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Monday, September 03, 2007


One thing that particularly disturbs me about the reporting process required to continue our Odyssean learning adventure, aside from the insinuation that I may not be making a good effort, and the reliance on so-called experts to evaluate and validate my effort, and the time wasted on analysis better spent on actual learning, and the fact that this reporting is not required for the majority of homeschoolers who fall under the not-really-homeschooling-at-all, government-conveyor-belt Distance Education program, and the rigid, unbending, ludicrous, uh, wait, where was I going with this...oh, yeah...the constant stream of suggestions... The suggestions for quantifiable learning bestowed upon us by the education experts, to benefit and assist us in our poor, uncertified, unqualified attempts at teaching. Banal ideas that come straight from a classroom with a heavy reliance on creative writing: Imagine you are a settler and create a diary recording your daily life for one week. Create a brochure... You are a television reporter... Create a PowerPoint presentation... Write a letter to a friend...

But, maybe you say, that sounds like a fun way to encourage writing. And it might be. For you. If you chose it for your own writing projects.

When my mother was teaching, I loved to go through her materials and use them in my own way. My favorite was a box full of 3 x 5" cards with writing prompts on them. An alien lands in your backyard. How would you explain to him about... I would go through several cards in one sitting. I wanted to get through the whole box but forced myself to ration the cards to just a few a day to make it last. But I would not have been so enthusiastic if they had been assignments. In fact, I probably would have drawn a blank under the pressure of having to produce something worthwhile. Sarabelle's history lessons a few years back were supplemented using various Jackdaw publications, something that would have entertained me for days, weeks even, if I had them around when I was younger. She enjoyed a few of the projects and they made for a beautiful presentation at portfolio review time, but did she learn anything valuable? Maybe, if she ever needs to one day compose another poem about King John crossing The Reach. In hindsight I would have much rather had her practice writing by sending letters to the editor or submitting articles she wrote on a subject that interested her to an appropriate publication. For a while she was writing to the authors of books she enjoyed, one to Fearless Leader, and even received a few replies. Nowadays she writes movie reviews in a class they call English.

When Elle and I wanted to learn about the magpies in our yard the other day, we got out the bird identification book. After Elle looked up the page numbers using the index, we read about them and observed them. Did you know magpies live in extended family groups? And are very territorial, covering 2 - 40 hectares depending on the bounty of their surroundings? And that the curious watery warbling effect in their tune is actually an impromptu duet with another nearby magpie? I do now, and more importantly, so does Elle. She went and shared that information with everyone we've spoken to in the past couple days. Sometimes more than once. Did I make her write a report or create a posterboard presentation or fashion a magpie habitat diorama or paint herself black and white and fly around the room? No, I most certainly did not. What would be the point, really? Other than pleasing some faceless name in Brisbane, of course.

My problem with their suggestions is that they are frivolous fabrications. Meaningless busywork. One reason I have few original writing samples to scratch up for a review is that letters get mailed to the intended recipients, notes and cards are distributed to the proper parties, information and stories she has deemed important enough to write down belong to her or are shared as gifts, contest entries get sent off (ahem, mostly), and diaries are private. They have a meaning and a purpose. They are evidence of real life learning. As part of the coming year's plan, if our efforts are deemed worthy enough to continue, Elle will keep a Commonplace Book, a place where she can note her interesting facts and even draw magpies if she so chooses, and you can be absolutely sure the powers-that-be will just have to settle for photocopies.

Maybe I am too practical -- Buy the kids a toy vacuum? Give them a Dustbuster or lightweight stick vac and let 'em have at it -- but aren't time wasters one of the many reasons some people choose to homeschool? Creating arty little aggrandizing showpieces isn't my thing; establishing useful, real life skills is.


Becky said...

I cannot count the number of times I've realized after the envelope has dropped down the Canada Post that I forgot to photocopy the contents.

I hate those wretched make-work projects. The worst I've seen are the English ones at the local high school. The kids read everything from Lord of the Flies to Camus' The Stranger and then...

they have to make a model/diorama of a scene from the book.

In grades 10-12. Give me a good old four- or five-page essay and be done with it. Oy.

While running more or less from early May until the end of last month, my kids learned oodles. And very little was, ahem, documented, well, if you don't count the family photo album :).

Anonymous said...

Reading this entry all I could think was that you were reading my mind. These very thoughts about busy work have been going through my head the past few days - but you actually put it down into writing, whereas I have been letting it fester.... But thanks

KathyJo said...

Sing it, sistah!