Monday, April 6, 2015

"Never Stop Learning"

Last autumn, I entered a drawing for an autographed copy of Karen Glass's book Consider This.  I was shocked (and super excited) when I learned that I had won the raffle.  When my husband brought in the mail asking who we knew in Poland, I snatched the parcel out of his hands and eagerly ripped open the envelope.  It's a very good book, and worth a post of it's own, but that's not the topic tonight.

In the front cover of my book, where she signed it, Mrs. Glass wrote the words "Never Stop Learning."  This little phrase - and the idea it embodies - is a vital part of successful teaching.  Continuing education is important for the classroom teacher.  It's arguably even MORE important for the home-school teacher, since we are all but guaranteed to find ourselves teaching outside our areas of expertise.  We have to be committed to continuing to stretch ourselves if we are going to challenge our students appropriately.

It was with this idea in mind that I was interested in this book in the first place.  It was the reason I've been reading Churchill's Birth of Britain chapters corresponding with the history Jack is learning in Our Island Story.  And Richard Maybury's primer on Austrian Economics, Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?   And it's the reason I joined in with a book discussion group on the AO forum planning to read through many of the literature selections from Years 7&8 together over the next couple of years.  We just finished Idylls of the King, and are about halfway through Watership Down.  It's lots of fun.


Joining in the book discussions with these wonderful ladies has made me realize something.  Several of the women in the group do not share my natural affinity for reading, analyzing, parsing, inhaling, rolling around and just generally delighting in "classic" literature.  They actually have to WORK to get through Tennyson.   Can you believe it!?

And yet, they do work at it.  Because they want to learn and grow, even if they never fall in love with it.  (For the record, I have come to have great admiration for these ladies as we read and discuss together.)   Which got me thinking: OK, so British History isn't something I've studied before, but . . . history, literature, philosophy, BOOKS - this is what I'm GOOD at.  My whole plan for self-education, for "Mother Culture", is incredibly biased towards the things I like doing anyway.

And the more I thought about this, the more it bugged me.

My son is very academically inclined.  Last summer we signed him up for baseball.  He couldn't hit.  He couldn't catch.  He couldn't throw.  We made him practice.  He played catch with Dad several times a week, and he whined and fussed about how hard it was Over and Over and Over.  But he got better.  One day he came in for dinner just bubbling with the news that they had made it to TEN catches before he dropped the ball.  By the end of the season, he still couldn't hit, but at least he wasn't whining about it and he couldn't catch or throw very well, but he was trying.

We also make him learn piano.  Now, this boy LOVES music.  But he does not love piano.  He particularly hates that he can't make the music sound the way it is supposed to right away on the first try.  He gets frustrated and wants to quit and we keep telling him, "No."   Now, I know that for some CM students, it would be totally OK to hold off on music lessons until the child is in Year 4, closer to age 10.  But we are including piano now and insisting he keep it for a particular reason.  The reason is: because the academic stuff all comes naturally to him.  We want there to be something in his schoolwork that is hard for him, so that he can learn how to work through a challenge.  Because there's so much room for learning and growing in that process of patient effort.  It's not really about the piano at all, it's about virtue and character.

From a Mama who had a natural gift for academics, and never did develop that particular virtue (of working hard at hard tasks), it is important to me that he learn this lesson NOW at age seven.  Because it is oh-so-much harder to learn at 20.  Or 30.

I tried explaining all of this to said 7-year-old the other day.  He wasn't impressed.

And after that conversation, I got on-line and scheduled a driving test.  In two weeks.  Even though I haven't even pretended to be practicing in like two (?) years.

Relevant background: I got a learner's permit (again) back in October because I thought it would make voting simpler.  (Long story).  But I never really planned on using it for, y'know, learning to drive.  Motor skills and spatial reasoning are not my strong points.  I've never been able to wrap my brain around kinetic learning - it's just totally foreign to the way I think.  Physics, however, I can wrap my brain around, and high mass with high velocity = yikes.

But I realized that I need to force myself to stretch beyond my comfort zone for the very same reasons that Jack needs to practice his piano lesson and to read books that are harder than Frog and Toad.  Because that's how we grow.

There was a lot of practicing during the past two weeks.  The friend who helped teach me during my most recent half-hearted attempt took me out on the roads a couple of times.  My husband packed all four kids into the car and took me to the exam station 30+ minutes away to get in some time on their practice course after dinner each evening for a week.  (My kids were bored to tears the first night.  We took music for them after that, and it went better.)  There may have been a moment where I broke down and pitched a "this-is-pointless-I'll-never-get-it-the-whole-thing-is-stupid" fit EXACTLY like the one my first grader had thrown over his piano lesson that morning.  In front of said first grader, of course.  That was embarrassing.

I got my license this weekend, 14 years after my first driving lesson.  Tonight, I drove my four kids to and from church.  In the dark, and the rain.  It was AWFUL.  But we got home safe and in one piece.  (Thank you, Abba!)  My husband is out of town on a business trip, and I have at least one other place we are supposed to get to before he comes home.  And I'm going to challenge myself to drive at least once a week for a while.  Because even though it's hard, and I don't like it, and might never like it - it is worth learning.

I don't know if this technically qualifies as "Mother Culture" or not - but it's not really about the driving.  It's about learning, and growing.  It's about deliberately making TIME to learn and grow, instead of being ruled by "tyranny of the urgent."  It's about building relationships with space and mass and velocity and learning to trust God and surrender fears.  And, somehow, I think that the woman who insisted that students of all backgrounds study poetry and handicrafts, classical music and Swedish Drill, would not rule out an area of learning just because on the surface it seems mundane.

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