Homeschooling in Will Penny

Since Charlton Heston has died, my husband and I have taken an interest in his movies. Yesterday we watched Will Penny. Will Penny (Heston) is a cowboy who is almost fifty, never married. Catherine (Joan Hackett) is trying to get to California to meet her husband at their farm. She and her son, H. G., are abandoned by their guide in the Flatirons (Colorado) and they end up "squatting" in a shack used by a cowboy during the winter. Of course, that cowboy is Will Penny.

Will Penny first tells Catherine that she has a week to leave, but soon after this warning, he is beaten by the villian and makes his way back to the shack, where Catherine reluctantly nurses him back to health. By Christmas, they have a chaste, but deep, friendship. In fact, he tells Catherine that she "really knows how to make a man feel like a man" -- simply by her kindness and loving voice.

This movie was made in 1968, the same year that Humanae Vitae created a firestorm, and yet here is Will Penny, showing simple domestic life, where the title character learns for the first time how beautiful friendship in a domestic setting can be. (set aside for the moment that they are just "playing house")

One of the tasks in this domestic setting is homeschooling. As H. G. reads out of his McGuffey reader, his mother looks on as if it were the most natural thing in the world (of course you know it is). The movie also makes a point that Catherine is not a former schoolteacher; she is emphatic that she is a farmer. Catherine's keeping up on H. G.'s schooling is regarded very favorably, as it is a poignant contrast to Penny's own illiteracy, of which he is deeply ashamed.

Will Penny is a great movie, but you should watch it first to decide if it is appropriate for your kids because the villian is a really bad guy.

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