American Sign Language

0CCA6B49-EC67-45D9-AFB2-D0AB23A495BBAbout a third of the students in the first aid and CPR course we completed over the summer were, as my older daughter and I are, employed by schools. The instructor remarked that, like the certification we earned that afternoon, basic ASL skills are also a terrific asset to educators, both in emergency situations and in the classroom. Naturally, then, when the local college posted a fall course schedule that included a four-semester sequence of ASL classes, it seemed like one of those serendipity / synthesis / synchronicity moments, and we enrolled.

The required text for the class is A Basic Course in American Sign Language; I picked up the optional workbook and DVDs from the series, too. Knowing that we appreciate having several delivery options when we study, my younger daughter, who began learning ASL from a college friend last year, recommended Sign School (which her friend played a large role in developing) and the American Sign Language Dictionary app.

While my daughters use their skills regularly, the older in her work and the younger to communicate with her friend, my husband (who also decided to take the class) and I don’t have an immediate need for ASL. Both of us have been teaching fingerspelling, however: he to his colleagues and I to my students. I have also taught my students several signs, including AWESOME, SURPRISED, and INTERESTING.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but the fact that, even now, we are still engaged in a version of the family-centered learning project is so motivating. Bonus: My study group lives with me or is only a FaceTime call away!

From the archives

The following was originally written more than a decade ago in response to a post on a homeschooling board; it was then reshaped and published to my old site. The original poster asked about managing her child’s attitude toward schoolwork. She was having difficulty finishing lessons each week and felt they were falling behind. This repost (with minor edits) is provided at A.K.’s request.

It all begins with me.
Most of the time when things “break bad” here (and they do; not often, but they do), it’s more about me than about anyone else. When the work is taking forever to complete, when the quality is less than expected, when enthusiasm has waned, etc., I don’t need to look much further than the example I’ve been setting. Have I been on-task? Have I been doing my job(s) with attention to detail? Have I conveyed my love of the subject and of the family-centered learning project? Or have I been dealing with our accountant in a series of longwinded telephone calls? Spending twenty extra minutes on the treadmill? Checking email or blogging? Planning activities for next week, month, or year when we haven’t completed the activities for this week, month, or year? (Actually, I gave up that last bit during year one of this adventure. One of the first hard lessons I learned about home education is that my time is best spent not on elaborate lesson plans (no matter how ingenious, inventive, or inspiring to other hs-ing mothers), thumbing through catalogues, drafting curriculum wishlists, or bouncing from one resource to another but on the simple task of focusing on the moment we’re in. It has saved me years of angst and wasted time, talent, and treasure, that lesson has.)

Don’t misunderstand. I think that it’s important that we parent-educators tend to our needs, but I also think it’s critical that we do it on our own time. (For me, that’s in the wee, small hours of the morn’ or the late evening hours after they head to bed or, sometimes, during the day on “free” days (one benefit of year-round studies).) When I forget this self-mandate (e.g., when I take a call during lesson time or blog while the kids are laboring over math sheets), I send the following mixed message: Leading the family-centered learning project is my first and most important job — except when I want to do something else. Make that mistake too many times, and it’s really no wonder when the youngest dallies over a sheet she previously needed only thirty minutes to complete for three, four times longer than that; no wonder that they’re feeling recalcitrant, unmotivated; no wonder our interactions are laced with discontent.

Lest you or someone else click away in anger, note that this is not a criticism of any sort. I don’t know how you approach your work. You asked how to reach your child’s heart, though; I can only tell you how I reach my own children’s hearts and minds:

With as much consistency as possible, I model the behavior and standards I want the kids to maintain.

And I’ve been doing that since we began this adventure.

By necessity, this means I haven’t adopted then abandoned multiple approaches to parenting or learning. It means that I decided on a fairly certain course early on, a course chosen to match my personality and goals well.

And I’ve stuck with it.

