For the Love of (Organized) Chaos

Homeschooling and unschooling both work because of the chaos they cause. Children, by nature, tend to be chaotic. As we get older, we begin to like the calm, the regular, the predictable. And into that step our children. This is good although not always fun.

Chaos Can Be Beautiful

Telling someone like me that chaos can be something to look forward to is not easy. I like my organized, scheduled, predictable life. But a book came across my path recently which did exactly that.

In The Chaos Imperative, the authors Brafman and Pollack talk about a term that I have grown to love – organized chaos. Because when I think about it, that’s exactly how our days look: yes, we do have some basic things we do each day. The children are responsible for making breakfast and some chores, but for the most part, they have to choose and figure out how to add meaning to their day.

Throughout the book, the authors call attention to the fact that it is not careful planning that leads to intelligence and creativity but rather some form of confusion or “white space,” as they refer to it. One specific example they mention is Japanese schools and their long recesses. Another is the neurobiology of how we get our ideas when we are being truly creative.

Organization IS important, but…

The caveat of course is that life is not to be one hazard after another. They tell the readers to “organize serendipity” – basically, create environments where people have some structure, but then within those, set time aside for micro white spaces.

That is what I set out to do with our style of classical unschooling. Too much structure brings me down, as do arbitrary rules, even when the children clearly need them. So I give them just enough and let them figure out the rest.

If you want to know more about how I apply organized chaos, read my books here:

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Worry If You Must

We tell each other not to worry by equating it with fear and anxiety. But I recently came across a little book that made me rethink the whole concept of worry.

The book was called Tell Me Everything You Don’t RememberWritten by Christine Hyung-Oak Lee, it details a stroke she had at the age of 33. The writer lost her short term memory as a result along with other aspects of her personality.

This line arrested me:

Worrying is an exercise in memory.

Worry Isn’t All Bad

As homeschoolers, we are free from following the rules of tests and other paraphernalia public schools foist upon their students and the subsequently the parents. As unschoolers, we tell ourselves we’re outside of rules anyway.

And yet…

… and yet, we worry. No matter how much we do and how long and hard we work and how far and deep and wide our search for curricula is, no matter how many conversations we have with our children, we don’t just throw all caution to the wind. No matter how much we try.

I’m beginning to realize that’s not all bad.

Worry Tells Us We Care

It helps us decide. The reason I chose homeschooling for my children was because I was an exceptionally good student, but I didn’t like classrooms. So today when I worry that my child isn’t getting a math problem or I insist that they memorize a history timeline, it is because I remember.

Granted, their futures cannot be guessed at, but because my concern for them is a function of my memory, I can help them navigate their childhood in a way no one else can. I can help them look forward as I look back.

While anxiety might be bad, worry has a real function. It would be foolish to abandon it.

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The Case for Starting with Bad History

Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m a lover of history. I often have book suggestions and lists for you to browse that I label “good” history. But today I want to deal with the relatively controversial topic of “bad” history.

What “Bad” History?

I’ve been mulling over this idea in my mind that it is usually a good idea to begin learning where and when you can. Begin where you are is my motto. Of course you can’t and don’t – and won’t – stay where you are if you read and study and learn enough.

Consider the boom in current historical fiction. Books and movies and Netflix shows – there is supposed history all around us. “But that’s not how it happened!” and “Revisionist!” is the cry we often hear. And let’s not forget “Fake news!” Surely, we should avoid bad history, right? I mean, it’s a lie.

But wait, I say. (And don’t call me Shirley. Heh.)

Bias is Inevitable

We’ve been listening to the Histories of Herodotus in the car on drives while running errands. And while there is much that is informative in it, the true value of listening to Herodotus is in the entertainment of it. History is a narrative, after all, and Herodotus manages to maintain a veneer of factual reporting while letting slip some pretty liberal use of “so I’ve been tolds.”

All this to say bias is inevitable. No matter where you start, depending on where you stand, history looks different. There’s no sense in denying it or trying to make it “fair.”

In fact it is in the trying that we most belie our biases.

So why not start there? Start with bad history, if you must. At least it gives you something to think about – something to sink your mental teeth into. Then go from there. Argue, sound out, find out. Learn and grow. Look at things from various perspectives.

Then create your own. If nothing else, you will have worked your way through some fallacies and created an argument.

And in the process, you will have learned more than a simple rendition of the facts.

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Why I Am Not a Grammar Nazi (Any More)

There isn’t much that doesn’t offend us these days, it seems. The offence runs the gamut from politics to parenting to – you guessed it – language. And figures of speech and grammar are no exception. In the last day alone, I have noticed four different times people have corrected someone’s spelling or grammar online.

Look, I understand that we’re homeschoolers. We hold our children to high standards.

We meticulously pore over good literature. We value “living books,” we teach that in order to be understood it is necessary to be precise, we Google and search and memorize. Above all, we read. And we never ever use abbreviations in text messages.

But at what point does our correction and insistence on good grammar and punctuation leave the realm of helpful and practical and become merely pedantic?

