Thinking post

I put this under book studies. But, I’m not going to get into the school type massacre of literature. What I am going to do is mention a book. I’m not going to do that at the start though. There’s something that I’ve been mulling over for the last month or so and the book provided some insight.

Over quite a period of time leading up to Andrea’s surgery, quite a few people asked some variation of how I felt about it. My initial reaction to the question (I can’t remember if someone asked me or if the question related through Andrea) was that I thought it was an odd sort of question. I wasn’t the person who was having the surgery and going to have to go through the recovery. I hadn’t really stopped to think about it in terms of anyone other than her. At one point (possibly the weekend before), she said, well, ‘we really haven’t talked about it’ (how I felt about the surgery).

I summed it up by saying, ‘If the choice I have is the surgery or losing you, it’s not a difficult choice to make.’ Excepting that I did not look forward to seeing Andrea going through more surgery and recovery, it was an easy choice for me to support whatever she decided to do. Sometimes I dream big and have very high aspirations, but when it comes down to brass tacks I don’t waste alot of time wishing and pining for choices that I don’t have. And I hope that I can say all of that without it sounding like it was directed at the people who asked. IMO, the people who asked obviously cared. What trying to articulate my thoughts on the issue of choices brought to mind was the moral:

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you do about it.

We all have problems and issues that crop up in life. Probably the issues here are radically different from most in the third world. For some here, when their mp3 player (or some other gadget) fails it’s a serious problem. There are millions (if not a billion) people on this planet who have never held an electronic device. Years ago, I helped my father with organizing some geneological data. Within the last 200 years, in my ancestry, there was a couple who had 10 children. Only 4 survived to adulthood. It’s a sobering thought. If I can rephrase,

Life isn’t what happens to you. It’s what you do.

If you played the lottery and won, that doesn’t dictate what happens next. That may give you more choices. But, really, what you choose to do from that point is life.

What I’ve noticed is that there seems to be two camps in our society with people spread across the spectrum between. One camp is the ‘life is what you do’ camp and the other is the ‘life is what happens to you’ camp. For a long time I wondered whether the ‘life is what happens to you’ camp was a product of the school system where things are largely set up to be things that happen to you. In watching (and reading) Pride & Prejudice, I realized that was not the case. I’ve concluded that Jane Austen was a keen observer of human behaviour and social interaction. I think she did an incredible job of describing the character of both camps.

A snippet of the exchange between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Gardiner was, ‘It was through my mistake…and so the remedy must be… The responsibility is mine, I must have it.’ It’s very much a statement of what I did and what I’m going to do. No where in the conversation does Mr. Darcy even hint at ‘what happened to him’.

In contrast, throughout the book (and hence the movie), Mrs. Bennett focuses solely on what happens to her both directly and indirectly. At no point in her conversation does she talk in terms of what she’s done or doing. In the miniseries version, I found the character somewhat overplayed. But, I think being overplayed really accentuated the fact that the character was obsessed with making the right things happen (to her or some other character).

I’ve spent quite a while writing this and I almost forgot the closing thoughts I had in mind. One of those is that whether or not systemized education has increased the commonality of the character flaw, it probably has existed throughout time. Secondly, if you haven’t read the book and/or watched the movie it is well worth watching. If you are going to do both, I would suggest watching the movie first. Finally, I suppose I’ve made it fairly clear which of the two camps I feel would be a better choice to gravitate to. So, I’m not going to restate that here.

Guerrilla Learning

When I was working and coming home for lunch, Andrea and I normally reserved meal times for conversation whether it was with her or among the whole family. Alot of the time we would catch up on how our morning or afternoon had gone. Since I’ve been home alot more, Andrea has been reading at lunch. Often when she’s reading something and finds something she thinks I’ll like, she reads it out loud. If I’m reading, I do the same. I think we both enjoy reading aloud and being read to. There is also having the comfort of having someone to share a good thought with.Over the weekend she read 2 things to me at one meal. The first one was:

People learn to write well not by studying grammar, sentence structure, and spelling but by reading good writing and trying to imitate it. Reading and writing are inextricably linked…

There are few things that come along that feel better than having someone who is considered an expert say something you have been telling people for years. Oddly, this fits so well with a quote from Finding Forrester:

Why is it the words we write for ourselves are always so much better that those we write for others?

I think at least a partial answer to that is in the fact that often when we write for others, our first concern is with grammar, sentence structure and spelling. When we write for ourselves, we have something we want to express. And, the technicalities of writing take a back seat to what we need/want to say.

For many, blogging offers the opportunity through both reading and writing to discover the knack of writing well. It will only take a few months of reading to discover the type of writing one likes to read. From there, when writing in ones own blog, the tendency to frame things the way one likes to read them will naturally develop. Formality and structure are secondary.

The second thing Andrea read was:

Teach your children to listen carefully and to speak thoughtfully. The best way to teach this is to listen carefully and speak thoughtfully to your children, from the time they are babies. It’s never too late to begin this practice. (emphasis mine) … Above all, listen, listen, and listen to your kids. (emphasis autor)

When I did the home ed workshop last year, listening to and responding to your children was one of the primary messages I wanted to convey to the audience. In an effort to summarize that workshop, I may have reduced the significance of that point. I did not leave it out entirely, though.

The fifth chapter is called ‘Demonstration’. Its statement was, ‘Those who are seeking to train people must be prepared to have them follow.’ Has anyone ever told you they couldn’t homeschool because their children won’t listen to them? Even though I really had no idea what impact it would have on my children, I can remember back in the days when the older three were going to turn 6, 3, 1. Every day, when I got home from work, there they would be just inside the door, all talking to me at once (including the noises of someone who crawled there), and telling me what was important to them in their day. At 17, 14, 12 and 4 they still ‘check in’.

When I elaborated on this point in the workshop, I asked how would you expect children to listen if you don’t listen to them. Children who are listened to and taken seriously, will listen and take you seriously. The only leadership skill worth having is setting an example. It is the only form of leadership which exists in our absence.

While this was sitting on draft, Carlotta wrote (in part)

I respect the choices of my child because he is a human being. What quality about him means that he should only be viewed as something that only lives fully in the future? I do not believe that there is any vastly different quality in children that distinguishes them from adults…

and Clare wrote (in part)

I have only had 2.5years experience of being a mother, but I can say most definitely that respecting my child’s choices and needs is easy, enjoyable, relatively unstressful etc. etc. It makes for a toddler who respects other people and who don’t have tantrums here there and everywhere.

What more needs to be said?

On Writing

In the forum, I mentioned that I was going to read Tomorrow is school and I’m sick to the heart thinking about it (Amazon: Cdn US). I’m about half way through the story. I ran across a paragraph that I couldn’t resist sharing:

After a few months of nothing, I received a book report from Sterling Fillier (whose longest essay to that point had been a four line disaster) that was three and a half pages long. It was largely a rambling, disjointed account of the book, and unfortunately the entire thing was written in three sentences, but he was writing! Sterling had discovered books, and after that I seldom saw him without two or three paperbacks. From that point on his writing made slow but steady progress, and I looked back on those three and a half terrible pages of marathon run-on sentences as a milestone in my teaching.

Over the last few years we have told many people in many ways, both in person and online, that writing skill would develop with the amount of reading they did and having opportunity and interest in writing about things that they wanted to write about. I am firmly convinced that teaching the mechanics of writing (grammar, spelling, composition, etc.) prior to learning how to express ones thoughts and ideas is counterproductive. And that writing skills will develop over time through practice and volume of reading.

It gives you such a lift to see someone in a totally different situation than you come to the same conclusion as you did. Especially, when you both arrived at it through trial and error.