Is Knowledge Relative?

March 26, 2008 @ 8:09 pm | Filed under: Homeschooling, Unschooling

I just spent all my posting time writing another really long comment in the patience/unschooling thread. Is it cheating if I post it here as well? (Cheating what, Lissa?)

Maybe not cheating, but nepotism perhaps. (Can nepotism apply to one’s own self?) There have been so many good, wise comments on that post, and I keep pulling excerpts to paste into a post—two posts, one on parenting and one on learning/unschooling—but the posts would be almost as long as that comments thread. Besides, excerpts are not as good as whole comments, in context.

This comment was a reply to one of many questions asked in that thread.

Wendy asked,

“Does unschooling mean we give equal weight to everything our children are interested in? For example, is reading a Star Wars novel (which my 10yods is now doing, aloud, for his 8yo brother) just as valuable as reading, say, Scotland’s Story? I know I must be missing something, but it seems like relativism to me to say that it is.”

That depends on what you mean by valuable, and by relativism. Relativism in this context sounds bad, like moral relativism. (You can tell I’m not a moral relativist because I think moral relativism is bad.) But I don’t see how it could be moral relativism to say “this bit of knowledge is just as valuable as that bit of knowledge.” Valuable for what purpose? In what context? Here are some things of value I see in a boy reading Star Wars aloud to his brother:

learning to read with inflection (useful in many professions)

gaining deeper understanding of dialogue including how to punctuate it, how conversations unfold

deeper understanding of pacing, rising action/falling action, conflict, character development, description, subplots, metaphor and imagery (all very valuable in my particular profession!)

deepening of bond between brothers; warm happy memory for them, shared knowledge for games and in-jokes

experiencing the good feeling of doing something nice for someone, discovering the joy of charitable acts

science stuff about space, planets, gravity, engines, weapons, etc

Star Wars usually conveys a message that is decidedly NOT moral relativism: good is good, evil is evil; good fights evil (and prevails: hopeful message); it’s not ok for a good guy to do something bad even if he has a good reason (ends do not justify means); even the worst of bad guys can repent and try to make amends

other Star Warsy themes are the importance of working as a team, playing off each other’s strengths; perseverance; sacrifice

And probably a lot of other things I’m not thinking of.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be either/or with Star Wars and the Story of Scotland (not that Wendy was saying it did; I’m just developing a thought)—both books might capture a kid’s interest at different times, or at the same time. Jane had a three-year Boxcar Children passion; she read that series so many times she could identify all 100+ titles by number. At the same time she was reading lots of books from the classics lists. If there wasn’t something valuable about formula fiction, there wouldn’t BE formula fiction. No one would buy it; it wouldn’t get published (by the millions). There is something deeply satisfying about reading a story that unfolds in a reliable way. It’s comforting, but it can be exciting, too, knowing that the next twist is due and making guesses about the plot, puzzling out the mystery or solution to the conflict.

And in a way it’s impossible to put a value on knowledge because you don’t KNOW what you’re going to need to know in the future. (If you don’t know it already, and a pressing need arises, you’re going to learn in a hurry. I knew next to nothing about the War of 1812 when I was offered the Charlotte books. The first book was set in the middle of the war, and I had four months to write it. And historical accuracy was imperative both to the publisher and to my sense of integrity. So you can bet I took in an enormous amount of knowledge at a rapid pace!)

I think it is so, so hard for all of us who were schooled to break down the boxes that school put knowledge into. School has to decide what information to present when, and to whom. It says “this is important for all people of X age to know.” (But though it can present the information, it can’t guarantee that all the students will wind up “knowing” it.) School says that certain knowledge is more valuable than other knowledge. But you know what? Knowing how to fix a toilet would have saved me a lot of money, but school never presented *that* potentially valuable knowledge. I can draw really pretty circles with a compass, though. I’ve had more plumbing problems in my life than occasions requiring perfectly round circles.

In typing class I learned to put two spaces after every period. That was a valuable piece of information when I took timed typing tests for temp agencies during college. Later, when employers needed word processors instead of typists, I had to “unlearn” that habit. Only one space after a period, in computer typing. Knowledge that formerly had value became disadvantageous. Circumstances change.

The value of knowledge *is* relative, isn’t it? “Is this important” depends on “for what?”

That isn’t the bad kind of relativism, moral relativism. It’s practicality.

I place a very high value on beautiful prose and well-crafted fiction. I value some types of poetry (Elizabeth Bishop) over others (Hallmark greeting card). Hallmark sells millions more greeting cards than Elizabeth Bishop sold books. And yet, I say her work is “better” (a relative judgment) than a Hallmark card. I say it, and I believe it, and I can tell you why, syllable by syllable. But it’s possible that my grandma (if I still had one living, that is) would be far more moved by the sentimental lines on her birthday card than Elizabeth Bishop’s rapturous meditation upon a very ugly fish.

Another way to think about it is: who is learning more—the kid who is passionately interested in Boxcar Children, or the one who is patiently enduring Great Expectations?

(That same child might, however, find herself captivated by Great Expectations a few years later—her appreciation of suspense fiction having been honed by dozens of Boxcar Children books.)

Charles Dickens knew the “value” of words—he got paid by the word. When he read his own work aloud, he stripped out most of the adjectives; he’d just put them in to pay the bills.

We (having been well schooled) might say that classical music and opera are “more important” or “better than” cartoons. But most of the kids in my generation first (and maybe only) encountered opera in the cartoons. Ohh Bwunhiwda, you’re so wuv-wy…Yes I know it, I can’t he-e-elp it… 🙂

My kids discovered Strauss through Tom & Jerry. I discovered Strauss through That’s Entertainment!

To come back to the question: do we give equal weight to everything our children are interested in? I think yes, we do. School has to decide what to present how, and in what way, but at home, we don’t. We aren’t bound by a calendar year or test date. We don’t have to squeeze knowledge into someone else’s boxes. Way leads on to way!


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Comments

46 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. Lissa,

    Again, soooo good! Thank you for making the very important distinction between moral relativism and the relativism of knowledge. There is a huge difference between the two and don’t think people should mix them up.

    I saw my son, last year for 11 grade Honors Lit, suffer through A Farewell To Arms, when he would have been so happy to read something more interesting to him. Ugh! So stupid. (He’s an unschooler who chose to go to high school in 9th grade.)

    My “not interested in reading on her own yet” 8 year old daughter nonetheless loves books to be read to her. She has found a series she thinks she would like me to read to her, and we are off to check it out, or buy it, tomorrow. We read through all of Junie B Jones, then Ivy & Bean, and now we are looking for something new. I figure as long as she enjoys being read to, someday she will actually feel like reading on her own. No matter how much that drives dh nuts, we are just going to have to wait for it.

    Going off topic, I have to tell you I read your post about names and I was surprised that your name is the name I would give to another daughter (if God would be so kind as to send one). My extremely loved and very missed late mother was named Melissa. (Her nickname was Liss and her sisters called her Lissy Lou). I always wanted a namesake for my sweet mom, and knew that if I ever had another daughter, she would be named after mom. But mom was never given a middle name. I remembered thinking that Anne (with an ‘e’) would be perfect (and give a nod to my hubby’s late grandma). So, I thought it was pretty cool that you are a Melissa Anne. Our last name is Ross. Alas, there is no Melissa Anne Ross as of yet, but here’s prayin!

