At the midpoint: Adventures to date

With the Misses in college, our adventures are generally confined to the weeks of their breaks, but we’ve still been able to assemble a decent list at this year’s midpoint.

Theater and Music
Waiting for Godot (January; Court Theatre)
■ Elgin Symphony Orchestra (February)
Dunsinane (March; Chicago Shakespeare Theater)
The Book of Mormon (March; Broadway in Chicago: Bank of America Theatre)
The Good Book (March; Court Theatre)
Les Miserables (March; Paramount Theatre)
The Little Foxes (May; Goodman Theatre)
Sense and Sensibility (May; Chicago Shakespeare Theater)
Doubt (June; Writers Theatre)

Museums and Institutions
■ Behind-the-scenes tour of the John G. Shedd Aquarium (January)
■ John G. Shedd Aquarium trainer-for-a-day (January; Miss M-mv(i) only)
■ Art Institute of Chicago (January and May)
■ Members’ preview of “Amphibians” at the John G. Shedd Aquarium (May)
■ Members’ night / behind-the-scenes event at the Field Museum (May)
■ Chicago History Museum (May)
■ Tour of Yerkes Observatory (May)
■ Art Institute of Chicago (May)
■ Tour of Argonne National Laboratory (May)

Other adventures
■ Owl walk / education program (January)
■ Three professional development seminars for literacy tutoring program (May; Mr. and Mrs. only)
■ Archery lessons (May and June)
■ American Red Cross Water Safety Instructor (WSI) certification course (May and June; Misses only)
■ Spanish course (June and July; Mr. and Mrs. only)
■ Fencing “dabble” (June; Mr. and Misses only)
■ Volunteer training for therapeutic riding facility (June; Miss M-mv(i) only)

Adventures, we’ve had a few.

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Last week, we visited the Art Institute of Chicago. Of particular interest:

Charles Ray: Sculpture, 1997–2014 (images above)

Jean-Luc Mylayne: Mutual Regard (no images in this post)

Jackson Pollock’s Greyed Rainbow, 1953 (image detail above)

■ The Honoré-Victorin Daumier “heads” (one pictured above)

Conservation Live: Francis Picabia’s “Edtaonisl”

Indian Art of the Americas (images above)

After our meander through the Art Institute, we saw Sense and Sensibility at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which runs through June 14. Reviews here and here. Recommended.

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And to further celebrate the latest and last graduate of the family-centered learning project, we arranged for a tour of Argonne National Laboratory. If you’re in the Chicagoland area, we can’t recommend the tour programs at both Argonne and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory enough. The future physicist in our midst has also completed the “Saturday Morning Physics” program at Fermilab and gives that two enthusiastic thumbs-up, too.

“You know what, man? It’s like sausage.”

Six years ago, on the original M-mv site, I published the post “Homeschooling expert? Nah.” By request, I’ve reworked / reproduced much of the material below.

I have always been startled by e-mail messages from homeschooling parents seeking my counsel, advice, and, as one correspondent put it, “expertise.”

Folks, I am no expert. True, I’ve been doing this for a while — twenty-five years of parenting and eighteen years of home education, to be exact. And, yes, I have graduated three students.

But, “homeschooling expert”? Nah.

Do I have a few tips? Sure. And over the years, I have provided them. It’s not enough, some correspondents have protested. More. Tell more. What program? What schedule? How? When? Where?
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Once upon a time ago, a colleague and I were working on yet another Very Important Project (Rush! Rush! Hurry! Hurry!) using a program called Ventura. Other publishing professionals may remember this package. It was a behemoth, but, oh, if you could harness even a bit of its power… the places you could go! Anyway, as always, one or another junior attorney in the firm was strutting and fretting in the hall beyond our suite. “What are you doing? When will it be done? Can’t you hurry? How do you do that?”

In his carefully cultivated “affable mid-Westerner” style, my colleague replied, “You know what, man? It’s like sausage. You really don’t want to know how it’s made. In fact, if you saw how it was made, you would never eat sausage again.”

If you saw how it was made, you would never eat sausage again.

Yeah, I think that about describes how I felt when I fielded yet another request for a homeschooling how-to tutorial. Heh, heh, heh.

Look. I’m not willfully withholding information. I’ve always been blunt, direct, and transparent.

We read.

We think.

We learn.

We go out into the world and work, play, and live.

What more can I say?
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Perhaps I’m not prepared to provide a conventional how-to tutorial because so much of what I did and what I do is intuitive and specific to me, to my students, and to my family. Besides, describing what we do any more than I already have would be a helluva a whole lot like trying to teach that junior attorney some Ventura “basics.”

If you saw how it was made, you would never eat sausage again.
________________________

In September 2009, I read a thought-provoking article on the subject of experts. Two passages in Frank Furedi’s piece struck me. This one:

We are advised to seek and heed to advice of a bewildering chorus of personal experts — parenting specialists, life coaches, relationship gurus, super-nannies and sex therapists, to name a few — who apparently possess the authority to tell us how to live our lives.

And this:

While this professionalisation of everyday life has been a distinct trend from the outset of modernity, it has grown at a breathtaking pace since the 1960s, with professionals systematically expanding the range of personal issues that demand expert knowledge. Today, every aspect of life from birth through to school and career to marriage and mourning is subject professional counselling.

