Hey Oprah, Are You Listening?

While Oprah’s p.r. people are busy explaining that they didn’t mean to exclude homeschoolers from her National Essay Contest, Harper Lee quietly made sure that home-educated students would be included in hers.

An awards ceremony for an essay contest on the subject of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the occasion attracts no actor, politician or music figure. Instead, it draws someone to whom Alabamians collectively attach far more obsession: the author of the book itself, Harper Lee, who lives in the small town of Monroeville, Ala., one of the most reclusive writers in the history of American letters.

With more than 10,000,000 copies sold since it first appeared in 1960, “To Kill a Mockingbird” exists as one of the best-selling novels of all time. For decades, Ms. Lee has remained fiercely mindful of her privacy, politely but resolutely refusing to talk to the press and making only rare public appearances, in which she always declines to speak….But since the essay contest, sponsored by the Honors College at the University of Alabama, got going five years ago, Ms. Lee, who is 79, has attended the ceremony faithfully, meeting with the 50 or so winners from most of the state’s school districts and graciously posing for pictures with the parents and teachers who accompany them.


Her one stipulation for the contest was that children who were home-schooled be eligible to compete.

Hat tip: brother Jay

Picture Book Spotlight: Are You a Butterfly?

075345608701_aa_scmzzzzzzz_Are You a Butterfly? by Judy Allen, illustrated by Tudor Humphries.

“Are you a butterfly? If you are, then your parents look like this.” Beanie bursts out laughing. Her parents don’t look like butterflies! This sweet, simple book takes the reader through the life cycle of a butterfly. Although this is far from new territory for my five-year-old (her oldest sister, after all, is an enthusiastic lepidopterist who has been enthusiastically indoctrinating her sisters in the wonders of butterflies for years), Beanie greatly enjoyed this fresh look at the subject. The clean, crisp, detailed artwork gave us lots to pore over, and the engaging text sparked much conversation—especially the part about the caterpillar splitting its skin.

Also in the series:

Are You A Ladybug?
Are You an Ant?
Are You a Bee?
Are You A Snail?
Are You a Spider?
Are You a Grasshopper?

This Week’s Five Signs

This week, let’s learn family words.

I can’t get the direct links to Lifeprint’s FATHER and MOTHER signs to work, so I’m linking instead to a page with a line drawing for each. You’ll definitely want to watch the video demo for these.

Father. (Touch your thumb to your forehead with all your fingers pointing straight up.)

Mother. (Same sign, but thumb touches chin instead of forehead.)

(All ASL signs for boys and men are made near the upper part of the face. The signs for girls and women are made near the lower half of the face.)

Don’t use the illustrations at the previous link for the next two signs—I’ve never seen them done that way anywhere else, so perhaps that’s a regionalism. Use these instead:


Baby is just what you might expect—put your arms together like you’re rocking a baby.

A Reader Wants to Know

“So what’s with the copywork? Do you mark passages during the week and save them up? Is this something you’ve been doing for a while, or is it a new practice?”

Good questions. Over the years I have made many attempts to collect intriguing or inspiring quotes from my reading in various notebooks. Creamy-paged blank books with lovely covers; cheap, functional spiral notebooks; mottled black-and-white composition books; you name it, I’ve tried it. Jefferson did it, Milton did it; “commonplace books,” for recording passages from one’s reading and notes about what one has learned from the reading, have been around a long time.

But my attempts to maintain one have always failed for one reason: I hate to write by hand. It hurts my wrist; it always has. Perhaps I have a faulty pencil-grip. Perhaps I press too hard. Whatever the reason, I have never found it easy to write more than a few short lines on paper. A thank-you note with my perfectly wonderful fountain pen, a gift from my indulgent mama and daddy—that much I can manage. But a long Charlotte Mason quote? Forget it.

My writing hero, the great Fred Chappell, used to scoff at poets who would let a typewriter come between themselves and the words. On this point I must respectfully disagree with my esteemed mentor. I would never have completed a short story—much less a novel or ten—without the help of my trusty computer.

Many people have begun to use blogs as a form of commonplace book, a place for collecting passages we want to remember and for organizing our thoughts about the reading. What I do now is stick a large Post-it in the back of each book I’m reading. During the week I jot down page numbers on it for the passages I wish to record. Then, when I have a chance on the weekend, I can type them up all at once. I’ve been keeping a file of such quotes for myself, but recently it struck me that it would be fun to share them here, where I might have the pleasure of hearing others’ thoughts about the ideas expressed. And I am delighted to report that it worked: already one reader has chimed in with more food for thought. (Thoughts I’ve been chewing on all night—thanks, Ann—I’ll respond in the comments thread.)

Please do add your thoughts to the copywork discussions as they unfold!

