Monday, July 21, 2008

The Most Annoying Book I have ever Enjoyed

Someone, somewhere suggested The Call to Brilliance by Resa Steindel Brown as an interesting read, and it is. It's also an aggravating read. An odd combination of education memoir mixed with a collection of the author's favorite quotes, the book would have benefited from a good strict editor. Still, it's worth reading for the inspirational story it tells, though the quotes seem perfunctory more often than not.

The best part of the book is a personal story of one family's educational journey. The author explores, outlines and discusses her own education (including an anecdote from her experience at the always-amusing UC Berkeley), setting us up for the tale of her search for a real education for her children. She continues the story with detailed descriptions of how she facilitated the education of her children, often in unusual ways. She tries different schools, clearly frustrated with one-size-fits-all educational models, with innovative-sounding schools that fail to follow their own foundational theories, and with teachers who just don't get her child's unique way of learning. She tries homeschooling, and homeschooling other people's children, and in the end, settles on a sort of start-up school with a homeschooling flavor. The results are spectacular. We follow her three children from childhood to advanced university degrees and beyond, and we meet three wonderfully whole people emerging from their adventure.

The frustrating parts of the book were long quotes from all sorts of sources, from educational theorists (some traditional, like Maria Montessori), self-help gurus (like Tony Robbins), and even the Dalai Lama (who will be in Aspen this weekend--Libby is hoping to catch a glimpse ;)). I tried--I really did try--to read through all the quotes and establish some kind of connection to what was happening in the narrative part of the book. I failed often, and often failed horribly. Occasionally, the quotes fit nicely; but I soon learned to recognize when a quote was interfering with the pace of the narrative, or simply going nowhere, and skipped it. In the end, what I most wanted to do was take a pair of scissors to the book, excise all of the irrelevant quotes, and paste it all back together. Certainly, it would make the book more readable, so skip the quotes and get through the very valuable story, which loses nothing without them; you can always return to the quotes later.

Brown insists throughout the book that all children are brilliant, and she makes her case well. And her story of search and discovery will resound with most homeschooling parents; The Call to Brilliance is similar to the stories we each have--stories of helping our children become the people they are intended to become, despite "learning disabilities" or those insidious labels that institutional schools use to explain away differences in individuals. The specifics of Brown's story may help some families look beyond schools, beyond curriculum providers and text-books, and beyond desks and tests to find that elusive "better way" to facilitate the education of their children. It is a book which will certainly inspire every parent who reads it. And there is even some dim hope that those outside the world of homeschooling will take a closer look at alternatives to institutional education, considering the details of this story and of our own stories as we tell them, not as unusual exceptions, but as extraordinary norms. Someday, someday soon, I hope, when a child says, "I homeschool," the world will come to expect and recognize brilliance.

ETA (LOL!!): I totally ruined the spelling of the Dalai Lama's title...fixed now. How delightfully embarrassing. ;) But brilliance has nothing to do with spelling, I'm sure.

1 comment:

stef said...

Thanks so much for this review, Macbeth!! It's still on my "next" list, but now I have a bit of an idea what to expect, it's a bit further down LOL ;D