Guest post and giveaway: Irene Latham
A while ago I read, and adored, Leaving Gee’s Bend so I’m really excited to see that the author has a new book coming out – Don’t Feed the Boy will be released on October 16. I’m thrilled to welcome Irene Latham here today with a guest post that most parents will be able to relate to.
Education: NOT One Size Fits All
One of my earliest memories is being on an airplane with my four siblings while my mother quizzed us with math flashcards. We were traveling the world after a 2 ½ year stint in Saudi Arabia. The only way to continue our education was for her to teach us herself—a unique version of homeschooling.
In my new novel DON’T FEED THE BOY, the main character Whit is also in a unique version of homeschooling: his zoo director mother and elephant keeper father have hired a private teacher, Ms. Connie, to homeschool him at the zoo. The entire zoo is his classroom, and he has never attended traditional school.
While this might be a great situation for another child, it’s not working out so well for Whit. He’s lonely. He longs for a different experience—one that involves friends his own age, not exotic animals that never talk back. Even though he loves Ms. Connie, he needs something else. But his parents just can’t see it.
As a parent myself, I went into the education of my three sons with some pretty set ideas. We chose our neighborhood based on the quality of the local public schools—some of the best in our state. It never occurred to me that my kids might need something different than what we were providing them. In that way I was very much like Whit’s mother Vivian.
Then along came boy #2 and 2nd grade. He wasn’t being challenged enough in math and spelling, and he had some behavior issues. One teacher was sure he had ADD and suggested he needed to be medicated. Another teacher said he was just a bored gifted kid—just as troublesome in a public school setting. After much talk and turmoil, we decided we didn’t want to medicate our square peg child just so he could fit in the round hole. I remembered my mother and those flashcards. I decided to bring him home.
We had a great year together, an unforgettable year. We took the unschooling approach which allowed my son to pursue whatever he was interested in. We went on lots of field trips. We had neat projects and great talks and fabulous time together. Yet by spring, he started talking about going back to “regular” school. As great as our homeschool experience had been, he longed for friends in the same way that Whit does.
Since then we’ve had even more adventures in education. I opted to place boy #3 in a Montessori school to finish out 5th grade, and by 6th grade we both wanted to homeschool. But we did it with a goal in mind: acceptance at a special public fine arts school. Boy #3 is a percussionist and so passionate about drums that he spent as much as 3 hours a day practicing. He was accepted and started at the school this past August.
It’s going well for him. Yet I no longer take it for granted that one situation or another will work for the duration. We take it semester by semester. Meanwhile, our oldest son? He’s a senior at the public high school. He’s successfully attended K-12 without interruption or deviation.
If I’ve learned anything from my parenting journey, it’s that different kids need different things. And we as parents need to be aware of and open to those possibilities. This book—Whit, with all his intelligence and humor and empathy—allowed me to explore these issues. I hope I’ve left Whit in a place where he belongs—at least for now.
Irene Latham is a poet and novelist who lives and writes in Birmingham, Alabama. Her debut novel Leaving Gee’s Bend was named a Bank Street College Best Book, a SIBA finalist, a Crystal Kite Finalist and ALLA’s Children’s Book of the Year. As a child she dreamed of being a zoo veterinarian and even trained as a teenage zoo volunteer. All it took was observing one surgery to convince her that perhaps she’d better just write about the animals instead. Visit her at www.irenelatham.com
Thanks to Blue Slip Media, I have a copy of Don’t Feed the Boy to give away to one lucky reader. To enter to win a copy of DON’T FEED THE BOY, simply fill out the entry form. Contest is open to US residents only– one entry per person, please. I will use random.org to determine the winner. Contest ends at midnight EDT Thursday, October 18, 2012. Winner will be announced on Friday, October 19, 2012. Comments are welcome (and appreciated) but will not get you an entry in the contest.