    Thanks again for your wonderful insights. Seems like God has you on a roll. Pretty cool since it’s Easter (new life, new thoughts).

    Oh yeah, when it comes to names, almost everyone remembers me when I tell them my name is Rachel Ross thanks to the long run of the show Friends and the two popular characters with those names. 🙂

    ~Peace,
    Rachel

  2. Hi Melissa,

    I stumbled across your blog tonight – yours was recommended not by a friend, but by Google reader out of all things. I usually skip through such lengthy posts, but I wanted to let you know that this one really captivated my attention. I resonate with many of the points you touched on, and take to heart all of the thought you put into the question.

    You can now call me a resident reader. =)

  3. Meaningless and mindless literature – you gotta love it. Instead of comfort eating, I do comfort reading – Agathie Christie and Georgette Heyer being my vices of choice. And although I think Enid Blyton is complete twaddle, it is my daughter’s chosen comfort reading…so I buy them for her at garage sales and we have cosy conversations about George, and Timmy the dog. I think everyone, including our children, should be entitled to a bit of mindless entertainment, in whatever form, without having to justify it educationally. The thing is, if children are reading only mindless literature, then they really are missing out on so much the world has to offer and I think we would be criminally negligent if we didn’t offer something else, but that something else needs to have its starting point in whatever the child loves. The child reading Star Wars could be offered Artemis Fowl. My Blyton loving daughter also loves Elizabeth Goudge novels, and E Nesbit, and Anne of Green Gables. Melissa’s grandma may not have liked poems about ugly fish, but may have enjoyed Robert Frost. The thing is, they will never know if these options haven’t been offered, and I feel that may be the role of unschooling parents. Sort of like a tour guide to the world, or maybe a kind of parental Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Or like the feature on Amazon – if you like this title, you may also like that one…

  4. I often credit my kids’ vocabulary to “Calvin & Hobbes”. 😀

    Great post, and I must agree wholeheartedly. I am much more concerned about the messages my kids are perceiving than in the actual content/genre, if that makes any sense.

    Right now I am in the process of reading an Alfred Hitchcock short story collection aloud to them. It’s a hoot!

  5. Great post. So many great discussions related to this thread. Wish I had time today to join in, but soon, soon!

  6. I still put two spaces after the period, as I also learned in typing lessons. This is bad? 🙂
    Great conversations over here. I wish I had a few more hours or a little more coffee to follow all the comments. Thanks for summing some of it up here.

  7. Excellent distinctions Lissa and so right on, my boys are Star Wars Lego fanatics, yet another mode of exploration to do together!!

  8. What about things that seem to go against your personal values? I say “seem” because of course I could be reading too much into things …but for example, my kids asked to watch Barbie and the Twelve Dancing Princesses yesterday. I said yes, purely as a “down time,” a form of entertainment. I’m sure I could figure out something they were learning from it – I think the story is from an old fairy tale? They were spending time together (although just staring at a screen, not talking or anything…ummmm…computer animation? LOL

    But should watching something like *this* on TV have the same weight as, say, reading it? About the personal values – I don’t see their “way leading on to way” with these Barbie videos to be going a GOOD way – they are going from this to more traditional Barbie stuff, and Polly Pocket, and shopping (I’m very “anti-consumerism”), and “pretty” and “fashionable” being necessary, etc. Nothing immoral I suppose, but still it makes me shudder, LOL. I would be happy for my kids to read to each other almost anything, for weeks at a time, but this? Not so much.

    I see the impressions it makes on them, and I just don’t see the good outweighing the bad, even if I could scrounge up a couple of ways it was beneficial/enhancing learning.

    Maybe it’s not a problem for everyone, but in our family (me especially) I see a lot of what I call slippery slope behavior – a little “junk” leads to wanting a lot of “junk”. Food, entertainment, etc. I know this is talked about in great Catholic literature, so I’m not just imagining it. I don’t mean to say that kids shouldn’t be allowed their down time and plenty of it, but I also feel like there is only so much time in a day, so much time in a child’s life at home, and I’d rather spend it on the “better” persuits than making impressions on a child’s brain that I’ll just want to undo later.

    FWIW, I’m also the kind of person that thinks commercials, violence, occult, etc, in games/tv/movies/books makes graver impressions than people realize, it’s not just “harmless entertainment”. This is just my personal experience, but I removed myself from almost all commercial TV, radio, magazines, movies (watched only very mild stuff) for at least a year, and was SHOCKED at how my thinking changed over that year or so, and how shocking/strong those things seem now to me – leading me to think that I *was* desensitized to all that, and now I’m not. Now I want to be more careful with what I put in my brain, and also my kids’.

    These things are related somehow in my mind, but I’ve gotta run, the baby has awoken from his nap ! 🙂

  9. I can see value in the kind of thing you describe, Melissa. I agree with almost all of what you wrote. But “this bit of knowledge is just as valuable as that bit of knowledge” is where I get stuck.

    I’ve been over this so many times in my mind, and I even wish I could get to the point where I thought one type of knowledge is as valuable(worthy) as another, because it would make things simpler. That’s why I’m commenting, in hopes of getting further in my mental processes!

    Where I am right now:

    1. I think that something of value to my children ought to be of value to me because I love them and because I trust that they perceive value accurately (if subjectively). For example, when I was a teenager I spent endless time building imaginary family trees, with all imaginary characters whom I named and described, going back centuries in time.

    This might have looked like a waste of time (especially since I usually wasn’t doing my homework during this time) but in fact, I researched all kinds of history while doing this that has stuck with me for all these years, and I could probably go on and on about the more subtle learning benefits that came from it.

    Another example — my oldest son already had half the Jacob’s Algebra book mastered by the time he got to it in high school because of the time he had spent programming rudimentary computer games purely for his own entertainment.

    If my children find value in something, and I dismiss their idea of what’s worthwhile, I am doing a disservice to our relationship and to their understanding of what is worthwhile. If my mom had said “stop working at those imaginary family trees and go play tennis/go look for a nice boy to date/study for your classes” I think she would have done me a disservice; at any rate, I’m very glad she didn’t.

    2. I gained the concept of “both…and” rather than “either/or” from reading lots of the articles at sandradodd.com. There are not all that many choices where one choice absolutely excludes the other. Often “both” is a more expansive and beneficial choice, or so I understand what I read on the site. My husband likes to watch old TV shows like Lost in Space AND listen to Teaching Company tapes on Ancient Rome. I read silly romances as a teen but also studied and copied out all kinds of historical information. One thing does not exclude the other; sometimes the more trivial things connect with the other things in mysterious ways. Most of the creative and intelligent people I know are more or less omnivores — they love and develop a relationship with all kinds of things. My daughter’s godfather grew up drawing superhero cartoons probably when he “should have been working” — he majored in German in college, but now is employed as guess what? a computer artist.

    This doesn’t all add up to relativism, however. It is more like “relationalism”, if there could be such a thing. I like what Charlotte Mason says — that the more things that a person develops a real, living, heartfelt connection with, the better. Like a web connecting in all directions. I think some areas of interest come closer to the heart of how things are, but that doesn’t mean the most direct way is the only or even always the best way.

    But circles are more awesome and worthy of understanding in themselves than toilet plumbing, even though plumbing know-how is respectable and useful. Toilets come and go, but circles remain. It’s too bad that circles have to seem “schooly”, though, since really they aren’t.

