Year 2, Week 2

The wonder of this week is both that we did the work pretty much as scheduled, and that it didn’t feel like pushing too much. Because this week the three younger kids all had a violent stomach flu, including a doctor’s visit and an IV for Dash.

But we carried on with school, partly because I hated to take off when we had just gotten started, and partly because Duchess (who had it a week ago, less severely) was perfectly well and spoiling for something to do. Deux was fairly sick, but not as sick as the twins.

So I exempted Deux from writing or from reading to himself until he was better, we did math a bit more informally, but we did it and it went well. And the twins are better now, too.

Year 2: Tree in the Trail, Ch. 2, 3; Burgess Animal Book, Ch. 3, 4; Understood Betsy, Ch. 1; An Island Story, “The Battle of Stamford Bridge”; CHOW, “A Light in the Dark Ages”; The Little Duke, rest of Ch. 1; Poetry of Walter de la Mare; Science lesson on joints and muscles (BFSU B-6); Salsa Spanish; finger knitting.

I think they will enjoy Understood Betsy; well, I’m sure Duchess will. Deux is really excited about getting to William the Conqueror, for some reason. He enacted the battle with the Risk soldier set DOB got him for his birthday. We did not do any timeline addition for Charlemagne, nor did we draw a map (though we did look in the atlas) so I feel he rather got glossed over. The reading happened to hit at a bad time.

The Animal book actually went really well this week. I read it aloud rather than having them read it. The twins listened, too, and seemed to get quite a bit out of it. Maybe I should make it a read-aloud after all. We had a good discussion about species, family, and orders based on Chapter 4, and then, coincidentally, we got into a discussion of squares, rectangles, trapezoids, quadrilaterals and polygons in math and that made for an interesting comparison in nesting organization systems.

The lesson on joints and muscles was a lot of fun; they counted up the joints they could find, then we tested different muscles and talked about how muscles could only work by pulling.

Duchess really took to finger knitting and made several scarves for the stuffed animals, though she has trouble binding off. Deux didn’t care much for it.

We only did two regular math lessons; the other days Deux was sick. On the one he was better I played Blackjack with him. Duchess did worksheets from MEP for a change of pace, which she enjoyed. She’d probably really like doing a workbook program. On the other hand, she wrote up a beautiful definition of “Polygon” in her math notebook and drew an example.

We did fewer extras this week; I forgot to play the music again. We didn’t look at the painting again, though it has been on the wall. They watched Salsa, but we didn’t read a Spanish book. Still, we did the science and we did a handcraft, so it was not all lost. We also did a map study on Europe, which they really enjoyed. First they looked at a map for awhile, then they set it aside and filled in what they could remember on a blank map, then they looked again, corrected, and chose more things to add. I need to print out maps with the countries outlined, though. Drawing in the eastern border of France is too hard.


TTIR, Part 12: Shakespeare

My mother didn’t really approve of Shakespeare, I suspect; Rev. Bowdler’s edition was extinct and she was skeptical of anyone who made crude jokes. Or perhaps she simply had never had an enjoyable encounter with him when she was in school herself. Anyway, we never made any effort to study him when I was younger.

There was a fat and dusty Complete Works on the attic shelves, though, tucked in among the old college texts and waiting for the right rainy afternoon to tempt an adventuresome reader who had already thoroughly scoured the Juvenile Fiction section.

My first definite memory of meeting Shakespeare was at a friend’s house. Her older sister was studying Romeo and Juliet in her ninth grade literature class, and for some reason she deigned to tell us what was going on and regale us with the resulting quips of her classmates. It struck me at the time that Juliet was a hopeless ninny, an opinion that has never been shaken. My friend and I, secure in our eleven-year-old superiority, scorned the folly of teenagers in love.

Whether it was this or sheer idleness that enticed me into actually opening those Complete Works, I don’t know, but at some point I did. I’d never heard a word of Shakespeare read aloud, and it didn’t occur to me to try it. I learned later how much I had missed in reading silently, but as far as I knew, that was what books were for. Despite the difficulties of puzzling out what was even going on, I managed to make friends with a few of the plays: The Tempest, Merry Wives of Windsor, The Taming of the Shrew,  the one tragedy I could really enjoy, Macbeth, and forever and always my favorite, Much Ado About Nothing.

