Monday, October 29, 2007

NaNoWriMo starts soon.

62 hours, 24 minutes, 28 seconds.

But who's counting?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

I have been a firm believer in grayscale for a very long time. In life there are very few absolutes, and black-and-white examples of anything are rarely representative of the vast majority of occurrences. Want a mind-bending exercise in grayscale? Take a survey class about art. At the beginning of this sort of class almost everybody is absolutely sure about what constitutes art. Whether they've got hazy recollections of Rembrandt or fuzzy half-tone memories of Rodin, most students are very sure that they know what Art is.

And the teacher can't wait, because there are so many mindbending experiences to lead a class through. Is your coffee cup art? You know the one, the generic white vessel sold at arts & craft stores to gullible 8-year-olds, the one that persuades them that a cup decorated with squiggles and splotches and occasional fingerprints is the thing that Mom wants this year? You've fallen for it and I have too. How about your curtains? Does it matter that they came with the apartment or that you hunted through three counties and considered mortgaging your immortal soul for just the right pattern? Is it the pattern on the cloth that makes it art or the impossible amount of work you went through to get it?


It gets worse. Just about everybody thinks that what Da Vinci produced was art. We have several centuries' weight on that opinion. But consider White over Blue by Ellsworth Kelly, which features a white canvas hung slightly in front of a blue canvas. Is it art? If so, why? It doesn't seem to represent anything but a juxtaposition of color. How about Andy Warhol and his endless riff on mundane objects -- painting of a soup can, anyone? If you want a real mind-scrambling experience, look up Bottle Rack, 1963 on the Norton Simon Museum website. You will be told that Marcel Duchamp signed a mass-production bottle rack in 1914; Marcel's particular viewpoint was that anything signed by an established artist then becomes art, even if it's a mass-produced item. I've been told that he was poking an exquisitely sharp stick at the art establishment and its willingness to declare anything of high value simply because a particular person put a fingerprint on it. However, this isn't the oddest part of the affair -- you see, the 1914 bottle rack has disappeared into the mists of time along with the artist's signature. Bottle Rack, 1963 is a replica. A duplicate. I don't even know if the original artist was still breathing when this one was made. So what makes it art?


If you think this exercise is fun, walk into a family law class just as they're starting to debate what makes up a family. The higher the level of observation, the fuzzier the whole thing becomes.

That's sort of what it's like to homeschool. I know what I'm doing (mostly) and just about every homeschooling family I've talked to knows what they're doing, but defining it becomes an exercise in I know it when I see it, but don't ask me to put it in a dictionary. Unfortunately the average human being likes labels and definitions; life is complicated and pre-defined tags makes everything so much easier. That works just fine until something comes along that wears the tag but doesn't look anything like what the viewer associates the tag with.

School-at-home, unschooling, eclectic, etcetera. When those words roll into the optic nerve most people would swear on their favorite neice that they know exactly what they are looking at. But I know that I fit all of those tags once in a while, and two out of three several times a week, and none of the above more often than I want to admit. The person who looks at me in the bathroom mirror says things like Unschooling? HA, it's pure laissez-faire thanks very much. You just cut the cord to the television set and left the option of reading or running around outside. Of course I did, I say in return. Television is all very well for keeping them quiet when I have an article to write, but do I really need to hear the Compleat Works of Scooby Doo Unabridged...again? They need to look at something that doesn't bounce around unless they're doing jumping jacks in the middle of War and Peace. They need to go dig holes that lead to New Zealand -- although that might get interrupted by finding a new insect or crustacean that they want me to google -- or look for raspberries. They, above and beyond all of that, need to be out of the house so I can hear myself think. It's rare, it isn't often that strong, so I do need to be paying attention.

Eclectic, my conscience snorts. You're just throwing different things at them and seeing what sticks. Yeah? I think as I shake my toothbrush at her. And how's the junior set of thumbscrews working out? Because I know these kids. They did not come from a cabbage patch, they were not miraculously delivered by storks -- they have DNA from two of the most stubborn people on the face of the planet. Lead, follow, or get out of their way, but there is no way of forcing them to understand something they aren't ready to understand. Yes, she says smugly, except for those occasions when you do. Which is a stumper, because there are rare occurrences of textbook behavior where I haul out something and say something to the effect of Thou Shalt Learn. And on vanishingly rare occasions it actually works. But it isn't my preferred modus operandi.

If I happened to be painfully honest with myself, something I try valiantly to avoid, I really don't think that learning should be an excrutiating process. Hard, yes; sometimes learning is unbelievably difficult. Sometimes it can be frustrating, as it is when I try to pry open yet another secret from that 'intuitive' computer program (you know the type, it's pretty and you know people who play with it like they were born with the algorhythm, and it doesn't even come with an owner's manual because it's supposed to be SO user friendly. Dante didn't know squat about torment.) So I poke and prod at it every few months. I spend a weekend learning how to move pixel A to point B, and I'm inordinately proud about it. Don't laugh, this is how I eventually taught myself how to knit. Linux can't be too far behind. Learning isn't always easy and it isn't always fun and sometimes you just have to slog through it. But it doesn't have to be boring, it doesn't have to be numbing, it shouldn't be at the point of dire consequences, it shouldn't be the mental equivalent of bamboo under the fingernails or ripping your eyelids off.

So I don't know exactly what you'd call what I do. It's between eclectic and unschooling and school-at-home with a bit of google addiction thrown in on the side. The Banshees learn in the circle of their family, which is as close to a definition of homeschooling as I'm ever going to get.