    That’s where I am; sorry this is so long and probably a little rambling. This is such an interesting conversation!

  10. I love this conversation,also. I homeschooled last year for my son’s 2nd grade year. It was a great time to let him explore books of interest to him, because he was just becoming a proficient reader. The love of reading that he gained from “Dragonslayer’s Academy” series,has fueled his hunger for more books. He is now back in public school. His teacher doesn’t assign specific reading, she just tells them to read 20 minutes a night. Because he loves to read, and is able to read books of interest, he reads 40-60 minutes a night.

    This is a long round about way of agreeing with Lissa that there is as much value in books that kids read for interest as ones that are deemed “clasics”.

    My son gained a lot of skill by reading the 17 book series of “Dragonslayer”, so he was able to work his way through some classics, such as “Oliver Twist” and “Treasure Island” in recent months.

  11. Lissa,
    I don’t think it’s cheating to post your comment here. Nepotism doesn’t quite do it either. I’d go with “double-quilling.” 🙂

  12. Wow, more really good conversation! Thanks for keeping it going Lissa and thanks Willa for adding your thoughts. I really appreciate them. Lots of food for thought here. I have no time at the moment to flesh out my own thoughts on this but will keep reading here!

  13. Willa, omnivores, yes! I am often hit with waves of feeling that EVERYTHING is interesting, I want to read everything, learn everything, make and do many many different kinds of things. It’s exhilarating, and I see that same eagerness to ‘find out everything about everything’ in my children. One enthusiasm leads to another, and I really do see ‘way leading on to way’ every time.

    I agree with almost all of what you wrote. But “this bit of knowledge is just as valuable as that bit of knowledge” is where I get stuck.

    I keep thinking about this, and I can see that how it gets sticky if it’s translated as “all knowledge is equally valuable,” which would seem to open the door to absurdities like ‘the knowledge of how to pull taffy is just as important as the knowledge of how to cure leukemia’ or ‘the text on a cereal box is as valuable as the Summa Theologica.’ But even in reaching for absurdities I find myself arguing the point: if I have a peanut allergy, the text on the cereal box might be more immediately important to me than the Summa. I come back to the value being relative to circumstance and need.

    If I had to make a choice, I’d choose the Summa…but do we ever have to make that choice? It’s a bit like playing the desert island game: what books would you bring? I always choose the Bible and Shakespeare and Grimm’s fairy tales, imagining myself with long dull hours to fill and a desperate need for spiritual uplift and cultural connection, but the truth is, if I could only pick three books, I’d pick survivalist texts and field guides. How to Make Antibiotics would be nice. So again, I’m making value judgments relative to the situation.

    Is ascribing value to knowledge a desert-island exercise? I’m really asking. It seems to me that in reality, no bit of knowledge exists in a vacuum. We don’t have to choose this or that, Shakespeare or Antiobiotics 101. We might have to choose between those courses in a university situation, but we could be reading sonnets on the way to med school. As you say, it’s not either/or, it’s AND.

    I am really enjoying thinking through this. Amy, you raised some other questions and I hope to tackle them later. Thanks for all the food for thought, everyone.

  14. Lissa, you may or may not remember me, but I was once a member at the Catholic Charlotte Mason yahoo group. I love your site here, by the way.

    Anyway, I wish there could be some sort of means of conveying to all the moms of little readers two things: knitting potholders and knitting multi-pieced, multi-stitch layettes are both knitting (it’s not what you read, it’s that you read); and children live in a context.

    In the context of a home where kids depend on loving words and actions, faithful marriage, parents who enjoy high quality literature and art and music (and know the difference in various genres), God is worshiped, and all of creation is not a thing to be feared but a thing to be met eagerly and lovingly … in that context, children really do learn to evaluate on their own. It’s not a matter of a germ free environment or eating all health foods – it’s a matter of a strong immune system and developing a taste for health.

    Our three are all grown up now. The grand Charlotte Mason openness experiment was a great success. You’ve been really wise with your ideas here – that’s my experience, anyway.

  15. Dear Melissa,

    This post is exactly why I read your blog regularly. I found your blog several months ago and have enjoyed it so much. Our son is 3 1/2 years old and we intend to homeschool him. I’ve been “collecting” resources (local organizations, books, internet, etc.) to sort of carve out a path for us and your blog is one I treasure.

    Thank you so much!

  16. It seems to me that if we think that learning is something we do throughout our lives and that what we need to do as children is learn how to learn, develop a love of learning, and develop some basic skills that will enable us to learn (like reading, writing, mathematics of various types) as well as beginning that lifelong process, then there is plenty of time to read the “junk food” books. Similarly, we would treat our children as we treat ourselves and teach them about a balanced diet (in reading as in food). And just as we don’t worry about whether all of our own activities are learning activities, we won’t worry about whether all of our children’s are either. Reading might just be entertainment, sometimes.

    However, if we think that learning is something that is done mostly in childhood and the need to learn new things in adulthood is a remedy for deficit. If we think that there is a certain amount of knowledge our children need to gain by the time they leave our homes at 18 or thereabouts. Then every activity not contributing to the acquisition of that knowledge begins to look like a waste of time or contributing to a potential failure to achieve the objectives. All reading is (or should be) learning.

    What I am unsure of is whether it is a good thing to justify the reading of “Star Wars” or whatever in terms of reading fluency gained or whatever. Do we do that for adults? Are children not entitled to do something purely for the pleasure it brings them? Do we really live in a society where the only value is utility?

  17. “Do we really live in a society where the only value is utility?”

    Gosh, I hope not. I absolutely agree with you that children ought to be able to do things purely for the fun of it. But I think children hardly ever do ANYTHING without learning something as they’re doing it. JoVE, I think you’ve hit upon a major distinction between traditional education and unschooling. Traditional education says “The child should do this because it will enable him to learn x, y, and z.” Unschooling says “The child should do this because he’s interested in doing it–and wow, look at all the things he is learning!”

    As adults I think the process tends to be less self-conscious than it is for parents looking at their children. When I read a book purely for pleasure, I might nudge someone and say, “Whoa, listen to this! Did you know that…” I’ve just learned something and the urge is to share it, this fascinating bit of knowledge I’ve just gained. But I’m not thinking of it in those terms; I’m not keeping a mental list of all the cool stuff I learned while reading the book.

    Homeschooling parents tend to be on the lookout for what’s “educational” in an experience. I think you’re right that sometimes (too often, perhaps) this is a way of justifying the experience—“it’s fine that he’s spending so much time on this because he’s learning a great deal,” as if, as you say, there is no value in doing something purely for fun. But there are other reasons for thinking about what a child might be learning from a particular book or activity—it could spark ideas for strewing, or give the parent reassuring (and true!) things to say to skeptics. Or it can just be another kind of fun itself! Thinking about learning and learning about thinking are good activities in themselves.

  18. JoVE,

    AWESOME POST! I could not agree with you more.
    I, like you, believe that learning is something we all do, all the time, from birth until we drop dead…at that point the the sum of all knowledge will be ours, and what will we do with it then? Pray for everyone still here. I, for one, will pray for parents of late and reluctant readers. 🙂

    My take on this is the same as yours (and I am so glad you brought it up) that there is nothing wrong with kids reading for pleasure (how I wish mine would be interested in reading at all). I think it would be dangerous to live in a society where the only value is utility. The fact that so many unborn babies are killed via abortion is based on the very idea of their not being useful.