There is an unmistakable rhythm to our days, a dance of daily routines and rituals that guide this family’s life, and everyone sways to the silent music

…because it has been playing since they they arrived.

Sure, there’s spontaneity. And fun. Lots of it. Surprise. Humor. Laughter. But that’s the harmony. The melody is one of clearly stated goals and plenty of examples of how to achieve them.

We parent-educators love to point out that the benefit of homeschooling is that we can tailor the curriculum and our approach to our students’ needs. I suspect, however, that there is a point at which this becomes too much of a good thing. Clearly, when an elementary school student fails to understand that his or her job is to play and learn and study and grow (and to do so without a big fuss), he or she needs less “heart talk” and more “stern talk” — mixed with a healthy dose of the teacher modeling the same level of commitment to task.

What is “stern talk”? It might look something like this: Quite simply, education is the law here; as in, parents must provide their children with an education. If my child isn’t learning (barring some sort of organic issue), we are not complying with the law. If I am doing my part (check), that leaves you, the child. You must do your part. In this house, that means that the following activities must be completed on a daily (weekly, monthly, annual) basis. Until we’re in compliance, we will skip the following activities: [insert favorite programs, extracurriculars here].

I’m going to circle back to my original premise: It all begins with the parent-educator. Anger and sadness are one response to a recalcitrant student. Humor is another approach. But, in the end, unwavering purposefulness may be the best choice, and that’s hard to achieve if we haven’t done the hard work of laying out our own courses. As I said, this is not a criticism but an observation based on my teaching and parenting experiences: Things work best when I work best.

“Genius by any definition is rare.”

The May 1960 edition of Horizon: A Magazine of the Arts featured an article by Harold G. McCurdy, author of The Personality of Shakespeare: A Venture in Psychological Method (1953) and then professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina. “The Childhood Pattern of Genius,” based on a (presumably longer and more scholarly) paper first published in the Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society and later in a report of the Smithsonian Institution, has enjoyed a bit of fame more than five decades after its publication because its concluding paragraph serves as a sort of “So there!” response to queries — both implied and expressed — about the methods and motives of home educators.

Not content to discuss a potentially truncated and/or inaccurate transcript of the quote, I tracked down a copy of the magazine, a hard-bound gem of a publication that includes such delights as an image of the Bed of Ware (so famous, apparently, that it merited mention in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night) in a piece about civilization’s best beds; “An Eastern Art Goes Western,” James A. Michener’s exploration of traditional Japanese wood block complemented by numerous (and gorgeous) full-color images; and mention of Burnham’s “White City” of 1893 in an article about the 1964 Fair.

McCurdy writes:

In summary, the present survey of biographical information on a sample of twenty men of genius suggests that the typical developmental pattern includes as important aspects: (1) a high degree of attention focused upon the child by parents and other adults, expressed in intensive educational measures and, usually, abundant love; (2) isolation from other children, especially outside the family; and (3) a rich efflorescence of fantasy as a reaction to the preceding conditions. It might be remarked that the mass education of our public school system is, in its way, a vast experiment on the effect of reducing all three factors to a minimum; accordingly, it should tend to suppress the occurrence of genius.

McCurdy’s “twenty men of genius” included such notables as John Stuart Mill, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Blaise Pascal, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Voltaire, John Quincy Adams, and William Pit, and the writer maintains that his “brief sketches” of their lives

confirm the rule that children of genius are exposed to significantly great amounts of intellectual stimulation by adults and experience very restricted contacts with other children of their own age. Nor should we overlook the fact that books themselves, to which these children were so much attached, are representatives of the adult world. […] Books extend the boundaries of the adult empire.

My first thought after reading the article was, Were there no women of genius? And my second? What a dubious business this is, appropriating a fifty-five-year-old study about genius as a validation of home education. Certainly, McCurdy notes that mass education “is, in its way, a vast experiment on the effect of reducing” the important aspects of the childhood pattern of genius, but he also contends that “Genius by any definition is rare.”

Indeed, it is.