This blog is part of Educating My Boy: Chronicles of a Free-Schooler
One of the stories I had Jack read as part of this lessons was the story of King Midas. If you recall, Midas was the king who so coveted gold that he dreamed of having the ability to turn everything he touched to gold. When his wish was granted and he turned his most beloved daughter (and every plant and flower as well as his food) to gold he realized his mistake.
I had Jack research the origin of the story (Greek or Roman?) and read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s telling of the story as a little shot of good writing. While mentioning the moral of the story my main idea was to discuss how we come to “value” thing: is gold more “valuable” than bread when you’re hungry? That sort of thing… but we didn’t get to that!
I asked Jack what the moral of the story of King Midas was. “Not to be greedy,” he said. “Money isn’t happiness.”
“What is happiness?” I couldn’t resist asking.
“Happiness is a good home, good parents, couple of pets – a second class economy.” (By “second class economy” I think he meant a middle-class life! I really don’t know where he picked that up.) And he went on: “Try not to be famous till later in life. If you’re a kid and you have famous parents you’re not going to be happy because your parents don’t spend time with you. Like in The Prince and the Pauper – having a king for a dad doesn’t necessarily make you happy.”
“What makes you happy?” I asked.
“It’s different for every person,” he said – and then for some reason he got mad: “I don’t know what makes me happy…”
As we were talking I was taking notes, as I always do during our lessons – hence these blogs. But suddenly Jack was angry at me for taking notes.
“You care too much about what I say, if it’s interesting or not… Can’t you not care?”
I told him that I can’t “not care.” I can’t help it if I find what he thinks interesting. I also said that I take notes of our lessons and conversations for the blogs I’m writing and that I hope to make into a book.
“I feel like a guinea pig. I don’t like it,” he said.
Well… that was a hard one, especially when it came at the heels of a particularly challenging “lesson” when Jack was extra fidgety and not at all cooperative. I could see that the lesson was not turning out fun for him, but neither was it for me. So I figured the best way to deal with the situation was to be really honest.
I told Jack that homeschooling is not easy for me. Some parents who homeschool learn along with their kids. I certainly do learn some things as I teach Jack but mostly I teach him what I have already learned. What makes homeschooling interesting for me is to “study” him, as it were. What I learn is from watching him learn. As a writer, and a student of how and what kids learn, I can’t help wanting to take notes and share my observations in the form of writing. I told Jack that in all honesty if I can’t have my own version of “fun” while homeschooling I really don’t want to do it, and the fun of it for me is studying how and what young people learn.
I also said that I thought he had been very resistant to any work lately and that maybe we should think over the whole homeschooling idea. “I don’t want to have to force you to learn,” I said. “But if you’re studying with me you have to want to learn from me and also to let me do what is interesting to me.”
I shut the book and said we should take some time thinking about whether we want to continue homeschooling. We needed to come to an agreement about it.
I had already given some thought to Jack’s charge of being treated like a “guinea pig” when he brought it up. A while ago I wrote about my ideas on teaching “social studies.” My plan is to introduce social sciences to Jack: Aristotle for methodology of science, “social classes” (as in The Prince and the Pauper) for sociology, and start psychology with Piaget.
My plan is to show Jack my favorite Piaget book, The Origin of Intelligence in Children, and how Piaget observed his babies the way Aristotle observed the natural world. I want to point out to Jack that while Piaget closely observed his children, the kids were not exactly “guinea pigs” to his experiments. I am planning to read some of Piaget’s observations with Jack and let him see for himself that “studying” something – or someone – is not necessarily an obtrusive or disrespectful activity. I also want to make the point that while Piaget was interested in how children learn to think, I’m also interested in what they think. (Maybe introduce the idea of philosophy?)
As things are going I think I’ll get to social sciences next year, in what will be seventh grade for Jack. But perhaps we will have to do a little peak into Piaget, how children learn and what they think, before then.
The next day after our Midas meltdown Jack said that he thought about it and he does want to continue to be homeschooled. He said that he agrees to my condition of making homeschooling interesting to me as well as to him.
I was very glad to hear it but I certainly do see that in a way I didn’t really give him a choice. The option I gave him was a bit of a “my way or the highway” kind of choice. That’s one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is that ultimately kids don’t really have a choice but to put their trust in their parents. So Jack’s decision to continue homeschooling was his way of putting his trust in me over a school. He trusted that I do not disrespect him and will not use him for my own purposes.
I do value this trust – all the gold of King Midas be damned.
Then again, maybe it was King Midas that gave this lesson a little golden touch!