Sunday, December 30, 2012

"I Have Never Let School Interfere with My Education"

We are not big on pricey Christmas gifts. Steve gave me a cover for my Nook with the most perfect quote, and I plan to buy a camera since I finally killed my last one. I gave Steve his own boxed set of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for the ones the kids and I read are worn out. While he read The Hobbit in college, he never got into three books that followed. Not even the Peter Jackson movies inspired him until he saw The Hobbit in the theater. He began to see enough connections between Bilbo's adventures and those of Frodo that LOTR finally caught his attention. We spent the next few evenings watching a marathon of special extended edition DVDs, and Steve now appreciates my wealth of trivial knowledge about Middle Earth. He just asked me if you can order lembas bread on e-Bay. If you don't know what that is—well, nevermind....

Mark Twain never spoke truer words when he said, "I have never let school interfere with my education." In this day of the state standards, I suspect students will find it even harder to get an education. I told my son about the requirement that only thirty percent of material read by high school seniors will be literary: everything else is supposed to be "informational texts." His knee-jerk reaction was, "They don't want us to think!" The Washington Post opinion page summarizes my concerns well,
The major problem with the new Common Core State Standards is that they further diminish something that is greatly undermined from the moment we enter school: our creativity.

School essentially limits innovation. The best way to succeed in school is to repeat exactly what the teacher says. But the most effective way to express one’s creativity in school has always been through the reading of fiction.

Through novels, we can let our imaginations run wild, assign meaning to complex passages and have a chance to attack certain situations and moral dilemmas without living them. Reading fiction is an active, involved process.
Information is easily standardized and testable. It is static, predictable, and consistent. We can break information down into pieces that are right or wrong. Either you know a given factoid or you don't. We can put it into multiple guess format for scanners to score. Students have a hard time cajoling a few points from the teacher because information is so cut and dry.

While so many in the autism world seek to pump our kids full of information, my aim is to see what Pamela does with it. Although language is flowing more readily now, Pamela has such a hard time expressing what she thinks. I often find myself in the role of observer, pondering what she does and says to elicit what she knows and understands.

Scene I. A conversation. Tammy checking Facebook. Pamela watching television.

Me: Wow!
Pamela: What?
Me: Stormin' Norman is dead.
Pamela: Is he an actor?
Me: No, he was a general.

We were both together, but doing separate things. When I left out vital information, Pamela grew curious. When I shared the news about Norman Schwarzkopf, Pamela assumed he was an actor. In the past, she has asked me about famous people who died. They are usually actors or musicians. Her knowledge of the latter is wider, so she assumed he was an actor. Even more important, Pamela took an active role in seeking out information. Instead of passively receiving information, she searches for it herself.

Scene II. The four of us are at the movie theater watching terrible trailers. The green preview screen appeared for an R-rated movie.

Pamela: I cover my eyes! [Puts her hands to her face.]

Pamela did not have to tell us what she was doing. In fact, we probably would not have even noticed had she remained silent. She wanted to share her thoughts with us. Pamela knows that R-rated movies are recommended for people over seventeen. Although we avoid those movies for the most part, we have never made any "rules" about it. She has probably figured this out based on her own research. She also has an accurate sense of her age. She sees herself as a big girl because she does not have many interest in common with her peers. She resists the idea of having to buy adult movie tickets. She enjoys having dolls and was quite thrilled that Queen Victoria had a large doll collection as well as Pamela's great grandmother. She even tells people, "I'm not [in a] grade. I'm Charlotte Mason." She seeks reassurance that she is not in elementary, middle, or high school. Now that her brother attends college, she declares she is not in college either. She has a strong sense of her true emotional age.

Scene III. We are enjoying a two-week vacation from school.

Pamela: I can't wait for the last week!
Me: It's almost time for exams.
Pamela: Term finale!
Me: We will say farewell to some books.
Pamela: Happy ending!

Pamela enjoys how we learn together. Unlike most styles of education, we spend a long time on some books. We would rather spend two years reading two years reading Oliver Twist together than zip through something abridged over a term. The end of a term means the beginning of new books. We are finally closing the door to the Civil War and opening the one leading to World War I. Pamela is intrigued to enter a new phase of history through our literary readings. She created her own analogy to television shows: a season has a finale and, therefore, her term has a finale as well: exam week! She finds our exams delightful because we record her telling everything she knows about what we read. She does not feel pressured because we avoid impertinent "gotcha" questions that focus only on information. Pamela is getting clever in choosing the right words to express her thoughts and she is eager to transition to make friends in far away lands of another time.

I think Mark Twain would approve.


Lisa Tuhaika said...

I love the new Nook cover....perfect for you! And I also love reading about all the ways that Pamela is getting engaged and sharing her thoughts. How wonderful that she is excited about taking on new subjects and books, and learning new things!

walking said...

Not only that, she is a person with autism who looks forward to transitions. She is intrigued by the next new thing on the horizon. She can handle changes of authors with their different writing styles, new topics, new lands, etc.