Category Archives: grown up life

A Few Eggnog-Soaked Thoughts on Wieseltier’s TNR Education Article

An article in The New Republic this week kept poking at me, so I decided to jot down a few thoughts about it despite it being the holidays and all, because I just want to enjoy my excessive eating, drinking, sleeping, game playing, and then guilt-ridden gym-going without this nagging at me.

Naturally I found this article through an angry homeschooling parent online, who didn’t like the stupid stereotype of homeschoolers:

The new interest in homeschooling—-the demented idea that children can be competently taught by people whose only qualifications for teaching them are love and a desire to keep them from the world—-constitutes another insult to the great profession of pedagogy.

And normally, you know, who cares? People think homeschoolers are ignorant creationist isolationists — whaddya gonna do? After seven years homeschooling this stuff is like mosquitos in a Minnesota summer — you can complain about it, but you can’t really do anything about it.

But in the course of the short editorial Leon Wieseltier said a few things that were way off base, and something that struck close to home as right.

First, because it’s fun for us homeschool veterans, another choice howler:

The only form of knowledge that can be adequately acquired without the help of a teacher, and without the humility of a student, is information, which is the lowest form of knowledge.

Should we have contest to see who can come up with 100 counterexamples the fastest?

But in decrying the anti-college, pro-entrepreneur, pro-make-your-first-million-on-an-app attitude of many home/unschoolers, Wieseltier, I had to concede, was describing a phenomenon that has bothered me too.

“Here in Silicon Valley, it’s almost a badge of honor [to have dropped out],” a boy genius who left Princeton and started Undrip (beats me) told The New York Times. After all, Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg, and Dell dropped out—as if their lack of a college education was the cause of their creativity, and as if there will ever be a generation, or a nation, of Jobses, Gateses, Zuckerbergs, and Dells. Stephens’s book, and the larger Web-inebriated movement to abandon study for wealth, is another document of the unreality of Silicon Valley, of its snobbery (tell the aspiring kids in Oakland to give up on college!), of its confusion of itself with the universe. To be sure, all learning cannot be renounced in the search for success. Technological innovation demands scientific and engineering knowledge, even if it begins in intuition: the technical must follow the visionary. So the movement against college is not a campaign against all study. It is a campaign against allegedly useless study—the latest eruption of the utilitarian temper in the American view of life. And what study is allegedly useless? The study of the humanities, of course.

I see this in lots of ways, especially in the gifted homeschooling world. Parents (and I include myself in this group) will spend big money to get a good science co-op class for a kid because they “can’t do it at home,” yet they feel sure that their vague memories of reading “The Good Earth” in ninth grade are more than enough to do justice to the Western (let alone the non-Western) canon. One homeschooler told me to my face — to my face! — that she would discourage her children from following my educational path or entering my profession.

Much of this, I’m sure, is born of ignorance — you can’t miss what you never had, and many people running around with a Bachelor of Arts degree have never had a real liberal arts education.

But there is something more disturbing at play as well, which I think Wieseltier gets at:

The equation of virtue with wealth, of enlightenment with success, is no less repulsive in a t-shirt than in a suit.

You could argue that in saying this Wieseltier does not get the class privilege built into his own argument: seeking enlightenment through Homer and Shakespeare takes a backseat to breaking the cycle of poverty or just staying debt-free for many lower- and middle-income students.

At the same time, it’s sad to think that kids are stepping off the institutionalized education treadmill merely to get on the professionalization treadmill even sooner. I love books like Blake Boles’ “College Without High School” and Cal Newport’s “How to Be a High School Superstar,” but it’s easy to (I hope, misguidedly) take away the message that the secret to many of their case studies’ success is not being precocious learners but precocious income-earners. So yes, Wieseltier is talking about something real, and something it pays to be mindful of when thinking about homeschooling the high school years.

Nevertheless, what Wieseltier is missing is that homeschoolers and unschoolers could truly be his allies here. Classical and humanities-based education is being embraced by homeschoolers in droves: consider the popularity of “The Well-Trained Mind,” “A Thomas Jefferson Education,” or the work of Charlotte Mason, or so many other popular homeschool authors. He needs to read, or re-read, “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.” Homeschoolers *are* the “nonconsumers” whose innovations have the potential to improve education for everyone. Online classes like those from Online G3 are leading tech-obsessed kids who IM in class to fall in love with Shakespeare.

Humanist education in a variety of forms is alive and well on the educational frontiers. No doubt it has its enemies, too, but they aren’t the well-read ladies in the denim jumpers.


Filed under education, gifted education, grown up life, Homeschooling, homeschooling high school

I think I get Advent, a little bit

I was baptized Catholic just over 10 years ago, and the vibrant liturgical calendar, lived in full color with songs for each season, is one of the things I love about being part of centuries-old traditions.

