When we initially started a formal co-op, with our oldest children in kindergarten or so, I traveled with my husband once a month, tagging along across the state, enjoying the beach and hotel while he worked. These were fun and happy times where we walked, explored museums, snacked and shopped, my little ones and I. So, rather organically, co-op developed around that schedule. We chose Mondays, a day that can otherwise be rather unproductive after a busy weekend. We met three Mondays per month, leaving the last Monday of the month free.
Last year we began to use that last Monday of the month for a whole day of co-op just for our dialectic, middle grade students. We started with informal logic, literature, writing and art. We called it “colloquium”. It was a smashing success. This year we are studying formal logic, literature, writing and cut out art for more theology and philosophy discussions. We start with student led devotions and finish with a family discussion question, based on our history or literature readings.
I am having so much fun discussing the great books and great ideas with this class of five students. We have compared Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost. We have laid bare our own struggles while journeying with Christian through Pilgrim’s Progress. We have struggled with Hester Prynne and her Scarlet Letter. We have watched Hamlet’s descent into madness and are currently adventuring with the knight errant, Don Quixote. I have been impressed (and occasionally disappointed) with the essays my students have written about each piece of literature. I let them read in modern English and occasionally abridged versions. We have such terrific, enlightening discussions that sometimes I forget that they are mostly ninth graders. Sometimes. Then something else jolts me back to the hilarious reality.
This past colloquium we were discussing Don Quixote. My oldest student, 15, sagely observed that he could not help comparing Quixote’s madness with Hamlet’s and finding himself with very different reactions. I queried him as to why. Style of writing? Hamlet’s madness, if not faked, was born of tragedy? We compared Ophelia’s mistaking of persons to Quixote’s refusal to believe a windmill was not a giant. Why is madness funny here and not in Hamlet? My students were throwing out terrific questions and answers. I was beaming with pride. And I threw out a suggestion, “Maybe it is Sancho Panza that is really funny, and not Don Quixote.” They all shot me down. I felt compelled to support my suggestion. “In the scene with the mill hammers in the night where Quixote won’t get off his horse and Sancho is scared to be alone, so he hangs on to him, even when he has to poop, is it Quixote or Sancho that makes it funny?” Now, I have only daughters, so I sometimes forget that I should not be discussing ANYTHING to do with poop, in class, or I might lose control of the conversation. Good thing we were already sitting on the floor because several students were rolling on the floor laughing, recalling that chapter. I was pretty out of control laughing myself when I read it. One of my 14 year old boys began desperately flipping through his copy of the book, shouting over the laughter, “Where? Where is that part? I didn’t see that in my book!” We finally determined that his book was abridged and that part was left out. His response? “Oh, man! Finally something worth reading and it not even in my book! Of all things, a pooping your pants chapter?? Why would they abridge THAT out the book!”
A perfect reminder that no matter how amazing these kids are, no matter how high I raise the bar and how much I expect of them, they are only 14 after all. And I love it.
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