Riding

We were up early the morning of the Faire, which didn’t start until 10am, and our hostess consented to give everyone a chance to go for an early morning ride.

Nathan and Ryan had ridden exactly once before — the last time we’d visited Shawn and Trina’s house. On that occasion both boys had been interested, but nervous, and in the end I’d ridden Trina’s oldest and mellowest horse with each boy taking a turn up in front of me. It apparently made a big impression, for at the top of Nathan’s to-do list was riding a horse — this time without any aid from me.

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So Trina downed her coffee and we all headed up to the pasture. We must have spent at least half an hour with Trina patiently leading her (also very patient) mare up and down and around a small enclosure. Nathan at first rode alone; Ryan declaimed any interest. But after a while he was intrigued enough to grab a helmet and get up behind his brother. And then he decided it was time to try it himself.

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By the end of that day we’d been to the Faire and seen jousting, chased rats and dragons, watched shows, and tried our hands at archery. And both boys still claimed that riding horses had been the best part of the day.

They want us to go back. Soon.

Shows And Expectations

I’ve written before about how wrong my expectations can be when it comes to my children, and how much fun it is when they surprise me. At the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire it was Nathan who surprised me most, with his appreciation of the various shows we watched.

I’d been talking up the joust and sword-fighting mainly because I thought the boys (especially Ryan) would get a kick out of watching people battle. When we discovered that the actual joust was preceded by several rounds of equestrian displays, I was a bit worried — and Ryan, true to form, became increasingly impatient. Nathan, however, seemed riveted, and eventually I figured out why: partly he liked the horses, but mostly he liked the cheering.

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Not being a family that engages in or particularly cares about organized sports, my boys had never been to so much as a Little League Game before. Their biggest exposure to sports has been the football my Dad watches over Thanksgiving weekend. I think when the announcer divided the crowd into sections to cheer for the different riders, it was a novel and thrilling experience for Nathan. We were rooting for Wales, and he yelled out with real vigor whenever our rider was up. By the end of the joust, unable to sit still, he’d migrated down to within a few feet of the fence and paced back and forth, jumping and cheering at every opportunity.

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He was so excited by the process, actually, that he took us back that afternoon for the second show. The crowd was much thinner in the afternoon heat, but that didn’t stop him from cheering through the entire thing.

And it wasn’t just the jousting that he wanted to watch. There were at least four stages scattered around the Faire, with a constant rotation of performances at each one, and I was privately astonished when he wanted to watch a troupe performing gypsy dance. When they invited people up on stage to join in their last dance, he clearly wanted to go — and when I offered to go with him, he went for it. Then he decided to stay for the people singing ballads that came on afterwards. (Ryan spent much of this time hunting rats in the area and pretending to stab things with his new wooden knife.)

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Our last performance of the day was an extremely tongue-in-cheek presentation of the Pyramus and Thisbe scene from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream, done by an excellent trio of actors (with a little help from the audience). The boys liked it, particularly when the “dead” Pyramus kept correcting his companion. So in addition to the other excitement of the Faire, I can report their first exposure to Shakespeare.

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Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire

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For more than a year I’ve been planning to attend the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire, held each year in King’s Valley, Oregon. One of Dave’s college friends lives with his family just a few minutes from the site, and had mentioned that they’d be happy to have us stay with them the night before. This made everything easier for me — our kids played outside with their kids that evening, we all got a good night’s sleep, and we arrived at the Faire with experienced guides.

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Dave’s migraines did not leave him feeling up to attending, and so to simplify things further I left Mica at home. I had a feeling that trying to keep track of a two-year-old at a busy Faire would be be somewhat challenging and might dim my enjoyment slightly — not to mention figuring out her nap. (We weren’t there long before I knew I was right.) This was just a special adventure for my boys and me.

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I’ve only been to two other similar events in my life, both long ago. This one was by far the most fun. For starters, there were rats. Not the small furry kind, but the large two-legged kind. When we came in the kids signed up to be rat-catchers, and got a plastic bracelet and instructions on how to help rid the Faire of rats. Every time they saw a person with a rat face on their head and a tail tied to their waist, they were to chase them down and (gently) tag them in order to earn a colored ribbon “tail” tied on to their bracelet. At the end of the day they could return and get a small rat pendant for their efforts. Ryan was particularly vigilant in his pursuit of rats.

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There was also the Amazing Maze of Amazement, where for a dollar each kid got a foam sword and the opportunity to enter the maze and attempt to slay the dragons therein. In theory they were also trying to find their way out, but we distinctly saw our kids double back several times rather than arrive at the exit. They weren’t dummies; there were dragons to slay.

There was wonderful food, too, and some really excellent shows, including knights jousting, many different musicians, playwrights, jugglers, etc. (More on those soon.) We watched coins being stamped with patterns by “The Winching Wench” and the boys tried their hand at a little archery.

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As is apparently traditional, the day was very, very hot. We left the Faire only after it had mainly emptied out — hot, tired, sweaty, and agreed on the most important point: we’ll need to do this again.

