Monday, February 27, 2006

On my current bookshelf:

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. This book, by the author of Guns, Germs, and Steel should probably be required reading for all of us living on planet earth right now. The author discusses previous civilizations that have collapsed, societies that have avoided such disasters, the state of our current conditions, and what we could choose to do about it.

The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell : An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq by John Crawford - An intriguing look at the current situation in Iraq, through the eyes of one soldier.

Pope Joan
by Donna Cross - An interesting concept, that a woman ascended to the Papacy in secret, by pretending to be her dead brother. The writing is not top notch and I've been skimming a fair bit, but it's worth a look.

On deck: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larsen - I'm really looking forward to reading this, because his book Isaac's Storm is one of my all-time favorites.

I decided not to include links to any online booksellers with these titles. If you want to buy a book, please patronize your local bookstores. They're some of the treasures of our country, and they are disappearing rapidly. I'm not saying Borders or Amazon don't have their place, but a good local bookstore is a gem, and if we patronize them for at least some of our bookbuying, we'll keep these valuable resources around. The library's good too. That's my public service announcement for the day, LOL.

Friday, February 24, 2006

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us

An unschooling mom I've known online lost her daughter to leukemia in the early hours of this morning. Not much over a month ago, their lives were going forward as if they had all the days in the world, today she is gone. Our imaginations can only touch the edges of such grief, and then pull back in fear. I can't stop thinking about what this mother is going through.

The brightest light in the whole story is that over the years I've read this mom's posts, I've seen online her experiences with her kids, the joy they lived every day. I can imagine that in the midst of terrible pain, this must be some solace: that every day they had together, they chose joy. That she got to share so many of her daughter's days. Her hopes, her joys, her daily ups and downs, her experiences. That is the biggest gifts of unschooling: the gift of time, the gift of choice, the gift of joy. Time with our kids. Time to build teepees from sticks, back cupcakes, play Monopoly in our pajamas at noon. Choice: their choices, which are respected. Their lives, which are full of choices that they own and make. And Joy, the sheer joy of living a meaningful life that one has chosen for oneself.

I can't imagine losing a child and having to think back over all of the hours they were gone, away from me, in school. Hours learning multiplication tables and how to spell Constantinople. Knowledge that would've come anyway, in its own time. Time that is lost that never comes back. I'm grateful for the choice I have to unschool my kids. Grateful for the gifts that unschooling brings. Grateful that if, god forbid, anything ever did happen to any of us, I would know that we lived every day as if it was our only day, that we spent it in joy.

In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf says "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us". More than anything today, as my heart goes out to a grieving family, is the knowledge that we have chosen wisely.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Robin's disclaimer:
I'm going to write here about real unschooling and it's real effects in our lives and the lives of other unschoolers we know (among other things). This might not be a place for the faint of heart, or those easily offended by criticism of current educational thinking and practices. I'll probably also write honestly about how I feel about triathlons, birdwatching, the travails of the current publishing industry, and other things, but somehow I think those are far less likely to stir up people's feelings.
Two Roads Diverged...

I was sitting at our local homeschool resource center with my 6 y.o. daughter, playing games and reading books, waiting for my son to finish his Movie studios class. A boy of about 7 or 8 is near us, tears of frustration running down his face, a math workbook in front of him. The lesson today is "rounding". His mom bends over him, pointing out how to round 378 first up to 380, then up to 400. Meaningless numbers on paper, divorced from real life, he has no interest in doing this right now and for good reason. An hour of tears on a sunny day, just to learn something that most kids figure out when they take their allowance to the store and realize that $6.98 is really $7.00

In an effort to spur him on, the mom comes out with "Every single kid your age has to do this. They all have to do this stuff. Now let's just get on with it." A total lie. Right there at the next table is a child who has never had to touch a workbook in her life.

The week before, it is another mom going over phonemes in a workbook with her similar-aged daughter. After an hour or so, my daughter leans over and asks her what they are doing. "Learning phonemic awareness," the mom replies. "You have to learn all of this before you can learn how to read."

"I know how to read already, and I never did phoneemie whatevers," my daughter replies. I try to stifle a smile, and the other mother all but puts her hands over her daughter's ears. Heresy, to question the approach of dissecting real-world tasks into lines and workbook forms. And it's so much harder if your kids ever find out that none of it is really necessary.

This morning, 10:00 and still in our pajamas, my daughter and I play a game of Monopoly. I land on Illinois Ave, $240, but only have a $500 to pay with. As the banker, she goes to make change for me. "How do I figure it, mom?" she asks. I walk her through rounding up to 300, and making change, pointing out a couple of shortcuts I use, like instead of subtracting 40 from 100, subtract 4 from 10 and then add a zero afterwards.

Several moves later, she lands on Pennsylvania Avenue, and figures out that 500 - 320 is 180, all on her own. A few more turns and she lands on a Chance square. Reading the card, she comes to a word she doesn't know. I help her sound it out. A little bit later, and Income Tax square brings up a discussion about percentages. We laugh and play around. I sell her St. James place at a bargain price, because she "loves the saints". We sing a chorus of "Oh When the Saints Go Marching In". We talk about New Orleans, which moves on to a discussion of hurricanes, tsunamis, why hurricanes don't happen here, what would happen to our chickens if a hurricane did appear here, why chickens can't fly as well as other birds, flightless birds of New Zealand, and a dozen other topics.

No tears. No workbooks. Real life. Real learning. And somewhere in the middle of this real life, she has learned her "phoneemie whatevers" and rounding too.

Yes, when it comes to learning we take the road less traveled by, And that has made all the difference
I tried this blogging thing awhile ago and just didn't stick with it (kind of like all of those journals I have that are half full and half empty. Hmmm, I spy a trend here).

We'll see what happens this time. Expect thoughts on unschooling, writing, triathlons, and whatever else is going on in my life.