    Interestingly, I was forced to read so much in prep school that I wouldn’t pick up a book, to read for any reason, until I was 24 years old. Since then I have been a read-aholic. Why, because I came to it on my own. Then it had meaning AND pleasure. Now, I am crazy about books, reading and writing. I’d never even kept a journal or diary, when I was young, because I was forced to write so many essays that I had no interest left to write about me. Now I write daily, sometimes more than once, on my blog.

    All the negativity surrounding reading, writing (and math…but that never went away) was all stuff I had to ‘get over’ from my private college prep school experience. I was so burned out on ‘school’s concept of learning’ that I even dropped out of college. I was just fried. Now, looking back, I see that none of that ‘schooling’ stopped me from continuing to learn. I always was learning. I just wasn’t interested in learning much of what school wanted me too. I did learn to play the game though, and was a B+ student.

    I just don’t want to do to my kids what school did to me. I would rather err on the side of benign neglect than replicating school in my home. Yuck!

    And I don’t think it’s a good idea to figure out what our kids may be learning while they are reading for pleasure. Justifying someone’s reading choice is just horrible. I don’t pick up books, whether they are fiction or nonfiction, to be solely entertained or solely to learn. Most of the time both are happening even if it’s while I am reading a book by John Taylor Gatto, Jennifer Weiner, or Charlotte Bronte. I find enjoyment and learning are so often intertwined. I don’t want to make enjoyment and learning seem separate for my kids (or myself, for that matter). Plus, I’d hate having to justify to someone why I read The Devil Wears Prada.

    One thing I know for sure that my kids *are* doing is learning all the time. I know, because I live with them. They are learning to learn. They are learning that learning is fulfilling and fun. If St. Paul said to ‘count it all as joy’, then why not encourage our children to see the joy in learning things, whether it’s easy or hard?

    I love what you said here
    “And just as we don’t worry about whether all of our own activities are learning activities, we won’t worry about whether all of our children’s are either.”

    I am aware that, as a Catholic parent, my first and most important job is to bring my children to the faith, encourage their spiritual growth, and help them to seek God’s plan for their lives. If we are doing that…and it’s something that really needs to be lived by my husband and I…not just talked about or taught; then naturally my kids will learn what they need to, in order to have their own adult lives, in this world. And if that is true, which I believe it is, then why on earth would I want to, or need to, see the ‘learning or educational value’ in everything they do.

    Thanks for the wonderful insights.
    ~Rachel

  19. Okay, I just made a gravatar and am checking it.

  20. Lissa said: Ohh Bwunhiwda, you’re so wuv-wy…Yes I know it, I can’t he-e-elp it…

    You had me at Bwunhiwda… lol That is my all-time favorite Bugs Bunny, and you’re right, it was my first exposure to opera.

    Thank you, Lissa, for putting so much thought into answering my question. Your response and everyone’s comments have made me face some fears I’ve been struggling with for a few years. This conversation has taken on a life of its own at my house.

    **Lissa said: Jane had a three-year Boxcar Children passion; she read that series so many times she could identify all 100+ titles by number.**

    I was a Trixie Belden junkie. I had my mom’s set of the original 12 or so, plus the “new” 18-20 titles. I was trying to remember how many times I read them all – I know it had to have been 20 or 30. I also had a set of Louisa May Alcott books (Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Jack and Jill… and another one I can’t recall) that I read too many times to count. Which leads me to this comment of Willa’s.

    **I gained the concept of “both…and” rather than “either/or” from reading lots of the articles at sandradodd.com. There are not all that many choices where one choice absolutely excludes the other. Often “both” is a more expansive and beneficial choice, or so I understand what I read on the site. My husband likes to watch old TV shows like Lost in Space AND listen to Teaching Company tapes on Ancient Rome. I read silly romances as a teen but also studied and copied out all kinds of historical information. One thing does not exclude the other; sometimes the more trivial things connect with the other things in mysterious ways.**

    I do tend to be an either/or person and have to be reminded (usually by my long-suffering dh) that “thinking in extremes” is hardly ever helpful. And now I have this great quote from “Balancing in the Middle Ground” at sandradodd.com as another reminder:

    **Sandra said: By thinking in extremes, “There is more than one truth” becomes “All things are equally truthful.” Just because there are many truths doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as nonsense.**

    Oh…. right. I knew that. 🙂 What Lissa said here underscores that point and takes it one step further:

    **I keep thinking about this, and I can see that how it gets sticky if it’s translated as “all knowledge is equally valuable,” which would seem to open the door to absurdities like ‘the knowledge of how to pull taffy is just as important as the knowledge of how to cure leukemia’ or ‘the text on a cereal box is as valuable as the Summa Theologica.’ But even in reaching for absurdities I find myself arguing the point: if I have a peanut allergy, the text on the cereal box might be more immediately important to me than the Summa. I come back to the value being relative to circumstance and need.**

    And while I’m on a roll stringing together the quotes that have been chipping away in my brain today, here are a few more…

    **Willa said: This doesn’t all add up to relativism, however. It is more like “relationalism”, if there could be such a thing. I like what Charlotte Mason says — that the more things that a person develops a real, living, heartfelt connection with, the better. Like a web connecting in all directions. I think some areas of interest come closer to the heart of how things are, but that doesn’t mean the most direct way is the only or even always the best way.**

    I like that way of looking at things. It reminded me of something Lissa said – a few posts back, maybe?

    **In a post a while back I quoted Sandra Dodd on connections: “Learning comes from connecting something new to what you’ve already thought or known.” She has a connections page on her website (well worth your time to explore, as is her entire site). At the top is a quote from Heraclitus, circa 500 B.C.: A wonderful harmony arises from joining together the seemingly unconnected.**

    Nice. 🙂

    And as I’ve been typing this, JoVE posted a comment that I would like to quote in its entirety. Well said!

    Last night I ordered Outside Lies Magic and Grover and the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum from Amazon. Then I stayed up until 2 a.m. writing a stream-of-consciousness reaction to all of this. Now, I promise not to post anymore. 🙂

  21. Stephanie, I remember you very well and have often wondered how you were doing. How nice to hear from you! Thanks so much for chiming in. I’d love to hear more about what your kids are up to. 🙂

  22. Lissa said, “I think it is so, so hard for all of us who were schooled to break down the boxes that school put knowledge into. School has to decide what information to present when, and to whom. It says “this is important for all people of X age to know.” ”

    Maybe I’m in the minority among unschoolers/unschooler-wanna-bes, but we want to leave the option open for the children to attend high school in a “school” (I would RATHER homeschool them, lol, but we are going to cross that bridge when we come to it for each of them). Also, dh is adamant about college for all of them. So although I know it’s partially based in fear – it’s not totally off the wall to say that I need to fit X, Y, and Z into years A, B, and C. Maybe I should trust more that if they are *meant* to be in high school, then they’ll be ready by then – but I just hate to make their world/choices *smaller* by unschooling – that is the exact opposite of what I want unschooling to be – I want it to OPEN the whole world to them.

