Monday, April 4, 2011

Love in a Time of Homeschooling by Laura Brodie

8 out of 10: As a parent researching the future educational choices I will have to make for my child(ren), I really enjoyed this book. It feels like it was written for me. Brayden isn't even two yet, but I think about his education on a regular basis.

This book doesn't give definite answers and I think that is why I loved it. The book is the story of "a mother and daughter's uncommon year." This woman has three daughters, and she decides to homeschool her oldest daughter for her fifth grade year. I think that idea of flexibility is good. Her other two daughters were doing fine in school and were happy, but Julia wasn't happy. I like the concept of being open to what is best for your child. In all my talk of homeschooling, Adam is most receptive when I mention a one year period of RVing and homeschool. Likely won't happen, but it is one of our dreams.

I dogeared so many pages of quotes from this book.

-On the drudgery of homework: " Today's public schools seem to have responded to the endless cry for "achievement!" by adding more worksheets to the homework pile. Math worksheets, grammar worksheets, bland spelling exercises. I wouldn't mind the work if it seemed more interesting- if Julia were asked to try a fun science experiment, or to walk outside and compose a poem about the sounds in her yard. What rankles is the monotony of colorless paper, the columns of equations and fill-in-the-blank history."

-On homework and achievement: "In the elementary grades, studies show that the link between homework and academic achievement is minimal at best- its impact grows in middle and high school."

The author quotes her daughter at the beginning of one of the chapters, giving a good example of things being taught in the wrong way or wrong order: "School is all about copying the teacher. I mean, I've been saying the pledge of allegiance for six years, and I only learned what "pledge" meant one year ago."

Brodie tells the story of when she introduced Arabian Nights to her daughters. I didn't know this, but the story's roots are in classical music. She played the music for them, telling them the story, and that led to checking out an illustrated version of the story and to geography lessons about Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. She says: "This is homeschooling at its best- a constant segue from music history, to literature, to geography, to contemporary politics. It can take place anywhere, at almost any time, even with a carload of children driving home from the regular school."

She doesn't claim it went perfectly, though. She explains she still lost her temper sometimes when Julia couldn't focus. And she fell into some of the traps of public schools- like memorization of facts children don't use on a regular basis. She helped Julia memorize state capitols with a game before realizing that Julia had no idea where the most important city of a state is (i.e. Chicago over Springfield).

What hit me the most was this: "In her book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, Judith Warner describes how today's mothers have become a generation of control freaks, frantically prepping children to get their piece of a shrinking American pie, rather than taking political action to ensure that there is enough pie to go around."

Why did this hit me? Because it is me. I am so caught up in making sure Brayden is on track developmentally- comparing him to other children- and I have been since his birth. Even now I feel guilt if I hear that a child his age can do something he can't do. I feel like it's my fault and that I am failing him as his mother. After reading this book, I have more faith in myself to make the right choices for Brayden. I am his first teacher, right now. Whether he goes to public school or not is yet to be seen, but even if he does, Adam and I are his most important teachers.

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