Every day I read. And since having a child, every book I read is filtered through a mental checklist of sorts: Would this be useful to Kiddo? How would I feel about her reading this? What age is this appropriate for? How can we apply tools, principles, morals, themes, etc. that we learn from reading this to our lives?
Does this mean she’s the center of my universe and I do it all for her? No. I read for myself. It might not seem like it when I’m making lessons plans, blogging reviews with Amazon affiliate purchase links (every time YOU buy a book by clicking the link from my site, a portion of that money is used as much needed income – thank you), posting about bookstore events, etc. But I do so much of it for me it verges on selfishness. This is my vice, my hobby, my job, my world. I am a book fiend and somehow I have made that work for me on as many fronts as possible.
But even with all that self-serving book binging going on, determining how my reading material could mold the mind of my child – whether directly or indirectly – is a constant subplot to my life story.
I laughed at myself several times this week. By the time I’m done raising my daughter I could have a PhD in education, going by my thirst for educational theory. However, it’s not even remotely close to what I desire to earn a PhD in. Is every parent required to study this hard? No. Is it necessary to do all this leg work to be a homeschool mom? Absolutely not. You are qualified to teach your child just by virtue of being their parent and longing to make a priority of their spiritual, educational, and physical growth, of viewing your parent-child relationship as something worthy of being tackled with excitement and care. But for those naturally driven to research and reading, for those who have undeniably lofty ideas regarding the swoon of academia, for those who possibly have an unhealthy love for pens and paper, stacks and shelves, mahogany and oak, for those people it’s a little hard not to fall “victim” to the pull of differing philosophies regarding your life choice to teach your child yourself. (God help me when it comes to instructing her on the laws of grammar as I’ve never quite mastered getting over run on sentences, they are my favorite grammatical mistake. Those, and sentence fragments, I suppose.)
Why School? is a diminutive sized hardback with a picture of an old one room schoolhouse on the front. Behind the schoolhouse – identical to what I long to build on my future homestead, although much larger I’m sure – is a vast sky of blue inviting you to all the possibilities contemplation and the school of thought might have to offer you. The book begins with a tale about a janitor who had suffered some brain damaged, but chose to work at a community college to be around “where it happens” and to have access to materials he could study and/or take home to his daughter. It was a beautiful tale regarding academia and how it is viewed from different sets of eyes. Most people see it as a mandatory road map in life, one they can’t get out of. Some see it as a golden ticket to the land of opportunity. Few actually see it for what it is meant to be: a place to learn.
The author, Mike Rose, talks about many things regarding school and college and life. He discusses blue collar life vs. white collar life. He addresses a few political issues, some I agree with and some I don’t. But one thing is clear: he is passionate about learning. He is passionate about education. Rose’s goal is to make others aware of the importance of developing the mind and taking charge of what we put in it, whether it be tools and life skills or book facts.
“We live in a time of much talk about intelligence. Yet we operate with a fairly restricted notion of what that term means, one identified with the verbal and quantitative measures of the schoolhouse and the IQ test. As the culture of testing we live in helps define achievement and the goals of schooling, it also has an effect on the way we think about ability.” – pg. 73
I loved that part. I loved how he addressed the parts of the brain used by those who work with their hands. My husband works with his hands, he is a millwright. More than anything, I want to balance my child’s developmental education with things both her parents are passionate about. I want her to continue to love books, but I want to allow her to be passionate about building things (the girl is a master tower builder when it comes to legos and VHS tapes). So much creative energy is dismissed when people look at their mechanic or a machinist. People do not understand how even your diner waitress is the Queen of her domain, has mastered brain patterns you cannot fathom, and has an internal clock and rhythm you could not duplicate without years of practice and training. I understood this example Rose provided well, having waited tables just long enough to say I learned to do it the best I ever could and could not do it forever. (I was a good server, well-liked by most my customers, but I was no Wanda.)
I read chapters of Rose’s book in between dives into Adolescent Literacy Research and Practice. Where Rose is quaint and inspiring, though thoughtful and well-spoken, Adolescent Lit. is all academic essays, lengthy work cited pages, references to studies and schools of thought. The book is written by public school educators for public school educators, but one would be remiss if they didn’t hear the constant hum of “Homeschooling is the answer” to nearly every issue they address. The writers would laugh, I think, as there is an entire section dedicated to how people tend to read things and find support for their own arguments and core beliefs even where there may be none.
Timothy and Cynthia Shanahan were the contributors I enjoyed reading the most. They talked in great detail about what literacy is truly about, what being able to write is for, and how important it is in the education process to not confuse its purpose. Literacy and developing good writing habits are at the core of understanding any subject – not just literature – but math, science, and history as well. Writing isn’t merely about communicating what you have learned, but a process of diving deeper into a subject and gleaning a more thorough understanding of it. Not just about memorizing facts and regurgitating, but thinking about what those facts mean to you and how that may or may not affect your world view. It is about engaging the brain and coming up with new thoughts about old concepts. It is about developing theories from research. It is about invention and progress. It isn’t just about basic comprehension, it’s about eventual enlightenment on any given subject.
Several essayists in the book discuss the issue of the misconception that writing is only for the literature major and how there is only one way to read. There is great detail on how the practices for reading a science text cannot be considered the same as those to read classic fiction. So many do not address this, which is why we have children in our schools reading their chemistry and physics homework, plodding their way through formulas, but they haven’t internalized it. They only barely understand, it’s passion-less math or vague theories… whereas teaching these same kids how to read their science text (and giving them more than just standard textbooks, but also journals produced by scientists and articles from the professional world) will bridge the gap between the information and the passion to do something with that information. Not everyone is Einstein, but we are not raising independent thinkers with a drive to feed their brains. We are raising frustrated honey bees who have been deprived of pollen, and by doing such a thing they become useless drones who produce nothing.
I say this screams “homeschool is the solution” to me because the essence of the discussion in the book is teach a child to read for each appropriate discipline and you give them the world. You teach them how to teach themselves. You teach them how to use their brains and be studious and good stewards of their minds. Not for the sake of a grade, not for an award or blessing, but for the act of embracing the knowledge itself. We are driven by standardized tests – and I get it, how else do you assess where a child is when you must maintain some semblance of order while still addressing the needs of 30 students at a time. How else do you sort them out and provide the best education possible? If you can, you teach them at home. Smaller classrooms, a personal relationship, true observing of where that child is developmentally and how you can aid them on the path to true literacy. In Texas a homeschool is considered a private school run out of the home. If there was nothing I liked about Texas (and I love Texas, but if I didn’t), this fact alone would keep me here as long as possible.
There’s also a thing called Unschooling that I’m finding more and more I lean to (I am combining classical education and unschooling education styles in my “private school” that is the Klemm home). Unschooling is child driven. You pursue their interests with a passion when they have them. You learn what you can while they are motivated to learn it. Every moment is a possible classroom moment. The other day we researched praying mantises after discovering one in the garden we were weeding. Kiddo was so excited and immediately went to her bug book and found a picture of one, thrilled to see something in the book that she had just seen in real life. Well that’s easy when they’re in pre-school, people like to say. Yes, it is. But it can continue to be that way as they get older.
“Reading classrooms at the secondary school level typically tend to minimize student choice (Guthrie & Davis, 2003). However, giving students opportunities to ‘self-rule’ and ‘self-determine’ can make learning more personally meaningful and intrinsically motivating (Deci & Ryan, 1985, Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier, 1991; Ryan & Powelson, 1991).” – pg. 286
What do you think?