by Laura A
I let Sarie choose, from among several images, how to represent herself as “not-very-IB.” This is the one she choose. I’d say a 19th C. medievalist is pretty spot-on!
Our family has really enjoyed the Easter Break. Bob is home, Sarie has several days off from school, and while Bob unwinds from his trip, Sarie and I are taking time to do the most un-IB things we can think of. We’ve been spring shopping, we’re cooking, and I’m reading Tolkien aloud while she knits. She’s also practicing violin a lot and tomorrow she’ll will go work on the movie I mentioned earlier, which is based on local medieval history. At the moment she’s playing Bob in chess.
Yesterday I read Tolkien’s Leaf by Niggle. If you don’t know the story, it’s about a middling painter who wants to complete one satisfying work of art during his lifetime, a landscape painting featuring a magnificent tree. But he doesn’t always use his time as he should and he’s often interrupted by bureaucratic necessity or piddling requests from others. As a result, his earthly reputation remains obscure to the end. But when Niggle arrives in heaven, he finds that his so-so work has not only been completed as he dreamed of it, but it has been made into a real country that helps others.
As I closed the book, I was thinking of some of Sarie’s frustrations and interruptions this past year: notably missing out on the violin teacher she wanted and having to enroll in the IB program. “Isn’t this a lovely story?” I commented as I closed the book. “Maybe God has a way of redeeming the IB program, which you’ll only find out about when you arrive in heaven.”
Sarie looked aghast. “Oh, no! I don’t want to get to heaven and discover that all my internal assessments have been completed!”
We both burst out laughing. I think we both agree that internal assessments are anything but heavenly.
The IB program is billed as a critical thinking program, because it takes things apart. What it is is bureaucratic. It’s bureaucratic in the Swiss sense, that of having a million central procedures. But apparently here the procedures take on an Italian twist. Sure, there are standards, but it seems you can only find out what they are by not fulfilling them.
“It’s sort of like that book Epaminondas,” Sarie mused at lunch yesterday. She was referring to a Trina Schart Hyman book we used to read in which a little boy tries to perform various tasks to help his aunt, but since “He hasn’t got the sense he was born with,” he keeps following the instructions from the task before and thus bungling the job at hand. What’s more, in the IB Sarie is apparently supposed to intuit these instructions. “Once I learn from my mistakes, they’ve moved on to something else that no one will tell me how to do.”
During a parent/teacher conference in February, I saw an example of what she was talking about. The teacher had taken off a letter grade from an otherwise excellent article, written during class in Italian, because Sarie didn’t guess that she was supposed to put her name and the title at the bottom of the paper (her name was at the top). There was another such paper, from January, in which the grade was unusually low. Sarie didn’t remember this grade at all and even the teacher didn’t remember what it was for, so I wanted to see it, but I was told that the paper in question had already been archived. I requested that it be “un-archived,” since it had cost her yet another letter grade in a subject in which she does relatively well. I still haven’t seen the paper.
Still, Sarie is finding that over time, she understands the IB requirements better, even if they do seem like nonsense. On a recent biology test, “I put down the same thing twice in slightly different ways, and got both points for the question,” she remarked wryly.
A couple of times a teacher has suggested that Sarie might not have enough of a social life, since she doesn’t hang out with the kids after school. Little does she know. But I don’t feel it’s my duty to supply the school with the details of Sarie’s music friendships, so I didn’t enlighten her. I did say that she’d made a remarkable adjustment to life in Italy.
And then there’s the math teacher. Every other Thursday, he hands back tests and spends half the class time yelling curses at the class in two languages. He seems to pick a special victim to provoke, usually a girl. One, who was admittedly being difficult on purpose, has already left the class. But he banished another student a couple of weeks ago when her behavior was quite reasonable. That day the teacher was so out-of-control I got a text from Sarie asking me to call the head of the school. The head was sympathetic and has sat in on the class, but admittedly it’s rather hard for her to catch the teacher mid-rant. Sarie isn’t being picked on personally, but that’s not the point with her. She’s upset at the injustice of the situation and the waste of class time.
Regardless, the reason Sarie was so glad for a break this week was English lit.
Last year she loved Western Lit to Dante with Dr. McMenomy from Scholars Online. The class read Greeks, Latins, and medieval authors, including, of course, Dante. Sarie read some of it in medieval Italian. She had been hoping to eventually take his Senior English course.
This year’s English class seems to be study in how far one can get from Western Lit. When I saw the book list in the fall I gave them (there are only two students in the class) until February to start throwing the books at the wall. Sarie made it to the end of March, when the teacher showed the movie Blade Runner before Sarie had even gotten past the first chapter of the book version, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Sarie’s reaction to the movie was visceral enough that she closed her eyes so she wouldn’t have to watch it. I know it’s a critically acclaimed movie. I saw it years ago myself. But tastes vary, and Sarie felt trapped.
Sarie says next year the IB program will involve writing lots more papers on the material they’ve covered this year, completing their community service hours, and taking mock and real exams. She’ll also be trying to prepare for a conservatory audition elsewhere in Europe, if she can find someone to teach her the specifics required for a top-notch audition.
The bright side to all this is that the teachers (most of them) do show concern for Sarie’s well-being and patience with her strong opinions. I honestly think they mean well. It’s just that they’re dealing with a bureaucratic system and furthermore they don’t really have a clue how her mind works. It’s not the best fit for Sarie’s interests, but it’s the only option she has right now and besides, she’s approaching the halfway point.
So for the time being, Sarie leaves for school early and arrives home from conservatory late. I miss her. Sometimes I regret how she’s spending her last years at home to such a degree that I stand at the window wondering if we’re missing some obvious way to chuck it and make room for things we think are more important–or at least make room for more music. Homeschool habits die hard. But like Niggle, whose time was eaten by annoyances, in the end I just hope for redemption. We’re obeying what we know the best way we know how.
Meanwhile, last night after dinner Sarie was at her laptop, happily typing away. She said was writing a passage about coming home to the smell of flavorful cooking. It wasn’t an IB assignment, of course, but it was very Sarie. My once-reluctant writer now can’t seem to stop reveling in words.