Literacy and Education

October 4, 2014 at 4:31 pm (Education, In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , , , )

Every day I read.  And since having a child, every book I read is filtered through a mental checklist of sorts: Would this be useful to Kiddo?  How would I feel about her reading this? What age is this appropriate for? How can we apply tools, principles, morals, themes, etc. that we learn from reading this to our lives?

Does this mean she’s the center of my universe and I do it all for her?  No.  I read for myself.  It might not seem like it when I’m making lessons plans, blogging reviews with Amazon affiliate purchase links (every time YOU buy a book by clicking the link from my site, a portion of that money is used as much needed income – thank you), posting about bookstore events, etc.  But I do so much of it for me it verges on selfishness.  This is my vice, my hobby, my job, my world.  I am a book fiend and somehow I have made that work for me on as many fronts as possible.

But even with all that self-serving book binging going on, determining how my reading material could mold the mind of my child – whether directly or indirectly – is a constant subplot to my life story.

If I weren’t homeschooling, would I have been interested in titles like Why School? If I wasn’t teaching my daughter to read right now, would a book on literacy research been a desirable past time?

I laughed at myself several times this week.  By the time I’m done raising my daughter I could have a PhD in education, going by my thirst for educational theory.  However, it’s not even remotely close to what I desire to earn a PhD in.  Is every parent required to study this hard? No.  Is it necessary to do all this leg work to be a homeschool mom?  Absolutely not.  You are qualified to teach your child just by virtue of being their parent and longing to make a priority of their spiritual, educational, and physical growth, of viewing your parent-child relationship as something worthy of being tackled with excitement and care.  But for those naturally driven to research and reading, for those who have undeniably lofty ideas regarding the swoon of academia, for those who possibly have an unhealthy love for pens and paper, stacks and shelves, mahogany and oak, for those people it’s a little hard not to fall “victim” to the pull of differing philosophies regarding your life choice to teach your child yourself.  (God help me when it comes to instructing her on the laws of grammar as I’ve never quite mastered getting over run on sentences, they are my favorite grammatical mistake.  Those, and sentence fragments, I suppose.)

why schoolWhy School? is a diminutive sized hardback with a picture of an old one room schoolhouse on the front.  Behind the schoolhouse – identical to what I long to build on my future homestead, although much larger I’m sure – is a vast sky of blue inviting you to all the possibilities contemplation and the school of thought might have to offer you.  The book begins with a tale about a janitor who had suffered some brain damaged, but chose to work at a community college to be around “where it happens” and to have access to materials he could study and/or take home to his daughter.  It was a beautiful tale regarding academia and how it is viewed from different sets of eyes.  Most people see it as a mandatory road map in life, one they can’t get out of.  Some see it as a golden ticket to the land of opportunity.  Few actually see it for what it is meant to be: a place to learn.

The author, Mike Rose, talks about many things regarding school and college and life.  He discusses blue collar life vs. white collar life.  He addresses a few political issues, some I agree with and some I don’t.  But one thing is clear: he is passionate about learning.  He is passionate about education.  Rose’s goal is to make others aware of the importance of developing the mind and taking charge of what we put in it, whether it be tools and life skills or book facts.

“We live in a time of much talk about intelligence.  Yet we operate with a fairly restricted notion of what that term means, one identified with the verbal and quantitative measures of the schoolhouse and the IQ test.  As the culture of testing we live in helps define achievement and the goals of schooling, it also has an effect on the way we think about ability.” – pg. 73

I loved that part.  I loved how he addressed the parts of the brain used by those who work with their hands.  My husband works with his hands, he is a millwright.  More than anything, I want to balance my child’s developmental education with things both her parents are passionate about.  I want her to continue to love books, but I want to allow her to be passionate about building things (the girl is a master tower builder when it comes to legos and VHS tapes).  So much creative energy is dismissed when people look at their mechanic or a machinist.  People do not understand how even your diner waitress is the Queen of her domain, has mastered brain patterns you cannot fathom, and has an internal clock and rhythm you could not duplicate without years of practice and training.  I understood this example Rose provided well, having waited tables just long enough to say I learned to do it the best I ever could and could not do it forever.  (I was a good server, well-liked by most my customers, but I was no Wanda.)

lit resI read chapters of Rose’s book in between dives into Adolescent Literacy Research and Practice.  Where Rose is quaint and inspiring, though thoughtful and well-spoken, Adolescent Lit. is all academic essays, lengthy work cited pages, references to studies and schools of thought.  The book is written by public school educators for public school educators, but one would be remiss if they didn’t hear the constant hum of “Homeschooling is the answer” to nearly every issue they address.  The writers would laugh, I think, as there is an entire section dedicated to how people tend to read things and find support for their own arguments and core beliefs even where there may be none.

