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One person’s plotting is another’s reading units

One reason, perhaps selfish, to homeschool your kids is so they don’t have to do the time-wasting, mind-numbing exercises that you hated in school. I’m not of the parenting mind that thinks, “I had to suffer through it, so she should too!”
The thing is, my kids don’t necessarily hate the same things I do. My son was complaining because his fourth-grade teacher had assigned two pages of plotting points on a graph. I reasoned that it was clear that he could do it, so why should he have to do it again if no new skills are being added? My husband disagreed. It’s an important skill to practice, he said, and besides, I liked doing graphing!
The thing is, I liked graphing, too. I also liked diagramming sentences. Yep, you heard it here, someone in the world was not bored in seventh grade while diagramming endless, pointless sentences. “Susie’s shoes, which stunk like dog poop, had to be left by the door with the yellow sign that said, “Don’t use this door, dorkhead.”
Or something like that.
I find a certain comfort in mind-numbing exercises that approach meditation in their monotony. For example, I love sharpening pencils with the industrial-strength electric pencil sharpeners they have at schools. I like to fold laundry, as long as no one is jumping on the bed, upsetting my piles. I like to do repetitive editing on a computer even if I have the skills to write a program to do it.
My homeschooled daughter is similar: if she’s having a bad day, the best sort of exercise I can give her is something like sorting beads by color. We got a book of Victorian stained glass patterns recently, and this girl who has never enjoyed coloring books asks to do them. Sometimes mindless repetition can be just what you need.
On the other hand, someone on a homeschooling list I read sent out a recommendation for a website of “Reading Units.” Hm, I thought, that sounds interesting.
Just in case you haven’t noticed, we love to read in our family. My husband and I are never caught somewhere without a book. We have to give our son consequences for reading instead of doing what he was sent to do. I have found him in his room, naked, one foot in a pair of underwear, paying rapt attention to the book open on the floor in front of him. Our daughter can hardly see without her glasses, but I find her struggling to read without them because she got so caught up in a book first thing in the morning that she didn’t have time to go put her glasses on.
So I went to the website, and found out what Reading Units are. You remember when you had to go home and read one chapter of a book (and only one chapter, with a verbal flogging if you actually liked the book and wanted to read on, ahead of everyone else), and then when you got back to school, or in your backpack you found a sheet of questions. Not the sort of questions you might want to answer if you’re an avid reader — If you were Templeton the Rat, what would be YOUR favorite thing to find in the dump? — but those questions that make you prove that a) you read something, b) you understood what you read, and c) you’ve filled your head with all sorts of details that really don’t matter if the book was a good one.
Yes, I have managed to get a degree in Linguistics and a Master’s in Creative Writing without once taking the sort of class where I had to do the college-level version of Reading Units. I hate Reading Units!! If I had the choice of reading one of my favorite authors and doing Reading Units for each chapter, or being forced to read one of my most disliked authors (Pynchon [my husband’s favorite, btw], Miller, Lessing [former boyfriend’s favorite])… I’d suffer through Pynchon rather than answer questions about the nicknames of all the characters in War & Peace or the trivia of who did what in which chapter of Austen.
When I was in high school, I was forced to do this, chapter by chapter, to The Great Gatsby. Boy, I thought as I searched each chapter for the appropriate symbolic reference to answer the questions, why does anybody like this novel? In college, a friend told me it was her favorite novel. I saw a paperback copy in the bookstore one day and bought it. I still have that paperback.
Not only did I find out that day why Gatsby was great, but I realized that Reading Units were not for me. Give me sentences to diagram or a closet to clean out, but leave me in peace to love what I read and decide for myself what to remember.
So my daughter’s not going to be doing Reading Units anytime soon. I imagine that some day in the future she’ll call me from college. “Mom,” she’ll accuse, “Why didn’t you ever do Reading Units with me? It’s my Favorite thing EVER!”
But that’s the chance I’ll have to take.

Posted in Education, Homeschooling.

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