I Hate the Oxford Comma

Or rather, I couldn’t care less about it. Like most people in the (normal) non-academic world, I don’t give two hoots if you add it or not. Honestly, it looks odd to me there just hanging beside the “and.” It seems out of place and rather embarrassed at being thrust into the fray if you ask me. But hey, suit yourself.

The same goes for things like the split infinitive and the subjunctive mood. Oh, and the insistence of the use of “may I” instead of “can I” and the ever so tiresome idea of never ending a sentence with a preposition.

“Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.” – Winston Churchill

If you’re one of those people that likes to stick to those rules, be my guest. Just know that dictionaries add about 600 new words every quarter. And you don’t have to go too far back into history for English to sound like complete gibberish. Indeed, spelling did not become standardized until 250 odd years ago.

And yet, Americans spell certain English words differently from their British origins. Ask me how I know. I had to learn to drop the (apparently) useless “u” when I moved here and learn to stress the second syllable instead of the first as I used to in British English.

Language and spelling – even pronunciation – is way more fluid than we give it credit for. Rules are only useful so far as they promote communication and not much else.

Intuitive Grammar

I went to a private school in Bombay, India. My classmates and I were the last students to follow the British curriculum in the 50 years after India’s independence. I was accorded the best education I could get. My parents made sure of that. My teachers made sure that all the English I heard and read was correct. My ear therefore was trained and if it didn’t sound right, I knew it was probably not correct.

My grasp over the English language is mostly intuitive, not academic.

I have never, ever, ever diagrammed a sentence and I couldn’t have told you an active voice from passive a few years ago. And the only reason I care now is because the plugin on my blog says I need more brief sentences in active voice for readability.

Why am I telling you this? Because I think there are some of us are naturally better at picking out and remembering good grammar and most of that learning is done through listening to the right form of it and communicationAs much as I am in favor of memorization, I do not think analyzing sentences and memorizing the rules of grammar do much to make you grammatically accurate.

With All Your Learning, Get Understanding

But here’s really why I’m telling you this. I certainly wouldn’t correct people in a face to face conversation about their pronunciation of a certain word. Why do we feel so entitled to correct perfect strangers in an online setting?

And what about friends? I used to, you know. I used to correct them. Until I realized I wasn’t perfect. Mea culpa.

In fact, in some areas – like patience, like serious, technical problem solving, I was decidedly deficient. I’m just blessed that things like coding, engineering and logic are not the language of everyday communication – that I am not judged on them each time I want to say something.

Can we not overlook some foibles out of basic respect? Or does love cover a multitude of sins unless they happen to be those of grammar and punctuation?

To Clarify

This isn’t an argument to ignore spelling “your” and “you’re” correctly or even to not get “there,” “their,” or “they’re” right, this is a plea to stop being such a stickler about the form of something that you miss the meaning or, worse, deign it to be so far beneath you that you must either stop and point it out in a very obvious manner or just not read it.

Yes, there are some cases when the mistake is so blatant that it changes the meaning of a sentence. And in those cases, it is (perhaps) acceptable to ask for clarification (I would put unnecessary apostrophes in this category) but I would still be careful.

What is the impulse behind correcting grammar? Is it the momentary superiority we feel about knowing something another doesn’t? Or is it genuine miscommunication that needs clarification? If good grammar is a sign of good breeding, when did politeness stop being part of it?

What I Intend to Teach My Children

If you have read my book The Classical Unschooler, you know that even though I tend to lean toward the classical model of education, I am not a fan of learning something for its sake alone. As such, I don’t intend to insist the children learn Latin, for example. Or sentence diagramming.

I tend to be fairly practical in my approach. This is, of course, not to say that they shouldn’t pursue something that gives them obvious pleasure just because it’s not practical. But, by and large, we focus on what’s useful.

If I notice that my children are having trouble expressing themselves – verbally or in written form – in a way that hinders communication with others, that will be our focus. I will give them the tools they need to express themselves well, even with beauty. But we will only pursue the rules in as so far as they achieve those ends.

I will no longer turn rules into idols. The world has enough grammar Nazis already.

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The Joy of Being on the Sidelines

If you’re naturally an introvert, homeschooling can seem daunting at first. After all, the number of classes and co-ops calling your name are endless. You can easily find yourself in the midst of all the action, surrounded by people – great people, ones you love and agree with, but still… people. And groups. What’s an introverted homeschooling mom to do?

I’m here to tell you this: it’s okay to be on the sidelines.

You will rarely find me in the “in crowd.” At parties, I prefer to be on the sidelines. I am usually the last person in the group to know the latest news. I dislike meetings.

I like to get along with most people, but large groups and infighting drain me. I prefer the company of two to three friends at a time. And I need time to decompress after seeing large groups of people. Or I get sick – I’m not kidding on this one.

So, homeschoolers? If you’re someone like me, let me offer you this perspective – it’s just fine. Here are some of the advantages of being on the sidelines.

You hear less gossip

Let’s face it. People can’t stop talking and they can’t stop talking about each other. I find the more I hang out in groups the more likely I am to hear things that do not concern me and things I wish I never knew about someone else. They have the effect of making me tired.