Timothy and Cynthia Shanahan were the contributors I enjoyed reading the most.  They talked in great detail about what literacy is truly about, what being able to write is for, and how important it is in the education process to not confuse its purpose.  Literacy and developing good writing habits are at the core of understanding any subject – not just literature – but math, science, and history as well.  Writing isn’t merely about communicating what you have learned, but a process of diving deeper into a subject and gleaning a more thorough understanding of it.  Not just about memorizing facts and regurgitating, but thinking about what those facts mean to you and how that may or may not affect your world view.  It is about engaging the brain and coming up with new thoughts about old concepts.  It is about developing theories from research.  It is about invention and progress.  It isn’t just about basic comprehension, it’s about eventual enlightenment on any given subject.

Several essayists in the book discuss the issue of the misconception that writing is only for the literature major and how there is only one way to read.  There is great detail on how the practices for reading a science text cannot be considered the same as those to read classic fiction.  So many do not address this, which is why we have children in our schools reading their chemistry and physics homework, plodding their way through formulas, but they haven’t internalized it.  They only barely understand, it’s passion-less math or vague theories… whereas teaching these same kids how to read their science text (and giving them more than just standard textbooks, but also journals produced by scientists and articles from the professional world) will bridge the gap between the information and the passion to do something with that information.  Not everyone is Einstein, but we are not raising independent thinkers with a drive to feed their brains.  We are raising frustrated honey bees who have been deprived of pollen, and by doing such a thing they become useless drones who produce nothing.

I say this screams “homeschool is the solution” to me because the essence of the discussion in the book is teach a child to read for each appropriate discipline and you give them the world.  You teach them how to teach themselves.  You teach them how to use their brains and be studious and good stewards of their minds.  Not for the sake of a grade, not for an award or blessing, but for the act of embracing the knowledge itself.  We are driven by standardized tests – and I get it, how else do you assess where a child is when you must maintain some semblance of order while still addressing the needs of 30 students at a time.  How else do you sort them out and provide the best education possible?  If you can, you teach them at home.  Smaller classrooms, a personal relationship, true observing of where that child is developmentally and how you can aid them on the path to true literacy.  In Texas a homeschool is considered a private school run out of the home.  If there was nothing I liked about Texas (and I love Texas, but if I didn’t), this fact alone would keep me here as long as possible.

There’s also a thing called Unschooling that I’m finding more and more I lean to (I am combining classical education and unschooling education styles in my “private school” that is the Klemm home).  Unschooling is child driven.  You pursue their interests with a passion when they have them.  You learn what you can while they are motivated to learn it.  Every moment is a possible classroom moment.  The other day we researched praying mantises after discovering one in the garden we were weeding.  Kiddo was so excited and immediately went to her bug book and found a picture of one, thrilled to see something in the book that she had just seen in real life.  Well that’s easy when they’re in pre-school, people like to say.  Yes, it is.  But it can continue to be that way as they get older.

“Reading classrooms at the secondary school level typically tend to minimize student choice (Guthrie & Davis, 2003).  However, giving students opportunities to ‘self-rule’ and ‘self-determine’ can make learning more personally meaningful and intrinsically motivating (Deci & Ryan, 1985, Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier, 1991; Ryan & Powelson, 1991).” – pg. 286

What do you think?


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The Price of Excellence

February 20, 2013 at 4:20 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have a love/hate relationship with education.  Or should I say formal education.

I love to read, I thoroughly enjoy research.  But most my teachers over the years would tell you I was a horrible student, if they even remember me.  My work was typically mediocre, often done at the last minute.  The ones that do remember me probably remember a fairly obstinate and argumentative irritant, not really someone you want filling out your back row.

EducationI went to a very expensive private university.  Between the severe debt it put me in and the obsession with appearances, it left a really bad taste in my mouth.  I think in many cases, college is pretty useless these days.  It doesn’t really prepare you for anything, merely gives you four years to either party a lot or exhaust yourself with work – depending on your financial situation.  I feel betrayed by universities and the entire education system.

