Thursday, March 30, 2006

Summer Reading Programs

A few years ago my older daughter, Caitlin was "in 6th grade," but reading mostly young adult books, as she had outgrown most in the youth section. Since she was reading "teen" books, she felt she should be able to participate in the teen level summer reading program sponsored by the library. The teen program offers prizes for a much lower number of books than does the level for younger children, because the young adult (YA) books are longer reads. I think they offered a prize for every 5 books, and the "little kid's" program did so for every 10, or maybe 20.

When Caitlin asked if she could participate in the teen reading program, the librarian told her "no," because she was not yet "in high school." Cait decided she would no longer participate in the reading program. "I read because I enjoy it," she told me, "and I don't need any prizes as incentives."

The next time we went to the library, another librarian spoke to us about the summer reading program, expressing disgust at the kids who were obviously signed on only for the prizes. She said it was easy to discern their motive, as they often chose books based on their brevity--such as poetry anthologies or books of jokes. The librarian was dismayed that these kids did not seem to want to read for the pleasure of it, but were only interested in jumping as low as possible through the hoops to get the goodies.

Then the same librarian asked my daughter if she had signed up for the summer reading program, and when Cait explained why she had not--that she thought it unfair that she was reading YA books and had to read so many of those to get a prize in the little kid's program--the librarian told her she should "pick short, easy to read books, like poetry anthologies and joke books." I hardly knew what to say. Cait was thoroughly disgusted and simply walked away. I think I said something like, "Caitlin seems to think that is not a viable option," and also walked away. We have not felt the need to revisit the summer reading program topic since.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Chortling Paramedics

My daughter e-mailed me the most recent culmination of her life without school: a Power Point trailer for the fictitious movie, "Chortling Paramedics." The words on the screen are a warning. "When you're in trouble...don't call for help...because you might not get it...if your town has been taken over by Chortling Paramedics!"

It has been interesting to see the evolution behind the product. Caitlin, now age 16, started her e-zine after watching me produce the VaHomeschoolers biweekly Updates for a couple of years, and the HEM Online Newsletter for the past couple of years. Needing content for her e-zine, "The Talisman," Cait began to write some book and movie reviews. In preparing those, she researched other reviews, to obtain a clear sense of what made a quality review, and adopted those elements into her pieces. Her research also took her to authors' sites, and movie sites, where she could pick up the year of release, exact spelling of stars' names, etc. She has apparently read numerous reviews, and has a great film literacy--well beyond that of her movie-challenged mother.

Many of the movie sites include trailers, which Cait and her younger sister, Laurel, have watched, discovering the elements that production houses use to pique viewers' curiosity. They learned Power Point from their lifelong friends, who came over for an afternoon a couple of weeks ago. Each of my kids has produced multiple Power Point slide shows, and her first fictional movie trailer. Production of Caitlin's trailer included learning how to download clip art, sounds, and animations. She learned how to recolor images, white out aspects she did not like, and took Laurel's advice on using a filled-in text box to mask the icon made by a sound clip. Cait also made the movie rating box from scratch, modeled after those she has seen online and at the theater.

I am unable to see where my children will end up, but I can tell they are on a course that incorporates literature, writing, and creativity. It is exciting, a pleasure, and an honor, to be on this journey with them. I would not have it any other way. Chortling Paramedics...who could have imagined?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Off the Specified Route

A couple of weeks ago, my friend, Kathy, drove me and another friend to a workshop about an hour away. Kathy did not worry much about finding the venue location, as her car has an onboard navigation system. It talks. A soft, pleasant female voice gives commands like, "prepare to turn left ahead."

However, Kathy has mixed feelings about her guide. The contraption does not appreciate it when the driver chooses her own route. "You are off the specified route," the voice will admonish. Then it will direct the driver to, "Make a 'U' turn as soon as possible," in an attempt to correct what it deems an error.

Kathy decided to ignore the onboard computer and take her own route, but the machine could not comprehend this deviation. It responded with repeated warnings about the importance of the specified route, and admonitions to turn back. We all laughed, but I probably laughed the loudest, as I saw a deeper meaning in the computer's messages. I noted that the computer's directions were much like those I had encountered from other experts, human experts. How many times I have been admonished for being "off the specified route!" Heaven forbid I should take the scenic route on a whim, make a side trip out of necessity, or visit a byway to satisfy my curiosity.

If I were to map my education, it would not be a linear "specified route." It would look more like a cobweb, (made by arachnids in the Theridiidae family) with threads weaving left and right, up and down, at every angle, and with points connected to points in a seemingly random fashion.

I like my cobweb of learning, and following a "specified route" does not interest me. My children would say the same, only they have had the whole of their lives to build their webs. It is a marvelous pleasure to watch them take shape.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

A Byproduct of Public School

As I noted before, the idea of a person being a "product of the public school system" is one that makes me shudder. I attended 9 years of public school (plus 1 year of private school, and two years unschooling), but have never considered myself a product of the school sytem. Perhaps, though, I am a byproduct of public school.

A member of my statewide discussion list, VaEclecticHS, noted that in school she became "tired of being the weird one," and she tried "very hard to 'look stupid'" in order to avoid complete alienation, so she could have some friends.

She was not alone. I did the same thing, to some degree. In one high school class, the teacher offered a dollar to whomever won the pop quiz of the day--which consisted of questions regarding any number of subjects. It was sort of like a simple version of Jeopardy. I usually won the buck, but quickly realized that I could not keep winning without being not just unpopular (which I didn't really care about), but becoming a target for aggressive acts. This is an example of "learning outside the curriculum."

Another thought expressed during the same discussion was that, in school, it is "near impossible to be accepted...and do what is right for yourself." In my experience, that seems true. While I was in school, I walked on that edge many times. Fortunately, for the most part, I did what was right for myself, even though it meant withstanding disapproval from teachers, administrators, and fellow students.

