Clara's Clearing

Clara's Clearing

Here's to Jean, Theo, and John Steinbeck

Thursday, April 22, 2010

When a couple of months ago I told a close friend of mine that I was going to home school Jack she was not at all surprised. “I was expecting it,” she said. I myself had not expected it, how could she?! She said that she sensed I was going in that direction. I swear I was not aware of it myself. But, there’s an old friend for you... I guess when you know someone since seventh grade you sometimes see things about them that they don’t see themselves!

I had been running a homeschooling series by Denny Mather, a contributor on this site. Apart from my professional interest in children’s education though, I had a personal interest in homeschooling because of my nephew Theo who was homeschooled since sixth grade. My sister-in-law, Jean, decided to home school her son when she moved to a small town with a culture her family was not at all used to. Theo was more than miserable. He was getting sick. When Jean decided to pull him out of school and pretty much single-handedly teach him I was kind of shocked – not shocked in disapproval but shocked because I had never seriously thought about homeschooling. I remember thinking smugly to myself, “Poor Jean, I guess that’s what happens when you move to Hicksville: no liberal folks, no decent education.” I thought we privileged people in politically correct, upscale San Francisco have nothing to worry about! Really, I thought exactly that: Nothing to worry about.

My son Jack was two when Theo was taken out of school. By the time Jack was four I had already started worrying. First the frigid and hypocritical private school we sent him to disappointed me deeply and shortly after that our public school problems began. Still, I never thought about homeschooling. We watched as Jean slowly navigated her way through books and curricula and built a network of like-minded folks in her small town. We watched as every year Theo grew into a more interesting and accomplished kid. We watched as their whole family got more and more involved in Theo’s education and – we could hardly believe our eyes – really enjoyed the process. And this was while we were working harder and harder to make things work and feeling more and more wretched in our beautiful, liberal San Francisco.

But I have to be honest that no matter how miserable we all were in our school experience I still would not have had the faintest notion about homeschooling had it not been for Jean. She had no teaching experience and I had – she had not been a developmental psych major and I had – she was not a third generation educator and I was – still, I had nowhere near the courage that she had! It took her bold example to give me the confidence to do it.

And the interesting thing is that Jack has always been particularly enamored of his cousin Theo. He’s always looked up to him and found him the epitome of coolness. He even imitates him in the way he talks and in his mannerisms. Theo has always been very gracious and obliging to Jack and has humored him. My husband and I have been pleased that Jack finds Theo a role model because we also think very highly of Theo.

When I decided to home school Jack the first book that came to my mind to study with him was the old classic, Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days.” We sat with a world atlas and a world map, on which Jack traced the journey of the characters in the novel. As we followed the journey from Europe to Asia and to America we studied a good deal of geography and history. What we noticed, however, was that the American part of the journey was not as full of history as the Asian part, and it certainly did not do justice to the great and varied American landscape. I was thinking about how to augment our coverage of America when I remembered something about Jean and Theo’s early home schooling days.

When Jean had just taken Theo out of school she asked friends and family for book recommendations. I remember that my husband suggested John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charlie.” Toward the end of his life Steinbeck travelled across the country with his dog Charlie where he encountered many interesting places and characters. My husband thought since Theo and family had just moved across a few states that might be an interesting book to read. So one of the first books that Jean and Theo read when they began their homeschooling journey was Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charlie.”

And bingo… I found our next book! We are going to the library to check out that book next.

So here’s to Jean, Theo, and John Steinbeck: Couldn’t have done it without you!


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