Yet, I find myself longing for the chance to go back and get a frivolous Master’s degree.  I watch movies only to be wooed by the montages of students in glorious libraries.  I fall in league with nerds like Rory Gilmore and Felicity Porter and lean toward books like May Sarton’s The Small Room.

The Small RoomThe Small Room is a 1960’s novel about a professor teaching in a woman’s college called Appleton.  Don’t judge too quickly, it is most definitely NOT Mona Lisa Smile.  Instead it is a social commentary of the very tender and sometimes volatile relationship between teachers and students, and how an entire campus reacts to the scandal of the theft of intellectual property.

Rather than an emotional feminist vs. anti-feminist story one would expect from the setting, The Small Room is about exploring the many nuances of excellence in education… and the price of obtaining it for both teachers and students.

“What is the price? […] The price is eccentricity, maladjustment if you will, isolation of one sort or another, strangeness, narrowness.  Excellence costs a great deal.” – Carryl Cope of Sarton’s The Small Room.

Frankly, education is such a moving and sensitive topic.  Who isn’t brought to tears by Dead Poet’s Society? Who doesn’t stand and applaud Mr. Holland’s Opus or The Emperor’s Club? Who doesn’t watch Finding Forrester on repeat?

Then on the counter balance… Who doesn’t laugh their butt off reading Kaufman’s Up the Down Staircase and acknowledge how utterly familiar it sounds?


While reading, I imagined Appleton to be a smaller version of Wellesley.

May Sarton’s The Small Room is delightful and truthful.  Without full on hating on education altogether, it takes into careful consideration the heavy weight being a teacher or a student can be on a human being and their relationships.

“[…] before she went to sleep, she wondered whether just this were not what you did take on if you chose to be a teacher… this, the care of souls.” – The Small Room

I have a 1976 Norton Library edition (featured above) and I fell in love with the book immediately.  Long before I picked it up to read it, Sarton’s novel was part of my personal collection.  I remember being so struck by the green leafy cover, the musty smell, and the promise of imaginary academia while holding the book in the used bookstore.  The novel has lived up to the promise of its cover (and its smell!) and I think any alumni or teacher would appreciate the ethical discussions within its pages as Sarton and her characters attempt to define the price of excellence.

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Poetry Nights at Half Price Books

January 8, 2013 at 8:11 pm (Education, Events) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Make time in your life this Spring for student led Poetry Nights at Half Price Books in Humble.

Poetry night

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A Plethora of Poets

November 2, 2012 at 6:30 pm (Education, Events) (, , , , , , , , )

At Half Price Books Humble Poetry Night 11/01/12

Poetry readings are exciting, and often times, unique experiences.  Different poets bring a different vibe to each event.  But even more interesting is when the night is full of young poets, teenaged poets, High School poets.

These kids are bold, honest, and in some cases fearless in the way they expose their vulnerability in the most expressive form of art.  There are the shy, quiet poets sharing grief; the in your face exuberant poetess forcing you to feel every joy and sorrow; and there are simply down right honestly funny poets that are bound to make the next great comedians.

The group last night were students from the Humble High School Poetry Club and their parents and friends. I hope next time we’ll see some representation from other schools as well. Everyone and anyone is invited to join the fun.

All around, it was a great night and I can’t wait for December’s meeting!

HPB Poetry Nights are held the first Thursday of the month, 7 pm – 9 pm. Read your favorite poet or recite some of your own work. Hang out and chat with other students of poetry and maybe learn something new. Snacks are served.

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Library Living

April 14, 2012 at 1:06 am (In So Many Words, The Whim) (, , , , , , )

Beauty and the Beast, Disney

Every book lover has dreamed of one day living in a library.

Here is the story of a man who did.

(Prior to attending Baylor University, Benny was a Dallas Baptist University student with me.  He’s a fabulous guy, with some really unique life experiences.)

Library Living: Baylor alumnus ran low on cash, used study carrel for home

Oct. 2, 2009

By Olga Gladtskov Ball Reporter

Not many Baylor students can say that they have lived in the library for six months, spent a night in a Mexican jail or organized a campaign to bring Kinky Friedman onto the Baylor campus. Baylor alumnus Benny Barrett did all of it, and more, during his time at Baylor.

Barrett’s journey to Baylor began when Dr. Gary Cook, the president of Dallas Baptist University, encouraged Barrett to go on a campus visit to Baylor to consider transferring. While on his visit, Barrett ran into Dr. Robert Sloan, then chancellor of Baylor.

