Recent Reads

It is a gray, gloomy day. After a long illness, I am so out of the habit of going to church that I missed it again today, unable to get out the door on time — so now I’m down and regretful. Victoria is in the dumps too, storming around the house angry at everyone but — surprise surprise — mostly angry at herself. “I’m Bad At Piano!” “I Can’t Do Anything!” My poor little girl, buffeted around by emotions much stronger than she feels she is.

Being sick and lying around has at least given me some time to read. True, a lot of the time I was not well enough to read much, and I found myself doing Sudoku, which, let’s face it, does not require any sort of sustained effort or thought. It has the virtue of taking your mind off your misery — unless your head starts to hurt too.

But enough gloom!

I mentioned that I had read Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves, by Alison McKee, who was the keynote speaker at the recent Minnesota Homeschool Association conference. It is the kind of book I usually don’t like — homeschoolers telling endless anecdotes about their fascinating lives. That’s mainly what this book is, but I liked it anyway. McKee was extremely sympathetic as the “main character” of the story, highlighting her ongoing efforts to let her children lead. “Show me the way,” she would tell herself silently, but it’s clear that it was not easy for her to do that, even after multiple lived examples of how well that worked.

McKee also has an interesting perspective as someone who works in schools. I find myself very annoyed by a lot of homeschool-speak about the creativity-deadening effects of traditional schools. She quoted John Holt often, and I have never liked his blanket statements about how children experience school — rigid, dismissive, out-of-touch teachers and cold institutional environments. That’s not the whole picture. But because McKee’s work (with vision-impaired students) brought her into contact with kids who plainly needed something different in order to learn, she has a raft of stories about how even well-meaning teachers are hamstrung—by rules, by classroom size, or by training—when it comes to providing the differentiation necessary to help “different” kids learn.

And she did have a number of surprising stories about the naked hostility of some teachers and administrators to these kids. Because the children she worked with had a genuine physical disability, the attitudes are all the more striking. Her students were not different in a so-called subjective way, like being “gifted” or “on the spectrum” or “learning disabled” or “hyperactive”—they could not see! Yet they had teachers who seemed eager to label them as problem students and to deny them classroom adaptations because then “everyone will want them.” While I’m not ready to accept Holt wholeheartedly, after reading McKee I can see why his descriptions of school resonate with so many people.

[By the way, in the Alison McKee workshop I heard some homeschool crap from a parent (not McKee) about how kids who learn to read “early” turn off the imaginative part of their brains, and I saw other parents nod like this was a widely acknowledged fact. There’s no such thing as late, but apparently there’s still an early . . . . So I’m still unlikely to drink the homeschool-expert Kool-Aid.]

I also picked up Mitten Strings for God, a book I would normally reject on the basis of its title (too precious). I had heard so many people I like say good things about the book (including some who also objected to the cutesiness of the title) that I thought I would check it out. I think I may give myself permission not to finish it, and I’m sorry to anyone reading who loved it. I think I am at a place in my life where I need more sharpness and directness. The basic ideas of the book are sound, but not really new to anyone who’s read around in Buddhist and mindfulness meditation. What I’m reacting to is the not-exactly-purple, more like mauve prose of the book. Everything is gauzy and smooshy; somehow it reminds me of watching Moonlighting, when Cybill Shepherd looked as though the lens had been coated with Vaseline to blur any hard lines in her face.

I’m going to assume that it’s a great book, but that I am just not in a gentle frame of mind. Buddhist-oriented writing on mindfulness is so much more spare and clear, and apparently much more what I need to hear right now.

Lastly, I borrowed A Thomas Jefferson Education from a friend. Here again is a book that I had kind of written off until I heard from others that it was a useful read, even if you don’t agree with everything. I have just started reading it. My hope is that, along with the TJEd Home Companion, it will give me some good ideas for combining “show me the way” with the development of self-discipline and critical thinking. I’m inspired by Mariposa’s successes with some of the TJEd ideas. More on this story as it develops.

And now I think I’ll take the kids to the library. I have some good books on hold:

Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, Martha Hall Foose (might have been nice if this request had come in during the summer!)
A Secular Age, Charles Taylor (Shelia, I didn’t notice til after I put in my request that you had this on your sidebar! My recent freelance project on Deism got me interested in reading the whole thing.)
DNA Pioneer: James Watson and the Double Helix, for Violet
Some Peep and Quack DVDs for Victoria.

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6 Comments

Filed under Gifted Ed, Love this Book, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Why Homeschool?

6 responses to “Recent Reads

  1. I’ll be interested in hearing more of your opinions of TJ Ed. I agree with you about Mittenstrings for God. I also agree about John Holt.

    I hope you feel better soon. You poor thing, being ill for so long.

  2. just found your blog & i’m enjoying your writing and your sense of humor :^)

  3. I enjoyed reading your take on the McKee workshop. I didn’t get to make it to the convention this year and it’s been interesting to read other’s impressions of the workshops.

    I think it’s high-larious (which is different from hilarious) that there’s such a thing as “too early” to read; what’s that crud about? But not a “too late”– so is it OK if you can’t read at 30yrs or 40yrs? Apparently–but if you’re teaching your 3 yr old phonics then you are awful and pushy. Weird–but just goes to show you that there is truly “homeschool kool-aid” and it’s rotting teeth. Since I myself am one of those “pushy moms” who teaches her kids things like ASL and how to read at 3, this is irritating and misleading. If my kids were any more imaginative we’d have major behavioral problems because they would never separate reality from fantasy. Reading early= inactive imagination? Where are these people getting this claptrap? Reading opens your imagination, unless you are beating your kids every time they say a soft vowel sound when they should be saying a hard vowel sound, they should be OK!
    Strange, but I’m glad you were there to share this with me!

  4. I think a lot of folks out there confuse the statement “Not all kids are ready to read before 6.” with “No kids should learn to read before 6.” The first is clearly true, and ought to have more influence on education policy. The second is not, and also ought to influence policy in that it implies that you need a program that helps those who are ready while simultaneously doing something meaningful with those who aren’t without stigmatising them as stupid.

    And on the basis of that little confusion, I would hazhard a guess that an education system based on getting all kids to read before 6 probably does stifle creativity in general (mostly because it pushes all opportunity for creativity out of the curriculum). But that isn’t the same thing as saying that there is a correlation at the level of the individual.

    I’ve not read Holt, but what I’ve read about him suggests that he is writing about education systems not the education of individual kids. Which means that I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, while agreeing with you that he is often cited in support of some misinterpretations of the type I outline above.

  5. I’ve read that McKee book. It was interesting but still didn’t make me an unschooler.

    It is frustrating to be part of the “My kid did this early” contingent in the homeschooling crowd. Usually I ust keep my mouth shut. So much for support…

    I hope you feel better soon!

  6. I get most of my reading ideas from Richard, who encounters them in his workday – he loves philosophy. I love the juxtaposition of Charles Taylor and Peep! The last book I read was (British physician) Theodore Dalyrymple’s “Our Culture, or What’s Left of It.” DEpressing.

    I’ve not read any Holt, but my back goes up at the mention of his name, sadly, because too many of my militant unschooling associates treat him as if he were God. Drives me nuts. And has so far turned me off him.

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