10,000 hours

January 23, 2009

A few weeks ago on Camp Creek –my new favorite blog about project-based homeschooling and authentic art!–Lori wrote an interesting post after reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success. In the book, apparently, Gladwell states that to become excellent at something, you need to spend about 10,000 hours at it. 

In her post, Lori considered how homeschooling might play into that theory. If you haven’t already, go read what she wrote instead of a poor summary from me.

Now, here’s something exciting which might seem completely unrelated: right now my 16-year-old is at the Sundance Film Festival for six days. I couldn’t be more thrilled for him.

And I think that fact has an awful lot to do with Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, and Lori’s thoughts on homeschooling. 

But to tie that all together, I’ll have to tell you a little story. Or a long story. (I have to be careful: my oldest doesn’t like me writing about him here. But, I figure, I took his name off the blog. And I just want to share a little about his path; I’ll try not to get too personal. Plus, the kid’s at Sundance–my blog is surely the last thing on his mind.)

Anyway, a couple of years ago, in November 2006, H and I had one of those explosive homeschooling days that made it clear things weren’t working. At that point, he was what a high school would consider a freshman. And since he’d started “high school”, things had changed with our homeschooling. I’d changed things with our homeschooling.

Suddenly, I’d realized that if H planned to go to college, he would need a transcript, and for the first time in our homeschooling lives we needed to account for how he was spending his time. I wanted him to continue as we always had: “covering” less, but letting his learning be more in-depth. Having him choose projects to explore interesting topics, rather than skimming through endless textbooks.

But that transcript kept hovering over my shoulder, and I was suddenly pushing him to cover more. Do it in an interesting way, of course, but cover more…

Well, there isn’t enough time in the day to learn both ways, and H was justified when he told me in no uncertain terms, “I can’t do all this!”

We spent a lot of time talking about what we should do. I could see that learning had become less exciting for him, and it saddened me. But neither of us wanted to completely ignore the fact that eventually colleges would be interested in what he’d done for four years.

We didn’t figure everything out that day, but we decided that he would change his focus. He would “cover” some topics that interested him less more quickly–science, math–and leave time to explore the areas that he liked in more depth–English, history.

And filmmaking.

H had started using the family camcorder to film movies with his friends and siblings that summer. He’d taught himself how to edit with iMovie. It amazed me to see how immersed he became when he was editing a film, how he could spend hours at it, completely focused.

I wanted him to bring that excitement about learning back to his homeschooling. Together, H and I designed a “class” that we could add to his transcript:  Introduction to Filmmaking.

He started with Hitchcock, because back when I was in college, I decided that one ought not to graduate from UCLA without taking a film class, and Hitchcock was the spring quarter offering. So H watched one Hitchcock film after another and read my text from the class: a fantastic set of film-by-film interviews between Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut.

Hitchcock turned out to be a fortuitous introduction, I think. His careful attention to camera angles and shots had an effect on H’s own very visual style.

He read Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez and watched his early films with the director’s commentary. He learned a lot about making films as a beginner, with little money.

While studying WWII, he filmed and edited an extended interview with a family member who’d served there.

I helped H load up the Netflix queue. Classic films, newer films, he watched them all. He wrote a few papers. And he spent a lot of time behind our camera and with our computer editing program.

A year or so before, a friend in my homeschooling group had forwarded a link to a free (!) filmmaking program in our city, for kids 15 and up. I’d saved that link–because squirreling away possibilities for our kids is what homeschooling moms do best. When he turned 15, H started attending the program, and it’s been an amazing opportunity for him. He’s been using professional-quality cameras and editing programs for over a year now. He’s made three short films of his own, and done collaborative work on others. He attended a program on an Indian reservation outside Seattle, in which teams of kids had 36 hours to film and edit an adapted scene from one of Native American writer Sherman Alexie’s books. The films were screened at the Seattle International Film Festival, and Sherman Alexie was there.

And now they’re at Sundance.

But back to Lori’s post. What’s interesting is that H decided to go to high school this year as a junior, for his own reasons which I won’t go into here. It’s been a lot of work–I’m not sure he understood entirely what he was getting himself into. But what’s wonderful is that he took on school with the understanding that filmmaking wouldn’t lose its priority in his life. As a homeschooler, H had two years to explore film at his own pace, to let it seep into him and become part of him. And there’s no way he’s going to let a set of required classes stop him from continuing that.

I don’t think he’s come close to his 10,000 hours yet, but they’re clicking by pretty quickly. And I’m so grateful that homeschooling helped him get that clock going.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lori January 23, 2009 at 1:27 pm

what a fantastic and inspiring story!

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melissa s. January 26, 2009 at 11:10 pm

so inspiring! I’m squirreling away all your homeschooling success stories for future use 🙂

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