I wrote a while back about how terrible Little House on the Prairie is and how Laura Ingalls Wilder has destroyed my life. Well, since then the wagons are continuing to head west and I’m like the patriarch on Oregon Trail, just trying to avoid dying from impetuously fording Snake River. Not only have the girls continued reading and thinking about the superiority of an old-timey way of life, but they have, hilariously and ironically, been gifted a set of Little House On the Prairie dvds. I tried to convince them that it isn’t within their self-prescribed rules to make use of newfangled nonsense like “electricity” and “televisions” but they’ve rejected my pleas with more than a little contempt. I suppose that, technically, it is correct to argue that Laura never says she didn’t own a dvd player.
So, the canon is expanding. The most obvious result of this is the visual stimulation provided by the ability to not only imagine but also see up close and personal the sorts of clothing in which ladies of yore were attired. The answer: HOOP SKIRTS, lots and lots of hoop skirts, the bigger and rounder the better, the more layers and petticoats the better. So now our dining room table, instead of being used for its intended purpose of holding food and drink, and as I’ve pointed out many a time to the toddler thus removing the very reason for its existence according to Aristotelean metaphysics, is now littered with scraps of cloth, a sewing machine, and all manner of tiny needles. With all the sharp metal objects floating about, it isn’t a safe environment for us to eat in anymore, so we all sit out on the front stoop with our dinner (err, I mean, our supper). It’s nicer out there anyways because there’s a cool breeze; air conditioning is no longer allowed in the nightmarish Little House alternate universe into which we’ve fallen, so being inside is pretty terrible.
I’m starting to doubt myself and my place in the universe. Am I Michael Landon? You guys, tell me I’m not Michael Landon. [runs fingers through luscious, full head of made-for-primetime man-hair]
The girls painstakingly save each scrap of fabric they discover and stuff it into a desk drawer in their room. Seriously, every drawer they can lay claim to is now overflowing with old button-down shirts and other fabric they’ve rescued from the trash. Soon enough, I see my old wardrobe recycled as a decorative element on a massive hoop skirt. Nothing wasted nothing wanted, right? What is most amusing to me is that the girls never measure anything, they estimate, they try on, they guess. In a misbegotten attempt at pedagogy, I gently suggest that there is an object known as a “measuring tape” they might want to invest some time into researching. My daughter scoffs. “I’ve never measured anything in my life,” she haughtily declares from her station at the sewing machine.
I returned home from work recently and waiting for me was a home-made calling card announcing I had missed a visit from a lovely young lady. Yes, they’re leaving calling cards now. I think this is an innovation on their part because Laura never left calling cards, but as I’ve already learned there’s room for evolution and we shouldn’t be too doctrinaire. Little House is a living tradition, like a tree that puts out tender shoots as it matures. If Laura was around today, she would most certainly be using calling cards. How else is a Daddy to know that his dearest daughters have visited his office in his absence?
What is most exciting to me, and the reason I wanted to write this update, is that now they are writing their own books. I don’t mean little picture books with single sentences under a drawing. I mean serious novellas with heady word counts and chapter divisions. They’ve figured out how to use the word processor on the computer to make a fancy letter at the beginning of each chapter, so obviously they’re going to need to write a lot of chapters to fit in as much fancy typescript as possible. Honestly, their ability to capture natural dialogue is better than mine and I’m thinking of outsourcing some of my labor to them and starting a little freelance writing operation here on the #downlow.
It is so fascinating to watch the creative energy that children can bring to any project. When they’re excited, it’s only natural for them to engage in total immersion. And they’re doing it for the sheer joy of it. They have no plans to publish. They aren’t consciously learning anything (obviously, they are, but they don’t know it or intend to be doing so). They aren’t preparing themselves for the job market, and yet, they are working very hard. They’re learning to sew and design, expanding their vocabulary, learning history, and putting in the practice time it takes to become a polished writer.
Perhaps this is what I appreciate about what Little House On the Prairie has done for my children. They are in the midst of a self-motivated, total education. There’s nothing functionally advantageous about their interests right now, no immediate economic edge they’re gaining for their future as cogs in the machine of the job market, but what they are gaining is far more valuable, namely an education that forms the whole person and develops the imagination by feeding it raw material.
There is a general trend in schooling nowadays towards over-emphasizing science, tech, engineering, and math. Children are burdened by ever-more requirements, homework, and tests. The measure of a human being is often taken in terms of current and future earnings potential. I imagine Laura Ingalls Wilder was around today she would be confused, after all, her education was more expansive, more fundamental, and seemingly more enjoyable. How do you bake bread? What is a sugar snow? What story is Pa going to read to us tonight? Education isn’t about money – it’s about life. We are meant to learn how to be happy, or if you will, how to become saints, how to love God’s creation and imagine in it the reality that perches beyond the shadow. How do you measure that?
Little House On the Prairie has definitely thrown some wrinkles into our household, but there is no one-size education for a person or a form into which all families ought to be fitted. We are strange, and we wear home-made clothes of misshapen proportions and questionable tailoring. We read self-published books aloud to each other in silly, old-timey accents and giggle. But is there any happier way to live? And isn’t this happiness exactly what good books and a good education are meant to foster?