A Letter to Michael Clay Thompson from Grateful Parents
Our thanks to the family for this letter and for permission to publish it with the names changed.
I wanted to take a moment to tell you how grateful Hazel’s father and I are to you for being such a wonderful teacher to our daughter last semester. Your Mud Trilogy, which she read and reread, the look on her face each week when she received your comments (“I can’t believe Mr. T is writing to me!”), her hilarious proclamations whenever she saw any contraction in any book, the pride she felt after writing two “real literature” papers (as she called them)—you gave her all of these tremendous joys and more. Throughout the course I saw Hazel leave so much of her perfectionism and anxiety behind as she went forward with the faith that if she delved deeply into the world you created and gave it her all, what she had to say would be met with kindness and encouragement. As her mom, this was momentous to see. Anxiety and existential depression have been great and sometimes scary struggles for our daughter in her short life, and your books and course helped her to feel less alone.
I previously told you that your curriculum has been central to our homeschooling, but really that was a deliberate understatement. (I wanted Hazel to develop a correspondence with you outside of a grateful mother; she is her own person.) That said, it is the end of the semester, and I do not believe in holding back on gratitude. I want you to know how much your approach to learning has had an impact on Hazel and on this family. She is a profoundly asynchronous kid. A little more than a year ago, when we decided to pull her out of school to homeschool, my primary goal was her emotional health and healing. Her intrinsic joy had been damaged by the boredom and bullying she had endured at school.
One of her chief complaints about school, ever since she was three years old, was “there’s not enough grammar”—she is a language/reading kid, and she craved much more than she was getting. I went searching on the internet for grammar curricula and came across yours in short order. Little did I know that the way you present grammar was the first of many worlds you would steady for her. I kept making bigger and bigger orders to Royal Fireworks Press. Vocabulary. Then poetry. Then the full boat. The Island Level gave her something beautiful and meaningful to participate in, something she craved and needed that no other curriculum could provide. Your characters were instant friends. When she read the Mud Trilogy last summer, she said she wished that they would never end. Then I read your Classics in the Classroom last August and found in it a guiding light.
I have no doubt that every child would benefit from what you have to offer. For our particular child, though, this connection to the world of ideas…I do not mean to overstate it, but this has been a lifeline for her. I anticipate that existential depression will continue to press down on her throughout her life. As her mother, I want to help her to build a bulwark against that darkness, to energize and sustain her natural joy and curiosity, and to build connections with others who have thought and think about the same questions that keep her mind in motion. You have helped me to see clearly the way forward: literature, philosophy, poetry. Your curriculum is, as I said, our north star, and it will make all the difference in Hazel’s life. What you offer is unique and much needed. We will always be grateful.
Jennifer and Peter