Not until I was grown up and living away from home did I get a chance to actually see and hear a performance. Seeing The Tempest at a small but excellent theater was a revelation. Suddenly long passages that I had only guessed at the gist of were crystal clear. The words were not the dusty ones I’d strained over; they were alive. And when I went back to the book, they still held the life breathed into them by the performance.

Since then, I’ve taken as many chances as I could to see performances, or at least hear them, and then read the words again. On a brief trip to London, my sister and I raced across town the instant our plane arrived to see the only performance of The Merchant of Venice by the Royal Shakespeare Company while we were in town. (The tickets were surprisingly cheap, but then, we had to stand up.) My aunt (who very much approved of Shakespeare) introduced me to her favorite performance of The Taming of the Shrew (a Canadian performance) and even my mother consented to watch the Elizabeth Taylor version.

Going to the far ends of the earth for Shakespeare performances is no longer so possible, but DOB and I bring one home from the library once in awhile. We saw the Branagh Much Ado About Nothing in the sleepless weeks after D2 was born; this summer, a friend of DOB’s was in a local production. We saw Henry V a few months ago, and I’m still meaning to actually read that. I never had the nerve to tackle the histories before, but now I think I do.

Despite the effectiveness in my own case, I don’t plan to teach Shakespeare by banishing him to the attic. Instead I’m already checking out picture-book versions to lure them in.

Remembering how unwieldy the Complete Shakespeare was, I’ve been accumulating cheap paperback copies of individual plays whenever I see them at library booksales. In fact, I’m trying to get multiple copies because someday, perhaps, we’ll want to put on a performance of our own. Although, in memory of my mother, I may cut some of the jokes.

TTIR, Part 11: College at Home

Somewhere I have a Dilbert cartoon where the Pointy-Haired Boss is introducing his Pointy-Haired Son. “He's young,” says PHB, “But I'm almost certain he went to college.” In the next panel, Dilbert is making conversation with PHS. “So,” he asks, “Where did you go to college?”


“Actually, I just hid in the attic for four years,” says PHS.


Sometimes I did feel that way. But I'm pretty sure I studied some, too.


Having decided to devote my life to the cause of Truth and Justice, I felt a need to learn more about them, and hence thought I should go to law school. (Naive of me, but I was only sixteen.) It seemed like the best option at the time would be to begin racking up college credits through local institutions and distance learning, and then attend law school after completing a four-year degree, at which time I would be of sufficient years and discretion to leave home long-term, if need be.


However, within a few months I received notice that a new law school was opening: Oak Brook College of Law. It allowed you to do the bulk of the work from home, and rather than requiring a four-year degree, it would take two years' worth of credits and you could get them by taking the CLEP exam. When done, you'd be eligible to take the California bar exam. So, always in a hurry to get on with things, I decided to try this option. It certainly didn't hurt that it was affiliated with the family's homeschool program.


I took the CLEP tests over the next few months. To my astonishment, I did the worst at English. (I guess they didn't care for my writing style in the essay, for I'm quite certain I didn't mess up on proofreading.) I got a nearly perfect score on math, without ever studying college math at all, although I had done some of my high school math from college textbooks, if they happened to be lying around the house.


OBCL set a minimum age of 18, but I decided to apply and see if they'd let me in anyway. They did. So off I went to the orientation week, which was held in Oklahoma City.


People are always confused as to why I attended courses in Oklahoma when it was a California school, so follow me closely here. California allows law schools not accredited by the American Bar Association to operate and take its bar exam, which few other states do. (Most don't want the bother of supervising schools themselves and defer to the ABA.) The ABA doesn't permit distance learning, and looks with disfavor on a strong Christian content to the coursework. So OBCL is a California school. Being affiliated with IBLP, it has access to their facilities at a low cost, and Oklahoma City happened to be the one that got assigned to the school.


Anyway, there I was, at the tender age of sixteen, starting law school. I loved it. Finally, somewhere that my passion for arguing could be unleashed without limit! (Well, sometimes people took my knife away when I started arguing at the dinner table.) Finally, people who really liked to hash things out!


