Thursday, March 13, 2014

Act One by Moss Hart

Hearing about Tim and N.'s ongoing autobiography curriculum last year, a friend recommended the playwright Moss Hart's Act One (1959).  Tim is now reading it to N. and they both love it.  Every night at supper I get to hear about the latest episodes in Hart's rise from office boy to playwright.  Who could resist this timeless story of grit and luck in bygone New York?

But its appeal is not only the story of an unknown making it on Broadway against the odds.  Hart's account of his mother was especially resonant for us:
"With my mother the gulf that parted us was even wider, and it remained so forever.  I felt sorrow for her, I admired her, but I did not like her.  If this seems like a heartless impertinence I do not mean it so.  It is said in terms of compassion and not of complaint.  Within her limitations she was a woman of decent instincts and exemplary behavior, and her lot was a hard one.  The days of her life were spent in a constant battle of keeping peace between her father and her sister, and later on, after my grandfather died, between her sister and her husband.  The struggle robbed her of her children -- people who spend their lives in appeasing others have little left to give in the way of love.  It was her tragedy, as well as my brother's and my own.  At a certain age, sometimes early, sometimes late, children make up their minds about their parents.  They decide, not always justly, the kind of people their mothers and fathers are, and the judgment can be a stern one; as cruel, perhaps, as mine was, for it was maintained through the years and was not lessened by the fact that to the end of her days my mother showed not the faintest sign of understanding either the man she had married or the sons she had produced" (25-6). 
Tim recognized in this much of his relationship with his mother, who died in late February.  Reading this passage shortly after we attended her funeral gave Tim and N. an additional way of thinking through our mourning of N.'s grandmother, a feisty woman who didn't understand her son but who warmly embraced her youngest grandchild.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Networks of Learning

A dear friend gave us Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language (1977) a couple years ago, and recently brought to my attention his Pattern #18: Networks of Learning, which reads like a description of my ideal home/urban un-schooling environment:
"In a society which emphasizes teaching, children and students -- and adults -- become passive and unable to think or act for themselves. Creative active individuals can only grow up in a society which emphasizes learning instead of teaching.... Therefore: instead of lock-step of compulsory schooling in a fixed place, work in piecemeal ways to decentralize the process of learning and enrich it through contact with many places and people all over the city: workshops, teachers at home or walking through the city, professionals willing to take on younger children, museums, youth groups traveling, scholarly seminars, industrial workshops, old people, and so on.  Conceive of all these situations as forming the backbone of the learning process..."
 It is reassuring and exciting for homeschooling parents to think of themselves not as the primary teachers of their children, but as the facilitators of their learning networks.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Hotel Cat

Shortly after I wrote about my failed book-bribing campaign to get N. more in the habit of reading novels from start to finish, he did just that.  It was evening and I was looking for a new read-aloud.  (I settled on Tom's Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce, which we are loving so far!).  As I was rummaging the shelves, I noticed Hotel Cat by Esther Averill and tossed it on N.'s bed, thinking he might like it (he loves cats, and it is set in an old hotel in New York).  He found the book later when he was getting ready for bed and immediately began to read.  So much for a reasonable bedtime that night!  He read one more chapter, and one more, and one more until later than I will publicly admit to.  He woke himself up early in order to keep reading, he read through breakfast, and he finished the book by the following night.  I immediately ordered as many more of Averill's Cat Club books on as I could find at reasonable prices (as usual, our lame public library has none).

This totally absorbing, drop-everything, "please don't talk to me" binge-reading is one of my favorite pleasures, and it warms my heart to see my son experience it.  That was all I was really aiming for in my book-bribing project.  It wouldn't be particularly practical if he read that way all the time; he'd never get anything else done!  And this was certainly not his first experience of this kind of reading (see Harry Potter, volumes 1-3).  But as a mom and a literature professor, very little gives me greater happiness than seeing someone in lost in a book.  

Monday, March 3, 2014

Celebrating Chopin's Birthday

On Saturday N. played in a local festival celebrating Chopin's birthday.  Over the course of five hours, local students, teachers, and professional pianists played works from Chopin's oeuvre.  N. played a mazurka.  Piano can be somewhat more isolating than other instruments children learn; there are rarely spaces for pianists in youth orchestras or school bands.  So it is nice to have a chance to join a larger community of pianists.  And in this case, it was especially fun for N. to participate in an event celebrating one of his favorite composers.  He really enjoyed hearing so many different pianists interpret Chopin's music.

(The jumbotron directly behind N. was amusing to us.)