Friday, June 27, 2014

Homeschooling and cooking

There was a Facebook conversation a couple of days ago that started with a blog post about learning humility in giving homeschooling advice, by a woman who wrote curricula and found that her perfect system didn't stretch as far as her daughter needed to go. Melanie said that she reads blogs and articles looking for nuts and bolts, days in the life, that sort of thing. Not a perfect curriculum that guarantees success, but for ideas and inspiration. So I said, Hey, that's what I do! and drew an analogy between cooking and homeschooling.

I read recipes and food books and cooking blogs a lot. Geoff thinks my cookbook collection is both hilarious and frustrating, because as far as he can tell I don't follow recipes, and it takes up a whole bookshelf. I read recipes because I am looking for new combinations, techniques, good writing to inspire me. I know a lot of the fundamentals, and I can adjust for the things the recipe doesn't cover. Most recipes assume standard ingredients, standard tastes, and standard stoves. None of these happen in real life, in my experience. There's a tacit knowledge, a physical sense, that you develop as you learn to cook. This is how bread dough looks. This is what garlic smells like before it burns. That feels a little too hot, I should turn it down.I like relying on that sense. I liked the feeling of mastery even before I had really developed that sense. There's a quote from a food writer I love, John Thorne, who says, "To cook is to lay hands on the body of the world." (Simple Cooking).

We have a family concept that I thought up, called quantum. It's the process of making a decision, the moment just before, when I'm trying to weight everyone's needs and moods and medical issues before going somewhere, or planning something. Trying to visualize all of those moving parts and how they intersect, so that I can make the best possible decision.

So far, our homeschooling has been intimately connected to both quantum and to how I cook. I am still very new at homeschooling, and I read and talk and think looking for ideas and practical experience, but not for a perfect recipe, because I don't think that any battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. I am not in control of my children's abilities and interests. I can shape their environment and mold their home life, I can provide good books and require fifteen minutes of reading a day, or the filling out of a worksheet, but the process of them learning and me teaching is relational, and we've had failures when I assumed that they were my blank slate and I was the artist. I am accustomed to thinking theologically in terms of relationship, because I think that's what is central to reality, and it's certainly central to family life and also to cooking. Everything is about interaction.

Ultimately, I want my children to love the good and the beautiful, to be able to read and write and think, and to be intensely interested in the world. For us, in our home, it works best as a continual process of evaluating their interests and their responses. I try to set up monthly and yearly goals, I monitor progress, but I also monitor emotional states, interests, sleep. We talk together, and we all adjust to each other's needs to the best of our abilities. That's quantum, trying to decide if we're laying off any formal work for a month or if everyone is okay. That's also cooking, deciding what is best to use now, how to flavour it, whether it's coming together okay, and how to rescue it if it isn't (which is sometimes by ordering pizza and everyone watching Star Trek together).


Melanie Bettinelli said...

"I don't think that any battle plan survives first contact with the enemy."

I love that you think in military metaphors too.

I like your description of quantum, those calculations that happen unconsciously, how you just know when something is going to work or when it won't. Trusting your gut.

lissla lissar said...

It helped a lot for Geoff when I was able to articulate what I'm doing when I look like I'm just standing there stalling and waving my hands around. I'm visualizing and weighing, but it's a wordless process and it looks a little insane.