Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: education

Cultural Literacy is the key to Communication On the Internet

The best way to build cultural literacy is to read widely.
Last post about this gloriously written book!

Rebuilding a common cultural literacy doesn’t mean we all have to return to the same classical books as our grandparents. We don’t all need to read all the same dead western white guys to understand each other, but we probably should start reading (and watching, listening, and experiencing) a little of as many different works of art, from as many different cultures and backgrounds as possible, if we’re going to save civilization from ourselves.

“How does an audience identify an allusion? The whole system of signaling depends, quite obviously, on a high degree of cultural literacy – an easy assumption in traditional societies with fixed literary canons and a high capacity for verbatim retention of texts, but something of a problem for contemporaries, who often come to literary texts from a background of loose canons, little reading, and languid memory.”

The Pleasure of Reading in an Ideological Age by Robert Alter

That’s a lot of fancy words for we aren’t all coming from the same entertainment background. We aren’t all reading the same small collection of books these days, even more today than when he wrote this because our world has become infinitely larger and more connected virtually.

Funny story, and one you’re probably familiar with. My kids think the memes they find on social media are hilarious. Sometimes, when they show them to me, I don’t get the joke. Or the other way around. I think something is deep and wonderous and they look at me like, “Huh?”

We don’t get the allusion in each other’s media. We don’t see the signals. Once again, I’m reminded of the Star Trek TNG episode “Darmok and Jalad”

To understand each other, especially in the written word, we have to come from a similar background first of all. The more figurative the media, the more it relies on allusion, the more similar our backgrounds need to be for us to “get it.” I can’t understand why you say that the character is like Sisyphus if I haven’t heard or read that story. And you won’t understand that I “Trumped your sly comment with a better one” if you’ve never played the game.

Each nation, each culture, each generation alters its canon a little at a time. We build on the past, let some things go, and add new things, all in an effort to do what? Describe and understand the world around us? Communicate with others near and far, now and in the future? Too bad we can’t send messages back in time and warn them. “Don’t light that match mom!” or “Don’t invent that device!” But then, I’m not sure that would help us really. If we know anything from time travel movies, it’s that events are sticky. They seem to want to happen no matter what we do.

Unlike most children in the U.S., my sons grew up in close proximity to us, 24/7, not because we’re paranoid about someone taking them, or over-protective. It was because we liked them. I wanted to be around them more and figured they’d go to school later when we got tired of each other. I’ve talked about it before, but we unschooled instead of homeschooled. We lived as if school didn’t exist. I should write a new post about THAT!

The short version is that we lived and worked from home, together for 18 years. They had a very similar canon of books, tv, movies, and music as we did because that’s what we knew and shared with them. As we grew, so did they. New movies. New books. New music. Human events unfolded around us. All of it happened in light of what we already knew, our own family’s background canon.

So, when we write a story, share a joke, or make a reference, all of us almost always get the allusion. Until…cue dramatic music…they began to move in circles outside our house. Noooo!!! Once, they found social media, got jobs, friends, and then started college, it all changed. Their canon shifted from ours. And I know that shift isn’t over. Now that they have moved out on their own it will keep growing and changing as long as they live. We’ll be coming back together for holiday gatherings and sharing our worlds with each other for a long time to come.

Michelle? What they heck? What does that have to do with reading?!

It’s the same with books, not to mention articles, movies, and music. The artist creates his work from the memory of his own canon, assuming that the audience has a similar enough background to understand the allusions. If I read something by someone that is so far outside my world, it’s more difficult for me to understand the deeper meanings of the references the creator is trying to convey. That’s what happened to me when I read, “The 28 Mansion of the Moon.”

I think most of us tend to remember that when we’re reading a book but tend to forget that we need to do the same when we read or watch anything, especially on the internet. Here we are with the world at our fingertips. We can see and hear everyone all over the world, but are we communicating? Rarely. It’s not because we’re mean and evil, or less smart than we ever were. It’s simply because we are assuming that everyone we see and hear has the same canon, the same cultural background, as we do. Translation is not simple. We may even be speaking the same language but come from entirely different worlds.

It’s going to take humanity a long time to adjust to this new development. Let’s hope we don’t destroy each other in the process.

Click over to my original post, “The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age” to read my initial thoughts on this book!

