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.