When we were planning this trip we had four main fears: home schooling, hurricanes, pirates and sharks….in that order. We really felt that if we didn’t get the schooling piece right we might actually do more long term damage than a little therapy could fix. I asked Mommy to research and plan the curriculum because I was busy with the boat search, retirement from the military and the sale of our house…and she’s smarter than me.
We met with Ms. Dawe-Taylor, your principal in Yellowknife, and decided to keep you registered in the NWT system. Although they did not provide much material she did point us in the right direction and gave us lots of advice. Essentially she said that we needed to concentrate on a formal math curriculum and everything else could be learned “hands on”. We decided that if the public system offered 25 hours of classes a week, we could concentrate that into 15 hours which meant four hours a day, Monday to Thursday…ish. We would often get up at 0730 to find you had already started school and we would often break for pancakes or a swim around 0930 and shut it down around noon. It quickly became a collaborative effort and if you two didn’t want to go to school we would take a day off and make up for it later. Neither Mommy nor I appreciated how rewarding it would be to see you develop and learn as opposed to reviewing random work brought home and the bi-annual report card. Mommy does intend to take class photos and contort you into the regular goofy school poses…
Besides math, we wanted to emphasize reading and writing and consequently these three subjects form the foundation of your lessons. Mommy ordered the math and science curriculum online, I purchased a bunch of paperback classics, we picked up a keyboard and two guitars and then basically exploited the world around us. One of the great advantages of a self directed program is that we get to choose the subject material. If I had to do Romeo and Juliette one more time as a child I would have jumped off a cliff! Your first books were the Scarlett Pimpernel and Tom Sawyer (not taught in the school system due to racial sensitivities). Alex would often regale us with her affected impersonations of Sir Piercy Blakeny’s “They seek him here, they seek him there…” speech. We followed up those books with Sherlock Holmes, War Horse, Anne Frank, Little Women, and have The Three Musketeers and Gulliver’s Travels still to go. Who wouldn’t like an English class like that? Mommy introduced you to a typing class, I often have you debate topics of the day, and we discuss current events like the war in the Crimea or racial integration. Much of your learning is project based and we often give you a topic and you research the materiel, write a report and then present it orally (often standing on a chair!). We learned about the Dominican Republic and that led into a long discussion about forms of government and political systems which further led into a debate about Socialism vs Capitalism. Kathryn was obviously the Capitalist while Alex put flowers in her hair and argued the opposing side. We do music appreciation and practical guitar and keyboard study with great help from the internet, which will hopefully bridge the gap until we return home. And then there are the practical skills: navigation, teamwork, energy conservation/consumption, renewable energy sources, weather, cooking, boat maintenance, boat handling, swaging, fishing, sewing, and the list goes on.
These are some of the sit down formal studies that we are doing but the real education is all around you. You two are fortunate that you are both reasonably bright and are able to overcome the marginal instruction, but our hope is that this experience will be enriching both intellectually and academically.
It has proved to be one of the most rewarding elements of the trip so far.
While in Florida we visited the Everglades and when walking to the observation tower, Kathryn got up close and personal with an alligator. We spent an afternoon at a safari reserve where you were able to feed a very greedy giraffe and Alex decided that when she grew up, she would have one for a pet.
As we walked through US history and started to discuss the Second World War, I struggled with how to explain the Holocaust to you, as if there was a rational explanation. I started phoning around to various synagogues with the hope of finding a survivor who would be willing to sit and talk with but was unsuccessful. Ironically I ended up on a Jewish mailing list and when I called to request to be removed, I asked if they could assist me. To make a long story short we drove to Miami to the Holocaust Memorial and met Alex Gross who had entered the camps at nine and survived to leave at fourteen. He later emigrated to the US after a circuitous route through Russian controlled Europe and went on to excel in business and education. We spent three hours with him and he answered your questions, shared insights, and showed you the tattooed numbers on his arm. He is one of the most complex and interesting people I have met in years. His perseverance and ability to overcome tragedy, while maintaining optimism and hope for the future, is truly an inspiration. This was a highlight of the Fall term and hopefully a lesson you will never forget.
Navigation was a constant theme of the Fall term and you teamed up to do simulated planning exercises throughout the Caribbean. You have a broken engine in Kingston, Jamaica and can only make 5kts. The spare is in Aruba. Where is it? What is our heading? What is the distance? How long will it take us to get there? If we leave at 0800 on Monday when will we arrive? You often worked as a team, were forced to reconcile different answers, and there were no part marks for incorrect answers. Sort of like our life.
Home schooling rapidly became about “targets of opportunity” and we capitalized on either “visiting professors” or people at the dock who were willing to teach you for a few hours. One day Pam came by and asked if you wanted to learn basket weaving and while I said that I hoped you would go to Queens, if you did end up at Carleton it might be useful…
Dorothy Wiebe taught navigation one day and sewing the next.
I wanted you to customize the motor to reduce the risk of threat and you each took a side. It was obvious from the themes you chose, who painted which side.
One day we awoke to learn that there were three replica tall ships from Christopher Columbus at the next marina. Our studies that day were to research Christopher Columbus the man, and then life aboard his ships. In the afternoon we went on a field trip to the actual ships although they were a bit of a disappointment. We learned more from your presentations than the field trip itself.
While at Loggerheads in Stuart, the Dock Master, Paula, came by on her day off and offered to teach you a craft. Faced with math or crafts, you elected to make Tree of Life ornaments.