Thursday, February 26, 2009


My children and I went on a great field trip this morning to the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum.

Aside from the fact that I didn't take the time to enter a complete address in MapQuest which resulted in our directions ending beside a cow pasture in the middle of nowhere, stopping at a gas station for new directions given by a guy pumping gas, and eventually making it to our destination which was only two miles off the interstate to begin with, we had a good time. (Yes, I know, I have not learned my lesson about thoroughly following directions, which now also encompasses an issue of entering complete addresses, not just a town name, in MapQuest).

Our trip was great; we learned a lot, spent time with some friends, and coveted lots of restored farmhouses we saw on our extended sightseeing journey. But, the visit was a bit melancholy for me. Hearing about Charlotte Hawkins Brown really got me thinking about the standards we set for ourselves and other people. In running Palmer Institute, a private school for African-American students, Charlotte Hawkins Brown expected only the best academically from each of her students. Each student had to pass two years of Latin, as well as French, along with following a rigorous classical course of study. My biggest complaint in the years that I taught in a classroom was that we were dumbing down our students. If we only set minimum standards, we will only get minimum achievement from them. What we put into our kids is what we get out of them. If they grow up on a steady diet of fake tv wrestling and video games, guess what, that is all they are conditioned to accept. But, if we expose our children to the classics, take them to the theater and museums, and teach them that a world exists beyond themselves, they will hopefully grow into the world that we have arrayed before them.

I frequently follow Susan Wise Bauer's blog (
where she dishes about her job as a college professor, writing career, and homeschooling life, and one of her recent posts really hit home. In it, she recounts an article discussing how fewer students will have access to great works of literature since many universities are cutting back on their humanities departments. But since when are we dependent on professors to give us books to read? You and I can just as easily pick up and read the Iliad and Odyssey, as we can read a trashy novel. (I do admit, however, that I have recently read the Iliad and Odyssey and could now use a juicy novel to balance them out.) To this end of better-educating myself, I own Bauer's The Well-Educated Mind which includes lists of novels, poetry, plays, etc. for an adult to read to classically educate him/herself. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that I have rounded up most of the novels and started reading Don Quixote, the first one on the novel list. But being a bit overscheduled, I really haven't gotten very far with it. But, there's always tomorrow to get back into it again. Maybe I need reading group or partner to keep me on track.

On our field trip to Sedalia (the town name and zip code I entered into MapQuest), I was also impressed with Ms. Brown's preoccupation with inspiring her students to greatness. In the video we watched before our tour, a former student at the school recounted how seeing Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Eleanor Roosevelt together on the school grounds created an indelible picture in his mind that continues to inspire him to this day. The gentleman's comments certainly made me think about what type of people (I'm trying not to be judgmental here) we allow our kids to be exposed to. Imagine what a difference it could make if our children looked up to heroes of many different backgrounds, instead of fixating on the celebrity of the week who is trying to make a name for him or herself on the party or reality tv circuit.

My absolute favorite homeschooling experience hands down was when my then nine-year-old daughter and I were able to attend the groundbreaking for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC. After entering an essay contest about MLK, Curly Girl was chosen to represent our state (one student was selected from each state) at the ceremony. The three-day free trip to DC for Curly Girl and I was certainly enjoyable, but I am most thankful for the people that my daughter was able to see at the groundbreaking ceremony. Regardless of the politics, one could only be in awe of the civil rights legends that we saw that day. My daughter has mentioned several times since our trip that we saw and heard three presidents speak in the same place. Clinton attended since he set aside the land for the Memorial; Bush spoke as the sitting president; and I don't remember why Obama was there, but Oprah did introduce him as "hopefully our next president." For the record, Curly Girl and I's favorite speaker that day wasn't one of the presidents or Oprah, but one of MLK's daughters who possessed a mesmerizing cadence and tone to her voice. While the trip is an amazing memory for me, what I care about the most is that my child was exposed to living figures of American history, which is an experience that she will carry with her the rest of her life.

Some of you are probably thinking now, "Oh my gosh, this blogger is such a snob." You can think that if you want, but I prefer to phrase it as having high standards. And having high standards is hard because it requires making a personal value-based judgment and then backing it up, even when people want to disagree with you. But from where I sit, it's all about input and output. Whatever I put into my brain or my children's brains is what will eventually come out of them.

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