Thursday, April 22, 2010

Laura Brodie's "Love in a Time of Homeschooling"

Laura Brodie's books include the novel, The Widow's Season, and the nonfiction book, Breaking Out: VMI and the Coming of Women.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Love in a Time of Homeschooling: A Mother and Daughter's Uncommon Year, and reported the following:
Wow, Ford Madox Ford was right. Today, when I opened my new memoir, Love in a Time of Homeschooling, to page 99, the following words jumped out:
The best homeschooling lesson I ever taught….
There was the essence of my book, the crème de la crème of my pedagogy. What followed was not your stereotypical kitchen-table lesson, just a conversation with my three daughters in our family car, when driving home through the rolling hills of southwestern Virginia. That was fitting too, because Love in a Time of Homeschooling is not your stereotypical homeschooling book; it’s the story of one year when I decided to give my firstborn, then ten-years-old, a break from her public school routine.

Most homeschoolers embrace their educational choice as a lifetime mission, not a year off, and if they write books, they tend to emphasize the rosy side of home learning. I, however, am one of the growing number of public school parents who have welcomed homeschooling as a short-term venture, ideal for meeting an immediate need. In our family’s case, I have a daughter named Julia who loathes school, with its classrooms and worksheets and piles of homework. By fifth grade Julia was already burnt out, needing something to rejuvenate her love of learning and give her an academic and emotional boost before she entered middle school. Together, she and I tried to craft one ideal year of learning.

The results weren’t always rosy. This memoir describes anger and frustration, as much as love and joy. One take-away message is that homeschooling isn’t limited to kitchen-table learning between 8:30 and 3:00 p.m. Good parents are teaching their children every day, even when riding in the car.

So here, from page 99, is my best “homeschooling” lesson:
All three of my girls were in the back seat that day, bickering, poking, whining—their habitual state—when I turned on Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade.

“Have you ever heard of Scheherazade?” I asked over their noise, and they quieted enough to mutter a negative.

“There was once a Sultan of Arabia,” I began, “with a beautiful wife that he loved very much, but she betrayed him.”

“You mean she had S-E-X with another man?” Nine-year-old Rachel had an unlimited, disgusted fascination with S-E-X.

“Yes,” I said, “She had S-E-X with several other men. As a result, the Sultan was convinced that all women were unfaithful and should be killed. So each night he married another young woman, and every morning he ordered her to be strangled, until all his people were terrorized, fearing for their daughters’ lives.”

By now my girls were silent. Any story that contains both murder and sex can hold their attention. I told them the whole gist of the Arabian Nights, and how Disney got the ideas for Sinbad and Aladdin from Scheherezade. Then I turned on Rimsky-Korsakov and the music began with loud brasses playing a few forceful notes.

“That sounds like the angry Sultan,” I suggested.

Next came the solo violin, sweetly melodic with a harp in the background, playing a winding, twisting tune— the voice of Scheherazade, weaving her stories. Rimsky-Korsakov titled his first number “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship, ” and when the full orchestra launched into its rhythm of rolling waves, Julia nodded: “It sounds like the ocean.” And so it continued, with Sinbad’s ship cresting wave after wave after wave. (Rimsky-Korsakov can be maddeningly repetitive.) Every so often the orchestra stepped back and the solo violin intervened with its lovely song, reminding us that Scheherezade was still there, narrating this sea-story.

My girls were hooked. They asked to hear Scheherezade every day for two weeks, before school, after school, driving to errands. I checked out an illustrated version of the Arabian Nights from our local library, and we read some of the stories at bedtime. Once we took out the globe and located Saudi Arabia. And where is Iraq, they asked, home to the Thief of Baghdad? And why are our soldiers in Baghdad now?

This is homeschooling at its best—a constant segue from music history, to literature, to geography, to contemporary politics. It can take place anywhere, at almost any time, even with a carload of children driving home from their regular school.
Read an excerpt from Love in a Time of Homeschooling, and learn more about the book and author at Laura Brodie's website.

--Marshal Zeringue