Monday, August 3, 2009

Homeschoolers and the Modified Stationary Panic

Ahh, the dog days of summer. A time to relax, to slow down, to pace ourselves in the heat of the day. A time for homeschooling mothers to sit beneath a shade tree (or inside an air-conditioned room) and craft plans for the next school year that will shine with elegant simplicity. A time to leaf through all the new books and materials that have already been purchased and organized, just to marvel at their gleaming novelty, and to imagine happy hours spent pouring over some interesting poem or stirring historical episode with bright-eyed, eager children who hang upon your every word.

And if you believe that--well, never mind the bridges for sale; let's just say you're probably an Obama voter.

I've actually been working on perfecting what humor writer Patrick F. McManus called, in one of his side-splitting books, the "Modified Stationary Panic." The Modified Stationary Panic is supposed to be for people lost in the woods; they modify their initial desire to panic by running wildly about and getting even more lost by, instead, doing all the shrieking, wild gesticulating, hyperventilating, and other panic-induced activities while running in place. All the panic, none of the coming to one's senses in another part of the state park--or even in another state, depending on your speed, stride, and level of panic.

The Modified Stationary Panic, or MSP for our purposes, is also useful for a homeschooling mother during the dog days of August, when she realizes on what should be a lazy lemonade sort of afternoon that the feeling she's been having, that she's "all done" ordering books and materials, was an illusion produced by that nice homeschool bookfair she attended recently and where she purchased approximately 68% of her materials for the next year. Sure, 68% of the total number of books one needs is nice, but the remaining 32% haven't even been ordered, and one whole course hasn't even been decided upon, and time is running really, really short. What to do, what to do? Of course: panic!

A full-blown, non-modified panic could be quite harmful here. Sure, the hapless mom is unlikely to turn up in the wooded areas of another state (unless, of course, the curriculum item she hasn't chosen yet is math, in which case she could wind up in Canada before she stops running wildly). But even if the running around doesn't take her out of the house, there's a good chance that her state of panic will cause her to believe the following things, in no particular order:
  • I am a total idiot.
  • There's not enough time to get the books to be able to start by my wholly arbitrary start-date.
  • The children have done nothing but be entertained by various forms of media all summer.
  • The children need to clean their rooms, now: it's a disaster in here.
  • The fact that I'm yelling at the children about their rooms is in no way an attempt for me to distract myself from the fact that I've been a total idiot.
  • We don't need school books. There's plenty of stuff online and at the library.
  • If I order the spelling books now, right this minute, they might get here by Christmas.
  • I can't order the spelling books now, right this minute, because I'm baking cookies to apologize to the kids for yelling at them. Their rooms weren't all that bad...
  • These cookies are good. I was supposed to do something else this afternoon. Hmm, what was it? It's so hot in here, I can't think straight.
And then this pattern will repeat the next day, and the next, until Mom finally orders the books, or until she runs out of chocolate chips. Whichever comes first.

But if the mother in question has successfully learned to adopt the MSP instead of the full-blown panic method, her initial wild angst and creative hand-waving, hand-wringing, or hand-through-hair-running will not lead to yelling at the children and the baking of cookies. Instead, she'll take a few moments to gather her thoughts, sit down at the computer, and take out all that panic-angst by yelling at liberals on political blogs before calmly proceeding to order the books she needs for the next school year.

All except for that one history course she still hasn't planned out, for a young lady beginning high school who is more excited about her typing course than anything else, and who, with her sisters, has been writing imaginary "blogs" on a word-processing program all afternoon.

But at least it isn't math.


Anita said...

LOL I laughed all the way through this! At 12:34 am... at my computer... right after yelling at various and sundry liberals on political blogs for the last 30 minutes or so.. because I should be sleeping.. but I can't because it is AUGUST already and I haven't figured out a (realistic) schedule yet. :)

Deirdre Mundy said...

I'm actually panic free! (Of course, it helps that my oldest is in Kindergarten. And that we've opted to do 'year-round-schooling' for now, since my kids still see schoolwork as a special treat.... I have a feeling all this will change when they hit Junior High (at which point I'll probably move from 'designing your own curriculum' to the safety of Kolbe....)

NancyP said...

This just proves what I've believed all along. Erin can channel anyone...even me.

I even went to Canada this summer!

And, no, it didn't help.

