Sunday, September 13, 2009

Why We Homeschool Part II

For part I, well, that was written a long, long time ago, right here, but for this post I want to focus on curriculum because that's what got me started on this kick, right after I got married and well before it was time to make these educational decisions, I read this book and it made me ache wishing I had this kind of education I grew up.

And now my wife is following the classical approach to education at home, basically following the outline within this book.

And as we review the material together, I got excited by excerpts like this:

"Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns appeared at the National Press Club in early 1997 to plug his latest project (the life of Thomas Jefferson). Afterward, he took questions. One questioner pointed out that an astronomical percentage of high-school graduates saw no purpose in studying history and asked for a response.

Ken Burns answered: History is the study of everything that has happened until now. Unless you plan to live entirely in the present moment, the study of history is inevitable.

History, in other words, is not a subject. History is the subject. It is the record of human experience, both personal and communal. It is the story of the unfolding of human achievement in every area - science, literature, art, music, and politics. A grasp of historical facts is essential to the rest of the classical curriculum.

When you first introduce the elementary student to history, you must keep one central fact in mind: history is a story.

The logical way to tell a story is to begin (as the King said to Alice) at the beginning and go on till you come to the end. Any story makes less sense when learned in bits and pieces. If you were to tell your five year old the story of Hansel and Gretel, beginning with the house made of candy and cookies (because that's likely to be the most interesting part of the story to the child), then backing up and telling about the woodchopper's unfortunate second marriage, then skipping to the witch's demise, and then scooting backward again and relating the story of Hansel and Gretel's walk in the woods, the story isn't going to form a coherent whole in the child's mind. Even if he listens to the end, you may have lost him long before that.

History is no different. Yet it's too often taught unsystematically - as a series of unrelated bits and pieces: American history this year, ancient history the next, eighteenth-century France the year after that. Think back. By the time you graduated high school or college, you'd studied King Tut and the Trojan war and the Bronze Age; you probably learned about the end of the Athenian monarchy and the rise of the city-state; you may have been taught about the Exodus and the conquest under Joshua or the early history of Ethiopia. Chances are you studied these subjects in different years, in different units, out of different textbooks. You probably have difficulty fitting them together chronologically.

Furthermore, you probably started with American history (which is pretty near the end of the story as we know it) and then spent at least twice as much time studying American history as you did studying the rest of the world. Yes, American history is important for Americans, but this myopic division of curriculum does the Founding Fathers a disservice. Children who plunge into the study of the American Revolution with no knowledge of the classical models used by Jefferson, Washington, and their colleagues can achieve only a partial understanding of American government and ideals. And American history ought to be kept in perspective: the history curriculum covers seventy centuries; America occupies only five of them.

A common assumption found in history curricula seems to be that children can't comprehend (or be interested in) people and events distant from their own experience. So the first-grade history class is renamed Social Studies and begins with what the child knows: first, himself and his family, followed by his community, his state, and only then the rest of the world.

This intensely self-focus pattern of study encourages the student of history to relate everything he studies to himself, to measure the cultures and customs of other people against his own experience. And that's exactly what the classical education fights against - a self-absorbed, self-referential approach to knowledge. History learned this way makes our needs and wants the center of the human endeavor. This attitude is destructive at any time, but it is especially destructive in the present global civilization.

The goal of classical curriculum is multicultural in the true sense of the word: the student learns the proper place of his community, his state, and his country by seeing the broad sweep of history from its beginning and then fitting his own time and place into that great landscape. The systematic study of history in the first four years lays the foundation for the logic stage, when the student will begin to understand the relationships between historical events - between Egypt and Greece, Greece and Rome, Rome and England, England and America.

I heard on the radio recently a brief interview of the author of a book with the provocative title, Why School. The author makes the very good point that an education should be much more than preparing for a career and learning knowledge and developing skills should be much more than a means to a future high salary. And that's why I feel emphasizing history in educational pursuits is so important because they are a better person because of it.

Today in primary, our ward had a brief, really well-done and appropriate discussion on pornography with the primary children and their parents. The core of the message was to tell the children if they accidently see pornography to stop, run and talk (shut it down, run out of the room, and immediately tell a parent or a trusted adult). Funny because my kids don't really get pornography, but its an important lesson nonetheless because the issue is looming soon for them.

But the point is the woman who presented the lesson did it masterfully, like a trained professional. She is a trained kindergarten teacher, so I'm sure that helps, but she just had this masterful way of presenting a difficult subject to children in a way that was not scary and in a way they understood. How grateful am I that there are adults in my community that support us in that way.

But more than that, you could tell she was educated in a deep way and she used her talents to bless others without a monetary reward. And that's the point I guess.

The author of the book makes the excellent point that when education is too focused on career preparation, it focuses too heavily on math, science and reading and neglects other subjects like art and music. Can you imagine a someone with a highly focused technical training trying to explain the dangers of pornography to young kids? I can't.

But it's one example. And it's why I feel that the classical education curriculum is so cool. It's comprehensive and thorough. The child reads from the original sources as much as possible instead from text book summaries. The pint again is to prepare a child for life in all of its facets. I could go on, and maybe I will in later posts.

But I just felt this explanation of the history curriculum was well done.


April said...

Scott, I enjoyed this post. I agree with the idea that school needs to be more than a place to learn how be an employee. I love those lyrics by Pink Floyd, "we don't need no education." In fact I wrote an essay using it's lyrics when I was in college when I was feeling very anti-school.

Anyway, this idea that there is more to education is why I love Justin's school. He is learning to be a person with skills. He bakes, sews, gardens, befriends, cares for animals and crafts and he's just in kindergarten. Once he is older the academics will come but they will add to this "other" kind of education and will not replace it. Basically, I think we all want our children to learn how to be good people, right? And not some brain washed cubicle loving data entry person.

Way to follow your own path. I'm there with ya!

H said...

I was hoping that April would address the Waldorf curriculum in regards to history, but she didn't. I'm not certain, but I believe that they follow somewhat the idea of classic education. I know the 3rd graders are studying from the old testament. In 5th grade Kyra was in Egypt and Greece(I believe! I'm such a terrible parent.) And they are currently, in 6th grade, learning about Rome. Last year they held a Greek Olympics and this year will be Midieval games. Does that fit chronologically? It's late (or early?), I don't really know.

Anyway, LOVE the quotes on history. It was always my favorite subject, although it didn't always make sense because it was presented as a jumbled mess of a timeline, just like you said. I wanted to be a history teacher, but then someone convinced me that elementary school was what I should do.