After a week there, I went home to hide in the attic and study for a year. I had the unique challenge of not yet having passed my driver's license (an unpleasant incident on my first try had discouraged me from trying again to soon) so I had to beg rides to the law library off of friends.


I found studying independently through law school quite natural; it was what I had been doing all along. It had become my habit to study things because I wanted to know them, and to approach every new topic with the goal of understanding first, remembering second, and passing the exam a distant third. With that approach, passing was easy.


(I should note that homeschooling does not guarantee this approach to study. DOB started at the same school two years later, at 18. He spent his semesters socializing, working, and volunteering on campaigns, and crammed at the last minute. He still passed, even with famously falling asleep on one exam. Although he didn't go into law, most of his school friends did and are building successful careers despite their questionable study habits. They say your enjoyment of law school is inversely proportional to your likelihood of enjoying the practice of law.)


At the end of the first year, students in unaccredited schools must take the “Baby Bar” exam in California. I took that and passed it. I did, thereafter, finally pass my driver's exam, too. Concurrently with study over the next few years I worked part time for NATHHAN for a time and during my last year got called back to work at EFF on a lawsuit they were then engaged in against the teachers' union.


This was real, live legal work, with depositions and interrogatories and the whole works. It was fun, and good to see the actual processes of law, which is quite a different matter from the substance of law taught in law school. Nonetheless, I realized that the practice of law wasn't really my passion and never had been. I liked things a bit more esoteric; I wanted to talk about the way things ought to be, not muck about with tweaking the way they were.


After I passed the California Bar Exam, I continued working at EFF. I did legal work occasionally, but drifted more and more into public policy research and writing. Eventually I began working on a project that became Crossroads, a curriculum on governing principles for teens. This was the fulfillment of my dreams: to be able to travel around and talk about why government existed and how it was supposed to operate. I spoke to many homeschool groups and private schools and marketed my services at their respective conventions. The course is now available on DVD, if you're interested. (It was recorded last spring, while I was pregnant with D2. For the record.)


On the side, I decided I had an obligation to all future OBCL students in my home state of Washington to try to gain entrance to the Washington Bar. Representing myself, I wrote a series of letters exploiting an obscure portion of the rules of practice to argue that I should be permitted to take the Washington Bar Exam. Much to my surprise (and the surprise of the Bar's general counsel, I'm sure), the Board of Governors granted my request, and I gained admission in Washington as well.


(Although most OBCL students have clustered in California, there is now a sizeable group in Washington who have taken advantage of the rules exception. There are also several engaged in practicing federal law exclusively, and some who have found ways to get into a few other states, sometimes only after taking a couple of years' work at a conventional law school. OBCL still doesn't have the prestige of Stanford, but its California bar passage rate is extremely high, and we're starting to make our mark in the world.)


Sometime between those two bar exams, I joined up with the Oak Brook Debating Society, which conducted online debates via e-mail. My first scheduled opponent dropped out, so the president, known online as “Duke Ronald” and about eighty other screen names, took it upon himself to debate me personally. He won. I was mad. We kept arguing. Eventually we got married to do it more conveniently.


And now you know . . . the rest of the story.

TTIR, Part 10: That Other Place

The park down the street also serves as the playground for the local elementary school. Today while we were playing a flock of kindergarteners was also there, learning how to line up and go inside, asking which days they would come back to school, and generally finding out how school operated.


I had to admire the teacher's control already established over the class, which has only been in session for a couple of days. I wish I could have done that well when I taught Sunday School, but my sympathy with the children who were crawling in line whenever the teacher's back was turned was always too strong. I don't suppose they'll do that for much longer.


As far as I can remember, I never asked to nor wanted to go to a regular school. When I was about three, I went for awhile to a sort of co-op preschool run by the mothers of our church, but as it was indistinguishable in location or people involved from Sunday School and AWANA, it never stood out in my mind. I remember playing “The Farmer in the Dell,” but that's about it.


