Locus Focus: Take One Hundred and Ten!
Today we get to graduate from the Unschooling Challenge . . . but not before we get our big twist! (Yes, a twist. Not a diploma. Trust me: it's better this way.) So far, all the settings that I've featured have been "organic," in the sense that no one changed anything about them to make them safer for children or otherwise "age-appropriate." But today, we visit a completely controlled environment that still managed to be optimal for learning.
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
by E.L. Konigsburg
. . . Claudia informed Jamie that they should take advantage of the wonderful opportunity they had to learn and to study. No other children in all the world since the world began had had such an opportunity. So she set forth for herself and for her brother the task of learning everything about the museum. One thing at a time. (Claudia probably didn't realise that the museum has over 365,000 works of art. Even if she had, she could not have been convinced that learning everything about everything was not possible; her ambitions were as enormous and as multi-directional as the museum itself.) Every day they would pick a different gallery about which they would learn everything. He could pick first. She would pick second; he, third; and so on. Just like the television schedule at home. Jamie considered learning something every day outrageous. It was not only outrageous; it was unnecessary. Claudia simply did not know how to escape.
You may not be too crazy about letting children row themselves to river barges, or round up cattle and take them to market, or live on their own in the wilderness, but surely everyone can agree that going to a museum is educational? Heck, even those awful schools organise field trips to them! =P But when one of my favourite brother-and-sister teams, Claudia and Jamie Kincaid, take their own trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it is entirely on their own initiative and under their own power. They are running away from home, you see--a kind of rite of passage that children must do for themselves. And so the entire first chapter, in which Claudia organises their escape, is a triumph of unschooling! If I still believed in marks, I'd give it an A+!
If Jamie had been in charge of the plans, the Kincaids would have run off to the woods, like Sam Gribley in last week's setting, and learned all about fire and shelter and survival. But Claudia prefers to run away in comfort and so she picks a place where she will get to sleep in a bed and have access to indoor plumbing. The bed just happens to be an ornate four-poster from the sixteenth century (where someone was allegedly murdered!) and the indoor plumbing is public restrooms and the elegant restaurant fountain.
(Yes, that breaks my heart, too.)
Now, there are few rites of passage as effective as testing ourselves against nature, and there is no education more essential than learning to fit into our communities and to add value to them . . . but gosh, can high culture leave us breathless or what? After crude shelters turn into walled cities, and we are able to spare time for leisure and resources for beauty, we can realise as a culture that there is more to the world than just bare facts and practical knowledge. And everything that follows from this realisation can become part of the heritage that we leave to future generations, which can tell them who we were and who they are.
Claudia doesn't quite fulfill her ambitious goal to learn absolutely everything about the museum. (Oh, dear. I hope that wasn't a spoiler! LOL!) But she does come across One Big Thing that challenges her to solve a mystery, teaches her something about history and art, and most importantly, changes her from the inside out when she rises to the challenge. And she meets a mentor who gives a wonderfully unschooley answer to the schooley idea that we must constantly be stuffing our heads full of new things . . .
. . . "I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside of you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them but never really feel anything with them. It's hollow."
Before I officially declare us done with Unschools, I want to give two Honourable Mentions: first, to the Wilder Family's Farm in Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which would have been a shoo-in if I hadn't already featured the novel in my Little House readalong; and to Plumfield in Little Men by Louisa May Alcott, which is a great literary example of schooling and unschooling going hand-in-hand.
Question of the Week: What is the most memorable exhibit you ever viewed as a child?
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Here the Unschooling Challenge ends at last! Thanks a lot for participating. Our next theme, for the two months that I traditionally reserve for Horror is Return to Faerieland. For faerie tales are often the first taste of Horror that many children get! The next four settings are going to be from novels or films that have retold traditional and well-known faerie tales. If this is a genre that you enjoy, I hope that you will also link up a post and share a setting that you love with us! =)
Image Sources: a) From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, b) The Metropolitan Museum of Art's restaurant fountain