Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Understood Betsy Understands Homeschoolers

February 13, 2007

I'm reading Understood Betsy (Dorothy Canfield Fisher) to Laurel right now. It's been a few years since I read this to Jesse, maybe six years, so it's all new and fresh to me. I just love this scene in which Betsy, who until now has been in a huge public school in a large city, spends her first day in her tiny one-room schoolhouse with a dozen other students. Her teacher moves her--gasp!--where she needs to be! She reads very well, so she gets the seventh-grade reader. Her math is slightly lacking, so she is told to do second grade work:

Elizabeth Ann fell back on the bench with her mouth open. She felt really dizzy. What crazy things the teacher said! She felt as though she was being pulled limb from limb.
"What's the matter?" asked the teacher, seeing her bewildered face.
"Why....why," said Elizabeth Ann. "I don't know what I am at all. If I'm second-grade arithmetic and seventh-grade reading and third-grade spelling, what grade
am I?"
The teacher laughed. "
You aren't any grade at all, no matter where you are in school. You're just yourself, aren't you? What difference does it make what grade you're in? And what's the use of your reading little baby things too easy for you just because you don't know your multiplication tables?...What's the matter?" the teacher asked again.
This time Elizabeth Ann didn't answer, because she herself didn't know what the matter was. But I do, and I'll tell you. The matter was that never before had she known what she was doing in school. She had always thought she was there to pass from one grade to another, and she was ever so startled to get a glimpse of the fact that she was there to learn how to read and write and cipher and generally use her mind, so she could take care of herself when she came to be a grown up.

I love that moment of enlightenment. I love Betsy's teacher. Just imagine what our public education system would be like if students were actually allowed to learn and excel according to their potential and if teachers actually had the freedom to encourage them to do so--if teachers actually had the time to really know each student and her capabilities.

And I chuckle at that universal homeschoolers' experience of not having a clue what grade they are in! I've pointed out to my kids before that it's easiest just to give a pat answer ("I'm in 4th grade") rather than saying, "Well, I'm doing middle-school history, and I read at a 6th grade level, but I'm doing 3rd grade math, but this is actually equivalent to 4th grade programs in American schools...." As Betsy's teacher says, "You're just yourself, aren't you?" Great book. Another of those pleasures of homeschooling: getting to re-read fabulous children's books.

1 comment:

  1. I loved that scene too! As I get more comfortable homeschooling my kids, I feel more confident being flexible like Betsy's teacher.

    Thanks for the review of this wonderful book.


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