I’ve been reading a book called Write These Laws on Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling (Beacon Press, August, 2009) by Robert Kunzman. The book is a look at six Christian families and how they homeschool their children. Not every family fits the stereotype I know I have in my mind. Some are impressive; others leave much to be desired.
A number of the passages in the book make for interesting discussion starters, so I’ll post some of them up over the next few days.
Like this one, featuring a homeschooling mother who doesn’t have a strong grasp of the material herself:
A short while into their bookwork, [daughter] Veronica asks her mom for help in explaining a problem in her math text. At first, [mother] Lydia is stumped as well. “I don’t know what they want because I don’t buy the teacher’s books,” she explains to me. “That’s just an extra twenty-five dollars that I can try to manage without. It’s a first-grade math book — I’m sure I can figure it out.” She scans the instructions again, and they eventually reach the correct answer. “We don’t usually do tests,” Lydia explains to me. “We usually just talk it out and talk it out, because they’ve got to convince me they know it.” (p. 43)
And later with the same family:
I wander into the kitchen, where [daughter] Anna sits at a tiny desk in the corner, working on her grammar workbook. [Mother] Lydia follows me and tells her older daughter that she needs to check what she’s done. “Okay,” Lydia says, reading the directions aloud, “underline the plural possessive noun in each sentence.” She pauses, then repeats the direction to herself, trying to figure out just how much should be underlined. Without the teacher’s edition as a reference, she is left to make her best guess. For these exercises, it probably doesn’t matter much what exactly gets underlined, as long as the correct rules are learned for possessives.
But they run into a problem here as well, when the sample sentences involve words that are automatically plural, such as oxen or children. As far as I can tell, Lydia isn’t familiar with this grammar rule. “Oxens — this is driving me crazy right here,” she admits. “The plural of oxen is oxen — and then yokes. Hmm. The oxens — that’s nuts. Doesn’t make sense to me.”
She looks at the next sentence, where Anna has hedged her bets with two apostrophes: geese’s’. “Which one is right?” her mom asks her.
“I don’t know,” Anna admits.
“Well, you need to know,” Lydia says. “Because maybe if you explain it to me, that will explain my thinking.” She scans farther down the page. “The boys’ hats. Is the hats apostrophied? Is it possessive? Is it many hats or is it somebody’s hats? It says a plural name — a plural noun names more than one person. And so here’s children, okay? Should the childrens’s noises — now that’s lots of noises, but is it the noises are owning something? Because if it’s owning something, then you have to have your apostrophe. Do the noises own something?”
At this point, I’m pretty lost by Lydia’s explanation, and it’s hard to imagine that Anna is tracking it either. They continue working on it for another five minutes, discussing different examples, but I don’t get the sense that either of them reach any sort of clarity before Lydia decides it’s time to move on to the next subject. (p. 52)