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Clara's Clearing

Clara's Clearing

The role of chance

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

This blog is part of Educating My Boy: Chronicles of a Free-Schooler

What I am going to do in the next series of blogs is to record some of the “lessons” that I prepare for my son. But before I embark on the planned part of our curriculum I want to pay homage to the role chance plays in what Jack studies. In fact the very “curriculum” that I’m going to blog about came to us by chance.


I wrote here about how a friend of my mine unexpectedly gave me a series of books that she had read as a child. The series is called “My Book House” (first copyright 1921, thirty-fifth printing 1953) and has twelve books for “boys and girls” from elementary through high school. As I looked through the volumes I decided to use the series as a guideline for organizing some lessons for my son’s sixth grade education. I will blog about each volume after we cover it.


As I wrote before, however, I don’t at all think that all the volumes are well written. There are excerpts from famous writers in English, but also lots of retelling of stories and translations that are not very well done. One of the challenges that I have set for myself as a teacher is to give Jack an idea of what good and not-so-good writing are about.


In fact, I am going to try to turn my son’s education into an intellectual challenge for myself. Some of the material that we will cover is going to be an education for me too (reading and/or looking up things I have put off) but mostly I am going to set some problems for myself to solve. The first “problem” is how to transform random material into teaching tools. 


The “My book House” series is going to be my first teaching tool. We are missing volumes 5, 6, and 8 of the series but to stay on the “chance” course of events I am not going to try to find the missing books. There is no index telling me what the missing volumes cover, but so what… We’ll just read what we got.


Something that has always bothered me is that kids are given a lot of books that they don’t read. Practically every kid I know has bookshelves covered with books that he or she has received as presents or inherited from older siblings. My son has rows and rows of books that he has not even opened. Good books. Books selected for him carefully. Volumes of stories, science, art, etc. Books sit on shelves and everybody is too embarrassed to admit that they never get looked at, let alone read. This has always bothered me.


Interestingly enough, a lot of the books sitting on my son’s bookshelves – from nursery rhymes and fairly tales to the classics – can be incorporated into the “My Book House” lessons. It’s not a surprise of course. There is continuity in the education that children are given in any culture. I think this continuity should be encouraged and in fact pointed out to kids. It is the basis of the culture to which they are born.


As for me, the first lesson that I have learned is that pretty much any random choice of educational material will reflect this cultural continuity. I will use the “curriculum” I have chanced upon to explore the cultural threads that run through a series of books copyrighted in 1921 and the bookshelf of an average kid born in 1999.


It’s fascinating to discover a systematic transmission of culture and education at the heart of “chance”!

 


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