Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Huge Win

M. Peevie's softball team, the Hurricanes, were making a valiant effort to pull out a win in the last game of the season. They were down 3-1, and the Orange Crush were (was?) up to bat. 

Being down by only two runs was already sort of a victory. We had often found ourselves down by 30, 40, even 50 runs this season--so we could already taste the sweet, sweet honey of not being slaughtered.

But the girls really wanted to record an actual statistical win, not just a moral victory; and they were in ready position, gloves on the ground, chanting support for the pitcher, hoping to make a big play that would end the inning. 

The Orange Crush batter hit an infield fly, which soared up over the pitcher's head, making a high arc toward the short stop. It moved in slow motion; we held our breath. 

Just as the ball plopped into her glove, a fan from the other team yelled, "Drop it!"

She held onto the ball, and ended the inning. Phew. But now there was the matter of poor sportsmanship from the adult fans on the sidelines, which I could not let pass without a correction. I got out my brass knuckles and headed over to the group of Orange Crush parents and grandparents, ready to teach somebody a lesson.

"Did somebody over here yell out, 'Drop it!'? I asked pleasantly. I looked at the most likely culprits, what looked like a grandpa, plus two other adults sitting on the fan bench. I expected a conflict, because sometimes--you may not have noticed this--people are stupid. But instead:

"Yes, he did," the woman on the bench said, not disclosing which guy made the comment. "And we told him that it was not acceptable. It won't happen again. Sorry about that."

Oh. Well then. That was exactly right.

"Oh," I said, "Well, thank you for that. We appreciate it." I walked back to our bench and told the team, who had heard the heckle, that the guy had been corrected by his own people. End of story, time to concentrate on getting some hits.

But it wasn't the end of the story. A few minutes later, the grandpa walked over to our bench. He walked straight up to me and looked me in the eye. "It was me," he said. "I was the one who said, 'Drop it!'." I shouldn't have said it, it was wrong, and I'm very sorry."


I practically burst into tears. I grabbed his hand and shook it, and said, "It was really good of you to come over here and say that. It's very honorable, and I appreciate you doing that." He said again that he was sorry; he was caught up in the game; and he knew it was wrong. "We all do and say things that we shouldn't," I said, "but very few people step up to take responsibility. You are a good man."

The Hurricanes ended up losing that game after all. But a few of them got to see a beautiful example of an adult taking personal responsibility for his mistake--and that is a huge win.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bi-Polar Home Schooling

I'm home-schooling myself in the art and practice of home schooling. So far I've read two books on the topic, and they are diametrically opposite in many ways. One is an unedited, self-published, self-indulgent 400-page verbal emesis: 60 percent diatribe, 30 percent anecdotes, and 10 percent ideas.

The other is a 700-page, well-organized thesis that documents the history, method, and curriculum of a classical education.

One of them makes me want to hug a filing cabinet; the other makes my stomach hurt from insecurity and anxiety. Is there a Middle Path?

The first book, The Teenage Liberation Handbook, inexplicably gets a 4.5 out of 5 star rating on Amazon. It's inexplicable because the organization, writing, and editing are terrible--but it's also understandable because it has a powerful, counter-intuitive message to teenagers and parents. The message is this: schools don't have all the answers. They may not even have some of the answers for some kids; and many kids will be better off, and get a better education, through home schooling and/or unschooling.

I asked A. Peevie and Mr. Peevie to read "Chapter 16: Starting Out: A Sense of the Possibilities," because it offered a glimpse into the first baby steps toward homeschool, or as I'm starting to think of it, self-directed education. This chapter attempts to describe a different kind of educational structure, one which is goal- and student-directed. I don't find the "morsels of advice" from unschoolers and their parents to be particularly helpful or informative; but if you wade through those, and through the lessons in Chinese philosophy, and if you get past the author's overstated aversion to "school-style structure"--there are one or two nuggets of helpful advice, such as this:

If you are completely confused as to how to start structuring your life, here's one way: do "academics" for two hours each day--not necessarily lots of subjects, or the same ones every day; you are not going to dry up if you don't do 45 minutes every day of "social studies." Do some kind of work or project for four hours. In the rest of your time, read, see friends, talk with your parents, make tabouli. Take Saturdays and Sundays off. Sound arbitrary? It is. I made it up, although it is based on a loose sort of "average" of the lives of a hundred unschoolers, most college-bound. Once you try this schedule for a month, you will know how you want to change it.