    Lissa, it’s interesting that you mention the cereal boxes. In our house, we need to read every label, every time, before something is put in the grocery cart. It does leave much less time for the Summa. 🙂 I think how you judge the importance of each bit of learning, each bit of time spent, really does have to boil down to your ultimate goals. If I judge that my *ultimate* goal for my children is survival, then reading those ingredients lists must be judged more important than the Summa, since it is a need that can’t be put off until AFTER they have eaten, for example. But if my ultimate goal for my children is Heaven, maybe the Summa (or Bible, or Catechism, perhaps) needs to be given the choice spot. (Do I actually live this way? No, but maybe I should!)

  23. Amy raises a really good point and I’m sure she is not the only one who is thinking that her kids might go to high school and certainly a lot of us want our kids to go to college.

    I had a conversation with a couple of elementary school teachers recently which was enlightening. One thing is that most kids in school do not get held back unless they are failing math and english (none of the rest of it matters if those 2 are okay) AND probably socially immature (whatever that means) and small in stature (or at least not bigger than other kids their age so they won’t stand out if held back). The range of comprehension of each year of that provincial/state curriculum is going to be huge.

    Also, unless my provincial curriculum is really unique, it is pretty clear that a lot of it is NOT based on educational expertise about how children learn, but about practical considerations of how you chunk up the “have to know” across those 6 years to allow for progression without losing to many people along the way (lots of time to review and redo) AND divide up the various science and social studies subjects across those years.

    These teachers actually resented having to assess anything other than reading, writing and arithematic skills since they knew that was the primary purpose of elementary school. They are committed to covering all those other subjects but think their main purpose is to engage the kids in interesting topics and give them opportunities to practice those basics.

    What I take from this is that if you want your kids to be able to do well in high school, they need to be able to read at an appropriate level, write at an appropriate level, and have the basic arithmetic skills necessary to go on to some of the higher mathematical stuff they do in high school. there are a bazillion ways to do that and I would be surprised if kids in an unschooled environment with lots of parental participation as described by the folks partaking in this conversation would not meet those minimum requirements.

    I’ve just posted a link to a blog over at the Chronicle of Higher Education where a prof has outlined her ideal college curriculum and the comments (all from other college profs as far as I can tell) are enjoying the joke that this is really what we expect kids to know when they get in to college, but sadly that many of them don’t.

    So relax. The bar is not that high. Your kids can hit it without slavishly following whatever curriculum the state sets out.

    And, ironically perhaps, your kids will have an easier transition to the kind of learning that university professors would like to be facilitating. When I taught in university I figured the goal of the intro class was to retrain all those kids to think and learn for themselves within the framework of the syllabus. That was bloody hard work with a roomful of kids who had done well by doing exactly what the teacher told them. They were frightened to decide what they needed to read to address the essay questions.

  24. Rachael said: “All the negativity surrounding reading, writing (and math…but that never went away) was all stuff I had to ‘get over’ from my private college prep school experience.”

    I think that math bit is one that many people never get over. And it is where utility seems to rule even in unschooling conversations. And yet mathematicians study mathematics for the same reason that you read good literature — the appreciation of beauty.

    Try Martin Gardner (there is a foundation appreciating his contributions to recreational mathematics here: http://www.g4g4.com/). I found his “Colossal Book of Short Puzzles and Problems” in my local public library. Try typing his name into the search box of your favourite online bookseller. You might also try a search on “recreational mathematics”.

  25. Lissa, I want you and all these other wonderful hard-working women here to know how much I appreciate the facts that this kind of education is still happening in all these homes, and that there’s a web here so I can listen in. NOTHING makes me more generally happy to think about during the day than all those living rooms and dining rooms (and bedrooms and hallways) where kids are being given the delights found in the freedom to really really LEARN something.

    I mused a bit about my own homeschooling and how it turned out here: http://recollectedlife.blogspot.com/2007/08/why-it-worked-and-what-it-couldnt-do.html

    And all my posts about “children/parenting” are in some way about this lifestyle we had.

    Here, just let me say the short version. The choice is between the obvious and the seek-to-find. That’s really where all the parent angst comes in. We all KNOW how to do the “school” thing. The learning thing is an entirely different animal, and we’re not sure what it eats.

    Our kids are going to be 24, 22, and 20 this year. They are, respectively, an Intelligence Analyst in the Army (that’s the girl child, who enlisted last winter), an art major (probably) who’s ready after a year off to transfer his community college degree to a four-year university, and a music major (definitely) who’s been living on his own since shortly after his nineteenth birthday, paying his own rent and other bills, and the least “academically inclined” of the three.

    The first two went directly to community college from home at about age 16 (to my observation, as much a major maturity leap as that thing that happens at about 6 or 7 years old), and the third went to the local high school at about 16 years old, as a high school sophomore.

    Home schooling has made all three of them have a harder time with the kind of “learn this to specs” mentality in conventional schools, but much, much more able than their peers to genuinely grapple with ideas. They haven’t needed to learn to read for information – they’ve needed to learn to pay attention to due dates, toward which bits of mortality, I do have to admit, their parents also hold a high resentment.

    All in all, I just wish I’d started sooner with the whole “Real Learning” and Charlotte Mason notions of education happening in the student not in the teaching, and all the rest of it. And I regret ever switching to “real” math books so early. Other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing.

  26. […] teased apart the topic strands into separate threads. The unschooling thread is going strong in the knowledge post, and I’ve put together a number of comments and questions about parenting below. Amy at […]

  27. “I keep thinking about this, and I can see that how it gets sticky if it’s translated as “all knowledge is equally valuable,” which would seem to open the door to absurdities like ‘the knowledge of how to pull taffy is just as important as the knowledge of how to cure leukemia’ or ‘the text on a cereal box is as valuable as the Summa Theologica.’ But even in reaching for absurdities I find myself arguing the point: if I have a peanut allergy, the text on the cereal box might be more immediately important to me than the Summa. I come back to the value being relative to circumstance and need.”

    Yes, I totally see what you are saying here. Certainly in Maslow’s hierarchy, survival + safety are more immediate needs than intellectual exploration. The boys in Lord of the Flies would not have much need for a Shakespeare or Summa, except perhaps as a weapon or shield : ) because they were not safe. So yes, value is relative to circumstance and need.

    But then, does it follow that say, Star Wars or the Barbie Princesses meet some immediate hidden need, that in that way these things are “just as important” (to the child) as hmm, Shakespeare or basic arithmetic or (take your choice)? So then, is value still relative to circumstance and need?

    I see that one need not exclude the other… you can have both. I see that a child probably gets more out of Star Wars perused joyfully than from Great Expectations endured with boredom or even worse, fear and disgust. But doesn’t it seem that there is still a hierarchy? (asking, not necessarily expecting a conclusive answer, because this is something I often wonder about and struggle to balance out in my homeschooling).

    I like what JoVE says — that not everything needs to be measured by utility. There is a legitimate category of enjoyment and it shouldn’t really be wrenched into the service of utility. Yes, who wants to have to justify everything one does in the course of the day as somehow “useful”? I also like what you say, Lissa, that sometimes it’s just fun and interesting to ponder what the child MIGHT be getting out of something that absorbs him.

