Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Wanna Be Startin' Something


Imagine confetti just rained down on you and there is an open bar.

It will go like this: for the next three weeks, I'll answer a question from a reader every day. If I answer your question and you have a blog, you can publish it over there and, of course, I'll link to it. I'll try to choose questions which would be interesting to the widest audience and this is why I picked the following question...

[Although the first question HAD to be from Sara J. Henry, as she gave me the idea for the first blog book tour three years ago, and it ended up being the best publicity the book got. Actually, it ended up being pretty much the only publicity my first book got. I'd talk about publishing my first book, but I try very hard to work clean.]

Now, does everyone have a drink? Are the cater-waiters handing around bruschetta? Excellent. Let's begin!

Sara asks:

What was the single most surprising (shocking, depressing, inspiring) thing you learned about homeschooling-and the same for conventional schooling?

I won't go all the way to depressing, but it's deflating to realize how much of one's personality is hard-wired. In school, I barely had a metabolic rate, academically. In 7th grade, I had a well-meaning Spanish teacher who said we could move at our own speed; I spent the entire year reviewing the first chapter.

I knew that first chapter very, very well.

Ask me about Juan's pelo negro and gato blanco.

Because I was smart enough to float along with the current, I cheerfully did so until the academic waters got rougher, at which point I flailed a bit and then drowned. This was no one's fault but mine. My family and my teachers had given me nothing but opportunities to be a person who gets a wonderful education, and I threw it all away.

Eventually -- well, after I was finished with any formal education but long after it could have done me any good -- I discovered that I do, in fact, like to learn. I CAN study hard. I CAN actually get work done before the night before it's due. Imagine how much nicer of a house I'd be living in if I figured this out when it could have helped my paycheck. When Alice came along, I swore she'd be a better student than I was. Having read Po Bronson's book,  Nurtureshock, her father and I never praised her intelligence but, instead, her hard work. We told her doing extra credit projects were fun. Thinking it's easier to model behavior if you're immersed in it, she took extracurricular classes with groups of kids who will never know what a B looks like on their report card. She saw me write and publish a book which, while not steam-fitting, meant I was showing her that anything worth doing is going to take time, and effort, and sometimes looks like window-shopping the J. Crew website.

Still, by 4th grade, my daughter was riding the academic currents as easily and passively as a leaf on a river. What she could do without effort, she did and professed to love. What didn't come to her in a second, she decided she hated. One thing she did differently than I did was not catch my allergy to authority figures. I had to make sure they knew I had no respect for them, at which point they'd send me to have a chat with the vice-principal. Alice's tactic with authority figures was different. When challenged, she'd look sweet, cry, and be allowed to go read to calm down a bit which means, of course, that my daughter is smarter than I am. But I feared she was well on her way to an adulthood where she'd look back and wish she had learned something beyond the ability to cry on cue.

By the second day of homeschooling, I was aghast to discover she had no compunction about crying and feigning ignorance with me as well. That's the other daunting thing I learned about homeschooling: sometimes the problem -- like a smelly, flea-ridden dog -- follows you home. The student at the kitchen table isn't that different from the student in the classroom. We've been homeschooling for three years now and while I'm very proud of how hard she works, we're still struggling to make sure Alice can look at any work she does and  honestly say she couldn't have done it better.  Then again, we're still working on my nervous, negative inner Eeyore and Consort's vein-popping rage at incompetent drivers. Why should Alice have all the fun?


[If you'd like a question answered, please write it as a comment on the blog. I won't post it as a message but I will add it to the contenders.]


Anonymous Lynn said...

This book sounds great. Looking forward to reading it when it comes out in a couple weeks.

11:04 AM  
Anonymous Ursula said...

Love this post, this blog, and your other book. So, looking forward to loving the new one, especially as I have also just completed year 1 of homeschooling!

Here's my question: What is your best short form response to folks who are puzzled/horrified/curious/judge-y and ask you, "Why are you homeschooling?"

In other words, what's the funny/truthful/self-confident yet non-preachy thing you say when the checkout grocery store checkout lady asks if your daughter is sick (and, hence, with you at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday)... or when your second cousin (president of the PTA) corners you at Thanksgiving, etc.?

11:54 AM  
Anonymous Robin Raven said...

That was so interesting, and I was the SAME way in school. I made very high grades (close to 100s) when my dad was alive, but, after he died when I was 10, I stopped learning because it was so easy to just float through it all while still getting at least Bs. I drifted between advanced classes and regular classes, switching up each semester, then failed geometry, the only class I couldn't float in. I ended up in major debt for art school! haha Anyway, I so related, and I think you are doing awesome things for Alice. :)

P.S. Regarding book tour, it occurred to me too late that I was probably supposed to ask questions related to this current book. Instead my questions were random. Oops! I am extremely excited about the book and its content.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Nurture Shock is an amazing book; it totally changed how I parent. I was the same kid, too, fwiw. I don't think underachieving is easily beaten, because the cultural messages about it are friggin EVERYWHERE. If you haven't yet (since I know you also like to geek out on books like this), I highly recommend Carol Dweck's book, Mindset. It delves deeper into the whole mental framework of fixed vs. flexible learning mindset, which Bronson references in his book. It has helped me immeasurably.

9:01 AM  

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