Unschooling On The Side

I guess I AM an optimist. I just went to take a nap in my bedroom which is directly under Son’s bedroom where he and two other teenaged boys were playing a board game. You’d think I’d know by now that there are board games – think senior citizens playing checkers – and there are board games – three 17 yr old boys doing anything. So instead I’ll write the post I was going to write later today.

Recently on Elisheva’s Ragamuffin Studies homeschooling blog I read something that really made me think. In a post about her son being uncomfortable with schedule changes, she said that she forgot to “be the guide on the side, rather than the sage on the stage.” I don’t know whether she made this up or got it somewhere else, but it worked its way into my brain and I find myself saying it like a mantra. Several times in the last few days, it’s saved me from an angst-iety attack when what my kids seem to be learning doesn’t fit my perception of what they should be learning.

Daughter is a reader, which is wonderful. However, oftentimes it seems to me that the only things she reads are Pokemon cards, Club Penguin chat, Neopets Magazine and restaurant menus. Sure, we go to two libraries every week and she brings home at least two cloth bags full of books, but I rarely see her read them. How in the world, I wonder, is this kid going to learn anything about history, science, math or literature? But, unschooling advocate that I am, I repeat my mantra while biting my tongue, and let her follow her interests.

A couple of days ago we’re buying drapes to darken my bedroom and she gives me a fifteen minute history of blackout curtains as they were used in England and the US during World War 2 with a side trip to discuss bomb shelters and the London Underground or tube stations. She says she read it in an American Girl book earlier this week. That night, we’re watching Jeopardy and she knows three questions that I didn’t know she knew. One was about Theodore Roosevelt having Booker T. Washington to lunch at the White House, one was about Abraham Lincoln’s son, Tad and the third was that “ferrous” means “containing iron.”

I don’t know why I’m surprised at this. Just yesterday, I finished reading “Shadows and Lies” by Marjorie Eccles, which taught me more about the Boer War and the Relief of Mafeking than I ever learned in school. Because I’ve been reading from 7-20 books a week for over fifty years, and because I have very eclectic taste in books, I’ve probably gotten about three college degrees’ worth of knowledge from reading. So why do I doubt that my kids can do the same thing?

Maybe it’s the same mindset that people have when they doubt that parents who have been educated in public schools can teach their children as well as public schools can. It’s always seemed like a silly argument to me. If I learned something well enough to pass it and graduate, why can’t I convey that knowledge to my kids? If my kids want to learn something, why can’t they find a resource where the knowledge is available – maybe with my help – and use it to study the subject?

I guess it comes down to a matter of trust. Public educators don’t trust parents to teach their kids, nor do they trust kids to be capable of learning through any agency other than teachers and textbooks. When I doubt that my kids can learn without my constant direction and correction, I’m falling into the same mindset as the people who believe that my kids can’t learn without school.

So thanks, Elisheva, for getting me back on track. Sometimes I forget why the unschooling/homeschooling community is so important to me both online and offline. Now, I think I’ll attempt that nap again while the boys are out flailing at each other with swords made of foam and duct tape. It’s such a waste of time and I’ll be so glad when they outgrow it and get interested in more worthwhile things like what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives, which is what they should be thinking about instead of playing… Oops, there I go again. Guide on the side. Guide on the side. Ommmmmm.


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Up On The Roof With a Rodent

The other day, things starting going kind of swimmy on me. When I looked out the window at lunch, birds looked fuzzy and I could hardly tell a finch from a thrush. My cat, who was hunting in the field, looked more like a lopsided marshmallow that had been burned in a couple of places than he usually does. I asked Daughter if it was misty out and she assured me that it wasn’t, so  I decided a visit to the optometrist was in order if I still had “this vision thing” the next morning.

I still had it when I looked out the window at breakfast, and it was worse, actually. A hummingbird zoomed up to the window and I couldn’t tell if it was male or female until it started fighting with its reflection, which gave me a clue. Anyone else ever notice how male hummingbirds seem to spend almost all their time fighting? One wonders how the heck they get enough to eat or produce next year’s crop of hummingbirds. But I digress.

