In a recent Washington Post article on homework, it was declared that homework has no value for raising test scores (except a “wee bit”). Beyond that, the article noted homework has a lot of value for creating “frustration, exhaustion, family conflict, loss of time for other activities, and potential diminution of interest in learning.”
I posted a link to the article on Facebook, juxtaposed it with a quick story about my eldest daughter reading “Ulysses” in the woods, and said, “Why do we need rocket science to prove to us that love of learning will always be stronger than compulsion?”
If you had been there for “Ulysses,” read by a dark-haired girl whose hair goes down to her knees, if you had listened as she shared the words with deep emotion and thought (many of them memorized from having apparently read the poem on her own multiple times)… if you had seen and heard those words, against a backdrop of golden leaves, and in the midst of rustlings and the occasional birdcall, you would agree:
love is the strongest teacher.
Last year, this same daughter took an AP English class through her distance learning school. Every single poetry assignment asked for an explication of “tone” in the poems. At this point, “tone” is a code word in our house for any kind of ridiculousness in education. I asked her once if she could survive it all, and she said that since she’d grown up home educated, she’d had a long time to develop a love for literature and poems, that nothing could take away. “I don’t blame the poems,” she told me.
And so this girl can read “Ulysses” in the woods, with love. And not care a whit about tone, except in its service to her vocal expression.
Our particular approach to home education was love based. Not work based. And definitely devoid of homework and tests. Her standardized test scores, as it turns out, are a wee bit okay, as they landed in the top 1 percentile for the SAT’s. So we are going to say it: throw the homework baggage out. Make room for love.
After she read “Ulysses” to me, we talked about the lines we especially liked. We made a pact to go back and memorize the whole last stanza, just because we want to. (Check out the poem below, and see how it calls a person to keep learning and growing. Somehow that feels apt in the context of this post. What made Ulysses want to go on? Surely it wasn’t a school assignment.)
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
We read this part (above) aloud one more time, and then she said, “Oh, let’s not read it again right now. It will ruin it.” Imagine, if I’d made her read it anyway (and discuss the tone!). What small tenderness and sacredness would I have taken away?
I have a secret wish: for teaching everywhere to someday be organized in ways that grow out of and foster love. What might this look like?
For my daughter and I, it will look like “Ulysses” in the woods. It will look like going back to memorize, maybe with a Mischief Café thermos of tea (and bread we won’t be able to toast, but will be able to butter). Perhaps along the Mischief Café guides’ pages, we’ll craft a poem together, of long journeys or of home.
And it won’t feel like work. And all we might exhaust is the tea. As we drink down every last drop—amidst the leaning, whispering trees.
This is a modified reprint of a post that first appeared at Tweetspeak Poetry: Reading Ulysses: Mischief in the Woods.
Want to discuss this post with L.L.? Catch her on Twitter!