As any parent will tell you, the best results in raising children come when you allow them to arrive at the correct conclusion themselves without commanding or ordering them around. There are times for autocratic rule, particularly in matters of safety; but lessons are best learned as a matter of self-revelation – or self-preservation.
As homeschool parents we used this method probably more than any other educational system. For instance, our lessons on fractions were taught, for the most part, by baking. I’d take a basic muffin recipe and have them make a regular batch, then half a batch, then a specific number of muffins. I’d “change my mind” halfway through a batch and have them add more. We’d double, triple or quadruple batches until our neighborhood was awash in muffins. Yes, yes, there were the requisite curriculum worksheets that backed up what we were doing. But nothing solidified the concept of fractions like putting them to practical use.
No, I’m not extolling the virtues of homeschooling – it has the potential to be just as successful or unsuccessful as public or private schools. And, just as in those institutions, it has its share of wonky ideas floating about. But being able to apply concepts to real life was a luxury. It takes a better person than me to do the same with a room of 20 eight-year-olds.
And, as in any other educational system, my “students” were stronger in some areas than others. Heir 2, while tolerating the process of making muffins, really didn’t need it. Give him a stack of worksheets and a stop watch and he would set up a series of challenges for himself and then draw out graphs and charts to reflect his results. He did this for fun.
Heir 1, on the other hand, couldn’t understand why he had to wade through the paperwork when, in the end, he came up with the requisite amount of muffins. In showing the problems written out to back up what he did in the kitchen, he constantly balked when I would correct him. “Well, yeah I wrote it down wrong,” he’d admit. “But you still got another stinkin’ muffin.” (We were pretty sick of muffins at this point.)
Both boys are functional in math, but there’s no disguising the fact that Heir 2 has a gift for it. Heir 1′s talents lie in language and, since passing Algebra 2 in high school, he has left extreme calculations to his brother.
Until gas hit almost $4 a gallon.
We were all okay at about $3.29 a gallon. The cry was “All Work Together!” We’d use whatever car had gas in it to run errands or take the garbage to the dump. The boys would pick up small items from the store on their way to or from friends’ houses to save me a separate trip. We each filled our own tanks and every now and then I’d buy them each a tank of gas because I appreciated their flexibility when I’d call them on their way home from a movie to tell them to stop by the all-night grocery store and pick me up
a pint of Starbucks Coffee Ice Cream a gallon of milk.
And then the price of gas continued to inch up and I began noticing things. Like suddenly everyone loved my car. Now, I love my Outback but, while it’s marketed as a “small SUV,” what it is really is a small station wagon – the most uncool car a teenager could possibly drive. No one ever wanted to be caught dead in my Outback. Suddenly, though, I seemed to be spending more time at the gas pump and less time actually driving my own car. I caught on pretty quickly, though, and the boys were relegated to their own vehicles for entertainment purposes.
Which led to this negotiation with the golden-tongued Heir 1:
Me: On your way home, pick up a gallon of milk. Here’s $4.
Heir 1: The store isn’t on the road home.
Heir 1: The store is, according to the odometer, 7/10 of a mile off my route home. According to my calculations, figuring I’ve been getting an average of 28 mile per gallon, averaging out city and highway driving and figuring my last tank of gas was purchased for …By my calculations, you owe me twenty-one-point …let’s say twenty-one cents.”
Me: I don’t believe this.
Heir 1 (pulling a sheet of paper out of his pocket): Want to see my work?
At least he didn’t figure in atmospheric density and temperature variance like his brother did.