    The difference seems like a big one to me, because the “utility” one seems to be artificial and the “why” one seems to be more respectful of the child. If I say, “I don’t care what he reads so long as he reads,” it is making the sheer fact of the child reading an end in itself rather than a means to an end. That is “utility” and it is not how the child is probably thinking — he is probably NOT thinking “well, this is a pathetic book but at least I’m reading something — hooray for me.” At least I hope not. That seems to take all the pure simple enjoyment out of it.

    But if you say, “perhaps he is reading Star Wars because of the comfort of familiar characters and a familiar story pattern, because he wants to see the play-out of good against evil” or even better if you converse with the child and find out more about how he thinks and feels about these things, then you are participating in something closer to what the book-child interaction is to the actual child.

    I’m so glad you are willing to open up your comments box, Melissa — I miss this kind of discussion : ).

  28. JoVE said: “When I taught in university I figured the goal of the intro class was to retrain all those kids to think and learn for themselves within the framework of the syllabus. That was bloody hard work with a roomful of kids who had done well by doing exactly what the teacher told them. They were frightened to decide what they needed to read to address the essay questions.”

    Yes! I was one of those kids! Very good at cramming and reciting back the next day, and following the directions to the letter. I still have problems working without clear guidelines.

    I *don’t* want my children to be that way. I really don’t.

    So my problem becomes how to encourage them to think creatively and independently when I am not able to.

  29. […] would argue that mathematics is a humanities subject, not a science. The discussion raging over at Lissa’s provides an interesting example: Lissa said : “School says that certain knowledge is more […]

  30. Ladies, it terrified me to allow twaddle into the lives of my kids – made me question myself and my motives at the deepest levels – and all over a trashy little grocery store paperback workbook! But what did it mean about ME to allow such things? What kind of mother was I? Shouldn’t our kids have only good and healthy and right and true things around them all the time?

    But I decided (out of reason and prayer and trust in my husband’s broader perspective) that this whole thing equates to immune systems and physical health. Sterile environments are only a better choice for very fragile people. Other people develop immune systems and a taste for health.

    I truly do believe my kids have better “immune systems” today than I did at their age – and probably better than the one I have now, for that matter! And it’s because instead of creating sterility, I created: “an atmosphere – a life” of healthy, living ideas; the open opportunity for real experiences; and a willingness to let my kids come to their own conclusions.

    It was terrifying at times. Mystifying most of the time. And completely worth every agonized prayer and every tear. We ended up with kids who introduce US to the rest of the world in a lot of ways now. And we also ended up retaining the “dignity of the office” of being parents. They respect our perspectives and ask for them because they know we’re not Utopians. We’re human creatures, just like them (the kids) and we’ve passed on a taste for life that makes for some lovely and lively adult relationships now.

  31. Wendy said “So my problem becomes how to encourage them to think creatively and independently when I am not able to.”

    And I want to reply “Oh, but you can!” and I do believe it. It is not to late to let go a bit and try. Not that it’ll be easy but I think what Lissa’s original post was trying to do (or a whole bunch of her posts) was to show you that if you let go a bit, it’ll be okay and you might be transformed in the process.

  32. JoVE, yes, exactly. As John Holt said (about taking up cello late in life), it’s never too late. Wendy, I bet you are far more creative than you give yourself credit for.

    You know how I love to write posts about all the connections my kids made today, the rabbit trails we followed? You can do that for yourself too–not just for your kids, I mean. Think about trains of thought, how you started out looking for a light bulb and that made you think of Thomas Edison, which made you think of the Edison bit in the Schoolhouse Rock song, “Mother Necessity,” and the “Orville! Wilbur!” part of that song reminded you of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, which reminds you of that time you went to Blowing Rock, NC, where you heard the legend about the Indian maiden and her sweetheart, how did that go, again? And next thing you know you’ve spent half an hour reading about Native American folklore of the Appalachians on the internet, and you never did get around to changing that light bulb.

    When you think about all the connections you make in a day or an hour, all the memories and ideas and stories and bits of trivia the mind stitches together like random scraps of cloth transformed into an Irish chain quilt, you can’t help but see how creative and agile your mind is!

    Another thing–act upon your own whims sometimes. Sometimes moms can be great about leaping into action when their kids express a desire to try something out, but they don’t act upon their own creative impulses in the same way. If you have an urge to sketch or sculpt or bake sourdough or maybe you’ve always wanted to play pennywhistle–indulge that desire! Those are ways that lead on to way indeed. 🙂 When Jane was a baby, I watched an episode of Mr. Rogers where he visited a weaver’s studio, and in a flash, I, who had never thought about weaving before, decided I just HAD to try it. I bought a used table loom (my first-ever internet purchase) and a beginner’s handbook, and for about a year and a half I had a glorious time making deeply flawed scarves and tea towels. Then Jane got sick and I never really went back to it, got busy with having more babies and writing books, but what I’d learned about weaving became very important background for my Martha research, and I got to write my own love of the craft into the scenes of grownup Martha at her loom in the Charlotte books. My loom became a playhouse/ship/store/what-have-you in the girls’ room for a long time. It’s in the garage now, but I still have the towels I made and I get such a little happy rush every time I dry a dish with one of them. Oh, and the background of my old Typepad blog template, that’s one of my pieces! 🙂 When I made it, I never imagined it would one day have a connection to strange things called blogs and digital cameras…

    Sandra made up a fun tool for sparking connections. She calls them “Thinking Sticks” and it’s a very simple but brilliant concept, something you could easily make for yourself if you knew what they were, but she sells them for only $8, less if you order them with her book, and personally I think the instruction sheet alone is worth the money. We keep our set in a glass on the kitchen table, and every time someone new comes to the house they get all excited about the Thinking Sticks and want to play.

  33. If there wasn’t something valuable about …., there wouldn’t BE ….. No one would buy it; it wouldn’t get published (by the millions)

    I find myself thinking of several applications of this point that I cannot agree with. It also seems to me that just about all the benefits you mention that come from reading aloud a Star Wars novel to one’s brother can be gained just as well or better from reading aloud a better written book.
    And after all, Saint Paul himself said that not all things were profitable.

    Wendy, I think creativity is a muscle. The more you exercise it, the more flexible and strong it gets.
    It’s just a way of looking at things differently, and it takes practice.

  34. Hmm, that sounds cranky on rereading, but it was more of a ‘Hmmmm, I wonder about this….’ and should be read as a picking up a piece of information and trying to look at it from all angles tone, and also a bit of ‘I’m not sure about this, but I do agree with that’

    Make sense?=)
    Incidentally, our sixth girl is rereading the Martha books, and she reads them aloud to herself, while acting out the dialogue dramatically, with inflection, waving her arms around, facial expressions extraordinaire, and it’s all very fun.

  35. DHM, I hear your point, and I appreciate the scrutiny. I too am a ‘pick it up and turn it over to look at from all sides’ kind of thinker.

    Applied broadly as a fill-in-the-blank, the statement may well be flawed, but I really was thinking specifically of formula fiction, and in this way: people don’t like to be bored. If people return again and again to formula fiction, and they do, to the tune of millions of copies sold, there must be something in it that pulls them back–despite what is often very clunky writing and predictable plotting.

    Predictable is, of course, part of the point. In some ways a formula book is like a sonnet (gasp, did I just say that?)–a tightly defined form. The magic of a sonnet is seeing what the poet does within the form, how he shapes words into meaning *within the boundaries and restrictions of the form*. Part of the appeal of formula fiction is seeing how clever or original the twists can be, even when you know a twist is coming.

