Archive for the ‘Brave Writer Philosophy’ Category

The Privilege of an Education

The Privilege of an Education

One of our Brave Writer moms asked the question: What is the purpose of education—specifically of educating the masses or public education? That stayed with me all day. Here’s how I think about it.

Several years ago I was a part of a political discussion list online. Members on the list were from all over the world (not just the United States). In a conversation about education, I shared the virtues of homeschooling and the members of the group reacted positively to my characterization of what homeschooling offers to children. Except for one person. A French woman, living in France. Her comment stunned me:

“Homeschooling is not democratic.”

‘Scuse me? I read her comment twice. “What do you mean it’s not democratic? It’s the most democratic. Our democracy allows for individual choice, for the freedom to pursue happiness according to your own ideals. By allowing a variety of educational models, we are providing individuals the right to choose the education that’s right for their children, rather than trapping them into an education that is subpar or not tailored to the student.”

How could she argue with that?

She did. Here’s what she said (paraphrase),

“Education is the vehicle for becoming an equal citizen in any society, and should not be tied to a person’s socio-economic or geographic limits. If homeschooling is a superior model of education and only those with the finances, physical health, sufficient education themselves, and the ability to keep a parent home full time, then it is not available to all equally. If a parent has to keep their children in a poor public school due to their inability to afford a private school or because they can’t homeschool for any reason, that child through no fault of his own is receiving an inferior education to others. A democracy means we are equals. We cannot be equals if we do not all get the same education. Parents should work to improve the public schools together, not abandon them.”

She went on: “A democracy is not built on equal opportunity to choose an education method but on equal access to the same quality education.”

I have to be honest here. This line of reasoning stopped me cold. I had never seen it through that lens.

I thought about the two revolutions: The American Revolution and the French Revolution. The American Revolution was built on the notion of individual rights culminating in the right to pursue an individual vision of happiness (not a one size-fits all version of happiness—not one version of religion or employment or education enforced for everyone, but a variety of choices we make for ourselves). Our highest ideal: the individual right and freedom to make something of self—seizing opportunities, working hard, creating the outcome, being responsible for both success and failure.

The French Revolution had a different emphasis. Because of the abuses of power in the hands of the monarchy and the elite, the everyday person revolted demanding that each citizen be no better than any other. A leveling of the playing field and the protecting of the least advantaged became the clarion call: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

Enriching yourself at the expense of others was suspect! The pursuit of happiness was prized when it included everyone, not when it competed (so the thinking goes). They might say that if a society allowed for a variety of educational models, it might be creating a new hierarchy.

Education, then, was seen as the foundation of all citizenship—of active participation, of creating the conditions (the rails) on which our democracies thrive.

The education of the masses (public education in its truest sense) is a democratic principle—a choice to say that all lives are of equal value. Each life deserves to have access to a cache of information and a set of skills that make participating in the public square (participatory representative government) possible. Not only that, but education is also the chief vehicle for innovation and economic development which helps the country to thrive.

So that gets me back to school choice versus working harder to ensure that public schools are created equally, providing all citizens with a quality, sufficient education.

It is with this pair of ideals in mind (the right to customize educational choices and the obligation to provide a robust, complete education to all) that I think about my role in the debate about school choice.

It does us the most good to remember that it is a privilege to homeschool—it is a choice we make due to our dissatisfaction with other methods of education including public education, and our capacity to actually DO the task (health, economics, and personal educational level as sufficient). Not everyone has those capacities (immigrants, poorly educated, the working poor, single parents, chronically ill).

Homeschool provides a critique of other models of education. Let’s not hoard the insights! It’s worth it to share what we’ve learned. It’s also worth it to work for schools to include homeschoolers in after school programs or part time enrollment—bringing together two styles of education.

That said, with privilege also comes obligation
and responsibility to our fellow citizens.

It matters that we care about the education of all our children (not just our own families) when we think about educational policy and reform. Tax structures for how schools are funded matter, even if my kids never go to public school. I care about those laws and would love to see them reformed. It is in everyone’s best interest to have a well educated populace.

What happened when I listened to this counterpoint about democracy and education was that I paused—I saw for a moment the limits of my own vision of education. I want to be more aware and supportive of innovation in the public school system, and more conscientious about how I can contribute what I know about learning to the larger narrative of education in America.

It is also why I never vilify the choice to put children in school—the successful education of the masses globally is the revolution of the ages. It is staggering to think of how many people can read today, for instance, compared to the rest of history. And that ability DOES make a difference on every level of social and global cooperation.

If we say we value education, it’s important to value it wherever we see it and to find common ground and to give our best to it. At least, that’s how I think about it having been an elite privileged home educator.

The Homeschool Alliance

Is Brave Writer a Complete Writing Program?

Is Brave Writer a Complete Writing Program?

Brave Writer is a complete writing and language arts program, not supplemental. The goal of what we do is to prepare kids to be competent, confident writers in a variety of settings, including academic contexts like college and beyond. We get there by beginning with writing voice and nurturing it so that a child discovers what it feels like to have something to say, something worth preserving on paper or on a computer. That self expression puts a child in touch with the part of self that generates original thought, accesses his or her vocabulary, and selects the best “container” for their writing (does this material suit a poem or a report, a letter or an academic essay?).