I wanted, back then, to embrace Advent, but the main thing I understood was that I should not put my tree up too early or start listening to Christmas carols too soon. And the mood of the season? Waiting. Right — waiting for Christmas. Being prepared — preparing for Christmas. What’s the big deal? Isn’t that what we’re all doing already?

Since then Advent has been coming back into fashion. And a good thing too, because I am finally getting the idea.

I am enjoying Professor Carol’s Advent Calendar — daily blog posts on art, music, and literature and Advent traditions. (I came to know of Professor Carol through her awesome music/world history curriculum Discovering Music, which among other things made my recent trip to Europe much richer.)

But more than that, something in the Gospel reading from Sunday hit me in a new way this time around (more liturgical calendar magic!). Speaking of the return of the Son of Man, Jesus tells his followers:

Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.

Now I was a little distracted when these words were spoken, because before them the reading was talking about the Son of Man “coming in a cloud” which of course paints a picture in my head that wakes up my not-that-inner skeptic and starts an active mental dialogue that could persist all the way to “Mass is ended go in peace.” But I heard them anyway, and not because I am given to carousing and drunkenness. What I am, much of the time, is tired. Too tired to try.

Which really is OK these days. Effort is for chumps. It’s understood that we’re all so busy and we’re all enlightened beyond the need to “go through the motions” — but it’s the motions that are the point of being here in the first place. I don’t know what giving up looks like in your life, but in mine it means a cluttered house, dirty clothes, haphazard and unhealthy dinners, untended writing projects, great homeschooling ideas left undone while we sit on individual computers. It feels like being out of shape and not getting enough sleep. It sounds like arguing and sharp reactions — mostly “no” — to innocent questions.

While it’s not good to beat yourself up about that kind of stuff, and it’s wise to accept some chaos, there’s a line somewhere, a different line for everyone I assume, and as I sat in the liturgy of the first Sunday of Advent I understood that at some point I had slouched across it and was lingering there a little too long.

And this is what Advent is for. I don’t think anyone has explained it so succinctly for me as Sally Thomas did in a recent blog post:

“I wake up to myself . . . and my reflection in the bathroom mirror of the soul is not pretty. This is always the case, of course, but with the Bridegroom on the way, you notice. So: pinch those cheeks and back to it.”

As any good Latin student knows, “Advent” means “coming to” — something is coming. Something new is on its way, but you have to 1) keep at it without giving up and 2) pay attention. This is, I think, the essence of all my religious/spiritual experiences to date, be they Christian, Buddhist, yogic or other: Wake up, dummy! Open your eyes! Even now something wonderful has started — do you not perceive it?

I have not done so well at passing this newfound insight on to my children. Victoria came home from choir practice complaining that there was no “Hark the Herald Angels,” no “you know, some fa-la-la-la-la?” “What do you mean it’s not Christmastime?” she asks indignantly, and she does not care that Advent waiting looks like taking the one seat when she is frosting Christmas cookies and reminding us daily that we need our tree this weekend. That’s OK. I think Advent is more of a grown-up season anyway. My 9yo lives with eyes wide open much of the time, without much help from me. Me, I need every tool in the box to stay awake and keep seeing what’s in front of my face.

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Filed under Catholic stuff, grown up life, Music

Tales of a Fourth-Grade Compulsive List Maker, Parts One and Two

I used to be a planner.

An only child with a genius complex and a flair for solitude, I spent the time normal children used for things like fun and play filling notebooks with schemes for clubs, small businesses, and theatrical presentations that were fully realized only in my mind. One of my most detailed plans was a step-by-step DIY manual for becoming popular in 8th grade. Only now is the irony of feverishly writing in notebooks as a springboard to the homecoming court clear to me.

Of course the joke was on those fun-havers when my incredible devotion to organizing the future led to academic awards, PhDs, and any number of leadership posts for groups and institutions who seemed to share the secret motto: “Blah Blah Blah, is it time for donuts yet?”

No matter—efficiency and a smug sense of superiority are their own rewards.

Doing it all with my trusty Franklin Planner, 2 coffee mugs, a diet coke, and lots of post-it notes.

I dare say I was at the height of my powers when we decided to homeschool. Leading a large urban parish through a strategic planning process, managing the publication of several reference volumes each year, coordinating multiple subcontractors, and planning fundraisers were all tasks easily managed with a toddler on my knee and a 1st grader off to school. My trusty Franklin Planner and I could do it all.

The year was 2006 when that started to change. “How do you do it all?” people asked. “I don’t,” I would say. “I am dropping balls left and right.” Slowly I extricated myself from my many posts and activities. The homeschool world, naturally, gave me plenty of volunteer and leadership roles to substitute for my former life, but over the years I let those go as well.

