My Kid Learns More When He's Home Sick Than at School


You Wouldn't Want To Be a Sumerian Slave
Scholastic Books

We're on day two now of my son's stay at home with a creeping respiratory crud that's been tearing through our piece of the world. I only shook it loose from my own lungs after a course of steroids. While he's been home, aside from the fact that seven-year-olds bounce back a hell of a lot faster than forty-somethings, I've noticed that my kid sops up knowledge more quickly from a stack of books by his bed than he does from a lesson plan at his school.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not the kind of taskmaster who keeps my kid bent over homework when he's home with the sniffles. If he wants to watch Phineas and Ferb or play with his vast collection of toy soldiers, that's fine by me. But he has a natural curiosity, which he feeds with regular doses of some very well done children's books. In particular, he's long loved the You Wouldn't Want To be … series and he's recently taken to the Who Was…/What Was … series of biographies and histories.

The You Wouldn't Want To be … series is a graphic novel-style presentation of historical subjects laced with enough gruesome images to excite the imagination of any kid. We own a few copies, but this week's favorite is You Wouldn't Want To Be a Sumerian Slave, borrowed from the local public library. It features historical tidbits, battle scenes and depictions of backbreaking labor. It's also a great introduction to ancient Mesopotamia and has reopened a continuing conversation about the concept of slavery and its prevalence through history.

Also a conversation starter was another library book, What Was the Battle of Gettysburg? The book's discussion of Confederate troops' relatively inferior armament led to Tony peppering me with questions about the comparative strengths of the Union and Confederate states, and the advantages that an industrial power has when fighting one that's primarily agricultural. Somehow, we then ended up in a discussion of the ethical implications of attacking hospitals and of disguising non-medical facilities as hospitals … Anyway, you see how this works out. Of course, Tony has been reenacting Gettysburg with his toy soldiers.

This Who Was … series of books also led us to buy tickets for a Leonardo da Vinci exhibit, based on a biography of the man that fueled Tony's enthusiasm.

My wife and I discussed homeschooling, but we're not doing it for the simple reason that we both want to work at careers we find rewarding. But when I see my son's natural curiosity at work, and his ability to turn a decent starting point into … not some dry lesson, but a learning experience, I marvel at the ability of schools, even decent ones like the charter we've chosen, to suck the joy out of absorbing knowledge.