27 September 2014


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.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
by E.L. Konigsburg

MixedUpFilesMrsBasilFrankweiler Koningsburg. . . 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.

Before you plan your own getaway, please note that this fountain is no longer there.
(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."

Oh, amen!

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?

* * * * *

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


Sheila said...

Oh, I *loved* this book as a kid! For the same reason as the last one -- the idea of running away and living on my own was very tempting. And not because my life was that restrictive, because it wasn't -- I spent whole days up in my treehouse. But a taste of freedom just leaves you wanting more. I still have journals with sketches of bigger and better treehouses so that I could move out of the family home and into my tree for good.

The only exhibit I even remember seeing as a kid, I remember because I copied it into my notebook. It's a John Singer Sargent painting of a bride getting ready for her wedding, with different family members around helping her out. Her grandfather sits near her in a wheelchair with her veil in his lap. I don't know why I found it so striking .... and I also never wrote down the title of the painting, so I can't show it to you.

My favorite unschooly book of all time is Swallows and Amazons. Ever read it? The kids ask their mother to ask their father, by telegram, if they can sail to the island near their lakehouse and camp there for a solid week .... and his answer is,

I can imagine giving my kids the same answer. I think I would rather my kids face some small risk of death than grow up helpless. Most American parents, it seems, don't feel the same.

Enbrethiliel said...


From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is one of my ALL-TIME FAVOURITES!!! =D Until I discovered it, I thought all books were basically the same--the way all juvenile series and other "branded" books are basically the same. =P After I read it, well, there was no more holding me back!

I haven't read Swallows and Amazons yet, but after your description, I'm definitely going to! Well, someday. I do appreciate good recommendations, but it takes me forever to get to them.

The most memorable exhibit I ever viewed as a child was all about DINOSAURS! =D The bones weren't real, though. They were life-sized plaster models of dinosaur skeletons. LOL! I didn't mind too much even after I figured it out: I loved feeling really small and awed.

love the girls said...

I was looking for a book to listen to, and now I have two.

While it's no longer even safe today to let my children wander more than a block or two from my home, when I was in grade school my mother would occasionally drop us, (a friend and myself), off in the morning at the various civic centers where we would spend the day wandering about exploring seeing the sites.

And while they all had their charms, the most memorable would be the polar bear exhibit in 5th grade watching a bear run down and leisurely consume a zoo keeper.

Fortunately for zoo keepers childhood imaginings rarely occur. And so the most memorable is perhaps the disconcerting horror that the shrunken heads on display at the museum are actual men.

It's an exhibit I still find ghastly, albeit more dignifies than those other poor souls who donated their bodies to science now pumped full of plastic and on similar display.

Enbrethiliel said...


You're welcome! =D Let me know if Claudia Kincaid joins the ranks of Anne Shirley and Violet Baudelaire in your mind.

While I also believe in letting children have the freedom to explore the world independently and to test their limits, I see the world of difference between the danger of Laura Ingalls' roaring Plum Creek and the dangers of modern cities. =(

Entropy said...

We just read this book at our coop!

Mrs. F's quote reminds me of Melissa Wiley's Tidal Homeschooling explanation (http://melissawiley.com/tidal-homeschooling/).

Like bread, we need time to rest and rise!

I've loved these Unschooling locations!

Enbrethiliel said...


I read Melissa Wiley's essay a while ago, and liked it mostly because it vindicated what I had noticed about my own learning. LOL! But I also feel this way about vacations: I like having enough time to enjoy a new place without feeling pressured to experience something every minute.

And of course I'm glad that you enjoyed the series. =)