Would you use a sledgehammer to tack things onto a bulletin board?

14 Nov

Saw my daughter off this morning to her high state swimming championships, with plenty of healthy carbs, meal and mall money, some Halloween candy for afterwards, presents for teammates, and a promise to bring her Fastskin when it arrives today. Then went out to the driveway and sold a loft bed we have outgrown to a Craigslist respondent, a comfortable woman baker with a five-year old ready to climb the ladder.

Breakfast was cereal and milk with walnuts, chopped peaches and dried cranberries, then I made soymilk lattes for myself and my eldest son in local pottery mugs. I had to photograph him, he looked so collegiate with his black-rimmed glasses, backpack and cup of coffee. We looked at the photo on the playback screen and agreed that he reminded us of Ernie, which led to some Sesame Street online videos such as the Mad Song, one of my favorites, and then Pete Seeger and on to EmmyLou Harris, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, and Sarah McLaughlin. Some beautiful stuff, if you care to listen.

This weekend I put together an organized chart of my youngest son’s entire year, with readings, assignments, read-alouds, memory work, science studies and experiments.  It’s a good plan, and includes room to study marine life as my son requested, and world history starting in the Middle Ages. But already we’ve ditched a whole year of so-called vocab work in the Language Arts category. I opened the Wordly Wise book today where my son had left off last year and felt it was so much busy work rather than meaningful vocabulary learning. I guess I just figured this was my last chance to make the book useful for the money. We skipped the crossword and decided that instead of filling in the blanks of the sentences with the appropriate word from the list, we’d choose words that were interesting to us. The following sentences resulted:

He loves flowers and wants to be a _______ when he leaves school. (deer)
Are you a ____________, or do you own your house? (squatter)
The nun who teaches first grade wears a _________________. (black ninja outfit)
A plate looked at from the side seems ___________. (evil)

Instead of going through that in the normal way, I’ll count on him reading a lot, listening to older people talk, and using me as a walking dictionary, which worked just fine for my other children, who had no formal vocabulary lessons. My oldest son, who has expressed the view that he is not good with words, still enjoys building convoluted and nonstandard ways to say things, just for the fun of it. Instead of “Mom, I need help with this,” he might say, “Mother, would you be so kind as to assist my efforts in my present attempt to articulate a thesis statement?” A skill, to be sure, but he is also sitting under my humble tutelage in writing down the bones.

A series of language arts books we are sad to leave behind is the Explode the Code series. One can take the assignments as they are to fortify spelling, handwriting, vocabulary and reading skills, but on top of that, they are funny in a funky way, and we usually enjoy a brain-refreshing laugh or two in reading them together. There are lots of challenging yes or no questions such as:

Does a robin wear large earrings to go to a wedding?
Can you talk to a pear-shaped goblin sitting in a bathtub?
Will you want to join the army when you are eighteen years old?
If your luggage is overweight, will the pilot throw it off the plane?

More than once we’ve just leafed through and read for a laugh. I wish more curriculum materials could lighten us up like that (without resorting to trying to be either cool or gross).

Twice a week we go over to the local public school for P.E., where he is now. I am in my allotted spot on the pew in the entry, where a sign says leadership is about being “RESPECTFUL, RESPONSIBLE, and SAFE!” How about CREATIVE? COURAGEOUS? TRUTHFUL?

Silvery blue bay water stretches to the islands in the west, framed by the winter sky, a few clouds, bare branches reaching past the horizon. High pitched tumult of children’s voices in play drifts up from the play lot I cannot see from my perch. The Washington State flag has wrapped partially around the pole below the Stars and Stripes. The sudden, sharp jangle of the school bell marks the end of recess, changes the pitch of the students’ voices, and a playground monitor croaks through a loudspeaker with line-up instructions. Why the alarm? Do alarmed children submit more easily to authority? In the school my daughters attended in Jerusalem (the real Jerusalem), the “bell” was classical music. Once I even heard Bach’s “Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”Alarms are common enough in Jerusalem, I suppose, hence the classical music.

How about playing Neil Young for class changes, just to see what would happen?


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One response to “Would you use a sledgehammer to tack things onto a bulletin board?

  1. jdawgsrunningblog

    November 17, 2013 at 8:29 am

    I like your twist on the domesticating statements highlighted by the institution—and the three enervating qualities you select to be substituted.


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