While I do think the homeschooling endeavor could benefit from a little more — for lack of a better word — professionalism (i.e., the adoption of some of the traits that make us successful in our more conventional work) — I never bought into the idea of professional motherhood that columnist Anne Quindlen once excoriated. Critics of homeschooling often accuse us of professionalizing everyday life, though; of, in fact, professionalizing motherhood. And frankly? I understand that accusation. While it is not what prompted my decision, I certainly realize that homeschooling seems to have conferred some — again, for lack of better word — status on my choices. Many people maintain that stay-at-home parenting alone does not draw on the education and work experience one has acquired, but they concede that home education may. A little, anyway. (Either that, or they simply dis and dismiss homeschooling parents and their students, which is a topic quite apart from the ideas I’m exploring here, isn’t it?)

I’m hoping we can, for now, sidestep the philosophical exploration the previous paragraph begs (i.e., “What do I care what other people think?”). It will add nothing to this entry. Moving on, then.

The family-centered learning project did, indeed, benefit from and draw on the knowledge gained from my studies and work. While a degree may not be necessary to be a good teacher, I cannot, will not understate the role my own education — which includes a graduate degree and postgraduate studies — has played in my teaching. More, I firmly believe that the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers and that the quality of teachers affects student performance more than anything else. Folks bristle at such assertions, but they keep writing to me: More. Tell more. Don’t become angry, then, when I tell you. My education — and, yes, my work — shaped me, shaped the way I receive and convey information, shaped my idea of what an agile mind comprises, so when I found myself in the most important teaching gig I’ll ever have, I knew I was shaping my students, shaping the way they received and conveyed information, shaping their idea of what an agile mind comprises. I did so responsibly, not with the objective of providing a good elementary, intermediate, or secondary education but with the goal of growing lifelong learners.

Simply put, then, I have ensured that my students can read widely and deeply, write clearly, and think well.

Critics have also accused homeschooling parents of selfishness and self-centeredness, saying that we do what we do to serve needs of our own, not those of our children. I am guilty of one count of this charge, and this is it: I have selfishly spent the last eighteen years molding the sort of readers, thinkers, writers, and students that I sought in my classrooms and workshops once upon a time ago: Inquisitive. Well read. Versed in culture, both of the capital-C and the popular variety. At once thoughtful and challenging. Clear spoken. Confident. Mature. And so on.

While I appreciate the child-like, the childish leaves me cold, so I discarded conventional ideas about grades and age-level appropriateness and what every child needs to know, ignored most of the educational and homeschooling “experts,” and simply gave my students the books, conversations, challenges, opportunities, time, resources, and all required to meet my ideal as quickly and effectively as possible.

The average child is capable of so much more than is typically asked of him or her! He need not be “scary smart” to understand Shakespeare in elementary school. She need not be “gifted” to move quickly through three levels of math. In an environment in which the tools of study are readily available, in a classroom in which the students have been led to understand that this — all of this reading, thinking, learning, discussing, studying, creating, working, and, yes, playing — is their job, in a school in which the teacher can, in fact, teach, damn it, there will be much profitable learning.

It’s just hard to describe what’s happening in such a classroom because it will be unique to that environment, those students, that teacher.

Moreover, folks become intensely uncomfortable when you tell them that, yes, seventh- and eighth-graders can understand college rhetoric, psychology, history, and logic texts. Sure, eleven- and thirteen-year-olds can enroll in college courses. Of course, ten-year-olds can attend museum lecture series. Hell, yeah, a student can do work he loves and earn good grades and graduate from high school with many college credits on his transcript. Certainly, 1.5 hours of music practice daily is possible. And why wouldn’t they be able to join a sports team?

They become even more uncomfortable when you assert that your students are quite normal, really. Each has strengths, weaknesses, talents, flaws. But they have been asked to do what they are capable of doing — regardless of their age — every. single. day. by a teacher who embraces the idea of a lifetime of excellence. No matter what else life may demand.

It’s really that simple.

And, yes, that difficult.

Like working with the 1995 edition of Ventura.

Or making sausage.

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Since most homeschooling parents were products of conventional schooling, many remain caught between two false ideas: (1) that simply because they homeschool, their kids are somehow better positioned for success and (2) that learning must be keyed to certain grades, levels, ages.

Elsewhere, I’ve already explored how far off the mark the first idea is, but the second… well, that brings us back to the tyranny of experts, I think — back to all of the e-mail messages asking me, What program? What schedule? How? When? Where? As if I possess the authority to tell someone else what to teach her own child. As if, even if I possessed the authority, the expertise, that what I’ve done here is replicable, that it would work elsewhere.

But I am no expert on the subject of homeschooling, so I won’t add my voice to the “bewildering chorus” telling you which grammar book, reading list, math schedule, foreign language, lab science, etc.

More, I’m not even an advocate of homeschooling. I’m not. Really.

All I can and will say is this: Make your own sausage. My recipe is a family secret. It begins with parenting them well. After that, well, you’re on your own.

Chicago History Museum

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We visited the Chicago History Museum yesterday, where we enjoyed “The Secret Lives of Objects” before experiencing one of the best museum tours in our twenty-plus years of doing what we do here in the family-centered learning project. If you’re in the city, visit this treasure of a museum, and ask if Elizabeth will be leading any tours that day. She is a gifted docent.

We followed our museum adventure with a short walk along the lake, dinner out, and then The Little Foxes at the Goodman Theatre (reviews here and here). Recommended.

Behind-the-scenes at the museum

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When our children were younger, we attended the annual members’ nights programs regularly. We haven’t attended one since 2010. Our son, the newly minted Marine, had returned to California for SOI, so we took the Misses, then fourteen and twelve.

misses at field 2010

Time. Flies.

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One thing that is unchanged is our fascination with birds. The bird prep lab, conversations with David Willard and John Bates, and observing the preparation of samples were, as always, highlights of our behind-the-scenes experience.

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