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Summer Reading - books for all ages.
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Viral Learning: Reflections on the Homeschooling Life


Viral Learning: Reflections on the Homeschooling Life

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Author: Mary Griffith

List Price: Softcover: $15.95

Ages: Adult

Reviewed By: Virginia Jones

Hindsight. Retrospect. The old saw says it's 20-20, as in, looking back you can see a lot more clearly than when you're in the midst of whatever you're in the midst of-in this case, homeschooling.

Mary Griffith is a familiar name on the homeschooling rolls. She's one of those who, in a sense, helped to legitimize unschooling with her writing and speaking, even while she was in the midst of it with her daughters.

Some people might equate unschooling with not-schooling or not-learning. The former might be true-unschoolers are certainly not doing "school at home" in any sense of the word. Learning is going on, however, sometimes at an astonishing pace.

I'm not an unschooler per se, though we go through unschoolish seasons of delight-directed learning when formal materials are put away and exploration is the name of the game. I do have leanings towards unschooling and am heartened to read accounts that show this as an effective method of home education, especially when the author's children are grown and making their way in the world-and wonder of wonders, they are well-balanced, lifelong learners who don't seem to have been ruined by their parents' educational methods! Oops, heavy on the irony, sorry. We've been home educators long enough that we remember being told in the beginning that we were going to turn our older ones into freaks and misfits by our choices. We don't hear that so much anymore.

Mary Griffith writes Viral Learning from the perspective of one who has made it all the way through the journey. Her daughters are finding their way, from the sound of it, but the book isn't just one of those "successful homeschool grads" stories. Reflections on the Homeschooling Life is the book's subtitle, and so you have a variety of thoughts to chew on.

The first couple chapters are introductory in nature, talking about how the author became one of those "expert" voices in the homeschooling community and then going back even further, to describe the author's own educational experiences-which could have been mine, from the description. I too excelled in school, learning for the test, learning to give back what the teacher wanted and not really learning at all, inside the walls of the classroom, but picking up lots of knowledge from the reading I did for fun. I'm still a voracious reader, and I'm glad to report that most of my kids seem to be picking up that habit, on their own timetable.

Next the book deals with a couple of the things that have in the past made me too uneasy to jump into unschooling with all four feet: reading and writing. It's interesting to learn that children can learn to read without a structured reading program. (I know about the writing part-ours are always coming to me to tell me stories, or tell each other stories, or act out stories, all parts of the writing process, though we haven't studied writing as such.)

Viral Learning is a reassuring book, dealing as it does with family relationships, accountability, dealing with doubts, listening to your gut, and a little cognitive theory sprinkled in just to show that unschooling works because our brains are set up to learn this way. The homeschooling movement has a chapter of its own, more as a warning against peer pressure (we're talking homeschool parents who try to tell others the "right" way to homeschool) than anything else. One of my favorite quotes comes from this chapter:
"The point is to do what works with your kids, no matter what anybody calls it."
Sound advice. Don't copy someone else's methods, don't let someone tell you that there's only one way to homeschool. Also, don't be surprised to find yourself learning and growing right along with your students! A thread running through Viral Learning is the author's own learning.

The author and I differ in the way we see charter schools and other government school-at-home programs. We've been a part of the fight to gain and preserve our homeschool freedoms. (Basically, we just want to be left alone. We don't want handouts with strings attached. We don't want people telling us that our children belong to the State and as such the State can tell us what, by law, we have to teach. And so on.) We've been to the hearings at the Capitol. We don't want the bureaucrats to define "homeschool" as something that is funded and controlled in some areas (the government school-at-home programs) but not in others-and really, why shouldn't they be exerting the same control over the independent homeschoolers? (Their argument, not mine!)

I suspect we differ in other areas as well, but the author makes some good points about the way society and communication are changing, and how home educators can be a part of the movement that is demanding accountability from leaders and institutions in our society.

The final pages are taken up with an appendix, the result of a questionnaire the author sent to other veteran home educators. The correspondents answered such questions as: When did you and your family begin homeschooling? What approach did you start with [and] how did the process change over the years? What were the most difficult/most fun or interesting parts of homeschooling? Is there anything you wish you'd done (or not done) from the beginning? There's a lot of good advice and food for thought, and as I mentioned at the start, hindsight is 20-20. I recognize at least one Christian homeschooler on the list, and at least a couple of the respondents are somewhat anti-Christian in their comments, but the advice still stands as coming from seasoned, experienced home educators.

The book concludes with a brief bibliography, a list of "Further Reading" of books the author has found provoking and stimulating, some in a positive way and some negatively, but all "interesting reading." As is Viral Learning. If you are drawn toward unschooling, but don't know anyone who's making a go of it, or if you're curious about the method and would like to learn more, from someone who's "been there - done that" Viral Learning is a good title to add to your reading list.
More Information
Available From: Mary Griffith
Other Notes:
Purchase Now From the Eclectic Homeschool Resource Center
Virginia Jones
Virginia Jones hails from a small town in the Midwest, where "Nothing ever happens, thankfully!" Her family's interests include horseback riding, cross-country skiing, swimming, and, when they can manage to sit still, reading.
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