I’ve never discussed Jared Diamond in a pool before. This is a first.
I’ve led discussion groups on Diamond articles and books in grad school courses; I’ve taught his works during my time as an anthropology professor. I have a definite troika of human anthropological and sociological authors I love to talk about: Gould, Diamond, and Dawkins. I’ve reviewed Diamond’s core arguments on a train; I have read his latest on a plane. I have read and discussed Diamond here and there, as Seuss would continue , but until today, I couldn’t say I’d discussed him everywhere.
Now, I have. And I’m grateful for it.
The sun floods the rec center pool with flickering light as E and I float lazily around the current river, a thousand yards of lap swimming in the bag, and she’s all about the Industrial Revolution today – how it occurred, what factors made it revolutionary, and whether we, as a species, were happy with the tradeoff made from agricultural life. I let her get herself worked up about the inherent superiority of farm life before I spring the tenets of Diamond’s ‘The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race’ on her. She’s flabbergasted – just as my freshmen were – and we’re off and running. Around and around the current river we go, E taking obvious breaks from the conversation to float on her back and contemplate what we’re talking about.
I’m grateful for the conversation. It’s been too long since I got to have an enthused, energized discussion on this subject, and while I’d hoped to see Ellie take an interest in the Troika at some point, I’m definitely excited that it’s taking place at age nine. They’ve all become much more than children to me as we’ve gone along on our gifted/homeschooling voyage. They’ve become co-conspirators, research partners, songwriting collaborators, dreamers of shared dreams.
I’m grateful for that, too. And that got me to thinking about all of the other things I’m grateful for.
I’m grateful for the unprecedented access to technology and learning tools that we have. I hate to use words like impossible to describe homeschooling during the 20th century; plenty of kids were homeschooled during the 1900s and did just fine. But the fact that we can learn algebra by dragging mathematical terms around under our fingers, and use a slow loris eating a rice ball as a jumping-off point for studying the strepsirrhine – haplorhine divergence, and build wikis to contain and interconnect our knowledge, is simply amazing. We can learn where it makes sense to learn, whether that’s over beignets or beneath a whale skeleton, and we can keep all of those amazing tools under our fingertips. I’m grateful for that.
I’m grateful that we belong to a school district that has never once said anything but ‘we’ll work with you on that.’ There’s a certain tension that tends to (unfortunately) build between homeschooling and traditional schooling, and sometimes we’re as guilty of that as the next homeschooling family. Our kids need different forms of schooling, for different reasons, and there have been many, many moments during which I would not have blamed our GT school for gently informing us that we’d need to go elsewhere to have our laundry list of needs met. They never have; it’s been an atmosphere of positive, partnered collegiality since H and E began kindergarten.
I’m grateful that Kathy and I somehow managed to build a life – by a strange combination of design and accident – that’s virtually ideal for housing a homeschooling family. K wanted a part-time medical practice that had built-in flexibility – and she put in the time and effort, for over a decade, to build the skills and company credibility to go and do just that. When I started my first consulting business in 1997, I wasn’t thinking down the road to homeschooling, but it’s turned out to be an excellent vehicle for both my career development and making the time to educate our kids the way we think they need to be taught.
I’m grateful that we have kids who don’t think it’s strange to be doing what we’re doing. They could; they could elect to bag this at any time and just go become locker-combination-managing, gum-chewing middle schoolers, plowing through their doughy heap of traditional work, leaving behind the wikis and the swap-writing and the occasional tears that come with above-level math. They could. But they don’t. They’ve become voyagers – equally comfortable at sea and on land, as it were – and I’m so very, very proud that they have. Voyaging is a mighty skill to acquire, one I can’t help but think is going to be very important to them in the future.
It’s a time of year when, for many of us, it’s easy to lose sight of the reasons for gratitude. Most of us are coming up on a week off from traditional school for the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S. That might mean we’re continuing to homeschool right up until the Macy’s balloons get loosed on the New York City skyline, or that we’re just bagging the week to let them daydream and read (that would be us, by the way). But either way, we’re wrapping up our third month of homeschooling this year. That’s a point where it’s easy to slump, exhausted, onto the nearest upholstered surface and ponder whether – perhaps – gifted-child parenting maybe wasn’t supposed to be easier than this. It’s easy to forget the immensity of the opportunity before us – the opportunity to change a gifted child’s entire outlook on life, and the skills and knowledge that child will grow up to use. And maybe that’s what I’m most grateful for as we put the books away and tidy up the mountain of mathematical scratch paper for the week to come: a moment to catch my breath, and see the bigger picture, while I float lazily through rippling waves of light with my daughter, talking Diamond in the sun.
Dave Mayer posts regularly with his wife, Kathy, on Chasing Hollyfeld.