Dr. G had an opening so I hustled down to the mall to get my eyes examined. She said everything was fine – or as fine as it gets for someone who is legally blind in one eye without her glasses.

“Have you been doing a lot of close work?” She asked. “Do you spend more than two hours a day on the computer?”

Sheesh, 22 hours would be more like it, some days, and I told her so. She shook her head.

“Well, you have a temporary condition caused by too much straining to look at a computer screen,” she said. “It’s called “Computer Vision Syndrome” and it makes your vision “swimmy” as you put it, for objects that are farther away than your monitor. It’s because you’re sort of clenching the muscles in your eyes to focus. It can last for a day or even longer after you leave the computer and the only thing that helps is fewer hours in front of that blue screen.”

I told her that I have to spend hours in front of my computer, because I’m a writer and asked her if there wasn’t something else I could do to help.

“Well, you can try taking frequent breaks to walk outside and focus on something way off in the distance for a few minutes. That might make your eyeballs “unclench” so to speak.”

So, I drove home, trying not to clench my eyeballs. When I got there, I noticed a fresh mouse carcass in the yard, compliments of my cat, Benny, no doubt. He usually eats the rodents he catches, but the hunting is so good in the summer time, that he sometimes leaves one for the dog whose digestion just isn’t up to mouse tartare any more, so we try to dispose of them before she finds them.

But, I remembered, as I picked up the mouse by its tail, I was supposed to be focusing on the distance, so I looked off into the trees in the side yard, willing my eye muscles to relax and unwind, as I hurled the mouse up and into the air. Because I was looking off into the distance, I didn’t realize where it had landed, at first. Then I looked up at the garage roof and there it was, looking very odd and out of place. Daughter came out to join me just then and I showed her what had happened. She’s softhearted about critters, but has gotten somewhat inured to Benny’s turning our yard into a slaughterhouse. She loves the little creep.

However, like me, she thought the mouse on the roof motif was pathetic and creepy at the same time. I mean, who has a dead mouse on their garage roof? Owls? Actually, an owl is what we need right now or I’m going to have to dig out the roof rake that we use to get snow and ice off the roof and use it to get the late mouse down.  I’ll give it a couple of hours and see if an owl or hawk or – hey, maybe a turkey vulture or crow – will get it first, so I don’t have to.

In the meantime, I’m sitting here, staring over my laptop screen through the window into the distance,  typing as far away from the keyboard as I can, given the length of my arms, and trying not to clench my eyeballs. For some reason, I just realized, that makes me grit my teeth and I’m beginning to get an ache in my jaw. I suppose I’ll be off to my dentist next to be told that I have some other syndrome you get from trying not to clench your eyeballs while typing with your arms extended. There’s always something.

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The Lattice of Coincidence

A quote from Miller, the junkman in the movie, Repo Man:
” A lot o’ people don’t realize what’s really going on. They view life as a bunch o’ unconnected incidents ‘n things. They don’t realize that there’s this, like, lattice o’ coincidence that lays on top o’ everything. Give you an example; show you what I mean: suppose you’re thinkin’ about a plate o’ shrimp. Suddenly someone’ll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate o’ shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin’ for one, either. It’s all part of a cosmic unconsciousness.”

A quote from my brother:
If it happens once, it’ll happen again.”

A quote from my daughter:
Do you think John Wesley Powell is, like, haunting us, Mom?”

Nah, I think synchronicity and the  LOC (Lattice of Coincidence) are just playing with us. And you can quote me on that. If not, how do you explain the almost manic intensity with which John Wesley Powell, the famous explorer, keeps popping up in our lives? Why did Jellicle Cats and Joe Strummer, the Clash’s lead singer, show up on the same day in two unrelated searches that I did and then turn up a day later in a book I had taken out of the library almost two weeks before, but never read?