Mom’s Copywork

Passages that jumped out at me from this week’s reading:

From Charlotte Mason’s A PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION (which I was inspired to re-read by a train of thought related to the Tidal Homeschooling posts):

“If we ask in perplexity, why do so many men and women seem incapable of generous impulse, of reasoned patriotism, of seeing beyond the circle of their own interests, is not the answer, that men are enabled for such things by education? These are the marks of educated persons; and when millions of men who should be the backbone of the country seem to be dead to public claims, we have to ask,—Why then are not these persons educated, and what have we given them in lieu of education?”
—Introduction, p. 1

“I inferred that one of these [desires], the Desire of Knowledge (Curiosity) was the chief instrument of education; that this desire might be paralysed or made powerless like an unused limb by encouraging other desires to intervene between a child and the knowledge proper for him; the desire for place,—emulation; for prizes,—avarice; for power,—ambition; for praise,—vanity, might each be a stumbling block to him. It seemed to me that we teachers had unconsciously elaborated a system which should secreure the discipline of the schools and the eagerness of the scholars,—by means of marks, prizes, and the like,—and yet eliminate that knowledge-hunger, itself the quite sufficient incentive to education.”
—p. 11

[Think and write more on this. Does it not sum up our (Scott’s and my) primary reasons for educating our children at home?]

“…we all know that desultory reading is delightful and incidentlally profitable but is not education whose concern is knowledge.” [Query: would unschoolers agree? Do I agree?] “That is, the mind of the desultory reader only rarely makes the act of appropriation which is necessary before the matter we read becomes personal knowledge. We must read in order to know or we do not know by reading.”
—p. 13.

From ONE MAN’S MEAT by E.B. White:

“I believe television is going to be the test of the modern world, and that in this new opportunity to see beyond the range of our vision we shall discover either a new and unbearable disturbance of the general peace or a saving radiance in the sky. We shall stand or fall by television—of that I am quite sure.”
—written in July 1938

[Interesting to read in conjunction with DHM’s series of posts about television this week.]

Same essay:

“When I was a child people simply looked about them and were moderately happy; today they peer beyond the seven seas, bury themselves waist deep in tidings, and by and large what they see and hear makes them unutterably sad.”

[And this long before cable and internet news. And yet, is not much of my frustration over current events connected to the way so many people insulate themselves, either deliberately or through apathy, from knowledge of what is really happening in this country and others? What Charlotte Mason described in the quote above as an apparent inability to “see beyond the circle of their own interests”?]

From Chesterton’s biography of Dickens:

“And, behind all this nine years’ wonder that filled the world, behind his gigantic tours and his ten thousand editions, the crowded lectures and the crashing brass, behind all the thing we really see is the flushed face of a little boy singing music-hall songs to a circle of aunts and uncles. And this precocious pleasure explains much, too, in the moral way. Dickens had all his life the faults of the little boy who is kept up too late at night. The boy in such a case exhibits a psychological paradox; he is a little too irritable because he is a little too happy. Like the over-wrought child in society, he was splendidly sociable, and yet suddenly quarrelsome. In all the practical relations of his life he was what the child is in the last hours of an evening party, genuinely delighted, genuinely delightful, genuinely affectionate and happy, and yet in some strange way fundamentally exasperated and dangerously close to tears.”

Journey North’s Mystery Class Begins Monday

From Journey North:

World Citizens Needed to Solve International Mystery

Calling all emissaries of inquiry. Ten secret Mystery Classes have gone deep undercover around the globe. In fact, they’re so hidden that their location might never be located again–that is, unless YOU join together as citizens of world to find them. You’ll connect, collaborate and compete to solve this international mystery. (How secret are the locations? They’re so top secret that details of their whereabouts are not even known here at Journey North–except in the minds of one or two people, and they’re not talking!).

There’s no time to delay. The hunt begins Monday, and you’ll only have eleven weeks of sleuthing before you’ll be asked to solve THE mystery: “Where in the World Do You Think Our Ten Secret Mystery Classes are Located?”

Click here for more details.

Tidal Homeschooling, Part 3

I found a major flaw in my metaphor.

I’ve been writing about what I call “tidal homeschooling,” the way my children experience an ebb and flow of alternating periods of deliberate study, directed by me, and periods of what is sometimes called “natural” learning but which I more often describe as “accidental” learning—the enormous quantities of facts and ideas children are wont to soak up when given time and freedom in which to do so. I’ve described the periods of structured study as our “high tide” times, when I charter a boat and lead my merry little crew on a fishing expedition in quest of a particular skill or subject, in contrast to our “low tide” times when they wander off, each in her own direction, to explore the shores and tide pools of the world, eager little beachcombers gathering sackfuls of treasure. Because of the high-tide voyages, I cannot accurately call us unschoolers; but because of the frequency and fruitfulness of our low-tide times, which sometimes last for months, I have shied away from various other home-education labels as well, finding more in common with the outlook of the unschoolers than with any other group. Since no label fit, I coined my own term which seems to aptly describe the rhythm and manner of learning that takes place in our family.

