Reading Aloud “Gains Favor”

maybe7What the frack? Gains favor? Like reading aloud to kids is some crazy new concept that needs to prove its merit. I suspect that as long as somebody’s been writing—on cave walls, marble tombs, parchments or Blackberries, somebody’s been reading aloud. So it seems bizarre that its benefits are still up for debate.

But an online article in Education Week discussed the technique as some cutting edge strategy that more and more middle and high school teachers are adopting. Dah. Apparently there was a rule that deems reading to your class/child only appropriate for elementary age. But, shit, it’s in high school when the words start getting really hard!

Reading isn’t just about deciphering the code, “sounding out” the words and taking that short pause between sentences. It’s about cadence and inflection and emotion. And I don’t care how strong of reader a child is, the first time you hand her Shakespeare or Mark Twain or Lewis Carroll and ask her to read the work aloud, its intent will be lost.

Can’t you remember when the teacher would go around the classroom to make each student read a few sentences from a text or fiction book? I would be so busy trying to figure out what my lines were gonna be, I couldn’t pay attention to what was being read aloud. And the kids’ varied oratories turned a smooth, concise thought into a crazy quilt of gibberish.

As one who loves to lay back and listen to audio books, I think it’s pretty obvious that “Read to me,” is a lifelong request. Why deny children the comfort of simply listening? Letting the words wash over, sink down and stick in their brains for contemplation and replay.

I still read aloud to Morgan. From poetry to test instructions to The Declaration of Independence. Sometimes you gotta hear it to get it.

Crying Works

kleenix cropOut of the mouth of babes, or in this case, a teenager. The morning after the New Hampshire primary, when I told M that Hillary had won. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” was his immediate response. Without skipping a beat, he concluded, “Crying works.” But that’s my fault.

I’ve warned my son about women. Yeah, so did Norman Bates’ mom. But we all know the games girls play. I’ve played’em. You’ve played’em. Or they’ve been played on you. But the head-trips that us baby boomers learned from Beach Blanket Bingo seem like simple math compared to the complex Sudoku mind-benders I’ve seen on Disney Channel’s current sit-coms. It’s not our same old Mickey Mouse Club, that’s for sure.

But Disney has been twisting our teens for decades. Morgan and I just finished reading The Swiss Family Robinson (which is a hoot—between the bonking of every wild animal they encounter, access to their luxury-laden wreckage, and the father’s ingenuity and OCD.) Recently, the 1960 Disney film version was on TV, so we watched it as an exercise in contrast and compare. What a difference 150 years make!

The four boys had merged into three. And I don’t seem to remember any love triangle bringing the two oldest boys, Fritz and Ernst, to fisticuffs over Jenny, the lone shipwrecked surviver on a nearby island. In fact, in the book, Jenny is just as clever and brave as any of the boys. But Disney changes her name to Roberta, adds a protective ship’s captain (implying she could never survive on her own), plays out the whole “dressed like a cabin boy” gag and sets the boys reeling.

Now that’s power, baby. You can get any guy to fuck you. But to get him to fuck (over) some other guy, especially his own brother– that’s how girls really get off. In both the book and the movie, the boys would banter but never come to blows. Yet, per Disney, once that girl hits the beach, conflict flourishs. By all appearances, the female character had more in common with the younger brother, Ernst. But apparently James “Book’em Danno” MacArthur was a bigger teen heartthrob than Tommy Kirk, so he got the girl. Brawn over brains. And how did our little cross-dresser accomplish all this chaos? By crying.

Guess Hillary saw the same movie.

Use It or Lose It

Casio_Calculator cropYet another humbling real life opportunity to realize what a huge responsibility home educating your child can be and how you can fail so miserably even when you (think you) are paying attention.

A few nights ago, Morgan and I were watching a TNA Wrestling PPV (I guess that’s not gonna play to my competency factor here) and during the Divas match (strike two) an older announcer was drooling over some busty blonde tag team. That led to a comparison to Jerry “The King” Lawler, WWE’s original over-the-hill wet-dreamer.

“How old do you think he is?” asked M.

