Saturday, December 15, 2007

School is still quite tedious

I got into this long conversation with my daughter a couple of days ago about etymology. We were both stalling because she was in the middle of her spelling homework, and neither of us is wild about it. I was testing her on the spelling of "house," which she had spelled "howse." For some reason, we decided to look it up in the OED, which I discovered I could no longer read without the magnifying glass that had been included with the compact version you used to be able to get through the Book-of-the-Month Club as your free gift if you agreed to order 4 or 5 more books over the course of the year. Which is, of course, why my grad school roommate and I decided to join the BOTMC.

Prior to the 16th century, "house" was actually spelled "howse" as a variation. Edith was extraordinarily pleased by this. A lot of the phonetic spellings she uses (she's 7 and they've allowed this at school for years, which seems confusing to me) are actually old variants of English spelling.

She's been taking French, so we ended up talking about the influence of French on English words and spelling. "Question" was one of her spelling words. We talked about the Norman Conquest and were side-tracked by the Battle of Agincourt, an event which took place centuries later--I'm not sure how we got there. She was very amused by the Middle English pronunciation of "knight."

We took Beowulf down from the shelf, and I showed her what Old English looked like, and we ID'd some words that looked similar to their modern English counterparts (I have an en face edition). We then went through her "word wall" list, and I helped her identify words with roots in the Germanic languages--i.e., very old words in English--and we ID'd words with roots in French and Latin.

She was much more enthusiastic about this than about any of her other homework. It was the best time I've had in a long time. She seems very bright, with the capacity to grasp high-level and abstract concepts, assimilating them and asking questions. She seems generally bored with most of her homework--I remember being bored with school work at her age. Everything was just so tedious, and there were so many other interesting concepts to discuss.

She really can't spell, though, but I have to wonder how much that matters. I'm not sure how helpful it is to let them use phonetic spelling for several years (K-2), let them habituate to certain spellings and usages, and then start testing them on spelling things "correctly." Basically, she's gotten used to writing and thinking expansively, and now she's being pestered somewhat with details. Like my husband, she's not really a detail-oriented personality. Making her focus on details just seems cruel when she seems capable of so much more. And now the County is testing them on details, rather than on their capacity to really think independently.

I really wish I had the capability to choose an education better tailored to each of my kids. If I could afford it, I would home-school them.

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