Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Jonathan Stroud vs Homework

Sam and I have been having an ongoing debate about how much to help our kids with their schoolwork. I tend to err on the, "Let's not help them at all," side. He tends to err on the, "I will help them a whole lot, and do what I can to teach them what they aren't getting. This is our chance to bond!"

Of course, I would probably not be posting this if Sam was moving me towards his camp. That would take a great deal more humility than I have. I am, however, succeeding in moving him closer to my camp. 

My reasoning is this: I do not send my children to school to get an education. They do learn some things, but generally, not as much as I would like. I send them to school (the ones currently in school) in order to help them obtain strength and independence. If they are struggling with a math problem, I want them to go to their teacher for help. I want them to ask classmates. I want them to fail and realize that missing one math problem is not the end of the world, and I want them to suffer the consequences of not turning things in, not preparing, etc... I really have taken to heart what parents teach their children in many other countries: they leave schoolwork up to their children and the schools. But they spend their discretionary time with their children teaching them other things that aren't part of the school curriculum. This is something Americans do not generally do. We tend to ship our children off to specialists when school is through.

I hope this approach teaches my kids more than just independence. I hope it teaches them that learning is not about school. It is about learning for the sake of personal growth. In fact, I believe that to be our mission on this earth. Not to obtain As, but to grow in every possible way. 

Have you ever read this?

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Cheaper by the Dozen

If you haven't, you might have seen one of the movies. The book is infinitely better than both movies, though I do love the black and white version, and I even like the Steve Martin version. The book fascinates me, because it is true. This father was obsessed with educating his children. He taught them astronomy, languages, music, literature, economics, etc... completely independent of what was happening at school. And he learned right alongside his children. My impression of their family (and I've read several books about them) is that they learned outside of school and inside of school, and their father left the school learning at school, though I seriously doubt the children suffered academically because of it. 

I was thinking about this while Lucy and I were having a battle about a dot on her poorly copied geography assignment. It may or may not have been an island, it was impossible to tell, and I refused to give her an answer or solve the problem for her. This was not easy. There was so much stamping and wailing. Contentious words flew. Even if I had wanted to tell her whether or not it was an island, I had no idea. The dot could have just been a miserable dot. But I didn't want to give in and solve this unsolvable and stupid problem for her.

Later that night, I found some time to read The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud to Calvin. Calvin's just old enough to understand that book if it is being read aloud to him. On his own, he could read it, but he would miss a lot. As I read aloud to him, I thought about how much he was learning. The language in that book is rife with words he'd never heard before. It is also rich in history and folklore and myth, and because I was reading aloud to him, I could pause whenever necessary to explain or discuss things. I will wager you a lot of money (ten bucks even!), he learned more in that half hour listening to me read that book than he did all day at school. And I loved it. I wouldn't trade that time for anything (not even ten bucks!).

It seems to me that my choices are to help my children through their struggles at school, or I can teach them things they would never learn at school. There really is not time for both. There just isn't.

These are my rambling thoughts of late, and this is also a very long way of saying, have you read any Jonathan Stroud? Have you read it out loud to your kids?

I just finished his newest: Lockwood and Company: The Screaming Staircase, and loved it. The writing isn't as advanced as his Bartimaeus series, but it is just as intense. In some ways, it is much scarier. He is brilliant at plot and fantastic at creating characters you care about immensely. 


I also adore the Bartimaeus series, particularly The Ring of Solomon, which is the prequel to the others. And really, one of his best books is Heroes of the Valley. It's not to be missed.

Read them. Read them to your kids. Give them to your teens to read themselves. I have done a bit of Jonathan Stroud research (not in a stalker way, I assure you) and he seems like a very nice person. Check out his website—Disney has already optioned The Screaming Staircase for a movie. Your kids will think it is awesome if they leap on the Lockwood and Company bandwagon before it becomes mega-popular.

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1 comment:

  1. I am a big Stroud fan myself--I thought The Screaming Staircase was supurb, and like you, and I adore the Ring of Soloman too!