Where we differ from other programs is that we are not organized by grade level, but by developmental stages of growth in writing. We see writing in three categories:

  1. original writing (the process of generating original thought and putting that into the written word),
  2. the mechanics of writing (which we explore using living literature and the practices of copywork and dictation),
  3. and writing projects (bringing mechanics and thoughts together to create something—lapbook, mini report, a poster, textual criticism in an essay, research papers, and so on…).

The Writer’s Jungle is the primary manual that teaches both philosophy and process using a variety of activities and writing excursions. It is written to the homeschooling parent and is not a text book. Each chapter has a writing process to do with your child with samples and explanations about its application to the writing process.

The Wand, Arrow, and Boomerang offer a monthly literature guide focused on a single novel that is age appropriate. In these month-long guides you will find 4 weeks worth of copywork and dictation with detailed, user-friendly descriptions of the literary elements, grammar, spelling, and punctuation found in the passages.

The products like Jot it Down, Partnership Writing, Faltering Ownership and Help for High School are focused on writing products/projects. This is where we introduce forms for writing—but we get there differently than most writing programs. We focus first on

  • immersion in material,
  • developing original thought,
  • examining one’s own perspective against others,
  • and creating space for creativity (btw, creativity is just as necessary for a persuasive essay as it is for a poem).

Then we explore the convention of the form for writing and look at ways to apply it to the content generated by the student.

We take revision seriously—it is not just a process of correcting a few typos or spelling errors, or hunting in a thesaurus for a better term. Revision in Brave Writer is about giving new vision to the writing—engaging in a process of re-imagining the content—deepening and expanding it.

Our online classes cover all three aspects of writing: original thought, mechanics and literature, and writing forms.

It is possible to do only Brave Writer materials and classes for the entirety of your child’s childhood. That said, it’s also wise to give your kids the chance to write in additional contexts as well so that they experience how other people teach writing. I usually recommend including some other writing opportunities in high school (co-op, local junior college, working with another writing instructor) once the writing voice is strong and well formed. We do have a wide variety of writing coaches in Brave Writer, though, and that provides its own variety too.

I come from professional writing. What we do when we work with people aspiring to be writers is we stir up the writing life first.

We say: What do you have to say? Then we help them get that out.

Schools tend to say to students: Writing is difficult so I’m going to tell you exactly what to write and how.

In the school context, kids lose touch with having something to say and keep trying to figure out what the teacher wants to read.

In the professional context, the writer gets more and more in touch with having something to offer. That makes learning the various forms not only more interesting, but more powerful. The writing then sounds like them!

Adding one last thought about academic writing: I teach at the university level. What most professors complain about with college writing is that students know the formulas for writing but don’t have much skill with original thought or critical inquiry of texts. There’s a hunger among academics for students to break free of the rigid formulas and to connect with the discipline or the field.

In our high school writing classes, we do teach the academic forms, but we do so with a view to ensuring that our students generate insight first and that they learn how to do the rhetorical work of examining sources for credibility, understanding point of view, and learning to hold positions dispassionately.

Our students who have gone off to college and return to tell us about it have said that their professors often praise them for their original thought or that their writing sounds like them—not a formula. We use college composition principles and teach the MLA citation structures, but not at the expense of cultivating a writer’s rhetorical imagination. We do both. We just save that academic specificity for high school when the mind is more mature and ready to do that kind of work.

Curious about Brave Writer?

Tea with Julie: The Foundations of Home Education

Tea with Julie: The Foundations of Home Education

Would you like to have enjoyment, playfulness, and connection in your homeschool? In the recorded broadcasts below we talk about the foundations needed to create that kind of dynamic family culture.

Such as:

  • Tell the freaking truth!
  • Make eye contact with your kids and smile.
  • Pay attention to your tone of voice.
  • Stay connected to who your children really are, not who you want them to be.
  • Dialogue with your kids.

Part One

Part Two

The Rhetorical Imagination

The Rhetorical Imagination

I was in 6th grade, living in southern California. One November evening, I crossed the street to my daily playmate’s home for dinner. Melinda’s mother served hamburgers. I asked for a glass of milk. Mr. Thaler said I could not have one. I asked why. He replied that their family “kept kosher” and could not mix meat and dairy products during a meal.

I did not relent. His comment made no sense to me. After all, I didn’t keep kosher. My family expected us to drink milk every night for healthy teeth. “But I’m not Jewish. I can have milk with my hamburger.”

Mrs. Thaler joined in, “Dairy and meat can’t even be on the same table, Julie. It’s not about what you can eat or not eat. It’s about our home. Our home is a kosher home and so milk and meat cannot be at the same meal.”

I sat stunned—momentarily ejected from the room. My mind raced.

Wait—that means the Thalers never have cheeseburgers. Will Melinda be able to eat at my house? What is “kosher” and why is it so important to them? This is unfair! This rule makes no sense! I want milk!

