Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy Banned Books Week!

It's Banned Books Week, a great celebration of the American freedom to read.  This week N. discovered the Captain Underpants books, and has been reading them nonstop; as it happens, the author of this series, Dav Pilkey, produced a cartoon in honor of Banned Books Week:



I very much appreciate his message.  There's nothing wrong with exercising parental judgment about what is appropriate reading for one's own children (especially young children -- I personally think this parental right expires when one's children are in high school).  But parents should not impose these judgments on other parents or other parents' children by banning books!

Here are some lists of frequently banned or "challenged" books. Celebrate your freedom by reading a banned book today!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Man in Black


Recently we went to a book festival in our city and heard the writer G. Neri describe the process of writing his new picture book about Johnny Cash's early life and the beginning of his career in music.  Neri tells the story in free-verse poems that are laid out on the page like song lyrics on the back of a record cover facing A.G. Ford's rich illustrations that could be the front of the album. (Neri's other books [which I have not read] are for older kids, and I wouldn't have necessarily thought before reading this that Johnny Cash's life was picture-book material, but this is appropriate for ages 7 and up.)  N. was mesmerized by Neri's account of Cash and Neri's own path as he researched Cash's story.  We bought the book and Neri signed it for N., which N. thought was just about the coolest thing ever.  This was the first time he'd met an author (of a children's book, I should say -- he's met many authors of scholarly books, and indeed lives with one, but that's hardly as cool)!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Back to (Home)School: 5th Grade

N. declared last week to be the beginning of his 5th grade year, as all his friends were returning to their "regular schools."  He was, as every year, eager to begin, which always feels like the most precious confirmation that what we are doing in this homeschool adventure is working for him.  He started his first day by reading in Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart by Mary Ann Hoberman while he ate his breakfast (strategic "strewing" by me -- google if you aren't familiar with this classic unschool concept, and hat tip to Supratentorial, where I learned of this excellent and funny poetry anthology).

And from there, his and Tim's days unfolded pretty much as they did last semester (and as they have since at least kindergarten!).  Tim read aloud Lytton Strachey's account of Thomas Arnold, the famous headmaster of Rugby School, in his Eminent Victorians. Later in the week he started reading N. a new autobiography, that of John Stuart Mill (1873); they are enjoying his account of his childhood and early education.  This led to brief peeks at The Faerie Queene and Pope's translation of The Iliad.  They are continuing to read through Joy Hakim's A History of US as well as Rebecca Fraser's The Story of Britain.  Over the course of the week, N. did some math and geometry in his Daily Math workbook.  They read an entry in The History of the World in 100 Objects.  N. copied a Shakespeare sonnet for handwriting practice ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?").  He listened to a CD lecture on a Mozart piano sonata.  I  led our weekly French lesson.  N. practiced piano every day, he drew every day, he read fiction, comic books, and train magazines every day.

N. is continuing the same activities as last semester: piano, chorus, ballet, and music theory.  In October he'll participate in the Young Performer's Chamber Music Workshop that he enjoyed so much last spring.

So overall, the theme of this new school year is to keep doing what we've been doing.  As summer waned, many (non-homeschooling) friends asked us what our plans for the coming school year were, and I started to feel uncomfortable with my boring answer: "Pretty much the same stuff we've been doing!"  Is that lame? Should we be trying new things?  We have a few goals: to do more kitchen-science, more writing/composition.  I've suggested that N. undertake a long-term research project this year, but other than this, we're sticking in the groove that works.  

As I was feeling this slight anxiety, a friend fortuitously sent me the description of a book on education (Learning in Depth: A Simple Innovation That Can Transform Schooling by Kieran Egan), with the comment, "You've said much the same!":
Real education, Egan explains, consists of both general knowledge and detailed understanding, and in Learning in Depth he outlines an ambitious yet practical plan to incorporate deep knowledge into basic education. Under Egan’s program, students will follow the usual curriculum, but with one crucial addition: beginning with their first days of school and continuing until graduation, they will each also study one topic—such as apples, birds, sacred buildings, mollusks, circuses, or stars—in depth. Over the years, with the help and guidance of their supervising teacher, students will expand their understanding of their one topic and build portfolios of knowledge that grow and change along with them. By the time they graduate each student will know as much about his or her topic as almost anyone on earth—and in the process will have learned important, even life-changing lessons about the meaning of expertise, the value of dedication, and the delight of knowing something in depth.
I was grateful for this timely affirmation!  N. has been building deep knowledge of topics he cares about for years already: trains, architecture, music.  These (sometimes interconnected) topics lead in all kinds of productive directions, and his recursive interest in them not only cultivates his expertise but helps him learn about learning itself.  Here's to more of the same!