A Rant

For the most part I see this blog as a place to keep connected with extended family and friends about the goings-on in our household. Occasionally lately I’ve also been sharing some of my interest in exploring alternative education. But today — please forgive me — I want to indulge in a small rant. You may click away now if you like.

I’ve read a few books in the alternative education realm at this point, and I decided to dip into some other books on education reform that take a more mainstream approach — i.e., books about education that don’t conclude that the system is, by its very nature, the wrong track altogether. (After all, one of the easiest mistakes to make in life is to read only what you know you’ll agree with.) To that end I recently worked through The Death and Life of the Great American School System, a very thorough and thoughtful book by an avowedly conservative author. There is a great deal to think about in that book, and while I’ve been thinking it over, I decided to switch to something lighter: The Smartest Kids in the World, which is much less data-intensive but compares the US to several other countries using the vehicle of following American exchange students to those countries.

It’s an enjoyable read and, while much lighter, also has some good food for thought in it. But yesterday, as I trailed after Mica at Village Free School, reading a few paragraphs whenever she became engrossed in an activity, I read something that was like running headlong into a wall.

In the US we allocate funding to schools based on the property taxes of the nearby households.

The author didn’t belabor this point — he mentioned it, and the obvious problems with it, and then moved on. I, however, did not. I had to re-read it multiple times. Then I had to find the nearest adult to see if they were aware of this.

Apparently everyone knows this. I suppose I should have as well; I’ve heard before that schools in wealthy areas are better funded, but for much of my life I didn’t care about things like school finances, and in retrospect I assumed, vaguely, that effect was about local fundraising efforts, not about what was allocated by central authorities. Somehow I got through 38 years of life without knowing that we take a fundamentally inequitable approach to funding schools.

And finding out has stunned me. It’s like reading that fire coverage is based on local property taxes: live in a rich neighborhood, and the average emergency response time is less than three minutes, but a poor neighborhood could have a response time of as long as half an hour — oh, and residents are sixty times as likely to die in a fire. Perhaps if someone grows up knowing that this is how our school funding works it just seems natural — not ideal, maybe, but hey, it’s the system, you know?. But I keep coming back to this concept, again and again, and I keep feeling the same stunned disbelief.

How is this possible? How could this situation not be seen as inherently inimical to the ideals we purport to believe in? In a nutshell, how can people be ok with this?

And I know it isn’t as simple as that. As Dave points out, it isn’t about people but about politics. It isn’t about individuals choosing based on their own morals and common sense; it’s about a quagmire of bureaucracy and it’s-always-been-done-that-way. I look back now on the arguments that disadvantaged kids just can’t learn as well — because of cultural things, family issues, home life — and now I can see the essentially defensive nature of those arguments. It isn’t because we’ve given them less to work with. Even if the system were equitable, it wouldn’t matter. So why waste the money on them?

The only argument I can think of to support this practice is the argument of homeowners saying that they want the taxes they pay to support their kids education — and no one else’s. That argument has some intuitive weight to it, right up until I apply the fire coverage analogy to it. Do we see education as a public good, or as a service we’re paying for? Do we believe in equal opportunity or not? Is education like television (you can get limited, lousy amounts for free, or pay to get a premium package!) or like fire coverage (we value human life and strive to protect it regardless of income level)?

So now I need to go out and do some more research. How did we get here? Are there other arguments in favor of it? Or is this one of those things that we don’t really talk about, and everyone feels vaguely uncomfortable about, but when it comes down to a vote most people quietly, guiltily vote to keep it because hey, I need to give my kid the very best chance, right? And anyway it’s always been done that way. And it’s really too bad that so many kids keep dying in fires, but maybe if we just make the whole system better that won’t happen so much. Yes, I know we’ve been trying to reform the system for 100+ years, but still…

End Of Summer

One of the advantages of homeschooling, I always felt, was not having that artificial transition at the beginning of September — from the heady freedom of summer to the rigid schedule of school. I really enjoyed, in past years, the sense of sailing right over all the Back To School hype, and just letting the natural pace of the season unfold.

So I feel a slight wistfulness this year, because now that we’ll be going to Village Free School for three days each week, it definitely feels like a transition. One that I’m looking forward to — there are a variety of things going on this year that I’m excited about. All the old staff is returning, but they’re adding some new interns and volunteers, including one from Germany and one whose business card lists him as a “visual storyteller.” And I know there are plans in the works to try out some new project tools, and to introduce some new concepts this year.

Most exciting of all for me is that the kids are looking forward to school as well. They’ve really missed some of their schoolmates over the summer and are looking forward to seeing them; plus Nathan this year is planning on doing Project Time and working on his animations during it. (Dave has fixed up his old laptop for Nathan’s use.) I am really looking forward to seeing him engaged in Project Time and all the other Room B things that go along with that. My sense of Nathan for a while has been that he’s been transitioning out of his early-childhood mode, and becoming ready for new challenges and ideas.

Hopefully there will be lots of those going forward.