The other morning, when I heard Mica stirring, I went in and lifted her out of bed. “I have to fly,” she told me groggily as I picked her up.
“Oh, were you dreaming about flying?” I said as she folded against me. “That sounds like a good dream.”
“Yes,” she mumbled into my shoulder, and we moved on with the quiet dance of waking up.
It was probably an hour later that she came running to me. “My wings are gone!” she told me in real distress.
I did my best to commiserate with how dream wings don’t stick around in the real world, but she was having none of it.
“Put them back on!” she demanded; and, when I confessed my inability to help, her face crumpled.
Oh, my love, if only I could…
I missed my first opportunity to learn about Village Home at the AERO conference; there was a student panel, but I was sitting in traffic instead of attending it. Fortunately the founder of Village Home did a workshop later in the conference, which I made sure to attend. I’ve only waited this long to write up my thoughts because I wanted to watch the documentary Class Dismissed, which features a short segment on Village Home. (And which is a neat film, following the doubts and struggles and triumphs of a family that decides to homeschool their two daughters. I recommend it.)
I’m so glad I attended Lori’s talk. I had heard of Village Home as a community college for K-8, used mostly by homeschooling families; the families are in charge of managing their students’ education, but Village Home provides classes to help expand what’s available to them. I’d envisioned classes essentially like those I remember from mainstream school, only taken on a more voluntary basis, and with a much greater variety of electives sprinkled in.
This is not quite accurate. Yes, there are classes covering all the familiar math and science and history concepts; and yes, there are some really awesomely unusual classes. Looking in on any given class, it might seem to follow the standard model: there’s a teacher, there are students, there are pens and papers, etc. But the autonomy support at Village Home goes much deeper than simply choosing which classes to take. For starters, Lori Walker retrains her teachers (who mainly come from the public education system) with the understanding that their primary job is to maintain the students’ intrinsic interest in the subject. There are no grades, no standardized tests, no rankings, no competition. Although she didn’t say it, this is all consistent with one of the ideas that I’ve seen in many alternative education settings: there is no rush.
In addition to choosing their classes, the students have control in other ways as well. If they turn in an essay, for example, they generally get feedback on the general flow of their ideas, some comments on things they’re doing well, some suggestions for other things to try… unless they specifically request “hard” grading at the top of their paper. In that case, the instructor will note every misspelling, punctuation and grammar error as well. But it’s the student’s choice as to when they’re ready for that level of feedback.
Lori told a story of one of the questions asked at the student panel I’d missed. How do you know, a kid in the audience wanted to know, if you’re ready to take a class like Algebra? Apparently the Village Home students, including Lori’s own daughter, had some trouble answering this; they exchanged surprised looks before offering answers like If it looks interesting, or If you aren’t sure, go for a couple of classes and see if it makes sense. Lori, who has a much clearer sense of mainstream schools, could see the problem. These kids, she told us, were so used to autonomy that they didn’t even know what they had. It would never have occurred to them to appeal to an outside authority, an adult or a test, before exploring an idea. If it turned out to be deeper than they could handle, they’d go and find out what else they needed to know, and if necessary join the class again later. There is no penalty for failure in this system; there is, in some sense, no real concept of failure at all.
This was an incredible year for apples. Even our juvenile espaliered trees produced gallons of fruit, so much so that I relied entirely on them for our applesauce needs this year.
Despite the fact that I use a very easy method for making applesauce (no peeling or coring required), it’s still a fair amount of work. So I was delighted when this year I found that people really wanted to help me. I mean really. They complained if I did too much of the processing.
Hey, more power to them. We produced somewhere around three dozen quarts, and I appreciated every bit of help I got.
In my ongoing quest to ease our family into camping, we recently spent a couple nights at Cape Lookout State Park. This park boasted the obligatory deluxe cabins, a lovely beach, and close proximity to the Tillamook Cheese Factory. I was pretty sure we could find plenty to do there.
The beach was so close that, despite some rather chilly windy weather, we spent most of our time there. And it was awesome. Nathan and Ryan are old enough to enjoy climbing on the rocks and playing tag with the waves; Mica did less climbing and less tag, but spent plenty of time running barefoot along the sand or playing in the nearby stream. People walking by, bundled up in their coats and hoods, would do a double-take at the barefoot toddler splashing happily in a cold stream.
Dave and I, meanwhile, learned more about what to pack and how to use a grill, and had some really good meals, which the boys partook of modestly. (They ate a lot of chocolate sandwiches.) We continue to learn. Next time I think we’re aiming for three nights, and hopefully not needing an emergency store run to get crucial things like salt.
And we ended the trip on Nathan’s birthday by hitting the afore-mentioned Tillamook Cheese Factory, which not only has a really cool observation platform where you can watch the manufacturing line, but also sells ice cream.