April 11, 2007

The Afore-Mentioned Essay In Which I Confined My Expansive and Fascinating Self To A Few Well-Appointed Paragraphs*


*(In other words, this is the bally cove required by Ye Olde Office of Admissions. They pretty much ask you to tell them why they want you. It took some doing.)

[Q. Shenaynay interrupts to say that it also took some considerable powers of persuasion to get Miss Fa to post this essay, because it's the sort of thing one has to write to draw attention to oneself (aka brag), which is precisely the sort of thing Fa doesn't enjoy. But since Q. Shenaynay has, for just a few more days hence, full possession of Fa's diploma, and has suddenly realized the ripe opportunities for maternal extortion inherent in such a situation... well, here's the essay.]

My parents always said they would only homeschool me as long as it worked─as long as I was thriving, enthusiastic, and taking full advantage of the opportunities given me. They taught me that knowledge itself is a privilege and a blessing, which is an idea that sounds rather clichéd to a kid balking at a science test, but can have profound effects on a person if carried toward its conclusion.

Education, my mother said, is not just a discipline, but also an atmosphere and a life. Learning and life were so seamlessly melded in our house that sometimes as a child I hardly noticed I was learning anything at all. Butterflies and Eskimos, patriots and constellations, pioneers and nefarious kings and queens who were inexplicably fond of doing each other in─they all became part of our everyday landscape. It made for some good fun. There was the year my sister had a crush on George Washington, and the time we reenacted The Iliad starring our dollhouse people as the fierce Greeks and Daddy's houseshoe as the Trojan Horse. Once properly introduced to Jane Austen, we spent hours pretending we were Jane and Elizabeth Bennet. We hid in cellars during air raids and planted victory gardens; we escaped time after time from Norman invaders─we were Saxon princesses, naturally.

Encouraged to find the things that interested me and to pursue them, I discovered the joy of words, my first and enduring fascination. As a new reader, I delighted in my ability to comprehend everything from the proverbial back of the Cheerios box to the King James Bible. I fell in love with books─the comfortable camaraderie of page after page, the complete immersion in the lives and thoughts and worlds of each story, the homey smell of the bindings, the beauty of a page of print.

Reading led to writing. I decided when I was seven to be a very famous author when I grew up, a process I apparently thought as instantaneous as a just-add-water cake mix. While I lost my naiveté on the subject of fame, I kept the desire to write. Those early efforts─rambling narratives scrawled around crayon illustrations and published with a stapler─gradually gave way to attempts at poetry, usually fervent imitations of the Romantics (“Oh lily of the golden chalice,” etc.). But after a while I left behind the realms of verdant glades, sunsets, and ABAB rhyme schemes. I began to see that there are stray bits of reality all around that require only a willing pencil─mine perhaps?─to be tempered into poems. The discovery was exhilarating, the possibilities infinite. I’ve written poetry ever since.

Music, especially the roots music of Scotland and America, became an engaging pursuit as well. I treasure my involvement in the Sacred Harp tradition, a style of a cappella four-part harmony music using shaped notation and sung in groups, which sprang from the religious music of early America. The best reward for the time spent learning to read the confusing ovals, triangles, and squares of the shape note scale was an unforgettable night at Bass Hall in Fort Worth, when our local Sacred Harp group sang with Alison Krauss and many folk music legends in a concert on the Great High Mountain tour.

Some people seem to equate being homeschooled with being stuck at home, but this has hardly been my experience. My family has traveled often, taking advantage of our freedom to set our own schedule. I have so many good memories of these times­─each one was significant, broadening my perspective in the way only travel can. Once, our Girl Scout troop, after selling more boxes of cookies than I care to think about, went to Jamestown and Williamsburg wearing authentic period costumes (including fully boned corsets!) that we researched and made by hand. We spent an amazing three days exploring the streets and buildings of these towns, talking to the re-enactors, and feeling much more like colonials than modern-day visitors. The trip that affected me most, though, was the two-week tour of Scotland and England my family took during the spring of my junior year. My mind grew moment by moment as the history and literature I had studied so long sprang to life from the fields and towns and castles we visited. These places and things were transformed from mythical fairy-tale lands to real places where real people live and breathe and cook potatoes.

It's easy, especially in these later years of school, to fall into the trap of looking at learning as a means to an end─the way of thinking that says I'm studying such and such because I need the credits, or because my teacher told me to and if I don't I'll get in trouble. But learning is not, in the end, something we do for our teachers, but something we do for ourselves. When we learn, and learn well, we become more alive, more aware, more sensitive to the things that are truly worthy. The boundary between what we know and who we are is blurred, and life and learning meet. Just as years of accrued knowledge made my appreciation of the things I saw in Scotland so much greater than had I gone not knowing much of anything, so everything I learn will somehow make me appreciate more the world around me, the big things and the small, the abundant commonplace miracles of everyday life. I'm thankful that I have been taught to see knowledge as something to be excited about, something to accumulate joyfully. I hope to be learning all my life, because I hope to live abundantly─thriving, enthusiastic, and taking full advantage of the opportunities given me.


great scot said...


Amy Witt said...

Wow,I sat with my twin Year Oners today reading about Uther Pendragon and Grace Darling and wondering, "is this working". I am going to file this away to read when I feel like sending them to the big box institution and instead send them outside with Playmobile soldiers to help Arthur and Merlin get that sword out of the stone. With your permission, may I save this for such a day? and may I link to it on my blog?

Katie said...

Yay! Thank you so much for posting this. Is it okay if I clue our CM book club folks in that it is here? I know they would all like to read it.

fa-so-la-la said...

thank you and yes to both of you!

Kathy said...

Oh, this is excellent, inspiring, exactly what I hope for in my own. Thank you so much for sharing (even if having to resort to maternal extortion!)

Lady Why said...

Fa... I am speechless!

Thank your dear mother for her "extortion" as it has been such an inspiration and a blessing! I, too, would like to link this from my blog. Other homeschooling moms need the encouragement of the fruit of your years of learning as they continue on their paths of teaching.

Brilliant! Simply brilliant!

Dani said...

First, just a small moment, to be utterly amazed at your elegance and hummor, all beautiful molded.

Second, I am sold on homeschooling, I have been thinking and leaning more and more that way, but this has me sold. May I save your essay as well.

Finally, you said everything beautiful about learning that drives me and makes me devour books, rush madly to class, and pick the minds of people from my professors to old church members. I never could have said it so prettily though. It's good encouragement, especially on a night when I feel bogged down in notecards and books, unable to determine why I care about Napoleon and the Great Power balance afterward.

Simply, THANK YOU!

strem said...

So beautifully composed. Thank you for allowing us a glimpse into your thoughts, experiences and family. I have had to read numerous entrance essays on the Admissions side of things, and rarely have I had the honor of receiving a submission as wonderful as this. I pray the Admissions staff members take notice!

tootlepip said...

Thank you for sharing your experience, it is a very encouraging post!

monolog said...

"Capital, capital!"

Cimmanim said...

Brilliant, darling. Quite brilliant indeed.

rachel tsunami said...

fa, this is proof that i did *not* exaggerate. i have cried while reading this. i love you.

Cindy Marsch said...

Lovely job. Thanks to Lyn for alerting us to it on Classed!