Find “The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age” on Thriftbooks and read along with me. If you do, be sure to comment so I know you’re out there. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Why Do I Get Up in the Morning – Episode Three

Not following me on Instagram?
You’re missing out! @desertmichelle

This week’s “Why I get up” crept up on me a little at a time until…POUNCE…I was bowled over.

Last week I got three invitations to answer questions about how to homeschool. Three. I think I got three last year and here I am with three in one week. One email, one phone call, and one meet up. The meet up was the pounce!

I know…you didn’t ask me about homeschooling and I’m not going to tell you how you can or why you should or shouldn’t, don’t worry. Mentioning homeschooling in most circles has much the same response as a “Jesus Juke.” Yes, Jesus may have changed your life, but it doesn’t always apply to everyone in the same personal way.

When you feel something strongly, when you discover something life-changing and fantastic, it’s hard not to share it with the world…loudly. I did that for a long time.

These days I’ve matured (in some ways, shut up), calmed down a bit, and found that, like spiritual matters, parenting and education decisions have to come from inside a person. It’s personal. If someone asks where my kids went to school, I answer honestly. If they are curious and ask questions, I answer them. If they want to know how we did it, I’m happy to discuss it. It’s been a long lesson to learn, but I learned not to bring it up myself. Again, like religious experiences, seekers will find their answers.

The “Why I Get Up” though, that’s the thing I want to tell you and it’s related to those people that reached out to me about homeschooling.

This past week I got three chances to share the joy and love I have for homeschooling, specifically the private “radical unschooling” that we did with our children. There are few things in the world more wonderful than getting to share with others things that have changed your life, hoping that in some small way you are able to pay the universe back for bringing that change into your life.

How did they find me? Because on my blog there is a small page about it and I’m listed as a contact on some small homeschool sites. Finding my name or something I wrote is like finding a penny. It’s not hidden. It’s not all that rare. And it’s value is relative. If you found it and you want it for whatever reason, then it must have been something you were looking for.

I got to spend some of my time this week explaining the rules and encouraging a few people and I’m excited that I may get to do it again. I was also reminded that I should probably put some love into my homeschool page, especially right now with a lot of schools not opening back up in the Fall and a lot of parents looking into alternatives.

Here’s the thing: I’ve always been a positive feedback kind of person. I feel that I need to know that someone out there appreciates what I’m doing to feel good about continuing the work. I found out this week that I should learn to stop that practice if I’m going to have more of an impact in this world.

I should write and post because I have something to say, not because I want applause and kudos. I do enjoy putting my thoughts in order. It’s definitely good for me. I’d much rather talk out my process than write about it, but that’s not always feasible. So here I am tapping away. Lucky for you! I may not get “likes” or “follows.” My website may not reflect all of my actual readers. But my happiness with my work should not depend on that. It should depend only on my own satisfaction.

I love the thought that someone might read this and feel something. I’m thrilled at the thought that, maybe not today, but some time in the future, someone could read what I wrote and use the information or be encouraged to try something new. But that, my sweet, sweet reader, is an awesome side effect if it happens, not the reason why I write.

Writing is a reason I get up in the morning. And the hope that someone will read it, somewhere, someday, that’s just icing on the cake!

5 Ways to Make Your Homeschool Day Easier

annie-spratt-kZO9xqmO_TA-unsplash

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

“There is no consistent pattern for number of days of school per year, length of school breaks, or even length of an average school day among top-performing education systems. This suggests that when it comes to student performance, more important than the amount of time students spend in class is how that time is spent.” From a graphic on NCEE

How can we spend time with our kids and create a quality education at home? When we first start homeschooling it’s easy to recreate traditional school at home. It’s what we know best. And if a school can do what it does in six hours a day, 180 days a year, imagine how much we could teach having our kids 24/7, 365 days a year?!

But the truth of it is, many people start that way and quickly realize it doesn’t work. Homeschooling doesn’t need to look like traditional schooling at all and, in my opinion, it shouldn’t. We should always be Mom and Dad and never “teacher” to our children. That doesn’t mean we aren’t helping them learn, it just means the role we take in their education looks very different. Educating our own children, in our own homes, can and should take on a much more organic feel that looks nothing like a classroom and much more like a creative workshop.