This has caused me great consternation over the last several years. “When will I get it together? Where did that planner-toting powerhouse go and when will she come back?” I can only hope, at this point, that she’s gone on to a better place.

The truth is, she wouldn’t help us much now. My girls are 13 and 9, and after almost 7 years of homeschooling I can verify: you can plan your curriculum, but you can’t plan learning, and you really can’t plan life. When children are 7 and 3, every outing to the beach is a grand adventure and every sprinkle of the glitter jar is an expression of creativity. My 13 year old, however, has been doing high school work for almost 4 years now. The fairies she’s been drawing over the last 10 years have evolved: sometimes they are busty creatures with embarrassingly short skirts, other times they look like they’ve just stepped out of a bar brawl.

Just a few years ago I would have been allowed to share a fairy drawing here.

This was not my plan, and increasingly it’s not my life. I can’t organize her into a notebook any more than I could scribble my way to a prom date.

If I hadn’t learned this lesson, our attempts to “start school” this fall really drove it through my head. Violet is on track to take 2 AP exams and possibly a SAT subject test this spring—because she’s done high school work so young I feel we need some external credentials— so we needed to get started early so she’d be ready in May. Victoria has been eagerly anticipating starting an Online G3 class since last spring. But there were the houseguests to play with. And a trip to the state fair. And a lot of Doctor Who to catch up on before the season premiere. And suddenly now there is a Japanese class online. Oh, and someone, maybe several someones, turned out to have whooping cough. By the time we got to that last wrinkle, I was starting to feel a lot less irresponsible for not having the year planned. Having dinner planned was victory enough for one day.

When Homeschooling Was Adorable

As a writer I’ve never planned. When outlines were assigned I did them after the paper was finished, and no teacher was the wiser. (Actually, that was a great learning process for me and I still recommend it.) I think I’ll be approaching the second half of our homeschooling years the same way. We’ll do it, and then I’ll write it down. I’ve been inspired by semi-recent discussion of the dearth of homeschooling-high-school blogs to get back to blogging—it was a great way to connect with kindred spirits in the beginning, and though so much as has changed it may still be a good way to encourage each other to the finish line, whatever that may be.

Because so much has changed, I’m in the process of changing blogs. Which is probably a terrible mistake, but being a “successful” blogger has never been a big goal of mine. Red Sea School was so much about starting the adventure of homeschooling, finding our feet in the PG world, and raising two little girls. I don’t feel I can wrestle it into where we are now. I named the new blog “What Real World?” because it’s a question that has come up regularly in our lives: “What use is art/music/literature in the real world?” “When will you go back to work and join the real world?” “Why do you prefer a god-in-the-clouds to the real world?” and of course “How will your homeschooled children ever adjust to living in the real world?”

The Inescapable Reality of the Now

To that last question: I honestly don’t know. But I’ll try to write bits of it down as we find out.

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Filed under education, grown up life, Homeschooling, raising girls

What becomes a legend most?

After spending the morning thinking about what kind of impact I — homeschooling mother, writer of obscure things — might have on the world, if any, I found in my Facebook feed a tribute to someone who made an enormous difference for so many people.

Todd Kolod was an early childhood educator: he taught preschool, and he taught parents of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers about surviving and thriving in those first five years of parenting and beyond.

The article describes him as a legend. How does someone go from preschool teacher to legend? Or rather, how does someone stay at preschool teacher and still become a legend? I can’t imagine it happens often.

Growing up as a strong student, ambitious and motivated, and now being part of an education community, I know that growing up to have a career in preschool education isn’t legendary. Smart kids who become successful adults are professors, doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs; girls who want to be mothers become preschool teachers.

Many of the families in Todd’s classes were successful in just that way. And then again, many of them weren’t: the Rondo site where Todd taught drew from St. Paul’s poorest neighborhood and its richest. Parenting is a great leveler: no matter where you came from, you were there because you needed those other parents, and Todd made that kind of intentional community happen.

He did it over 30 years, which means he must have reached thousands of families. Some children who by now are having children of their own.

I loved finding this story, because it reminded me of those sweet years when my own children were in ECFE. They were too young to remember Todd now, but I remember those days, even though they seem far far away. And it’s a great story of someone who could have been an unsung hero.

When I think about people who’ve done “great things” with their lives, or just people who have done well-known things for which they are paid large sums of money, I’m not inspired to do great things myself. I’m inspired to get on Facebook and give up on great things, because it’s too late, or I’m not important enough, or I lack the skills.

When I remember Teacher Todd, though, there’s something about the humility and the calm he brought to every encounter, with every parent and every child, that makes me want to try harder and do better with what I’ve got.

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Filed under education, grown up life