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Teens and health and safety-- fabulous resource in 'The Survivors Club'
Susan Richman, 12/13/2010

When I'm consulting with families about homeschooling at the high school level, sometimes parents ask what they should use for health and safety education-- especially safety. My 'old' answer used to be, "Well, you'll be teaching them to drive at some point?? There's your safety credit." But now I have something extraordinary to add to that.

Last spring when I was about to head off on a weeklong evaluation trip, seeing lots of wonderful homeschooling families way over in Eastern PA, my husband kindly borrowed a whole set of CD audio books from the library, hoping I might enjoy one of them on the long drive. Looking them over, I passed over the novels, the non-fiction US history books, the biographies, and instead zeroed in on something that I wouldn't have thought initially that I would have found intriguing. It was Ben Sherwood's new book The Survivors Club.

 Listening to the open chapter, talking about how to survive an airplane crash, I was hooked-- the writing was vivid, the stories and interviews with experts in the field (including those who'd survived plane crashes...) were rivetting, and I couldn't wait for my upcoming 6 hour drive east. I ended up listening to the book through about three times-- and every homeschooling family I met with on the trip got to hear about the latest chapter I'd just heard.

And I realized that a book like this, along with using the accompanying website at www.thesurvivorsclub.org,  would make one of the best homeschooling safety and health courses I could imagine-- and I knew this would be much more engaging for teens than some pallid textbook exhorting kids blandly to be nice, and look both ways, and avoid dangerous substances, and memorize (one more time...) the names of all muscles of the body. Here were instead stories of amazing courage-- like the woman who lived through an attack by a mountain lion while out biking in a California nature reserve (one I've hiked through, by the way-- finding out only later about the then recent attack...). The woman's face was almost completely torn off, and she gives vivid testimony to how her religious faith, and the courage of her friend who was with her (who yelled vehement curses at the mountain lion, and literally did a 'tug-of-war' with the woman as the 'rope'...), and the support of her family and community all helped her make it through this ordeal. After reading her story in the book, you can even watch an interview with her at the www.thesurvivorsclub.org website (in the 'most popular video' section). No kid will forget this.

You'll find out about people who have survived awful car accidents, a suicide jump off the Golden Gate Bridge,  Holocaust concentration camps, debilitating illnesses and cancer, attacks and rape, falls out of airplanes,  bizarre accidents (like a knitting needle that pierces a woman's heart...), and so much more. You'll hear from people who work in such unknown fields as investigating how people survive huge falls, or who research why and how some people indeed seem to be 'luckier' than others, or who help soldiers learn to prepare for capture by an enemy or eject out of a hi-speed combat plane. You'll hear interviews with psychologists examing how prayer and faith helps people facing trauma, gain insights into how people live to ripe old ages by studying the oldest trees in the US, and much more. All through, the stories are woven together with practical advice, research findings, and thoughtful questions for the reader to consider. You'll approach daily life differently, with wide open eyes and new appreciation for the resilience of certain people. And you'll want to become one of them.

The website continues all of this learning-- you can read many further survivor stories, and even post your own. You can look over the special support sections to help people through all types of crises, helping you find resources and life-saving information. The site includes a reader's guide of discussion questions-- these would be great for a teen homeschool co-op class using the book together. There are links to news stories on recent astonishing survivor stories, getting your teen to keep up with intriguing news stories. I could see families requiring a student to read for 30 minutes on the site for several days a week, while also reading the book, keeping a log of topics covered-- I guarantee that the teen will get lots more vision for how to live a responsible, healthy, and safe life, and gain great courage and the drive to learn more.

And some families like to have Dad involved in guiding some studies, especially with teens-- this book would be a natural for that (my guess is that most dads would have even less ability to stick with boring textbooks than the students!). One mother who bought the book at my suggestion, said that her husband was absolutely hooked by it-- just like your teen will find the book rivetting, so will your husband. And the website, with all its video interviews of survivors, might inspire them to go out and interview family friends who have moving survivor stories to tell. I could imagine students in our PHAA diploma program using this book as inspiration to investigate a particular type of challenge for their own 2500-word paper for the year-- complete with info gained from personal interviews as well as extensive reading. 

One of the book's premises is that we are all survivors in one sense or another. For some, this is exceptionally dramatic-- being ejected out of a cockpit at the speed of sound when an airplane is tumbling to the ocean, or being faced with an angry bear in the woods, or realizing your house is on fire. For others, it might be surviving an early abuse, or dealing with difficult interpersonal relationships, or dealing with a longterm chronic illness. For others it's dealing with tough money problems, or difficulties in learning, or physical disabilities. But we can all learn from those who have survived significant challenge-- we'll gain more understanding of our own personal strengths and resources and how to reach out to others, and how to lean on a Higher Power. You'll gain a sense of deep hope and deep humility-- and gratitude for all those who work in safety and health fields and in psychology and faith.

The book is great as a print book or as an audio-- the audio book is read aloud by Ben Sherwood, the author, and he's excellent. I hope soon to be able to print 'survivor stories' from readers of this website (my heart is always moved to hear from homeschooling families about the stark personal challenges they've had to face while homeschooling)-- and to hear how you have been able to incorporate the book into your program. And I guarantee you'll never go back to just a tepid health textbook again.


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