We homeschooled both our boys from birth. I didn’t plan to and the evolution of our homeschool path was a rocky one. We were both traditionally educated, so when we decided to homeschool we automatically took the “school at home” approach. It’s what we knew and what we believed was a tried and true approach. But over time, through watching our kids, reading and studying education styles, talking with parents of grown homeschooled children, our homeschool quickly evolved into a radical unschooling approach that worked very well for all of us. Even if you aren’t using the unschool method, these five tips can help relax your homeschool and support your learning lifestyle.

My sons are now 17 and 19 years old. They both hold jobs and are moving toward independence at their own pace. One is living at home and enjoying the academic life of college. The other has spent a year in Europe on his own and is pursuing a vocational path. Both are competent young adults that people enjoy being around and trust. That’s not bragging, it’s my qualification to speak on the subject. I’m not an expert on homeschooling or on education in general. I’m a mom with experience, sharing what I found to work for us.

#1 Start a Morning Routine for Yourself

You know how on airplanes they say, “Put your own oxygen mask on first and then help your children.” We’ve seen it go around as a meme for years, quoted in self-help books, and laughed about by comedians. It has become cliché, but so totally true, especially for homeschooling.

If you’re homeschooling your kids this year, you’ve just expanded your duties beyond parent and into the realm of educator. Not only are you responsible for keeping them clean, fed, and loved; you now have the added responsibility of facilitating their education. Take care of yourself first, so that you’re ready and able to take care of others.

I’ve found a morning self-care routine is the best way to do that. Getting up before the kids, or having Grandma come over and watch the monkeys for an hour in the morning (one of the perks of a live-in Grandma), was one of the best things I did for their education. The routine evolved over the years from a few minutes in my favorite book with a cup of coffee, to journaling, to day planning, to meditation. The key is to create one that feeds your own soul and makes you a more relaxed person in general.

Search the internet for “morning routine” and you’ll find all kinds of inspiring ideas to get you started!

#2 Ditch the Pre-Packaged Curriculum

A standardized curriculum was created to get a large group of people through a designated amount a material in an organized manner. It’s useful for schools so they keep everyone on track and moving in the same direction. But we don’t need it.

“But won’t there be gaps in their education?”

“How will I know they are learning all the material?”

First of all, there are gaps in everyone’s education: public, private, homeschooled, or tutored. Use one curriculum and you’ll know one list of information. Use another and you’ll know a different list of information. There is no way to put into one human all that they will need to know in a few years of any style of schooling. The point of education shouldn’t be gathering a list of information. It should be learning how to find the information you need.

When my sons were elementary school age, I printed out the World Book Encyclopedia’s Typical Course of Study for their age and kept it as a reference. We’d go to the library once a week and, along with any book they chose to pick up, I picked a book that covered one topic in each subject and left them on our coffee table to thumb through at quiet moments, or look at while we ate lunch. If they found a topic interesting, we’d explore it more.

We also found great recommended reading lists, like the one at TJEd.org. I read those books aloud to the boys before bed, during meals, as audio books during drives, and in line for rides at amusement parks (a great use for a smart phone). There were loads of questions, discussions, and looking up word meanings, but never book reports, diagraming sentences, or tearing apart of character and plot. We just enjoyed the stories. Sometimes we’d find a movie based on one of those books and watch it, which led to more discussion and sometimes controversy.

Another alternative to curriculum and lesson plans is to go to a park day and play with other kids every week, get an annual pass to a museum, science center, or zoo, join scouts or another club, or spend time at historical sites and events all around your area.

The key is to not push the “learning” aspect, but to create an atmosphere of learning all the time. That goes for you too! Go to movies, see the sites, find out what’s going on in your area. Talk with your kids, ask them questions, be curious, and always answer their questions. Show them through your actions that curiosity never dies, that learning never ends and isn’t a chore to be gotten through.

#3 Don’t Over-schedule Your Week

It’s tempting to fill your week with organized field trips and classes but don’t fall for it! There’s a lot to be said for time at home doing nothing in particular. A week could look like this:

Monday Park Day
Tuesday Home
Wednesday Library
Thursday Home
Friday Adventure/Class/Etc.
Saturday Family Time Adventure
Sunday Home

The key point here is flexibility and leaving time to process and relax. There should be time in your day to get the housework done, the groceries in, and to make meals. Invite the kids to help you and learn from the process, or ask them to play outside while you get things ready for them. We shouldn’t be running from one thing to the next and have no time to stop and enjoy the scenery. And your plans should be flexible enough to be able to take advantage of a show or event you just found out about or to take into account the needs of a sick, tired, or just plain grumpy kid (or parent for that matter). You should also have time to visit friends and family when you want to!