John Wesley Powell lost his right arm as a major in the Civil War and then went on to explore the Grand Canyon by taking a crew in wooden boats down the Green and Colorado rivers.  He claimed that he wasn’t an adventurer, merely a scientist who wanted to use scientific discoveries to benefit humankind. Not only was he a naturalist, but he also had a good understanding of geology, anthropology, ethnology and hydrology.

Later on in life, he headed the Smithsonian and the US Geological Survey. What my daughter likes about him is that he was a homeschooler for much of his childhood, took seven years of college courses, never graduated and became a professor. Different time, for sure. She read about him in a book we bought for a quarter in a bin at the supermarket. That was last week.

Two nights later, we turned on the Travel Channel, and there was JWP, piloting a wooden boat through the Grand Canyon. We watched the show and compared it to the biography book and noticed that, in the book, the illustration of him in the boat showed him with two arms. On the show, he was portrayed by an actor with his back to us and one sleeve pinned up. It was my daughter who realized that both of those depictions were wrong, by the way, because he only lost his forearm. She’s quick.

The Jellicle Cats come into it because I was trying to remember a T.S. Eliot quote and they showed up when I searched on his name. Two hours later, I was covered with dust and had dug out “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” and was sharing it with Daughter, who has a “Rumtumtugger” sort of cat of her own.

Joe Strummer, the late lead singer of the punk rock group, The Clash, during the end of the 70’s, showed up in another search I did when I was writing a post on spittoons because he attributed his Hepatitis C to a fan’s spitting on him at a 1978 performance. The fan wasn’t knocking his performance, by the way, just expressing his adulation in the usual free-spirited way of punk audiences in those days. Apparently, any band member not entirely covered in gobs of saliva after a show was suspected of Republican leanings.

So that’s where things stood, when I settled down on Monday night, to read my last remaining book from the ones I’d checked out of the library two weeks before. It was a mid-sized mystery novel called, “Cattery Row” by Clea Simon.

It hooked me from the first page and I liked it well enough so that I put her first book, “Mew is for Murder” on my list for the library trip I planned for the next day. Right after I did that, partway through the book, Simon mentioned Jellicle cats and then, right after that, Joe Strummer. Okay, so the book’s sleuth is a cat lover and a music critic who likes punk rock, so why shouldn’t she mention Jellicle cats and Joe Strummer? That’s not the question.

The question is, why did I take out that particular book by an author I’d never heard of, leave it unopened for two weeks in the pile next to my computer, and then do two searches that turned up two totally unrelated things that were mentioned in the book?

Now, back to John Wesley Powell. Daughter and I were browsing the children’s room’s shelves for poems by Lillian Moore, who is Daughter’s current fave and one of mine.  We were having a tussle with a large book, probably Shel Silverstein still playing around or a book my fifth-grade teacher made me memorize. Anyway, it was in between Daughter and the Moore book she wanted, so she gave it a tug, and it fell, and we both leapt back and hit the books on the shelf behind us.

As we bent to pick them up, face up in front of us were three books on John Wesley Powell. One was his actual diary and Daughter scooped that up “too-too sweet”, as she says. The other two “didn’t have enough pictures” and “too many words she’d have to look up”, so we passed on them. That’s when she asked me if JWP was haunting us. “All part of a cosmic unconsciousness,” I told her, “The old Lattice of Coincidence.”

“You don’t know, do you?” she said.

“Probably just one of those things,” I said.

“Nobody knows, do they?” she said. I told you she was quick.

“As far as I know, it’s just one of those coincidences of synchronicity that strikes every once in a while in life.”

“You really, really don’t know, do you?” She’s also persistent. Little Miss Water-on-Stone.

She shrugged. “Well, I think things just happen. Let’s get some more Lillian Moore books and go home and read.”

I didn’t tell her about the Jellicle Cats and Joe Strummer. It’s one thing to suspect that you’re being haunted by a well-known explorer-scientist. But it’s a whole ‘nother thing to know that cats and punk rock guitarists have you in their sights.

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