When I was in fourth grade, my parents evidently decided I should have the chance to find out for myself if I was interested in attending school. They sent me for a day to the large Christian school my older siblings had attended. My impression of school was that it was mind-bogglingly slow and boring. Most of the time was spent waiting for the next thing to do. Write your name down and wait. Work a paper and wait. Wait. Wait. And sit. I never was much good at sitting still for very long.


Our church had a much smaller and rather less academically-oriented school attached; it was where we took our annual tests. This was a relatively familiar place. We knew quite a few of the children there, and testing day was always a great treat, as the tests (Stanford Achievement) were simple. We whipped through all the tests in the morning and then ran outside to play with the other kids while Mom graded them.


Occasionally, when we were being particularly naughty, refusing to turn in assignments or cutting up incessantly when we were supposed to be studying, Mom would moan in frustration, “You wouldn't get away with that if you went to (the church school).” I always wanted to retort, “Well, if you think it's so great, why not send us there?” I don't think I ever did say that, though.


School did always have some of the glamour of the exotic, though. Whenever I was in schools for an event, I wanted to explore all the passages and test all the doors–but then, I've never outgrown that urge in any large building. I loved books where the children went off to boarding school–what an adventure that would be! But I never seriously would have wanted to go there; if one must have an adventure, one with dragons would be superior.


When I was 15, we decided I would take the summer driving course at the local public school rather than waiting until I was 18 to get my license. I admit, I did not fit in and didn't particularly want to do so. Driving never was easy for me (still isn't), but the coursework was quite simple; yet other students struggled and avoided work even though presumably we all wanted our licenses. I tried hard not to be a show-off, but I still felt resented for getting good grades. And it wasn't as if there was time in class to actually get acquainted with anyone.


All my classroom experiences as a student after that were at the college or post-college level, were relatively short-lived, and were on topics of my own choosing. They were all quite enjoyable content-wise, and I shall write about them later. But I never did learn to enjoy sitting in a classroom all day.

TTIR, Part 9: The Unschooling Years

My family continued in the ATI program, but at 13 I came down with a chronic illness that limited my participation in–or at least willingness to cooperate with–formal assignments for the next few years. Instead, I lay on the couch and read.


By this time I was editing my mother's writing and working through my brother's college math books, so my mother didn't worry about what particular things I studied. I was most interested in fiction at first, and I read a great deal of that, mostly good stuff, although I also slogged through a lot of twaddle, especially reviewing books donated to the church library.


We had a set of high school literature (A Beka) books which I read; I have heard these criticized as providing little snippets when one should read whole books. But most of the pieces I remember were poems and short stories, which stood on their own well. It was in those books that I first met Tolstoy, Sayers, and Chesterton, and I owe them a great debt. I don't think I would have picked up War and Peace if I hadn't first read “How Much Land Does a Man Need?”


I also had a brief interest in cartooning, which led me in a completely unexpected direction. For Christmas, my mother ordered me a book on cartooning by Vic Lockman, and along with it a book on economics that he had drawn in cartoons. It seems a rather corny idea (although after reading more books later I discovered it follows the classic Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt very closely). But it got me hooked and charted a new course for the next decade. (I did about three pages in the cartooning book and gave it up.)


So the next order of books brought me Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? and Whatever Happened to Justice? by Richard Maybury. Now I was really intrigued with the ideas of liberty and limited government. I read more. I discovered the Foundation for Economic Education; I discovered the Federalist Papers and Frederic Bastiat. I was madly in love, and I bored my family to tears with babbling on about my new passion.


After a couple of years, my health grew more stable and I grew more ambitious. I began attending local political events. I organized a political club for local teenagers. My mother's best friend ran for office, with my sister as her campaign manager, and I tagged along, doing data entry, supervising bulk mailings, and making endless phone calls (a task I always hated and still do). I got my driver's permit during this time and practiced my driving going door-to-door with the candidate.


After the campaign was over, successfully, my sister did a little work for a small think tank in the state capital; the Evergreen Freedom Foundation. She brought me along with her. After she left to work elsewhere, I stayed on for a few months, living with the executive director, Lynn Harsh, who then was still homeschooling her own son. I remember curling up and listening to her read Hans Brinker to him in the evenings, and then, when she was done, I would pull books off her shelf and read Thomas Sowell into the night.