It may sound like taking time off to spend the day at the movies or at the zoo, but to a real homeschooler, it’s part of their education. Even something as mundane as the grocery store is part of the process. And when one of us gets sick, call it Health Science and find out what a cold really is, how the body works to fix it, and how best to manage symptoms. This, by the way, is one of the glories of the information age. You have a smart phone, start using it!

#4 Plan Meals and Rest Not Learning or Subjects

Our family’s day revolved around eating and sleeping when my kids were under 12 years old. Breakfast was generally at the same time (and when I read from the books I wanted to get from the library), lunch was at the same time, naps (or really just rest and quiet play), and then dinner when Dad got home from work, which went right into the evening routine of a tv show with Dad or a game, bathing, and reading stories (one for each and the “classic” I wanted them to hear).

Between those times is when the magic happened. Making lunch became science, world culture, and life skills. They’d reenact the stories we were reading in the backyard while I did the laundry. Building forts became physical science. The mailman would come, the street sweeper, the neighbor kids, the park, all lent itself to our education.

How did I keep track of it as a school? I kept a journal, both online as a blog and in a notebook. I took a lot of pictures, too. There were pictures of the kids doing things, places we went, signs we saw, and people we talked to. Part of the evening routine was sitting in the rocking chair in the their room while they went to sleep. I used it as an evening meditation for myself. I’d sit there with my journal, write down what we did, and then read my own book, usually one about homeschooling or some other self-help book. Most nights I ended the day in prayer and thanksgiving. And many nights I ended it in prayer and tears. Parenting is not for the faint of heart!

#5 Start an Evening Routine That Involves Reading What Your Kids Want to Read

We never had a bedtime per se, but we did have an evening routine. After dinner we usually watched a tv show, then we’d head upstairs for clean up, baths, teeth brushing, and pajamas. Then we’d read. Each of the kids would pick a book for me to read to them. It was usually one we’d read a million times. At times, they might choose to read aloud to the rest of us, which is so much fun when they are tiny and just making it up and pointing to words in the book to mimic you (also part of learning to read).

I would end the evening by reading a few chapters from a book from my list, usually a book that would be too hard for them to read on their own. There was a lot of discussion at this time. Lots of questions, looking up words, and talking about the story. Then they’d settle into bed and I would start with my evening routine.

It wasn’t always pretty, my journals are filled with Mom angst and tears for just one peaceful bedtime,  but there was consistency and the kids loved it. We must have read over one hundred classics by the time they got out of elementary school and the proof that it meant a lot to their education is that they still have most of those books and there are still jokes and references to them on a daily basis. And, I simply must add, they both tested right into college English without taking a single English class.


 

For the uninitiated, homeschooling this way feels like not going to school at all, especially during the elementary years, but if you keep a detailed journal listing only the books you read, the places you visited, and the play projects you did together, you’ll start to see the “school hours” rack up. Learning should be play for children and homeschooling this way relieves both parents and kids of some of the stress of modern living.

Our homeschooling lives don’t need to be complicated or expensive. If you’re spending time with them reading, exploring, relaxing and playing, they will learn. Answer their questions, make their lives regular, comfortable and safe. They’ll learn in amazing ways right along side of you and you’ll all be better for the journey!

Learn What You Love

Learn what you love, study what interests you! That’s what I’ve always said. Radically unschooling our children has taught us that it works.

I found this quote in a newsletter from Gretchen Rubin this morning.

“I only study the things I like; I apply my mind only to matters that interest me. They’ll be useful—or useless—to me or to others in due course, I’ll be given—or not given—the opportunity of benefiting from what I’ve learned. In any case, I’ll have enjoyed the inestimable advantage of doing things I like doing and following my own inclinations.”

Nicolas de Chamfort

I’ve personally always found it easier and more beneficial to study things I like or find a use for. Just because there is a list somewhere that says we should know about X, Y, and Z, doesn’t mean they are necessarily my cup of tea or going be needed in my life. I take them as suggestions and move on to what I believe I need.

I’ve raised my sons the same way and so far, it has served them well. We’ve come to learn that the best way to know yourself, your limits, your own personal best way of living, is to follow your instincts, be aware of what you are doing, feeling, and of the results. That starts with not following someone else’s rules unless they make sense to you.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

%d bloggers like this: