February ’12 Homeschool Highlights

I took my own advice from my last post and changed the youngest’s daily schedule around.   Early results are that I’m far less overwhelmed by the amount of work there is to do when I bring the oldest home from college.  The youngest is a little shaky with a mid-course change in her routine–she’s so much her mom–but she is adjusting, albeit slowly.    Also, I was blessed to read this article soon after I posted regarding operating with not so much school, and more home in a homeschool. The article was a timely answer to prayer as far as I’m concerned.   It’s amazing how we can educate at home for years, but sometimes neeed a simple reminder of what is truly important.

We’ve spent our usual amount of time with good books this month.    The oldest is covering early American history with a focus on the world at large as her last spin through the classical cycle.    As I thought about what living books would enhance our studies in this area, the immediate first pick was Uncle Tom’s Cabin.   I hesitated here because I struggle, quite honestly, with books that use non-standard English. I can’t always read them well, and I’m not sure that I don’t lose the point–for me and the children–in trying to decipher the words and pronunciation.  I had also heard enough about the graphic portrayals of slavery in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, from rape to whippings to God-knows-what-else, until I thought the impact of the book might send a different message than I intended to teach.   Simply put, it is nothing short of hard for me to read a story like that without feeling anger and hatred.   But I do know that it is a part of our history, and I have always stressed to the kids the importance of knowing the past so that they can approach their present and future with an intelligent eye.   So I chose instead The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.   Here is what the author had to say of this novel, and of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in his introduction, appropriately subtitled “A Novel of Troubling Greatness:”

The most famous antislavery book ever written was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852).  Stowe depicted the cruelties of plantation slavery in vivid, emotional detail.   Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is a less obvious, but equally powerful, indictment of slavery.   The slaves we see in Huckleberry Finn are not field hands on plantations in the Deep South.   They are house servants and general laborers in the border states.   There are no scenes of beatings or rapes of slaves in the book.  There is no cruel overseer or wicked master.   Twain had no need to reiterate the better-known evils of slave life.   Instead, he took aim at the apologists…The slave-owning characters in Huckleberry Finn are well-meaning, respectable women.   And yet the very nature of the slave-owner relationship causes these women and their slaves great sorrow.  Twain demonstrates that forced labor and floggings were not the only evils of slavery.   The institution itself had a corrosive effect on whites and blacks alike.

Though Twain doesn’t depict the brutality associated with slavery, he does use the N________ word more than 200 times in an attempt to be authentic in terms of the vernacular and level of ignorance during the times.    I’ve not used that word 200 times in reading it, but it is, nevertheless, hard to read.    Outside of that, however, I love how Twain subtly shows the reader that moments of pure stupidity and moments of sheer brilliance are not the exclusive domain of any race.  I also have to say that the book is in parts hilariously funny.

For our family read-aloud (at least with the older two), we left our study of Dickens’ work and transitioned to a more modern work that pays tribute to his David Copperfield.   I often talk with the children regarding cultural literacy, stating that even though certain authors and classics may be hundreds of years old, they still shape much of our Western culture, beliefs, and our language.   Having said that, we left David Copperfield and launched into J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.   Funny, I can remember as if it were yesterday my 10th grade English teacher, Ms. Gibson, offering us this classic as one of several reading options for book reports.   Her statement after mentioning the book was something along the lines of, “Now you all know that I don’t need to curse to get my point across.   But this book does have some words, so just know that before you read it.”   Personally, I’ve never let a word or two keep me from enjoying an otherwise exceptional book; I agree with Sonlight Curriculum’s owner Sarita Holtzmann when she says that we are to dwell on those things that are pure, noble, and of good report in accordance with Philippians 4:8, and that the entry of an inappropriate word does not constitute dwelling.   Yet, the protagonist of this book, a young teen who finds himself at a point of questioning everything about his life, desperately needs his mouth washed out with soap.   Geesh!   Even though I don’t read the language to the kids, for altogether different reasons than Huckleberry Finn, this, too, is a difficult book to read.   Moreover, the entire book takes place in a few days of this young man’s life, and so every single aspect of this young man’s thoughts and behaviors are written in exquisite detail.  This character reminds me of what I’ve seen of the original character of Ferris Bueller–at the same point of questioning, but in a much darker place.   And since the kids have seen “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” I thought to instead let them watch “The Breakfast Club.”   Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye would be the composite of all of those five characters put together.        In spite of it all, his general confusion about life is not abnormal for any kid his age, and that’s been our focus as we read.   Of course, I like to think of our kids as far more grounded than Caulfield was, and far more grounded than I was as a teen, so who knows where we’ll end up by the time we’re finished?   Hopefully unscarred as we travel back to the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe.

We’ve also had our first experience with the drop/add process, or more specifically, the drop process, at college.  The oldest enrolled in an online English class this semester, as the options were limited.   For several reasons, the class is absolutely not working for her, and it appears, many in the class.   Yet, it was well worth the conversation with her that she was not to consider herself a quitter because of this decision.   We enrolled her in a dual enrollment program very strategically to help in specific areas:

1) to give our methodically slow child an introduction to the pace of college courses, and the general lack of affection and empathy for students who run late (this was significantly different for her than life here at home)

2) to add credibility to what might otherwise be considered as “Mommy” grades

3) to prayerfully enter into the honors program (and reap the financial benefits from a 4-year university of being a top tier student)

4) to offset some of the college costs at a 4-year university by completing some course work at a 2-year university

Verbalizing all of this to her helped me to revisit where we are headed in the midst of all the chaos, and it gave her a sense of peace about dropping the class not being the end of her academic well-being.   She can deal with hard-to-access professors, syllabus clarity, etc., later.

Finally, we’ve had a couple of college visits in addition to everything else that is our crazy busy life right now.  I look forward to posting about those soon.

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3 thoughts on “February ’12 Homeschool Highlights

  1. You always write such thought provoking passages. My oldest only made it through a few chapters of Uncle Tom’s Cabin before he was beside himself with anger. I had to stop. It was just too much for him. I read Huckleberry Finn to my younger set a few months ago. Boy, did the N word drive me crazy. I told the children they were never to say the word and told it to them once. Then I called it the hateful word the remaining 200 or so times!!!! There is no way I could say it more than once. I wonder if my oldest could handle Uncle Tom’s Cabin now. He is such a social justice kid. I think it would still upset him no end. I think it is so important to get through these hard reads. You are doing an awesome job.

    1. Dawn, you always bless me. I will occasionally use the N____ word in reading because I can appreciate what the author is trying to do in showing the prevailing thinking of the time. I can feel my angst as it rolls off my tongue. Most often, though, I use Jim’s name. You are right in saying that it is important to get through the hard reads; I am already thinking about To Kill a Mockingbird on next year, and anticipating my feelings about reading a book that’s so politically incorrect as to have been pulled off the reading list of many schools…

  2. My oldest and I did make it all the way through To Kill a Mockingbird. Honestly, some of the books our broken school system has pulled are the most thought provoking. I have enjoyed watching my children pull the golden nuggets from their reading and being able to think through different perspectives. Raising our children against the grain is such a challenge at times, but so worth it!

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