I am consistently drawn to people who are authentic. They somehow tend to also be the more colorful, more outspoken, more odd, more peculiar. The wierd ones. I love the weird ones, the people who refuse to pretend they are "stupid" or act like anything else they are not. Thank goodness for homeschooling, as it allows us all to be ourselves, in our own unique, weird ways. I am proud to be one of the Official Weirdos.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Authority Figures

The March issue of the HEM Online Newsletter includes one of my essays, which came about through recent conversations with several of my gal pals. Although the topics and mix of pals varied, a common element wove its way through these conversations. The mulling of that element and those conversations resulted in "A Homeschooler's Changing Perspective on Authority Figures."

Monday, March 06, 2006

Life Without School

My friend started a blog called "Life Without School," which was actually the inspiration for Anecdotal Evidence. My friend's blog offers a lot more than this one does. Unlike myself--whose blog went up with a single wave of enthusiasm and interest, my friend has put a lot of time and thought into creating a meaningful and well-planned site. Life Without School provides a smorgasbord of writers, intended to give visitors "a real-life living breathing panorama of what Life Without School can mean," and she made it "live" just this morning. Hey, look! She started it with my "Crucial Elements" post.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Homeschool Teen Reviews

My eldest daughter, Caitlín, is a writer in her own right. Almost 16 years-old, she is skilled far beyond the level I had attained at that age. This is due to both nature and nurture; she has the brains and the inclination, and has grown up in an environment that provides excellent support for her endeavors.

One of Cait's more recent endeavors has been creating the HomeschoolTeenReviews discussion list. My daughter has been aware of e-mail discussion lists for almost as long as she can remember, and has a good understanding of their potential value. As with my own discussion lists, Caitlín's was born out of the desire to create something that would satisfy her, but it has also served many others. The description of her list states that it is "for homeschooled teens to post their reviews of books and movies, in order to share their favorites and read recommendations from others."

My daughter has learned a lot through creating and managing her list. Caitlín has had practice setting boundaries with people she has never met, risked being "unpopular" for sticking to her boundaries, worked on making her message positive, discovered how to deal with the host if there are problems, and explored ways to make HS-Teen-Reviews a more active list.

In addition, Cait's list has given her an outlet for her prolific reviews. She has over 11 pages of book and movie reviews lined up to post over time. The first time I read one of them, I was incredulous that this girl, who formerly "hated" writing, had
created a thoughtful, well-crafted review. I noted that it was written in a professional format, and asked how she came up with that. "I read other reviews online and decided which elements I would like to include."

Raising this writer did not involve compulsory study of grammar, sentence diagrams, or long lists of spelling words to study or define. My daughter has simply been exposed to plenty of good writing, engaged in a variety of conversations, received assistance in finding answers to her questions, and supported in whatever project she chooses to take on. Caitlín became a writer by living a writer's life.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A Pivotal Point

A thought expressed on my statewide e-mail list, VaEclecticHS, was that, in school, it is "near impossible to be accepted...and do what is right for yourself." In my experience, that seems true. While I was in school, I walked on that edge many times. Fortunately, for the most part, I did what was right for myself, even though it meant withstanding disapproval from teachers, administrators, and fellow students.

I was a goody two-shoes in the elementary years, but in middle school I began to recognize that the sytem had some serious flaws, and I started to take action contrary to it. It was a gender issue that awakened my consciousness: being denied the education I wanted--solely on the basis of my gender--was an offense that fired my anger and resolve.

The incident began at the end of 6th grade, when choosing classes for the following year. I signed up for Wood Shop, after the woman who was staffing the sign-up had answered my question, telling me that girls were indeed allowed to take this class. I turned in my forms and skipped away, my heart light with pleasure at the thought of learning some of those things that, in my family, were relegated to the privileged and powerful world of men and boys. How excited I was, imagining myself using those tools to build useful, durable things in which I could take pride!

Now, picture a 12-year-old girl's face, when she receives her class assignments the morning of her first day of middle school. She unfolds the paper with anticipation, only to discover that, rather than the Wood Shop she longed for, she has been assigned to Home Economics.

Looking back, I see that as a pivotal point in my life. The searing injustice I felt at that moment was not just a reaction to the school system's pushing me aside, but also to a larger sense of being relegated to a second class, within my family--where the boys had a measure of privilege and status that was denied to the girls--and within the larger world. At twelve years old, I well knew the sting of descrimination, and I determined it was time to stand up and fight.

With steady support from my mother, I resisted the school system's attempt to sweepm me under the rug of the Home Ec. class. The authorities tried various methods to keep me in line: force, manipulation, intimidation, lies, and distraction. My mother's guidance was perfect. She acted as council, but empowered me with the responsibility of taking action. To each of the school's attempts, I responded firmly and calmly, until they had run out of excuses and tactics, conceded that they lost, and let me into the class. They lost the battle to keep a girl from learning what she desired to learn, and I won the ability to determine for myself what I would learn--at least for one period of the school day, for one half of the school year.

By the time I had won my case, the quarter was 1/2 over, so I entered Wood Shop at a disadvantage. Still, my interest and enthusiasm garnered me a "B" for the grading period, and I made an "A" for the second quarter. Although I suspect it was partly due to the shop teacher's admonition before I came into his class, my fellow classmates were polite, and seemed to accept my presence. They even indicated respect for what I had done, and for what I created in class.

So, I made my little mark in history, being the first girl to enroll in Wood Shop at that school. Through this experience, I learned something of the importance of being oneself, of speaking up, and of holding out for what one wants. I discovered that, with support and determination, I could stare down The System and change it for the better. It is remarkable what one can learn from life when meeting it head on.

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visit my Web site, Synergy Field.