I was used to having what I wanted when I wanted it. This whole idea that I had to adjust my meal habits to theirs for a reason I didn’t even hold felt wrong and annoying. I stuck with the one value from home that did apply: politeness. I finished my meal and thanked them.

But what else happened that day? My world tilted. An invitation to expand had been extended to me.

At age 11, the world I knew was defined by my parents, care givers, teachers, and religious leaders.

All children learn without instruction what constitutes “normal” for them—what can be taken for granted, what we deserve, how we’ve been wronged, who is out to get us, and who is on our side.

As we grow up—our circle widens and we encounter for the first time: “the other.” We determine whether or not we will include or vilify this alternative way of living and seeing the world.

The experience of expansion has a name and it is valuable to becoming an educated person. I call it “The rhetorical imagination.”

The rhetorical imagination is the experience of
encountering, examining, and holding multiple viewpoints
simultaneously, dispassionately.

The rhetorical imagination is a tool we use to grow academically. We open ourselves to the perspective presenting itself and begin with the assumption that there is an internal coherence and logic to a viewpoint, even if that coherence and logic make us uncomfortable. Even if inconvenient.

This capacity requires us to suspend our own judgments and to momentarily shift into the seat of the other to see the world through different eyes. Those eyes may be more or less religious, more or less tolerant, more or less educated, more or less political, more or less financially secure, more or less experienced, more or less skilled…

Even “objectively” wrong views (the belief that the world is flat, for instance) believed by individuals are rooted in some kind of interior logic (after all, in our own heads, what we think is true makes sense to us or we couldn’t think the thoughts!). The task of an academic is to wade into those views (our own and those of others), to suspend judgment in order to identify how that person has arrived at that conclusion and what that conclusion offers the one who holds the viewpoint.

Famously, centuries of misinformation have been sustained by a lack of tools to measure what we did not know, or by political and/or religious empires that stood to gain from an uneducated constituency. It was stunning, for instance, to visit Prague last spring to see the Astronomical Clock which measured the time by putting the earth in the center of the clock face. Each day, citizens would walk by this clock to tell time. How could a person in the 1400s have any hope of understanding the true nature of the universe with that out-sized misinformation mounted and gilded (measuring the minutes and hours every day with planet earth dead center in the solar system) towering over them? Of course the earth was the center of the universe! There it was, on display, all day every day!

What a blow it would be to imagine that the earth was not in the center! For that new interpretation to gain footing, the challengers of the status quo had to be willing to unseat the power of centuries old beliefs.

The capacity to inquire, to be curious, to willingly suspend one’s own point of view in favor of opening to someone else’s is at the heart of the academic enterprise. It’s the discipline of higher education in particular! The research conducted in any field must begin with inquiry and suspending one’s own preconceived ideas in order to be open to new and different conclusions and solutions.

The development of a rhetorical imagination is critical to good academic writing: the essay, research paper, and beyond. So often parents and teacher obsess about formatting and citations. They are worried the student won’t know how to look up books with a card catalog and the Dewey decimal system, or how to write a “Works Cited.”

Those are easily taught. What is far more difficult is deliberately opening to a wide variety of viewpoints. It takes courage and curiosity. It requires a willingness to overturn assumptions, to be changed by what is read.

In fact, I’d say that the heart of the academic enterprise is the drive to be startled into insight!

The rhetorical imagination—the capacity to consider a wide variety of perspectives and possibilities—is the vehicle to take us there.

Pushing ourselves and our kids
out of our cozy comfort zones of thought
is our educational obligation and opportunity.

Designed for 8th to 10th graders, Kidswrite Intermediate introduces students to rhetorical thinking plus musicality in language, metaphor and analogy, paraphrasing and more! For high school students we offer our Expository Essay: Rhetorical Critique and Analysis online class.

Brave Writer Online Classes

Are you doing too much copywork?

Are you doing too much copywork?

Remember: the key to copywork is depth and immersion, in addition to repetition. If you do too much, your kids will let you know by complaining, dragging their feet and doing inferior work.

Charlotte Mason talks about asking your child to give a full effort (with attention to excellent output) and then to stop. So even if all a child can muster in one sitting is a single beautiful letter of copywork, that can be enough while the child builds stamina, attention to detail, and commitment to excellence.

What that means is that if your child is giving you daily pages of handwriting or copywork and it is sloppy or not well executed, you are actually doing too much! You can ask your child:

Copy this passage and give me your best effort. When you feel your attention flag or you notice you aren’t wanting to continue, tell me.

Then you can stop and we’ll pick up tomorrow (or the next day).

What you are aiming for, then, is copywork that leads to growing ease and accuracy, not copywork and dictation every day that wears out the young writer.

I would round out the copywork/dictation practice with Poetry Teatime, read aloud, and conversations about words (word play, word games). I usually expected that my kids could do some form of copywork or a handwriting page most days when they were young (3-5 times a week). I only did French-style dictation or true dictation once a week and reverse dictation once a month.

Less is more. 🙂

Everything You Always Wanted to Know
about Copywork and Dictation