During the day, when no one had anything useful for me to do, I would read back copies of The Freeman (FEE's newsletter). When I did have something useful to do, I learned about state budgets and finally mastered percents; I learned how to do research and how to get information out of a bureaucrat; I squelched my fear of phone calls and collaborated on one project with the ACLU.


After a few months, though, my mother decided it was time I came back home. I was only sixteen, after all. Plus, I had heard about a new law school opening, the Oak Brook College of Law, which would allow me to study law from home. I had already decided I wanted to study law; this made it possible for me to start sooner. So I came home and began cramming to pass enough CLEP tests to have the college credits to start law school that fall.


Looking back, I do feel like my studies during that time were a bit lopsided. I never did study science. Except for the 18th century in England, France and America, I learned little history. But at least I never got the idea that my studies were done. I never did officially graduate high school. It seemed irrelevant.

TTIR, Part 8: The Unit Study Years

I believe it was the summer I was ten that my family first started in the Advanced Training Institute. For those not familiar with it, the curriculum itself uses a unit-study approach based on the Sermon on the Mount. However, that's a bit inadequate as ATI and its parent organization, IBLP, are much, much bigger than a curriculum, more like a cross between a denomination, a parachurch ministry, and an international hotel chain.


Those who are familiar with it are probably expecting me to either launch into a paean to its virtues or a diatribe on its evils, but I am not going to do either. It had its good and bad points, and I certainly owe some very important things in my life to it, chief among them being meeting DOB. Most of the good and bad things I have also encountered elsewhere, in various combinations. Life's like that; no organization is as good as its partisans think, or as bad as its enemies fear; and they are all much less powerful than they look.


One immediate benefit was that my college-graduate sister came home to study with us, which was great fun and a great challenge to me. I had never really had the chance to get to know her before, as she was nearly ten years my senior and up until that point had not been home schooled. It was always my goal to find some word or corner of knowledge that she didn't already know. This was very difficult when I was ten. (It became much easier once I went to law school.) My best friend and I finally stumbled on “ecchymosis,” which did indeed stump her.


The next summer it also prompted all of us except the two youngest to travel back east for one of the annual conferences; this was my first chance to see the Northeast and Washington, D.C. and it was a wonderful and memorable trip, even though it was conducted on the budget principle that we could either eat at a restaurant or sleep in a motel on any given day, but not both. I loved Plymouth Plantation and the Smithsonian especially. After awhile, though, I was enthralled by any exhibit that was air conditioned.


I enjoyed being able to study all together; even though we were learning at different levels, having the same topics to study helped tie us together as a family. On the other hand, in retrospect, I think for the age I was, I would have learned more studying science and history in a sequential manner. Unit studies were great at showing the interconnectedness of all knowledge, but not so useful at showing the internal logic of each subject. I think there's a time and place for both. Plus, it seemed like we kept hitting on some particular topics over and over, while others never got covered.


The ATI curriculum places the Bible as the central book of study. With this, I fully agree. However, I don't think one has to force the connection. Not every fact from every subject has to be studied by means of analyzing the Biblical principles and analogies involved. They may be there; they probably are there. But it gets tedious and ultimately trivializes the Bible to insist that they must be found and marked down or no further will we go.


I also question the approach to false ideas and philosophies, though I reserve the right to change my mind on this. I don't think it's true that we can just study the truth and then we can just reject evil when we see it. For one thing, rejecting evil is not enough: we also need to refute it, and that requires some knowledge of it.


For another thing, we cannot simply assume that we have the Truth. Our impressions and concepts are formed by influences we cannot see or trace: comments, actions, and attitudes of those around us. Such things influence even how we read Scripture. Some careful learning of various philosophies and approaches helps us challenge our own assumptions; we may discover that an idea we thought we pulled straight out of the Bible really came from quite secular presuppositions we imposed on the Bible.


On the other hand, I do agree that we cannot blindly trust our own reason to take us wherever it will, because it could take us almost anywhere. So I do understand the concern. But I want my children, someday, to be able to take strong meat because they have exercised their senses to discern good and evil.


