Posted by: zhiv | February 9, 2008

Africa?

Have been running to and fro, lots of life creeping in these last ten days, but I’ve been pushing forward on a number of fronts.  As far as THE BLOG CALLED ZHIV goes, I’m still organizing I guess.  There are things I want to write about that I’m on the verge of getting around to, but I’m not quite there, and have to do other things first.  This is one of them.

There’s been a little break so I’d have to read through everything to catch up on myself, but I think I already made my first pass at explaining how I’ve been following up on my kids’ reading, especially my Genius Daughter (the GD).  This post is meant to expand on that concept a little bit, which should set up some of my current reading and some of the books that I read in the fall that I’d like to discuss.

The GD is a great reader.  She powers through things.  There’s no need to get into it too deeply at the moment, but at my best, most focused moments at the tailend of college after I finally learned to read with gusto and had been bitten by the litbug, and even when I was downing doppios and slugging away in grad school, I’m not sure I had her strength.  But all that’s not really here nor there.  As a beloved child and a daughter, she’s been everything I could have wanted as a person and a thinker and reader and more.  She kicks ass like nobody’s business.  The tricky part is, how do you guide her, who guides her, what does she read?

 She goes to a great school.  That’s another big topic on its own:  girls’ schools.  But let me cut to the chase.  Last year in 11th grade she took AP English, a great class with a great teacher, but too much poetry if you ask me, although if you’re reading English Literature reading poetry is a little bit like taking your medicine.  It’s good for you.  And I love poetry; poetry is great–poetry is amazing!  The class was fantastic.

I had pushed her into Latin–another good topic, already mentioned in passing a couple of posts back–, and she moved a year ahead over a middle school summer, so she took AP Latin in 10th grade.  That gave her an extra class to play around with.  At her incredible school, they have a young Stanford PhD who was teaching a course in Russian Literature and Culture.  It was my favorite thing:  an interdisciplinary humanities course, a solid chunk of history, some literature, some art, some drama.  Great stuff, and the GD kicked ass.  It was just one semester and they took some shortcuts, but I’ve never seen her quite as moved and excited as the night she read the Grand Inquisitor section of Brothers K.   She read all of Chekhov’s major plays (no Platonov?!) and a bunch of stories and wrote her paper on “Chekhov and Progress.”  The great thing is that Chekhov was a major blank spot for me, kind of like the Romans had been a few years before.  The basic idea is that I knew Chekhov was out there and that his work was incredibly important and somehow changed everything, and I had probably read a story or two here or there, but I didn’t really know anything about it.  So as she was studying and moving through her course I was able to dip into it, reading “The Lady and the Dog” and some other stories.  I also collected all of the Russian books that had been scattered around my library and put everything in order.  The one book I read, that I had never read before, was “Fathers and Sons.”  I kept trying to get the GD to read it, because it was so interesting and so well done, and said so much about where Chekhov came from an,d well, it was all about progress, I guess.  But this is all a worthy tangent.

 At her school they have had a senior honors project that was developed for the sciences, where it entailed working in a lab and doing research.  It was recently expanded, over the past couple of years, to the humanities.  So the GD was a perfect candidate.  The idea is to spend a year working with a mentor, a college professor, presumably working in their specialty and doing research.  I’m remembering that we had already been through a highly charged moment of choice when she had to pick a topic for her research project in AP English.  It was a strange process, and she ended up working on To The Lighthouse, and I wrote an entire essay about that.  But now she had to choose a topic for a yearlong study with a college professor.   So she could have picked anything.  She could have continued with her Russian studies.  She could have done Woolf, Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare, Milton, Tacitus, the French Revolution, Elizabeth Peabody, Virgil, Goethe.  Her advisor, who was her wonderful AP English teacher, was asking her a simple question:  what do you want to do?

In 8th grade the GD had Global Studies for history and she did a project on Vietnam and she was enthralled by the course.  The whole world opened up for her.  She liked history and international studies and cultural relations.  She chose to take World History in 11th grade instead of European history.  It seems as if all of the Political Science majors of my day have turned into International Studies people since the rise of Globalism, although PoliSci stock is probably rising with the current situation and the election coming up.  But it was as if the GD had been put through her English and Western Civ paces, and she wanted to do her extended study on a Global topic.  I was just trying to let her figure things out for herself, trying to stay out of it.

And so she chose Africa for her Senior Honors Project.  She wanted to do a project on Africa, which seemed interesting and important to her.

 I just said, “Africa?”      

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