Jed Dean | Photo Editor
Benny Barrett, former Baylor student who had to choose between secretly living inside Moody Memorial library or leaving Baylor, rests his head against the very carrel he lived in for almost two semesters.

“I just walked up to him and ask him if he was Dr. Sloan because he looked like what I imagined he would look like,” Barrett said. Barrett told Sloan that he had just met an old friend of Sloan’s the week before. Sloan and Barrett discussed the friend, and Sloan invited Barrett to meet with him the next week. After the meeting, Barrett decided to attend Baylor.

Once at Baylor, Barrett ran into financial problems, causing him to research a new place to live: Moody Memorial Library. Barrett began his research in April 2006 and moved all of his belongings to his study carrel in May.

“I would show up to tests an hour late during summer session because the library opened at 9 and had to give some lame excuse about oversleeping,” Barrett said. For Barrett, the most difficult time in the library during the summer was during Fourth of July weekend, where he was not able to leave for days because the library closed for the holiday.

When the fall semester began, Barrett began to work at the library from 4 to 8 a.m. He would then sleep inside his carrel for a few hours before class.

“The libraries are important havens for study and respite, and my faculty, staff and I work hard to make them pleasant and safe student-friendly spaces,” said Pattie Orr, dean of university libraries. “I was not here at Baylor when Benny was in this difficult situation, but if I had been I would have wanted to reach out to him to see how we could help.”

Orr also said that Barrett was the only case of someone living in the library that she has heard.

“I lost weight,” Barrett said. “My eyes were always bloodshot. I would sometimes wear sunglass to class to hide it.”

Barrett hid his food, mostly consisting of Ramen noodles, behind his books. He also had a hot water heater and a sleeping bag hidden in his carrel. Barrett stopped sleeping at the library in December, when Dr. Scott Moore, associate professor in Great Texts, called him into his office.

“I explained my living arrangements to him and he got me placed in a dorm for the rest of the semester,” Barrett said. Prior to the meeting with the professor, Barrett had only told a few friends about his living conditions.

Moore said he was horrified when he found out that Barrett was living in the library. He then contacted others to help Barrett move into a dorm.

“I just got the ball rolling,” Moore said. “I called Frank Shushok (who supervised housing arrangements at the time) and said we’ve got to find this guy a dorm room. Frank called Jackie Diaz in financial aid and the folks in Campus Living and Learning, and they did all the work.”

“Friends invited me to live with them, but I didn’t want to be a leech,” Barrett said. Barrett was given a loan at the end of the semester to pay for the rest of his education.

“I found out about Benny’s secret lair in the library only from my colleague Scott Moore, who also told me that Benny was showering and changing clothes at the Student Life Center, Said Ralph Wood, university professor of theology and literature. “Moore made sure that Benny was able to get a scholarship that paid more than tuition alone.”

During his semester in the library, Barrett spent a night in a Mexican jail with his former roommate Osione Itegboje. Itegboje took Barrett to Mexico with him so that Itegboje, who is from Nigeria, could renew his visa. However, the pair was sent to jail when a guard discovered that Itegboje lacked a Mexican visa.

“It was a crazy experience,” Barrett said. “A whirlwind of a weekend.”

Itegboje and Barrett were released the next day and told that they could not enter Mexico for a year, under the threat of six months in a Mexican prison.

While on campus, Barrett fought another battle — governmental candidate, novelist and country singer Kinky Friedman had asked Barrett if he could arrange for him to speak on campus.  Barrett met Friedman at a Willie Nelson concert, and Friedman had expressed interest in speaking at Baylor. Barrett then founded Baylor Independents and began the process to get Friedman to Baylor.

“I have never been called to the principal’s office, Pat Neff, so many times,” Barrett said, “No one wanted him to speak on campus.” Barrett convinced administrators that if Friedman was not allowed to speak, Baylor would be showing favoritism toward Governor Rick Perry, who had already spoken at Chapel.

“They finally let him come on campus but wouldn’t let me have a reception for him so I had it at the Judge Baylor House, which isn’t associated with Baylor, but many people thought it was when they came,” Barrett said. The Noze brothers awarded Friedman with the honor of “Yellow Noze of Texas.”

Barrett, who graduated in 2008, still visits campus often, walking his teacup Chihuahua, Malcolm X, and spending time at his favorite place on campus: the library.

“Would that there were more Benny Barretts,” Wood said.

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