Being on the sidelines and limiting too much interaction rids me of that problem. I know enough to navigate my way through life and that’s quite enough, thank you very much.

You can focus on what’s important

When you’re homeschooling, unschooling or trying to do what’s necessary and important, focus is paramount. Unfortunately, it’s also at a premium. Getting things done requires a laser like focus – especially when you’re in your everyday environment.

Not being in the in crowd means you have that focus. You don’t get pulled in ten different directions.

You’re less likely to get sidetracked

I have written before about how I don’t like to do too many activities. I don’t think it’s healthy for the children and I don’t think it’s good for anyone to have every minute of their lives in scheduled activities.

The advantage of not keeping up with the homeschooling Joneses is that you can plan your days without getting sidetracked. You don’t have people asking you to go out every weekend and you don’t overschedule your life. You can breathe.

So if you feel left out when you’re on the sidelines as a homeschooler, don’t. There are special joys there only some can see. Sometimes, a square peg in a round hole is exactly what you need to be!

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What Lovers of History Know To Be True

It is no secret that I absolutely love history. In honor of President’s Day, here is one of my favorite history quotes. It comes from That’s Not In My American History Book by Thomas Ayres.

The quote speaks to those of us, I think, who see history as interesting biographies and love to see the people behind the stories and conjecture how their lives must have actually been.

History is not just dates, places and events to be memorized by school children. It is people influencing events – real people with blood coursing through their veins and thoughts through their minds. History breathes. Its heart beats. Just like those who make it, history changes and remains the same. It repeats its triumphs and tragedies. History is little people caught up in great events and great people turning insignificant events into momentous ones. History is madman and genius, warmonger, peacemaker, idealist and cynic – actors all, playing out their roles on the greatest stage of all.

You can buy the book here.

Other books by Thomas Ayres:

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The Best Definition of Socialization

It’s been a while since I’ve heard comments about how homeschooled kids miss out on socialization. Perhaps the message is getting through and we homeschoolers not so strange after all.

However, this is – hands down – the best definition of socialization that I have ever read. It’s from Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s book Flow, which I have mentioned on this blog before.

He says about socialization:

The essence of socialization is to take make people dependent on social controls, to make them respond predictably to rewards and punishments. And the most effective form of socialization is achieved when people identify so thoroughly with the social order that they can no longer imagine themselves breaking any of the rules.

He goes on.

A thoroughly socialized person is one who desires only the rewards that others around him have agreed he should long for… He may encounter thousands of potentially fulfilling experiences but he fails to notice them because they are not the things he desires. What matters is not what he has now, but what he might obtain if he does as others want him to do. Caught in a treadmill of social controls, that person keeps reaching for a prize that always dissolves in his hands.

Tell that to anyone who asks about proper socialization of your kids.

You can buy Flow here.

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Why Memorize

I have written before about why we memorize, what we memorize and also that I have thought long and hard about if memorization has any use outside of learning things by rote themselves.

Here’s another quote I found in Mihály Csíkszentmihályis Flow which is a fantastic book to read if you haven’t already done so.

Besides dealing with how to achieve moments and lives in which we are not just dependent on society, but search within ourselves to create meaning and thus live meaningful lives, he has much to say about socialization and memorization as well.

Here’s what he has to say about learning things by rote.

Learning complex patterns of information by heart is by no means a waste of effort. A mind with some stable content to it is much richer than one without. It is a mistake to assume that creativity and rote learning are incompatible. Some of the most original scientists for instance have been known to have memorized music, poetry, or historical information extensively.

And this is perhaps my favorite part and relates directly to homeschooling.

A person who can remember stories, poems, lyric of songs, baseball statistics, chemical formulas, mathematical operations, historical dates, biblical passages, and wise quotations has many advantages over one who has not cultivated such a skill. The consciousness of such a person is independent of the order that may or may not be provided by the environment. She can always amuse herself and find meaning in the contents of her mind. While others need external stimulation to keep their mind from drifting into chaos, the person whose memory is stocked with patterns is autonomous and self contained.

You can buy Flow here.

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From “The Lost Tools of Learning” by Dorothy Sayers

If you have read my book The Classical Unschooleryou know that I think The Lost Tools of Learning is arguably the best essay I have read about how learning takes place and so how best to teach (and learn!)

If you haven’t read it yet, make it a point to do so.

Here are some great takeaways from the book to whet your appetite.

Although we often succeed in teaching our pupils “subjects,” we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think? They learn everything, except the art of learning.

For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armour was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects.

We who were scandalised in 1940 when men were sent to fight armoured tanks with rifles, are not scandalised when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of “subjects”; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotised by the arts of the spell-binder, we have the impudence to be astonished. We dole out lip-service to the importance of educationlip-service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school leaving-age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school-hours, till responsibility becomes a burden and a nightmare; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.

You can buy The Lost Tools of Learning here

And if you haven’t yet read The Classical Unschooler, pick up a copy here.

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