    Other parts of the appeal are archetypal characters, satisfying conflict-resolution patterns, and (frequently) puzzles or mysteries to guess at.

    I do think there are things I learned from Agatha Christie and Nancy Drew that I didn’t learn anywhere else.

    Of course everyone who reads this blog regularly knows I believe that there are great books and weak books, bad books, just as there are great films and weak films, great music and weak music. I was taking that as a given, since I’ve written so much on the subject in the past. I think we should fill our homes with great books and cuddle up with everyone to read them aloud. You know how I bristle at the dumbing-down of good books. When Amy asked about what you do when your kids are interested in books or shows that contradict your values, I thought about it for days and realized I didn’t have a ready answer because it simply hasn’t been a problem for us. Either it’s not around (because the stuff we’ve drawn near us is stuff we think well of) or, when something was encountered elsewhere Scott or I read it or watched it too, and good discussions grew out of the experience.

    I just thought of an example (more for the Amy question than the DHM’s point): the American Girl catalog. I used to always sneak these directly into the recycling bin because I feared that if the girls saw one, they’d be filled with longings for stuff, expensive stuff. Like me with a Pottery Barn catalog. Of course one day Rose brought in the mail and discovered one of these glossy American Girl Stuff extravaganzas, and ooooh and ahhhh and oh mommy! I groaned. But do you know what Rose did? She pored over that catalog and copied out a long list of the things she’d like to have, and added up the total cost including shipping, and calculated how many weeks of allowance she would have to save up to buy all she wanted. (I think she discovered she could place the order when she’s thirty.) 😉 This complicated math operation took her days. At the end of it, she decided she could live without most of that stuff, and picked out something to ask her grandparents for at Christmas. As a lesson in the dangerous allure of commercialism, this experience was better than hearing me say, “Honey, that catalog will make you want lots of overpriced stuff.”

    But let me try to return to the DHM’s point.

    “It also seems to me that just about all the benefits you mention that come from reading aloud a Star Wars novel to one’s brother can be gained just as well or better from reading aloud a better written book.

    May I seize on the “just about”? 🙂 Perhaps there is *something* the two brothers find in Star Wars that they don’t find in Treasure Island? It could be as simple as readability (reading aloud is a skill and and an art, and reading elegant prose aloud well can be much harder than reading, say, a mass market middle grade novel). Or it could be Star Wars itself. We’ve been using it as a representative of mass-market formula fiction but (as Scott keeps growlingly reminding me) Star Wars books are their own species of critter. As are Nancy Drews, or Boxcar Children, or Louis Lamour westerns. It could be, and probably is the case, that there is something specific and unique in that Star Wars book that speaks to those two boys at that time.
    If Star Wars hadn’t been there, would they have chosen something else, something perhaps better written? Maybe. Or maybe they would have played with their Star Wars Lego set instead. 🙂 Having shared this Star Wars book experience, will they be more likely to read other books together? Maybe. Perhaps Nesbit is next. Or Lewis’s Perelandra series, in a few years.

    I come back again to not “either/or” but “and/both.”

    How I would love to see your daughter’s Martha reenactments! I always had to say her dialogue out loud to be sure I had it right. 🙂

    By the way, I’m delighted to see you here!

  36. Back with another thought about formula fiction. I don’t want to imply that I think all fiction is equally good. I know I mentioned that above, but let me expand on it.

    There are some weak books out there. Some real stinkers. In children’s publishing, there’s what’s considered “mass market” (or “commercial”) and what’s considered “trade” (or “literature”). Star Wars and Nancy Drew are mass market. Not all series are; Harry Potter was trade, Redwall is trade. Trade books usually come out in hardcover first. My Charlotte and Martha books were trade (but in a way, neither fish nor fowl, as they were published simultaneously in hardcover and paperback, and ignored by some critics on the assumption they were mass-market spinoffs, which they weren’t).

    There are good and bad trade books, good and bad mass market books. REALLY bad mass market books tend *not* to take off with readers and usually die after the first launch of two or four books. The formula fiction series that run into the dozens (of books in the series, I mean) are the ones that did speak to readers, draw them back, create a demand.

    A while back I was sent a copy of a new middle grade mass market series to review. It was about fairies, and the concept was exactly the sort of thing my girls would eat right up. But the execution was terrible. Painfully clunky writing, lame plots, hollow characters. I didn’t review the book, wouldn’t ever recommend it. Would I let my kid check it out of the library? Sure, to read to herself, if she wanted. We could talk about it, compare it to better books. Would I read it to her? Nope. I have no problem saying, honey, in my opinion that book is a clunker and I can’t bear to read it aloud, sorry. But I’d happily listen to HER thoughts about it, and discuss the book as frankly as I’d discuss it with Scott.

    If a series is still selling after ten, twenty, fifty installments, there’s something there that is working for readers, even if it is mediocre mass-market fiction.

  37. Lissa,

    I love what you said below:

    Would I read it to her? Nope. I have no problem saying, honey, in my opinion that book is a clunker and I can’t bear to read it aloud, sorry. But I’d happily listen to HER thoughts about it,”

    Andrew (18), my former unschooler, who chose high school for himself, in 9th grade, and will be graduating in 2 months, read Calvin And Hobbes, during his unschooling years. That was *his* literature. I read to him other things like Hatchet, a few Harry Potters (which I happened to love more that he did…so he stopped reading them and *I* continued) etc. Anyway, my point is that Andrew loved reading C&H to himself and I read him bigger tomes. But only stuff we both agreed upon.

    Ben (11) and Autumn (8) are both reading about the same level, which is about 1st grade. Their reading travails are a post in and of themselves, but I won’t even go there now. Suffice it to say, that any good reading which comes their way comes via me. For instance, Ben loves the graphic (as in comic) novels like ‘Bone’, stuff about Superheroes. They bore me to sleep. NO KIDDING! I can’t read more than a few pages and you’d think I’d been hit with a dart full of Benadryl. But Ben can’t read them on his own. So, I tell him to look at the pictures or see if his Dad will read it. I am thinking of seeing if he will let me read C & H to him. Andrew used to and that would be more fun for me than Bone.

    On the other hand, Autumn LOVES LOVE LOVES Junie B Jones (which I do too). I think it’s because she *is* Junie B. We have read them all. However, she hasn’t asked to reread them yet. I try out other things and sometimes things just don’t interest her. She really loved a new series called Ivy & Bean, but we are done with those (only 3 so far). We have finally hit on the series Warriors about clans of cats. We LOVE cats, so it is going well.

    Sometimes, I feel guilty that I don’t want to read certain things to the kids, but I, like you, just can’t bring myself to read something I loathe. But I try to get the kids to understand that it’s okay if they like it. We are not going to agree on everything.

    Anyway, I think it is great that you pointed out that there are some books you just can’t bear to read aloud. I think it’s time I let myself off the hook for feeling badly about not wanting to read stuff that is boring to me to my kids. It is a shame they are reading at the level they are comprehending because then I could just say, ‘Go read it yourself.” Ahhh…someday. 🙂

    ~Peace,
    Rachel

  38. Oops in the above post the last line is supposed to read”

    It is a shame they are reading at a level *so far below* what they actually comprehend.

    Because the books that Autumn and Ben can listen to, comprehend, and appreciate are so far above the super simplistic stuff that they can *actually* read at the moment.

