitely wasn't fine lit but it was interesting.

Have you read A Fine Balance- difficult book, but written by a Canadian author (immigrated in the 70s) and set in India?



Anonymous said...

I also have those competing voices! You explained it so well, Willa! And right now the unschooling voice is winning out here as well.

Isn't Yann Martel Canadian? I really enjoyed Life of Pi immensely. I read a Margaret Atwood novel years ago that was quite funny. I can't remember the name but it had to do with a Canadian seperatist terrorist's wife. Finally at the end I think she fakes her own death to escape her old life and start a new one. Anyway, I think it was by Margaret Atwood. Did she write another one about a girl who goes to a Carribean and accidently gets mixed up with a revolutionary there? (If she did write that one, it was good too!) My mind is fuzzy. Anyway, when I read the Handmaid's Tale I was shocked! It was so over the top feminist and with no character development. And it's theory flew in the face of what was actually happening in the world. Governments were controlling women's uteruses (uteri???) by forcing abortions, not by forcing births. I think good science fiction needs some grounding in reality to work. Anyway, I was thoroughly disappointed in it.