Saturday, April 23, 2005

Rhetoric and gardening

Somehow when I was growing up it became a sort of family sport to expound with great assurance about things you knew rather little about, reporting vague impressions as well-founded facts, expressing momentary hunches as well-considered theories. The idea was to see if you could fool your listeners into believing that you were as much an expert and authority as possible. If challenged, you then went into defensive rhetoric mode, justifying your previous comments ... and if you painted yourself into a corner, you'd then smirk and confess "well, actually, I just made that up," and everyone would laugh. My brother Jeremy and I were particularly good at this game.

Echoes of this skill, I confess with some embarrassment, still show through in my contributions to message boards and e-lists. I usually make an effort not to mis-state facts, but I find I have this inclination to write responses that begin "I have this theory that...." and then make up the theory on the spot.

Just over two years ago I wrote something on a message board where a homeschooling parent was asking for help in nurturing study skills. I jumped in with a "theory" and its derivative advice. I've lost the original post, but I found an e-mail I sent elsewhere a week or so later which referred to the post:

"Someone in a homeschooling context recently asked me for help in nurturing study skills (by which she meant diligence, persistence and problem-solving skills). My advice? Take up Suzuki music lessons and gardening!"

The funny thing is that expounding on theories and giving advice I'd never thought through until that moment often provides me with some pretty interesting food for thought. Sometimes the theories my message-board rhetoric-loving alter-ego floats contain snippets of thought-provoking wisdom, and I think this must have been the case above, because I returned to think about my "advice" plenty in the months to come and it's ultimately had a dramatic influence on my behaviour and focus with the kids.

Here we are 2 years later and organic gardening and its related environmental education is where a huge proportion of my parenting / homeschooling energy is going. We've got a kitchen garden, a vegetable garden, a water garden with separate areas for the kids, new fruit trees, a fairy garden area, a worm bin, and an entire community children's garden and the GRUBS club being created to support that. We've reached the point where I'd describe our homeschooling approach as being centred around musical instrument study and gardening.

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