    However, I am trusting that all of this reading stuff will come together when they are ready. It is just weird for me because their brother was reading at 6.

    ~Peace

  39. Please don’t miss Willa’s excellent post at Every Waking Hour which continues her train of thought on the relative value of knowledge. I was fascinated by St. Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on valuable vs. honorable knowledge. Thanks, Willa.

  40. -=-In typing class I learned to put two spaces after every period. That was a valuable piece of information when I took timed typing tests for temp agencies during college. Later, when employers needed word processors instead of typists, I had to “unlearn” that habit. Only one space after a period, in computer typing.-=-

    I was told, back in the day, that word processing programs would put the extra space after a period, so it would be faster if we didn’t do it.

    Then word processing programs discovered they didn’t want extra spaces after elipses or titles or abbreviations, so they abandoned the plan. Bummer.

    If “important” is separated from “mindless” by whether it will be on “the test,” that’s too much school.

    http://sandradodd.com/triviality

    a quote from that:

    So what IS trivia, then? For school kids, trivia is (by definition) a waste of time. It’s something that will not be on the test. It’s “extra” stuff. For unschoolers, though, in the wide new world in which EVERYTHING counts, there can be no trivia in that sense. If news of the existence of sachets ties in with what one learned of medieval plagues in Extraordinary Endings of Practically Everything and Everybody, there are two pointers which tie microbiology to European cities in the Middle Ages, and lead to paradise-guaranteed pilgrimages to Rome. Nowadays sanitation and antibiotics keep the plague from “spreading like the plague.” [Note: Extraordinary Endings… and Extraordinary Beginnings… might not be suitable for young children who read well. Read-aloud can avoid some topics that might not be ideal for pre-teens.]

  41. -=-My husband likes to watch old TV shows like Lost in Space-=-

    In production, before it was released, that show was called “Space Family Robinson.” Maybe your husband knew that, but maybe he didn’t. I was so looking forward to seeing it, when I was a kid, because I had read Swiss Family Robinson, but when it was aired, they had changed the name. The family’s name was still “Robinson,” though, and that (tadaa!) was why.

    -=-There is a legitimate category of enjoyment and it shouldn’t really be wrenched into the service of utility.-=-

    The ideal state of unschooling is when there are no categories, and everything is enjoyment AND learning. The difference takes place in the mom’s perception much more than in the child’s activities or thoughts.

    http://sandradodd.com/seeingit

    -=-I just hate to make their world/choices *smaller* by unschooling -=-

    The best preparation for high school is public school 1-8, isn’t it? If I had spent those years preparing my children for the *possibility* that they might want to make a smooth transition into high school, that would have made their world very small.

    This is beautiful: -=-instead of creating sterility, I created: “an atmosphere – a life” of healthy, living ideas; the open opportunity for real experiences; and a willingness to let my kids come to their own conclusions.-=-

    The American Girls Catalogs used to come and Holly and I would use them to talk about how the little things were made (Josefina Montoya’s little wooden chest), and about WWII and wire-rimmed glasses…
    But one very cool memory I have is of Marty making “pop out” dolls for Holly by taking pages and making perforations with an unthreaded sewing machine so Holly, who was younger, could tear out the dolls. That was when the catalogs were really big. Marty was about seven in those days.

    -=-It is a shame they are reading at a level *so far below* what they actually comprehend.-=-

    Everyone is, always. But there’s an opposite problem: Reading beyond what one can comprehend. It’s a waster of eye-movement, and isn’t really reading, and it results in a lot of embarrassing “reader’s vocabulary” where people mispronounce words they’ve read but never heard.

  42. “Waste” I meant (not “waster”)–Sorry

  43. Apart from avoiding material which is positively ‘harmful’ (and, as Melissa said, you’re not likely to have such stuff strewn around your house!) I think it’s important not to be TOO anxious about what the kids are reading. As someone here said recently, we’d love them to be reading ‘great’ books all the time, but would that be natural for anyone? Everyone here seems to agree that they all need to ‘dumb down’ somtimes and read light stuff. It’s easy to get too serious isn’t it? But that light literature- especially the humourous sort- can really add an extra dimension to someone’s character. Some of the most intellectual people I know delight in regularly reading ‘lower brow’ literature for fun- and it makes them a lot more fun to have ’round to dinner than the ones who only do ‘serious’ stuff!!

  44. “School says that certain knowledge is more valuable than other knowledge. But you know what? Knowing how to fix a toilet would have saved me a lot of money, but school never presented *that* potentially valuable knowledge. I can draw really pretty circles with a compass, though. I’ve had more plumbing problems in my life than occasions requiring perfectly round circles.”

    Melissa, I talked to my oldest son Liam on the phone this afternoon and I mentioned this conversation. He brought up something that shed a bit more light on what you were saying, and I hope I can do a decent paraphrase.

    He said that he thought that though geometry is in itself both “valuable and honorable” as it said in the Thomas Aquinas quote, the way that it is taught in schools often is not honorable. It is taught in a mechanical way, set apart from its true object. Circle drawing is a practical art; so is plumbing. And in that context plumbing may be a heck of a lot more “valuable” as you said than knowing how to make nice circles with a compass (though for a graphic designer I suppose it might be different : )). At least you can see its purpose whereas too often the stuff you learn at school often doesn’t have any evident purpose except to pass the test, as Sandra said. And that makes it trivial.

    He went on to add, actually that this was one of the ways that he was grateful for homeschooling. He said that drawing nice little circles so you don’t get marked down in your grades and yelled at by your parents is not the way to discover the beauty and nobility of geometry. He loves geometry ;-).

    So I thought I would mention that perspective.

  45. “So what IS trivia, then? For school kids, trivia is (by definition) a waste of time. It’s something that will not be on the test. It’s “extra” stuff. For unschoolers, though, in the wide new world in which EVERYTHING counts, there can be no trivia in that sense.

    Sandra, I loved the part in your book where you talked about having been a teacher and your students would ask you “why do we have to learn this?” and you’d say, “so you get jokes.” Years ago someone asked me what my primary goals were for my children’s education, and I said, “I want them to get all the jokes in Monty Python.” 🙂

    it results in a lot of embarrassing “reader’s vocabulary” where people mispronounce words they’ve read but never heard.

    We have an ongoing list of those words here! Beanie (age 7) gave me a smile last week when she said “purpose” with the emphasis on POSE. I remember as a kid thinking something was monoTONEous, not moNOTonous.

    Willa, I loved hearing Liam’s thoughts.

    “He said that he thought that though geometry is in itself both “valuable and honorable” as it said in the Thomas Aquinas quote, the way that it is taught in schools often is not honorable. It is taught in a mechanical way, set apart from its true object.”

    Great insight, that there are ways to teach ideas that don’t honor the ideas themselves, but rather diminish them or strip them of their inherent beauty or power. It’s like *choosing* to look at the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave when you have the option of looking at the real object instead.

  46. Two articles written after the book, but about the value of learning and how the benefits might appear:

    http://sandradodd.com/connections/jokes
    To Get More Jokes

    and

    http://sandradodd.com/connections/cocktail
    To be Fascinating at Cocktail Parties

    (Both have photos of my kids dressed up for costume parties, and other things, because they do that a lot. So please don’t anyone assume they always look any of those ways.)