Beowulf with Hoosen, Jr.

THROWBACKS That Time I Threw Caution to the Wind, and Homeschooled a Third Grader

A decade or so ago, I was looking at a bleak future of worksheets and tests for my son (He Who Shall Not Be Named On The Internets, Junior or HWSNBNOTI Jr. pronounced Hoosen Benoti, Junior).

I remembered my own fabulous adventures at his age. In that golden time in postwar England when the non-rich mattered, we not only learned reading, writing, and math, and a bit of history, but whatever my elementary school teachers took a shine to (from insects to bridges). Now, a generation later, I couldn’t stand the thought of Hoosen, Jr chained to a desk, doing mundane chores that would shrivel anyone’s curiosity.

Having recently told Georgia Southern University where it could shove its tenured professor job, I was prepared to become homeschool mum!

No, I really wasn’t. I was pretty useless, honestly. But I was willing to learn alongside my lad! Which brings us to Beowulf. I had never read Beowulf, so, I thought, why not give those Angles and Saxons a go now? Indeedy.

Here’s my report from eleven years ago.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

New Angles on the Saxons

My homeschooling adventure continues, as Hoosen, Jr. and I are working on a unit on Anglo-Saxon England (AKA the Dark Ages.) Yes, I do mean both of us, because I haven't seriously considered the Anglo-Saxons since I took a less than stellar course on medieval England in the early '90s.

One of the great revelations has been Anglo-Saxon literature. We listened to part of the poem The Battle of Maldon in the original and unintelligible Old English, had fun picking out words we still use today from a transcript, and then read it in translation. It helped that we know where Maldon is.

The Battle of Maldon, fragmentary though it is, whetted our appetite for more, and so I sprung for a translation of Beowulf for kids, even though the fact that the edition was about a hundred years old made me skeptical about its appeal.

Boy, was I wrong.

We read two chapters each day, and were enchanted by the imagery, the Saxon-style alliteration, and the simple but compelling narrative of our hero's triumph over Grendel, the Water Witch, and the dragon.

We were both pretty sad when we ended this slim volume. I cannot recommend it too highly. As we speak, Hoosen, Jr. is working on his own Anglo-Saxon-style story, starring, um, Hoosenwulf, and his foe, the half-man, half-scorpion Neegrash.


2021: If Not Now, When?

I’ve been promising for a long time to write about education, and I now have firm plans to do so, right here, under your noses. I’ll put these pieces under a separate section of Non-Boring History, so you will be able to opt out if you prefer. But I hope you won't. Because things in education, from K to grad school, have fallen apart spectacularly, and I'm done being silent about matters I've considered for forty years.

For now, consider this my first mini-trailer.

My prescription for homeschooling: Travel (even if just locally), read books with your kiddo, and stop homeschooling when your kid demands a life outside the house. Actually, we sent Hoosen, Jr. to his old school’s afterschool program so he would remain bonded with his buddies, under the semi-supervision of bored college students.

But before you can say “Most people don’t have this privilege”, I’ll say it for you. Most people don’t have this privilege.

But all of us with kids/grandkids/godkids/nieces and nephews should be aware that testing/drilling/worksheet regimens are a total disaster. Teachers are already painfully aware, and my heart goes out to them, especially those who sneak in little moments of inspiration.

Even when kids stay in school, can we adults not read with kids? Visit museums with kids? Learn with kids? Homeschooling doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement. It’s about finding joy in finding out.

I won’t show off about Hoosen, Jr’s accomplishments since then. But suffice to say, taking time away from school doesn’t seem to have harmed him. And now he reads things for fun that I can’t understand at all.

But the best result of all: I learned a lot from Hoosen Jr. about how kids think, what they’re capable of, and what they love. It had nothing much to do with official curriculum, or, dare I say it, educational theory. As I began author visits to schools around this time, our adventures have inspired my best moments with the kids to whom I have presented.

And before anyone says something about a college professor’s kid having some sort of magical aptitude, let me tell you now that I detest the snobbery, racism, and assumptions that accompany such statements. Hoosen, Jr. is from a long line of factory and farm workers.

I’ll tell you this much: All kids deserve an encounter with Beowulf.

This is a free post, so feel free to send it to a friend or post it on ye dreaded Facebook! As ever, I welcome comments from Nonnies, my paid subscribers. What activity do you like to share with the kids in your life to engage them in history or literature?

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