Anonymous said...

From Scotch Meg

Erin, this one was so good I passed it on to my homeschool group. We don't panic until mid-August because we're on the New England (after Labor Day) school schedule. But you reminded me of how I will feel toward the end of next week if I don't get all the ordering done THIS week before the French exchange student arrives...


eulogos said...

It would seem to me that one of the advantages of home schooling is that you could get rid of the artifical distinction between School and the rest of life. Why have 'school time' and 'summer vacation' time at all? Why not just learn in a more relaxed way all year long?

I would think the internet plus the public library would supply all the materials you need for an American history course. Plus the video store. Can you get the excellant program about John Adams that was recently shown? Your daughter could watch that and then after each segment, read the parts of the book it covered. You do that too, and then branch out from there. How did the colonies get into this situation where they wanted to separate from England? Why did the different colonies have differnt points of view about it? What were these rights of Englishmen which the colonists felt were being violated? The book has a bibliography, I think.
Where did these ideas come from that Jefferson put into the Declaration of Independence. When I was 15 my history teacher suggested that for my history term paper I write about the influence of Locke, Montesque, and Rousseau on Jefferson. He suggested I read a little bit of the works of each of these men. I think he meant a few pages. I never wrote the paper, but I read the Two Treatises on Government, the Spirit of the Laws, and a couple of things by Rousseau. I had already read a lot of Jefferson's writings and letters. NOT writing that paper, because the subject was too big for me, still taught me a lot. In a homeschool situation, the young person's interest could take him or her a long way into this, or not, depending on the interest level. Perhaps for another young person it might be the economic issues, or the history of the development of the rights of Englishmen; perhaps for some it would even be war tactics. The same author who wrote the John Adams book also wrote "1776" which goes in detail into the conduct of the war in just that year. There is also a lot of popular historical fiction from that era, such as 'A Rabble in Arms.' (Kenneth Rexroth or something like that.)

The point is, you shouldn't feel that you have to get to a particular place by a particular time. And even if you do have state curriculum requirements to meet, which I think would be unfortunate but might be a practical reality, someone who has learned in depth about a foundational period in American History would have all sorts of mental hooks on which to hang a crash course in the rest of it if necessary. Used book stores, and even the Salvation Army and such place, often have old textbooks hanging around. An old American History textbook would probably be much better than a new one anyway. Just some thoughts about American History.

I realize now you didn't say specifically *American* history. But this sort of process could be applied to European as well.

more in next comment

eulogos said...

I homeschooled only two years. I just took the kids out of Catholic school and didn't send them to public school. I lived sort of on the edge of a slum. There was no one around who was going to call and report us. We just didn't exist as far as the school system was concerned. The Catholic school gave us a World Book Encyclopedia their salesman had given them, as they already had one. I had no money for a curriculum. I had a fourth grader, a fifth grader, one who was supposed to be in first grade, and one of K age, as well as a toddler and an infant. My parents who are elementary school teachers gave me some books. But what we mostly did was that the two older ones wrote for me every day, two days a week on a science topic, two on a social studies topic, and one day creative writing. They could pick any topic they wanted, and the encyclopedia and the books in our house were their resources. We had a lot of books. There was no internet then, of course. I used their writing for grammar and spelling lessons. For math, I just drilled the fourth grader in her multiplication table, which she had been unable to learn, over and over...sometimes she rolled on the rug and cried "I can't learn it, I can't!" but we persisted. She now has a masters degree and had to take all sorts of statistics courses, a perspective I wish I had had some hint of at the time. At the same time, she was reading all the books on home schooling we read, all the John Holt, even Ivan Illych's De-Schooling Society. There was a great disparity between her language and her math ability. On the other hand, the fifth grader learned all the math I knew in the first year of homeschooling. I used to study for an hour or two at night to teach him what he understood perfectly in ten minutes, right up into advanced algebra! He is an engineer now.
The girl who was K age and the boy who was G1 age sat on either side of me, sometimes while I nursed the baby, and learned to read mostly from Dr. Seuss books. The girl moved a lot faster than the boy. I bought those workbooks you can buy in Toys R Us and such places for the math. They really thought they were games, and had contests and races.

Well now I am just reminiscing. At the time I worried if I was doing enough, and the memories are satisfying now partially because they are all successful adults now.

Susan Peterson