The next chapter, "Your Tailor-Made Intellectual Extravaganza," presents a couple of good thoughts as well, explaining the method and value of interdisciplinary studies and offering a few strategies to enhance learning. "Create a small museum that relates to your interest," Llewellyn suggests; I could totally see A. Peevie doing this--although his museum might include gross things like a box of toenails, or things with questionable museum value like used cream soda bottles.

"Write letters to people and organizations, asking thoughtful questions"--also a cool idea. As a member of the Save the Manatees Club, and A. Peevie could initiate correspondence with someone from the Club to ask questions or even organize a fund raiser. I'll bet they don't have very many fundraisers in the midwest to benefit manatees. 

I think A. Peevie might find some useful ideas in the second half of the book, which focuses on "how to study all the school subjects without school." Handbook is over-written and under-edited, but like an all-you-can eat buffet, we will find something to meet our needs, and ignore the rest.

The second book, The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (TWTM), offers a "step-by-step, grade-by-grade, subject-by-subject guide to the classical pattern of education called the trivium." And yes, it is as detailed, systematic, polysyllabic, and guilt-inducing as it sounds.

The classical education is language- and history-intensive; it helps students learn to analyze and draw conclusions; and it requires self-discipline and dedication. The trivium structure "recognizes that there is an ideal time and place for each part of learning: memorization, argumentation, and self-expression." These three stages, or methods, of learning are known as grammar, dialectic (or logic), and rhetoric.

Grammar refers not just to the grammar of language, but in a broader sense, to the building blocks of all subjects: words, facts, and dates. The dialectic, or logic stage, teaches children to "connect the facts she has learned and to discover the relationships among them. The first grader has learned that Rome fell to the barbarians; the fifth grader asks why and discovers that high taxes, governmental corruption, and an army made up entirely of mercenaries weakened the empire." This critical thinking stage builds on the foundation of basic skills and knowledge. The third stage, rhetoric, refers to expression. It is dependent upon the first two stages of the trivium: "the student uses knowledge and the skill of logical argument to write and speak about all the subjects in the curriculum."

The massive text of TWTM applies the trivium step-by-step to each subject in each grade. Most chapters include comprehensive reading and resource lists that will make your eyes water, plus examples of daily schedules, methods, timelines, and activities to create the most perfectly educated robotic child ever known to mankind.

OK, that was a bit harsh. I'm sure that anyone who chooses to apply TWTM will nurture well-rounded and well-educated children--but if you check the index, you won't find any reference to child development, play, or fun--except for Fun With Hieroglyphs on page 311. In fact, the authors go so far as to say that if you find yourself hooked up with a group of unschoolers, you may want to find yourself another group (p. 617).

I'm sure this kind of home-schooling is great for some people--but on the continuum of unschooling to classical education homeschooling, we will fall far closer to Liberation than Well-Trained.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Still Got It

I arrived late at the hotel one night last week, and as I waited for the elevator, I made small talk with a fifty-something guy who was also waiting. He mentioned Dorney Park, which evoked fond memories.

"I remember that place!" I said happily. "You have reminded me of my long-lost youth!" We chatted for another minute until the elevator doors opened on the third floor and we both got off.

"So," he said, as we turned in opposite directions. "You have your own room, then?"

"Um, yes," I said, a bit startled, but also a bit awestruck because that sounded like it might have been a pick-up line. "And there are three kids in it."

"Heh-heh," he said, getting the message. "Have a nice night."

I told Mr. Peevie about this conversation later. "Do you think he was trying to pick me up?" I asked him.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "Definitely."

"YES!" I Macauley Culkin-ed.

"I'm happy for you," Mr. Peevie said drily.

And he should be. I am a past-her-prime, overweight, mini-van driving softball mom with very few pick-up lines left in my future--so I will not pass up any chance I get to accept independent confirmation of my fading pulchritude.

