Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Looking Backward: My Twenty-Five Years as a Homeschooling Mother

I finished reading Joyce Swann’s book, Looking Backward: My Twenty-Five Years as a Homeschooling Mother today.  My grandmother recommended it to me several days ago, and I wasted no time in starting it.  She is a friend of Joyce’s, and my mom knew the Swann family when she was a teenager living in El Paso, Texas.

Each of the Swann children earned Master’s degrees as teenagers – from home.  In fact, it was Joyce’s oldest daughter Alexandra who wrote No Regrets:How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen – a book that inspired me years ago and gave me the first inkling that one did not have to be on campus to earn a college degree.

Many parents see their homeschooling duties end when their students finish high school, but Joyce Swann taught her children all the way through graduate school.  She read every textbook her children were assigned and taught herself the material so she could effectively teach her children.  It is obvious Joyce was and is a highly diligent individual who drove herself to accomplish great things.  Homeschooling was her vocation, and she learned there was no shame in focusing on her children instead of working in the church, holding another job, or doing anything else that would distract her from what was her God-given responsibility.

The Swann family took a rigid, highly scheduled approach to their schooling.  It was fascinating to read about the way they ordered their days and accomplished school and household tasks.  She was basically running a little school in her home, and that school was very separate from the rest of her children's lives.  It definitely worked for their family and there is much to glean from her experiences even if I do not plan on fully modeling my own little school after hers.  First of all, that would be impossible: I am not (and could never be) Joyce Swann.  Trying to be just like her would most likely result in being a less than successful me.  Our personalities are very different from each other, and we have been shaped by different families and situations.

Personally, I desire more flexibility and personalization of the learning process.  If Zachary and I have more than one child, it is my hope that each of them will be able to study in a way that suits their own pace, learning style, and interests.  I feel they do not need to necessarily read the same books (though they might) or graduate in the same way or at the same age (though they could).

Having said all that, I admire Joyce Swann and acknowledge her wisdom, dedication, and love of the Lord Jesus Christ.  She is a pioneer in the homeschool movement and went years without meeting others families who taught their children at home.  Her primary goal was to be a good steward of her children and train them to be faithful followers of Christ.  She struggled physically and spiritually at times, but she trusted her life and the lives of her children to her Heavenly Father.  When others failed her, she learned to lean on the One who would never leave her.

There are several things that encouraged me from her story.

First, homeschooling a large family does not entail chaos. It is still possible to maintain a clean and tidy home.

Second, young children are capable of more than our modern culture gives them credit for.

Third, you do not need complicated or expensive curriculum to teach your children.

Fourth, it is possible to be directly involved with the individual studies of children in even large families.

Fifth, homeschooling may be simple, but it is not easy.  With God’s help, I can develop the self-control needed to be a successful homeschooling mom.

I am glad I read this, and it may be time I reread Alexandra's book.

Anna at Four Months

These are almost a month late; I guess I haven't posted photos in a while.  Anna is four months old in these (she is almost five months old now).

Friday, August 24, 2012

Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl

Finally, a feel good read!  After the disasters of the Titanic and the Dust Bowl, I intentionally set out to find a book I could fully enjoy.  I found it in Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl by Carol Bodensteiner.

What a breath of fresh air -- and Iowa fresh air at that.  I love Iowa.  Both of my grandmothers were born there, and, like the author, my Grandma Jan grew up on a dairy farm.  Bodensteiner is about a decade younger than my grandmother, and her book includes childhood memories mostly from the 1950's. Still, many of her experiences reminded me of stories I have heard from my grandmother and the voice recordings from my great grandmother (which I am currently editing and preparing for my family history).

My grandmother had housework, cooking, 4H activities, etc. in common with the author.  Of particular interest to me were the details of farm chores on a family run dairy farm.  My great grandparents Arthur and Irene Beem ran a dairy farm during this same time and were even the highest producers in Iowa for a few years.

Some of my own Iowa farm people: including three generations of my family.
I had the great privilege of visiting the farm before it was sold out of the family, and those memories will remain dear to me for the rest of my life.  I may not be an actual Iowa girl, but I love Iowa all the same.  This book helped me connect even more with my roots.

Do you need to have a personal interest in Iowa or dairy farming to enjoy this book?  I don't think so.  The childhood memories are funny, entertaining, and all about growing up and taking on more responsibility joyfully.  I had to pace myself or the pleasure of reading this book would have been over too soon.

When the most distressing part of a story is when an almost 12 year old girl finds out Santa Claus isn't real, life can't be all that bad.  It was a bitterly disillusioning moment in the author's life and only compounded my resolve to teach Anna the joy of Christmas WITHOUT the deception of Santa Claus.  Jesus is more than enough to celebrate!  Besides the Santa Claus issue, I would give Bodensteiner's parents an A+ in parenting.

If you are anything like me, you will love this book!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl

I came across this book by Timothy Egan while looking for a new book to borrow for my Kindle.  Having just read about the Titanic, you would think I would want something lighter, but no, I was once again drawn to the history section.

As an Oklahoman, the Dust Bowl is part of my history -- even though none of my family lived in the affected areas.  Actually, my biggest connection to the region was when my mom and I were stranded in the Texas panhandle towns of Miami and Pampa with car trouble over two miserable June days in 2010.  Did I never blog about that?  I meant to, but I guess I didn't got to it.

Anyway, my family has its own Depression era stories, but I don't think any of them can compare to the torture suffered by the victims of the Dust Bowl.  Egan's book is long and painful to read, but I don't think I could have understood this part of American history so well without reading it.

I felt a sense of foreboding when (knowing what was to come) the plains were plowed at a reckless speed by needy families misled into thinking that "rain follows the plow."  I was furious when the only people who had money in one Texas town were the prostitutes.  I cried when an Oklahoma baby -- barely a year old -- succumbed to dust pneumonia even though her mother had done everything in her power to keep the swirling, penetrating dirt from the infant.  Of all the deaths, that one hurt me the most, but there were others.  Droves fled the plains, but many others stayed -- knowing there was nowhere for them to go.  At least at home in the dust they had dignity among people who understood their plight.  Those who left where branded "Okies" and worse than the dirt they shook from their clothes.

Reading this book, I could not escape one startling realization; the government stepped in and "saved" thousands of people from starvation thereby creating a norm of dependence upon government assistance, but the government was at fault more than anything else.

The government was hailed as the hero by beaten down, starving farmers who resorted to eating pickled tumbleweed, but without the government's faulty policies, the Dust Bowl may never have happened.  The land was never meant to be used as it was.  The government encouraged farmers to plow the plains en masse, ripping apart the the protective carpet of hardy grasses and exposing miles upon miles of exposed soil left to the mercy of the wind.  The Dust Bowl was not a weather phenomenon, it was man made.

I did not enjoy this book, but I am glad I read it.  I think more people should. Perhaps then our nation would have the foresight and understanding needed to support limited government: one that does not mastermind situations where it is forced to play both the villain and hero.  It is expensive and deadly.

When I think of that young mother and father who lost their precious baby girl to a painful disease caused by breathing dirt month after month, dying with ribs broken by coughing, I am somber.  Many of the victims of the Dust Bowl were young and hopeful just like me.  I have been so blessed, and I thank God that my own little Anna does not have to suffer like those poor children only eighty years ago.