But I was mulling over this excellent post at The Common Room (subsequent mulling-over being the usual pleasant result of reading a Common Room post) and it struck me that my metaphor breaks down when I come to the beachcombing part.

“The adults in the child’s life,” writes the Headmistress, referencing Charlotte Mason,

“have the ‘power of appeal and inspiration,’ and the responsibility to act ‘the part of guide, philosopher and friend’ to these young people with wonderful minds but no knowledge to speak of.

“Or… we can just abandon them to their uninformed judgment about what’s important and what isn’t, leave them to their own devices, and allow them to believe that their own judgment about what is and is not important to know is just as well informed and solid an opinion as Mortimer Adler’s, Thomas Jefferson’s, Peter’s, Paul’s, or…. yours. Leaving children to pick up what scraps of knowledge they think to ask about, willy nilly, is not doing them any favors. It isn’t respectful of their situation as newcomers to the world or to the adults they will grow up to be. And if we don’t do our job as the adults in their lives when they are small, the adults they grow up to be will have a malnourished background upon which to build.’ “

For a brief moment, the unschooler in me bristled defensively. Not that I think the Headmistress was denouncing unschooling with this statement—she has made gracious remarks about the philosophy in the comments section here on Bonny Glen and elsewhere. But this statement jumped out at me: “Leaving children to pick up what scraps of knowledge they think to ask about, willy nilly…” Is this, I wondered, exactly the sort of experience I have enthusiastically hailed as our low-tide times? Allowing children the freedom to learn by undirected exploration of the world? To be sure, what I have witnessed and described as the collection of a sackful of treasures is a rich and bountiful harvest of knowledge, not an aimless scrounging after scraps. And yet…is there a willy-nilliness to their education? Am I—are unschoolers—leaving too much up to chance?

Then it occurred to me that I’ve overlooked an aspect of my beachcombing scenario. I’m the one strewing the beach with treasures for the children to discover. You see, this is where the metaphor breaks down. Sometimes, yes, I am simply the person bringing the children to the metaphorical strand and turning them loose to explore. But other times—a lot of the time, when I think about it—I have visited the beach in advance and filled the tide pools with interesting creatures; I have hidden the treasures behind the dunes.

This strewing is something unschooling parents talk a great deal about. It is the same thing Charlotte Mason meant when she said, “Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas…we must sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food,” urging parents and teachers to provide hearty feasts of ‘living’ books and firsthand encounters with the natural world. Of course, Miss Mason recommended regular and orderly mealtimes, while an unschooler would probably say that the human mind thrives best when allowed to graze. But in both cases, we see a committed, thoughtful parent doing the shopping and preparing the food. I am doing just as much preparation (to jump metaphors again) during our low-tide times as I am during high tide. Whether I am piloting the boat on a fishing trip—as I am doing now with our studies of German and Shakespeare—or whether I am hiding bits of sea glass in the sand for a wandering child to discover (or not), my role is indeed that of “guide, philosopher, and friend.”

And so I see that my metaphor needs tweaking. And I continue to chew on these ideas (with apologies to the gentle Headmistress for running off with her post in my mouth), which—like everything connected with Charlotte Mason that I have come across in the past ten years—provide such stimulating nourishment for my own mind.

At any rate, the tidal homeschooling metaphor is not a method; it does not shape what we do. It is useful insofar as it is a way of answering the many variations on the question, “How do you do it?”—which is to say, “What does homeschooling look like in your home?” This is a question homeschoolers are constantly asking one another, and it is a root question in many discussions between homeschoolers and folks whose children go to school. And perhaps a better way of answering it is to apply the Writers’ Rule: Show, don’t tell. I think this is why we love blogs and discussion boards: we crave these peeks into other homes.

One of my favorite “peeks through the window” is Elizabeth Foss’s lovely book, Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home. Here we have an entire book full of examples both practical and lyrical to the “How do you do it?” question. The Common Room family lives in another house full of enticing windows. This post at Cottage Blessings is a glimpse into a cottage that is truly a blessed place—so much so that I am daily tempted to pack up my little brood and move right in. (Wouldn’t Alice be surprised!)

Other recent peeks-through-the-window I have enjoyed:

Castle of the Immaculate
Living Without Schooling
Relaxed Homeskool
Mental Multivitamin
Every Waking Hour
Karen Edmisten

And these books:

Homeschooling With Gentleness by Suzie Andres
Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves by Alison McKee
A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola—like Real Learning, this is a book I return to over and over
• The about-to-be-published Catholic Homeschool Companion, edited by Maureen Wittman and Rachel Mackson—a glimpse through many windows!