Thursday, August 02, 2012

All Gone to Look for America

Welcome back to the Quinn Cummings "Year of Learning Dangerously" Blog Book Tour 2012!

For those people just stepping in, here's what's happening: I'm answering questions people have sent in through the "Comments" section [Note: I don't post the questions in the comments section, but it's a good way to keep the questions organized at my end]. Each day, for the next 19 days, I will answer one question. If you have a blog, I'll link to it. I'll try to pick the questions I think have the widest appeal or give me the greatest likelihood of my sounding like an idiot.

Today, Melodee asks: What's the best and worst parts of homeschooling?

As luck would have it, the best and worst part of homeschooling is the same thing. I'll explain, but it will take a brief digression. Yet again.

Recently, for reasons even too digressive for me to go into here, Consort, Alice and I were in the main control room of Studio 8H at NBC's headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The control room, if you don't know, is the place where live television shows are directed and this particular one was the nerve center for, among other things, Saturday Night Live. Consort--who had directed television shows from rooms just like this--was in heaven. He was carefully explaining everything to Alice.

"See," he said, pointing to several dozen screens on the video wall which ran the length of the room.  "Right here, the director gets the input from each cameraman, sees what shot they have, and  decides which image goes out live to the audience. And because it's live, what he-"

"Or she," I threw in reflexively.

"-or she," he incorporated smoothly, "decides, becomes the story people see. Now, on SNL, they have four or five cameras and they have a rehearsal, so everything gets decided ahead of time. But when the Olympics are getting directed from here, they'll take feed from about forty or more video feeds down the side of the screen, and there's no rehearsal, and there will dozens of people in this room, all doing their jobs, talking, yelling, being distracting. The director will still have to sit here, look at all those inputs, and decide which one is telling the story best from one second to the next."

Alice, who hadn't exactly been captivated by the previous conversation between Consort and our guide about NBC's fiber-optic upgrade, perked up at the thought of a global and public catastrophe.

"What happens if they get it wrong?"

"Wrong? You mean like they cut to the wrong shot? It happens. The director just tells the Technical Director to cut to another camera and they move on." Consort shrugged.

"No," Alice said, and then stopped for a second. "What if the director tells the wrong story, or misses the real story?"

"By the time you're directing the Olympics," Consort said, "you're seasoned enough so you're probably not going to tell the wrong story, exactly. And there is an entire staff of people helping out. But do directors make mistakes? All the time. You're editing the show live and you can only take in so much information every second. You hope some combination of experience and intuition will cover you when stuff gets crazy. Most people watching won't notice what you've missed. You just keep going. Then you come back the next day and hope you get it a little better."

It has taken me nearly four years of homeschooling, but I have finally found my job analogy: live-directing the Olympics. Which leads us back to the question about what I love and hate about homeschooling. If you choose to educate your child in a bricks-and-mortar school, you may not like everything they're doing there, but most of the decisions are made for you. You may enjoy, or hate, helping your child create a cross-section of the planet with papier-mâché, but you didn't have to decide whether that was an excellent project or a complete waste of wet paper. Homeschooling parents are deciding things all the time. You're creating your ideal classroom and nothing is assumed. Everything is possible, God help you.

Should we do more grammar? Is learning to diagram sentences useful? Archaic? Archaic but useful?

Does factoring matter? Should it come before Geometry? Or after?

How about your son's new passion for World War I? Should you just let him wallow in the Austro-Hungarian empire and assume there's benefit in that or should you insist he focus back on Washington crossing the Delaware? And your daughter and her love of Bactrian camels and Giant Sloths? Where does that fit in?

There's that wonderful exhibit at the art museum; clean-up day at the river; science day at the university; the petting zoo for the baby; sewing lessons with Auntie Lil; and a dozen other excellent and worthy events to choose from. Are you booking these into your schedule?

Each camera-feed -- each opportunity -- needs to be considered, if only briefly, then acted upon. Or not. Maybe the shot of the Croatian swimmer towelling off can be dismissed out of hand, but there may be fifteen images of equal value on the preview monitors any of which would tell an interesting story and it's up to you, the director, to make a choice. And then another choice. And another choice...

In 2012, home-based education has the glorious excess of options a previous generation of homeschooling families couldn't have even imagined but at some point, all these options start turning into noise. With each choice you make there are an infinite number you didn't make. You let your intuition and experience help you cut and create the story of their education. But this is live, and it's the one shot you get at it, and you start to understand why directors of live shows are rumored to drink a lot.


Anonymous babz said...

this is so interesting, can't wait to get my book. Do you have enough questions, or may I add one - I'd like to hear the story behind the book cover. The photo is hilarious and very cute.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Sandra said...

Love the analogy. Now who's got the keys to my liquor cabinet!

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an editor, I love diagramming sentences. I really think it helps improve sentence structure.
(Or course, I'm the person who once neatly diagrammed her boss's 14 prepositional phrases--in 1 sentence!!!--on a series of 8.5x11 sheets of paper taped together, then strung them down the hall for him to view. Fortunately for me, he thought it was funny. Even more fortunately for me (and the trees), he quit stringing prepositional phrases together.)
My vote is to diagram, diagram, diagram. Even if Alice wants to be a scientist. Scientists who can write clearly are like gold!

7:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's it exactly! What a perfect analogy. I did figure out a long time ago (we've been homeschooling for 12 years) that every time I said "yes" to one thing I was saying "no" to something else, even if it was just free time to stare into space. Sometimes I said "no" to some very good things just to give my boys time to play with Lego in the basement...


8:11 AM  
Anonymous Pat Christensen said...

Liz, had to add, after editing scientists and their mandatory publishing efforts, that scientists who can write clearly are also scarcer than hen's teeth!

Quinn, go for the diagramming. Anything that will help her figure out the insanity that OTHER people often write will help her in future life enormously.

1:41 PM  
Anonymous NancySongbird said...

Wow. I did this for 13 years and I still could never have explained it so perfectly. Well done!!! :-)

1:10 PM  
Anonymous NancySongbird said...

PS - we almost completely skipped diagramming. That is to say, we did a few lessons of it before I decided that *I* am the teacher and I know *my* particular kid has been proficient at grammar since she was, oh, say, 6; therefore I did not need to compel her to spend time on that instead of something really useful and/or of interest to her. That said, diagramming has come a long way - for example, "The Humpties" is a curriculum that involves manipulating cartoon character tiles that represent the parts of speech. :-) And homeschooling evolves on and on...

1:19 PM  

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