And this is where it all started going terribly wrong. I looked up The King on Wikipedia and wrote his birth year and this year on a scrap of paper and handed it to Morgan. Because instead of staying in the girl-on-girl moment, I clicked into Home Educating Mom mode and turned a simple question into a subtraction problem.

I could see Morgan was hedging and then he asked me to just tell him. But when I could see he was totally thrown by this second grade math problem, I persisted. Not out of good parenting, but out of selfish pride.

Morgan kept staring at the numbers on the paper. So I got snippy (strike three). His eyes started filling with tears. He had totally forgotten how to “borrow and carry.” But once I finally reminded him, M did the math fairly quickly, got the right answer and then, per my insistence, explained it all rather clearly.

So is there something to be said to rote memorization? I mean we’ve done oodles of multi-digit subtraction problems without problems. But since then, we’ve moved onto aspects of math where subtraction like this hasn’t occurred. If I had made him memorize his subtraction flash cards ad nauseum, would the answer have just sprung correctly from his head?

Granted, once I said the words “borrow and carry,” it all clicked. But does that mean he needs to practice more, every day? Or do I wait for real world opportunities to spring up? Obviously, that didn’t work. Maybe we need to focus on those type of usable, basic skills instead of the Final Jeopardy trivia that fills his Calvert School textbooks and overflows my public schooled brain.

Turn It Upside Down

mantasmagorical_P8290208When we leave the house, I usually tuck away my Mac laptop. I have a habit of sliding it into the middle of a pile of papers, magazines and a metal clipboard. More than once, one of the little rubber feet has popped off when I pulled the slim computer across the edge of the clipboard. But I continue to stash it there out of convenience/laziness.

This past weekend, Morgan noticed me cursing as I popped a foot back on the Mac. When he asked, I explained the problem. “Turn it upside down,” he suggested. I was flabbergasted. It NEVER occurred to me to flip over the Mac, feet up. As if somehow something would spill out. What? —The circuits? My files? The Internet?

Now, I don’t know if that would have been your solution. My eventual remedy would have been to “Get up and hide it somewhere else.” But M’s simple pronouncement was so out of left field and it worked so perfect.

I’m not sure if that demonstrates the freedom of his thoughts or the limitation of my own.

Eating Crow

100_7049 copyA few weeks ago Morgan and his Dad went to an archery range. I printed out MapQuest directions. When they got home, everything seemed cool and M went into his room to play. Bill took me into the dining room and, holding up the printed directions, said, “He couldn’t read this. Not even close.” He wasn’t mad but he had that wide-eyed, what-the-fuck look. I felt sick.

All my questioning and belittling of other families’ home educating techniques just kinda caved in on me. I knew that some of M’s inability to read the directions out loud was the on-the-spot pressure he felt reading to his Dad. Bill can become impatient when he’s not in control, especially not knowing where he’s going. But the fact of the matter is, M’s not a strong reader. And part of that comes from my own laziness/avoidance of tackling topics that are difficult for him.

Vocabulary, grammar, science, history, even math, we tackle with relative ease. But spelling, composition and reading are toughies. And I’d slacked off making him do daily spelling tests and I let him read his latest book, Tom Sawyer, to himself and verbally answer questions about each chapter. And he could do that, but apparently not by reading every word.

So that Monday, we started on a new chapter book, The Hardy Boys, yes those Hardy Boys, in a new modern detective adventure. As he read aloud, I found myself saying the exact things my Dad said to me forty years ago. “Read what’s there!” M was making the sounds of letters not even in the word. And he’d say secondary words that weren’t even similair to what was there. Example: Saying “the” when the word might actually be “of.” He gets the nouns/verbs, the important part that conveys the idea, but not the stringers that holds them together.

I feel so ashamed and disappointed with myself. I’ve got such a huge responsibility but have taken my eye off the real goals I’ve set for us. I think much of it comes from my personal discontent about MY life and have spent way too much time trying to justify my own existence by putting down others’. Including my harping on this blog. How does THIS help M?

I’m on a slow simmer and it’s gotta stop before there’s no water left in the pot. Better eat that crow now.