The lens matters

The lens matters

Caitrin has told me for years that she doesn’t like history. Her sister before her didn’t like it either. And naturally, I was a history major, totally happy to overdose on historical fiction. They, however, were not.

We tried the Story of the World books and the Brown Paper School ones. Caitrin was compliant, just not engaged. What really interested her, however, has been everything related to being female: fashion to abortion, women’s rights to make-up. Her appetite for these topics drove her out of the juvenile book section and smack into adult reading. Last week she found a book that completely captured her imagination: Women’s Letters (edited by Lisa Grunwald and Stephen J. Adler). This volume is enormous: nearly 800 pages of letters. They span our entire history from the Revolutionary War to nearly the present (Iraq War 2005). They are written to husbands, sons, daughters, sisters. Each letter has some kind of note to contextualize the circumstances or to explain idiomatic expressions current to that era.

Caitrin is enthralled. Suddenly her ability to retain information related to our country’s founding is effortless. The connections support the information. She’s able to retain the facts because they are related to something she cares about.

Last night as we were driving to deliver cookies to her customers (she has a cookie business, taken over from her older brother), she mentioned in the car, “I’d like to keep writing over the summer along with math. I’m realizing that I want to keep my routine going and to prepare for the day when I go to school.” I said I thought that was a brilliant plan. So we brainstormed some writing ideas and quickly found ourselves talking about letter writing. Could she write letters that reflect various eras? She liked that idea and then went on to discuss how our era has letter writing, but it’s electronic. She wondered how these letters would be preserved. She mused about the way letter writing had changed (was more informal, not so literate and beautiful to read; yet still so entertaining and compelling). We looked at what kind of women could have written letters in the 1700’s (highly educated, women of means) versus today (where nearly every girl in America can read and write and type).

It was a rich, interesting, interest-generated conversation. Her resistance to history had crumbled. As we pulled into the driveway, she said, “It’s so funny. I thought I didn’t like history. But I really do.”

All I could think was, she hadn’t had the right lens for viewing it.

I’m glad that she was our fifth child. It made it easier to trust the process and to “get out of the way.”

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9 Responses to “The lens matters”

  1. Gayle says:

    This is such a great way to approach history! It has given me some ideas for next fall’s history lessons. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Kay says:

    A fantastic idea!
    Take a look at The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, it’s power is still overwhelming to me.

  3. Love this! I’ve been thinking of getting a few books of letters to peruse this summer – odd coincidence.

    It’s so true that we all have to find our own path to knowledge and through knowledge. It’s also true that it is such a leap of faith to trust the process. I believe that half the work of homeschooling parents is to learn to let go of fear. It’s hard work, too.

    I don’t know what path my children are treading, but it is their path and it is right for them.

  4. Wow — wonderful! Caitrin may enjoy letters written between Jane and Cassandra Austen, and the letters of Louisa May Alcott are also wonderful. Letters capture a time period so vividly — they are a wonderful way to study history in a uniquely personal way. Love her “lens” — letters have always been a favorite topic of mine. I love writing notes and letters on heavy cream paper with sepia ink and a dip pen — the words flow easier, somehow, when one takes the time to write slowly and beautifully (penmanship-wise). Although e-mails are fun and practical, there’s just something about the “art” of letter writing.

  5. Mary K says:

    What a wonderful post. My daughter loves history but she also has a specific historical lens that has included books of letters, many biographies about women and historical fiction. During this past year she has enjoyed historical books on every day things including Salt a World History, Jewels A Secret History, Color a Natural History of Palette and currently The Pencil : A History of Design and Circumstance . Who would have thought one could learn so much outside a history textbook.:)

  6. Mary K says:

    I just got a copy of Women’s Letters from the library today. My daughter was so excited she made me make a special trip to the library. She loves it!!! Thanks for sharing about the book!

  7. Poiema says:

    I knew when I read this that my daughter (age 16) would love this book. My used copy has already arrived and I can’t put it down! Love the idea of writing our own letters, using this book as inspiration. What a great project! thank you for sharing this.

  8. WiccanWoman says:

    I stumbled upon you, and this entry, while doing something totally unrelated… and am so happy I did. I’d like to recommend this book for your daughter:

    My husband found it somewhere for me, for a dollar, and bought it on a whim. I enjoyed it very much.

    Please contact me, as I’d like to know if you/your daughter know about The Red Tent movement, the education, acceptance and involvement of women/girls in each others lives. 🙂

  9. Julie Bogart says:

    How cool! Thank you.