In Which the DHM Kicks Herself For Not Practicing What She’s Preached

This is probably too many books to read in a semester.

This is probably too many books to read in a semester.

I have blogged about this before, CM and Slow Reading, quoted Miss Mason: “Novels are our lesson books only so far as we give thoughtful, considerate reading to such novels as are also literature.”

I’ve written about the slow-reading movement, quoted Lindsay Waters:

…slowing down can produce a deeply profound quiet that can overwhelm your soul, and in that quiet you can lose yourself in thought for an immeasurable moment of time.

The issue is more than just savoring literary experience. I am suggesting that there is more than meets the eye in reading, literally. If we attend to the time of reading, we might notice that our relationship to a literary work changes over time. One consequence is that we begin to be charitable to “bad” readers, whether they are our students, our acquaintances, or our former selves. Most important, though, we learn to drop the idea that we can neatly distinguish good from bad reading because we realize that, at some time in the past, we were not up to reading a particular work. Or perhaps we see that while we missed a great deal, we did respond strongly to parts of the work. It begins to make sense, then, to track our career with a certain work, in order to open it up as literature.

I have even actually gone through this before:

When we first started reading our school books more slowly, we didn’t like it. We were impatient. We wanted to finish. And I couldn’t see a good reason not to go right ahead and gulp through the pages lickety split. But a good friend and very smart lady really encouraged me to give it a try. She suggested picking two books and reading through one at the faster pace and reading through the second slowly and steadily . Then, wait about a month after the books are finished and try to narrate them.

We found that the longer readings gave our children more time to process what they read, to think about it, to ask themselves questions about what was happening and why and what might happen next. Stopping the book before she was through, actually made the reader hungry for more, rather than sated. In that state of being hungry for more, the children couldn’t stop thinking about their books and thus they processed even more information than I had thought possible.


Readers:  I am a hypocrite.

Because of various things, not the least of which is all the PTSD garbage the last few years, I feel like I let our homeschooling car run out of gas, let my son fall behind, and now I am trying to play catch up.  Apparently, I am trying to put rocket fuel in a fine classic Ford.  Another analogy might be I’m treating his mind like he’s my little duck and I’m force feeding him to turn him into a tasty bit of foie gras.  Another analogy would be that I’ve shoved a fire hose down his throat and told him to drink.

He’s missed things.  I am not just vaguely worried about that, I know this for a fact (and it’s my fault).  My idea of catching up has been to tie him to the back bumper of the pick up truck while I rev up the engine and drive around the football field telling him to do laps behind me and keep up.  He’s not building muscle that way, he’s burning through tissue and skidding through the gravel on his face.

I couldn’t possibly count the number of times I have told somebody, “The goal is not to get the children through the books, it’s to get the books through the children.”

Sometimes I wish I listened to myself better.  Am I the only one who forgets to take my own advice?

This last week I took a few books off his schedule.  I cut back on the daily reading requirement in some other books.  I now accept that he may not finish all three volumes of Gilbert’s full length, uncondensed History of the 20th century before he graduates (over 900 pages just for 1900-1933, or Vol. 1) after all.  I replaced a couple really long books with some shorter books. The topics are roughly similar but not remotely identical.  For instance, I put away a ridiculously long biography of Kitchener and replaced it with an easier but far more engaging and doable biography of Edith Cavell- one that I loved so much I found I owned three copies! (Edith Cavell: Heroic Nurse).  Both World War 1, one a military leader who was not universally admired, one a noncombatinent woman with a heart of service who was universally admired.

In trying so hard to get the Boy through the books instead of the books into the Boy, I’d let things like drawing, handiwork, and even nature study drop off the schedule.  I put them back in, placing them deliberately between two similar topics so his brain had time to change activities, rest a bit, before diving back into the books.

I still need to cut back some more things.  But there was, I kid you not, an immediate change.  His narrations are clearer, less perfunctory.  Best of all, he narrates like he’s interested in what he’s reading again- oh, not in every case. As an adult, he will probably vote to get rid of the electoral college solely because he now has an abiding hatred of it just because a book about it is in his schedule.   But in many cases, his narrations clearly show that he’s thinking about what he’s reading rather than thinking about what’s the least he can say to fob me off- because he now has more time to think about what he’s reading.  He stops ‘narrating’ to talk to me about a brave German soldier he read about, to ask me what President Wilson was playing at, anyway, and to say things like, “Think about it, Mom.  Imagine that you were a soldier in WWI….” and then he describes conditions in a way that makes it clear to me the shorter reading has given him time to connect, to relate, to build a relationship with those foot soldiers in the trenches.

How many of us graduate from school without remembering a thing? I can remember cramming really, really hard, pulling a very long allnighter for a western civ class once. I mean, I did this sort of stupid thing more than once, but this particular time, I pretty much did not crack my textbook until 36 hours before the test. I chewed No-doz (caffeine pills) like candy and stayed up reading feverishly, rereading, underlining, muttering under my breath, holed up in my room like a crazy chica (crazier than usual) for at least 36 hours. I went to take the test with my hair still wet from dunking it in a sink of ice water. I had a bizarre hallucination as I took that test. I could actually *see* the words I was writing flowing through my veins, down my arms, out from my fingers and by osmosis, through my pen, and then they became the inky answers on my test paper.

The thing is, as the answers flowed out of my brain, into my pen, and onto my paper, I also felt them literally (and I know how to use this word) leaving my head, forever.
When I walked out of the classroom a friendly upperclassman who’d watched my insane no-doz chomping met me at the door. “Did you study well?” he asked. “what were the questions?” I looked at him and gaped like a guppy. I had no idea. I knew I had taken the test, but it felt like a weird dream. I couldn’t think of a single question I’d been asked nor a single answer I’d given. My friend looked at me and helped me back to the dorm, where I staggered into my room and collapsed on my bed for about another 24 hours. Fortunately, it’d been my last class.
I got an A.
But I learned nothing. It did my mind no good (through my own fault, at least- my son’s schedule isn’t his choosing, it’s mine).

If I had done as most of my classmates did and spread that book out over the full semester, I would still own the material I had studied. The text was actually pretty decent for a textbook. Our professor was incredibly knowledgable and he loved his subject. I could have taken my time, like everybody else, and the ideas in that book would have slowly worked their way through my mind. It would be mine. It’s a legacy I sold for the pottage of hot dates, television, and hanging out with friends because I knew that instead of letting the book go through me, I could burn through the book in a day or two and get an A. I cared about the grade, not the knowledge.  I was missing the point of education.

The question is not, how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education- but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? [School Education. Vol. 3, p. 170]

I know this. I know it first hand from my own reading. I know it second hand from watching and teaching my older children. I know it through study, reading Miss Mason’s books and reading the experiences of other parents and students. Do you know how many times I’ve said this? Written it? nagged people about it? Corrected people by using that quote?

That woman in the corner with the paper bag over her head moaning “When will I learn?  What I was thinking?  How could I have been so stupid?

I think we all know who she is, but let’s not name and shame her.

Okay, let’s shame her a little bit.
Mea culpa.

When the guilt-fest is over, I’ll be back at the schedule, paring it down so I’m returning to my last student the time he needs to care and more important things to care about than checking off these books on his schedule.

Further reading- Brandy at Afterthoughts has some truly helpful thoughts to share on this.

BTW- the picture of the books you see at the top of the post, of course that is an exaggeration.  His books for this term would only fill one of those bookcases.

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