I should clarify that my parents were not especially restrictive or disapproving about what I studied, once they knew I could think critically about what I read. Indeed, they often asked me to preview or critique things for them. With the family penchant for lively debate, there was plenty of chance to develop critical thinking skills. But it didn't come from our curriculum.


One thing that was on the whole good, however, was the way ATI encouraged looking for alternatives to mindlessly attending college. This emphasis can be overdone, but it resulted in various young people creating various alternative programs to get training much cheaper and at much less personal cost. One of those programs was the Oak Brook College of Law, about which more later.

TTIR, Part 6: Math, Painful and Not

My father is an engineer; my mother was an artist. Despite the suggestion of an early boss, I do not need therapy. However, the math genes seem to have been wired backwards in me, and I have always enjoyed the beauty and poetry of mathematics without being particularly good or patient at the nitty-gritty.


Of my early mathematical adventures, I remember little before the age of nine or ten. At that time, my father was teaching a class in Boolean Algebra at the local community college. (Boolean Algebra is what is used with binary code and is the basis for computer systems. You might recognize its more familiar form in database search terms: “Mother AND Hubbard” “Dog NOT bone.”) I sat on his lap while he prepared his lessons and must have understood at least a little, for I can still remember it. While I never pursued a career in computer science, it did help me when I got to law school and had to learn to do Lexis searches. (That's the LEXIS-NEXIS database, not the Lexus car, which is usually out of the budget for a while after graduation.)


From sitting in my father's lap while he helped my older siblings, and from reading books I hadn't reached yet, I acquired a smattering of regular algebra by this point, as well. So when I visited the homeschooling convention that year, I was intrigued to find a fellow selling a product that used manipulatives to communicate algebraic ideas. He, in turn, was quite pleased to have a sample student to demonstrate his wares to passers-by. I remained at his booth much of the day, showing the amazing powers of his system of teaching algebra to third-graders. (Not that my understanding demonstrated much, since the equations he used I could already do.) I don't remember if I sold any for him, other than to my mother. When I left, he thanked me by giving me a candy bar, which I bit into with glee, as candy was a rare commodity at our house, only to spit it out in disgust when I tasted carob. It was one of those crushing disappointments of childhood. I've never been willing to try carob since.


I don't recall that we used his manipulatives very much, though. We played with Cuisenaire rods occasionally, but more for the fun of the cool little blocks than for their mathematical properties. Still, I think they helped develop a feel for things.


On the other hand, we constantly were dipping into our favorite math puzzle books, such as the Brown Paper School Books, Math for Smarty Pants and the I Hate Mathematics Book. A whole course that made a great impression on me about this time was A Mathematical Mystery Tour. I loved that book. The Fibonacci numbers and I have been great friends ever since, and I still love a good book of mathematical puzzles or ideas.


One course that made a very negative impression on me about then was Saxon Algebra 1/2. It may brand me a homeschooling heretic, but I hated Saxon math. Truly. Madly. Deeply. I wouldn't say that I will forbid my children from studying Saxon, for I have heard there are some learning styles to which it does appeal, but I certainly would never suggest it. It drained all the poetry and beauty out of math and beat the remaining skeleton into fine powder on the ground. Ugh.


Thinking back, even Saxon might not have been so dreadfully bad if I had simply been permitted to skip problems I already knew how to do. Writing numbers out was the exercise I hated most; it hardly took a year's worth of practice to master and the numbers were always so unreasonably long. The only place I have ever needed to write out numbers was on checks, and as I have never been employed by Publisher's Clearinghouse, I've never found it necessary to write out such large numbers.


Fortunately my love of mathematics was already well enough established that I blamed the problem on the course and not the subject; and even more fortunately my parents were wise enough to help me find something else to try the next year. I used my brother's old public school textbook for Algebra I, not scintillating but much less painful.


I was in such a hurry to get on to the higher mathematics that I'm afraid I skipped over getting a thorough understanding of fractions, decimals and percents. However, I did eventually pick it up, partly from their interaction with algebra, partly from getting a job that involved analyzing statistics, and partly from teaching them to my youngest brother. I'm sure I'll learn them even better as I teach my children.