Even if the pick-up line springs more from middle-aged lonely desperation than from any actual attractiveness on my part.

/ /

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Eulogy: Alfred Charles Meyer

I’m not an expert on my dad, but I can tell you a few stories that will give you a pretty clear picture of what we have lost and what heaven has gained with his passing.

First of all, we know that dad and mom had the most perfect of marriages, and never had an argument in 64 years, one month, and one week of wedded bliss—or at least, not one that they would admit to. Their marriage was a union of best friends, and they always presented a united front in parenting us five kids. This meant that sometimes they were both wrong.

Dad had some fun dating an identical twin. You’d have to look pretty close at mom and her twin, my Aunt Jean, to tell the difference. Somebody once asked dad, “When you go to pick Joyce up for a date, how do you know you’ve got the right twin?” and dad said, “Who cares? They’re both cute.” Mom hated that story. Probably still does.

Dad was not a believer when he first started dating his cute girlfriend, Joyce. After they had dated awhile, mom told him she could not go out with him any more unless he came to church with her. So he did, and he fell under the spell of the great preacher Donald Grey Barnhouse at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He heard the gospel, and believed it, and turned his life over to Jesus.

Dad loved to tell the story of how Pop-Pop, mom’s father, gave his permission for dad to marry her. Pop-Pop said he would not give his permission until dad went to Bible college for one year, so mom and dad both enrolled in classes at Philadelphia College of Bible. Dad ended up continuing there not for one year, or two, or three—but for nine years. That nine years laid the foundation for 40 more years of Bible study, and an unshakable faith.

Not only did mom’s influence bring dad to the gospel, but she took good care of him in every other way as well—and even at the very end of his life, as he held her hand in the Intensive Care Unit at Grandview hospital, he wanted to make sure she knew how much he loved her. “I love you, Daddy,” she said to him, and even though his voice was weak and blocked by a tube down his throat, we could all hear him say, “I love you, sweetheart.”

Dad was not a perfect parent, and each of his five children is messed up in his or her own way. But we don’t need him to be perfect to remember him with deep love and admiration, and miss him. He was ahead of his time as a hands-on dad who changed diapers and did housework. He would load all of us into the car on a summer Saturday morning, pack the cooler with sandwiches, fill the thermos with sweet iced tea, and drive us to Ocean City for a day on the beach. Every time he’d bring his garden spade and dig a giant sea turtle in the wet sand, and kids would come from up and down the beach to admire it and climb on it. The day on the beach would be followed by an evening on the boardwalk with bumper cars, skee-ball, Taylor’s pork roll, and salt water taffy.

I’m grateful for these kinds of growing-up memories of my dad. There are other images of dad emblazoned in my mind as well: Dad pulling weeds out of the yard, muttering about “bodacious dandelions” the whole time. Dad playing ping-pong with us in the basement. And then, in December, setting up what we called The Platform—that’s Platform with a capital P—a flat plywood table, with trains and winter scenery and battery-powered racecars with hand-held controllers. Dad setting up the artificial white Christmas tree year after year until it was actually sort of yellow, controlled by the kind of frugality comes from living through the Great Depression.

If you knew dad for very long, you learned that his faith was his top priority. I often found him, in his bedroom, on his knees, praying. Or he was sitting in his chair, reading his Bible, and perhaps referring to a devotional guide. He made some notes about his preferences for how we would remember him after he was gone, and these notes included a reference to I Corinthians 15. This chapter contains an eloquent summary of the gospel: Christ died for our sins. He was buried, and he was raised on the third day. And then this: “By the grace of God I am what I am,” Paul wrote, “and his grace toward me was not in vain.”

Maybe dad was thinking of this chapter in his last hours. He was resting peacefully; his eyes were closed. Mark said, “I wonder what he’s thinking about.” I leaned over Dad and asked him, “Hey Dad, Markie wants to know what you’re thinking about.”

He opened his eyes and looked in mine and said, “The cross.” Maybe he was thinking of these verses in I Corinthians 15:
For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
 “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
 “O death, where is your victory?
  O death, where is your sting?”
Later that same day I asked him, “Dad, are you looking forward to seeing Jesus?” and he answered without hesitating: “Amen.”