Monday, September 20, 2010

Thinking Carefully

Last year Max joined a group that uses the Thomas Jefferson Education methods. It wasn't my first experience with this philosophy but it was my first direct experience. I can't say that I read much into the literature, but that's mostly because it seemed so in line with how I already approach our homeschooling, so reading all those many many books (not to mention purchasing all those books) seemed rather, err, redundant (not to mention expensive). But this year he joined a study group that goes further into the whole philosophy and requires the student (as opposed to me, the parent) to be prepared to discuss theories and ideas. So we invested in the Publishing Empire, oops, I mean, we bought some of the books.

While I am not a person to jump on homeschooling bandwagons, I quite like the TJEd philosophy, which stresses the idea of personal responsibility in ways I can appreciate as a parent. It's particularly applicable for that dangling-on-the-edge-of-adulthood phase of one's life, when one might be more inclined to encourage lazy brain patterns and spend one's time at evening debaucheries (something at which I have quite a bit of experience). So while I might joke about funding someone else's Hawaiian holiday, I think this whole experience might be just the thing Max needs.

Take today for example. One of the assignments was a writing assignment: What is your responsibility to Canada?

Max's initial response was typical silly teen boy: "Huh?"

His second response was only slightly more thoughtful: "Um, be a good citizen - obey laws, help people out?"

I sighed a bit, but it had all the hallmarks of becoming a Really Useful Conversation so I stuck it out. Besides, in some ways I was curious. We homeschooling mothers always think we're encouraging critical thinking skills in our kids but I'm sure most of us wonder how far our efforts have penetrated. I know I do. Frequently. Particularly with my charming teen son.

So I opened with my first salvo - it's an oldie but a goodie.

"What is a citizen? What does the word mean?" I asked. "Look in the OED or the etymological dictionary."

It was then his turn to sigh, because he hates it when I say that. I think he'd like it if I went and got the OED* and opened it up for him, but I never do. Besides, this way it reminds him where we keep the OED and the etymological dictionaries. Charming motherly stealth methods we can all relate to, right?

So it was that Max looked up the word CITIZEN. And had to go a little deeper with his thinking, which isn't such a bad thing for a thirteen year old. We spent a long meandering afternoon, actually, discussing the concept of citizenship.

Which along the way led us into history: Athenian democracy, the Latin word CIVIS, who voted way back then, who didn't, and what it meant to be a good citizen, not to mention who could be a citizen. Which also led us into theories around personal responsibility in ways I won't labour over, but let's just say that it did turn out to be a Really Useful Conversation after all.

* Oxford English Dictionary The only dictionary there is, really.

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