Thursday, January 12, 2012

I Was a 5th Grade Unschooler

Problem was, I went to school.

This past Christmas, my mother brought over a pile of my childhood stuff, and my 5th grade report card was in there.  I was in a gifted program, but you would not know it from my grades:  I got a C in literature.  Is that possible?  It seemed unlikely that I deserved it, because most of what I recall from 5th grade was literature (and that dismal sewing class where I made a garment that my girls refer to as "that dress-thing").  Even French class was literature; our teacher read Les Miserables aloud to us.  In French, bien s├╗r.

I recall spending hours at my best friend's house reading and talking about books.  We read and reread Narnia and Little House, drawing pictures and maps, and affirming each other in choosing "Peter" or "Laura" for the names of our yet-unborn children.  I walked to school most mornings, uphill in both directions (there was a hill between home and school), as the sun rose on frosty winter mornings, singing Tirian's marching song in my head as I stomped through snow.  Once that year I brought The Last Battle to Symphony Hall and read during Seiji Ozawa's inaugural season, while the Boston Symphony played Flight of the Bumblebee and Bolero.  It was a school trip, and someone ratted me out to the teacher for reading, so I know she knew I was reading.

As a class, we read Animal Farm, and chanted "Four legs good; two legs bad" together, until someone screamed "two legs better" and we all laughed.  Each student was assigned a Newbery Award book, and each gave a presentation to the class.  We cried as Lori described the possessed sister in The Bronze Bow.  We all longed to hear the Heynal with its broken note when Mark told us about The Trumpeter of Krakow.  When Richard reenacted the scene with molten silver spilling over Johnny Tremain's hand, we all stared in amazement at his talent, until we discovered that Richard had actually fainted, and had to be taken away by ambulance (he was fine, and returned to school the next day).  After everyone had given a presentation, we all traded books until everyone had read through the list.

During a unit on pirates, we each put on a puppet show based on the life of a real sea raider.  I chose Captain "Red Legs" Greaves, a pirate with a heart of gold, who was fleeing captivity when he joined a band of bloodthirsty buccaneers.  We watched the 6th graders' performance of The Taming of the Shrew, and sang "Brush up your Shakespeare" in the schoolyard.  And we wrote our own (rather bad, I'm afraid) plays based on classroom shenanigans, like the time the bus broke down on the way to Old Sturbridge Village, and John put a toad down Mary's shirt as we waited by the side of the road for a replacement bus.  Gosh, it should have been a better play, with material like that.

So, why was my grade so mediocre?  We were required to write weekly book reports, and I simply didn't bother to write them.  To this day, I find book reports intrusive, as well as formulaic and dull, and I never require them of my children.   Like many unschoolers, we read and talk about books, sharing quotations, passages and impressions.  When they were younger, my kids made maps and invented their own stories.  They challenged each other with impromptu trivia quizzes.  We took field trips to visit settings (or places very like the settings) of our favorite books.  And we parents stepped back, giving the kids the freedom to be Swallows or Bastables or Hobbits.

Looking back, I now realize that my friends and I did the same in 5th grade. Maybe I deserved a C, but I unschooled an A's worth of memories.


Rachel Proffitt said...

Sounds wonderful :) Still wish you'd tell me how to- I think I need to unschool my eldest LOL

JPBarham said...

Love it. You got me thinking. I was a great unschooler, too! In my early grades, I was the total, anxious people-pleasing kid....I loved my first grade teacher (and I loved reading!). But I had a really mean, scary 2nd grade teacher. Then third and fourth grades were wonderful. Fifth was not so great. And so on. But what I remember most was reading constantly. I remember road trips with my dad each summer. I remember imagination games in my amazing California backyard, and going to the beach with my teenaged sister (she babysat me). I remember getting my first (used) typewriter in 7th grade, and my best friend Tami and I sitting together for hours, typing stories on our individual typewriters. I remember listening to Shakespeare on LPs, reading along (for fun). I loved singing to musicals! Loved "Pacific Overtures." Oh, I could go on and on. I didn't get graded on 99% of what I learned and loved. Neither do my kids. But we're always learning, always enjoying what we learn. Thank you for sharing this and reminding me of the value of what we do!

Kimberlee said...

This is fabulous, MacBeth! It's fun to have a little peek of how the MacBeth we know and love came to be. (PS What's a book report?)

MacBeth Derham said...

Kimberlee, a book report is the defining moment in a student's life, of course! lol! I had a feeling you didn't care for them, either, since you all live literature. ;)

Rachel said...

I remember Old Sturbridge Village!!! I LOVED THAT PLACE! Anyway, I just loved this piece. Autumn, who didn't learn to read until she was almost 10 now can't get enough of reading...and writing. The next worst thing to a book report IMO is edited and proofreading a child's first stories. Autumn writes all the time and I tell her she can read it to me or not. She loves all of it. I hated reading...HATED it. I always aced Lit classed tho...they were my faves. I didn't find out how much I loved reading until I read Jane Eyre at 22 years old! And I didn't enjoy writing or even thinking I could write, until I started blogging a couple of years ago. All of that hatred and fear was started in a private prep school. What a travesty. Now, I am either listening to great narrators read me books via audiobook (when I am driving or walking the dogs etc...) or am reading an actual paper based or text based (via ipad) book when I am home. STUPID SCHOOL!

Leila said...

School performance bears almost no resemblance to life performance, so that should tell us something right there!
Love this post.

Anonymous said...

When I was in third grade, we had to read fifteen books and write reports on them. I read the books in a jiffy, but I didn't have a clue how to write the reports, so after an amount of procrastination and nagging that made me feel positively icky, I copied the blurbs on the backs of my Scholastic paperbacks and turned those in as reports. As a result, I had one of my reports read aloud in front of the class, in a withering tone, as an example of how NOT to write a book report!

As a result, the narration is the one aspect of Charlotte Mason that I never could quite swallow. I made some half-hearted attempts to teach a paragraph in third grade, felt a certain respectable amount of guilt, and then let it be.

And somehow, both my daughter and I learned to write a paragraph anyway.

I also recall sticking the books I really wanted to read inside my textbooks during round robin reading time. (Ugh!) I only got caught once or twice. It was worth it.

And by the way, Ozawa or no Ozawa (I have his Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet; it's one of my favorite works!), I think I'd read during Bumblebee and Bolero, too. They each have about one line of melody, so once you'd heard that line, you're good to go. Even as a third grader, I preferred Bach, and I was hardly raised in an musical family. I think that's a funny aside from you, considering the future you were in for.