This has been a long hot summer. The oppressive heat of our un-air-conditioned house has left me staring into space rather than reading great books and writing blog posts about them. When I have deigned to pick up a book, it has often been a light contemporary novel or memoir rather than an ancient classic. Add to that the fact that I was dealing with a personal issue (which is in a much better place) and all the reading it required to understand what was going on.
And now I'm up to my eyeballs planning our 7th grade homeschooling year. Although we've taken a fairly unschooly approach in the past, following our son's interests and abilities as any given day suggests, this year we plan to be much more focused and directed. We're trying to decide whether to homeschool through our son's high school years--and I think we need to figure not only how to make sure he is prepared for college work (and that our record keeping is adequate for college admissions) but that we can work together intensely with some semblance of civility and joy.
As we think about the upcoming year, I've read (and reread) some fascinating books about educating children. An old favorite is David Albert's And the Skylark Sings with Me - Adventures in Homeschooling and Community-Based Education. I read it just about every August, right before our school year starts.
The story of how Albert's two daughters were educated at home, Skylark is inspiring and thought provoking. The author seeks to allow his daughters' gifts (and the girls are gifted in different ways) to develop as fully as possible, with as much freedom as possible. Even within that freedom, the girls develop a deep sense of responsibility, direction, and relatively traditional academic values. Some of my friends resist the story because they feel that the Albert family is special and the girls are so precocious that his book is unrepresentative. Others dislike the fact that the book is not a how-to book in any way. Reading the book this year, I loved it just as much as ever--but I must admit that I was disappointed to remember that the book ends right as his elder daughter reaches the age my son is now. Although the critics are right to say that readers cannot extrapolate from Albert's story to make specific choices about our own children's education, I have always loved the model of his general approach to homeschooling and child-rearing. Now that my son seems to have entered a whole new world, I would love to have Albert hold my hand as I grow to understand my own 12yo.
Another book I love is Grace Llewellyn's The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education. When I first read the book many years ago, I dreamed of those future years when my son would take control of his own education and become as devoted to learning for learning's sake as Llewellyn clearly is. In fact, perhaps this is the perfect book to follow Albert's. Like Albert, Llewellyn is committed to a true life of an active mind combined with radical freedom. But instead of talking about how parents can foster that freedom-education in their children's lives, she talks directly to teenagers about how they can create it for themselves.
Llewellyn lists all sorts of inspiring and thoughtful idea about things to do, subjects to study, and books to read. Sometimes, though, some of the suggestions seem a bit too new-agey or too deliberately "deep and meaningful." A bigger caveat: sometimes the author is so anti-school that I'm turned off, personally. And that profoundly anti-school attitude makes little sense to youngsters who have been homeschooled from the beginning.
A more traditional academic path is taken by high schooler Kendall Hailey in her memoir The Day I Became an Autodidact. Because of this book's relevance to my own adult project, I plan to review in much more detail at a later date.
You see what a hippie-nerd I am. I'm drawn to both child-led freedom education and to the formal rigor of academia. That combination of commitments is what makes this blog project so appealing for me, what makes these particular books so relevant to my life, and also what makes homeschooling such a great pleasure.
But I do read books that challenge my general approach. I'd heard vicious accounts of the uber-popular family memoir by Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother--and knew I would hate the author's beliefs about child rearing. Perhaps partly because I was expecting something so awful, I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed her short book. I am contemplating getting my son to read this as well, just so he knows how the other half lives.
Rather than believing in child-led education and nurturing freedom, Chua supports what she calls Chinese parenting. She feels that it is not only a parent's right to force a child to follow a particular path but a parent's responsibility. Only by pressuring a child to work very hard, she argues, will that child develop into an adult capable of serious dedication and success. Sometimes she uses blackmail, shame, and other parenting techniques that make me queasy in an effort to get her two talented daughters to develop their gifts.
What I found persuasive is the author's articulation that requiring more from a child is fundamentally a sign that a parent believes the child is capable of more, of better. Letting a child get by with a half-hearted attempt at something, or letting a child give up before exerting serious effort, teaches the child that he or she is not capable. These insights are sprinkled throughout Chua's very funny narrative. Although she ends the book still supporting "Chinese parenting," the reader sees the author struggle with the limits or problems of her child-reading style. And throughout, as she recounts those queasiness-inducing parental behaviors I mentioned above, she is self-deprecating and even humble in her own sarcastic way.
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The weather has cooled off here is DC--kind of odd for August, I guess, so probably temporary--and the school year is starting anew. Time for me to get back to my classics reading! The next few posts will be discussions of books about books, plus reviews of a few random summer reads I want to mention. After that: Greek Drama! Please join me.