Friday, February 1, 2008

Words from the Wise

Susan Wise Bauer, that is:
(She's considered something of a classical education guru in homeschooling circles.)

One thing classical homeschoolers really need to guard against is a devastating level of elitism: "We are doing the best homeschooling because our young children are doing such advanced work." This kind of elitism is non-Christian, it is unloving, and it is unproductive. I was recently asked, "What do you think of third-graders doing Saxon 5/4?" I said, "I can't think of a single thing you would gain by that. Some of them will be able to do it, but a lot of them aren't developmentally ready for it. You are going to finish advanced mathematics by the end of high school if you keep them on the normal schedule. What's the rush?" What do you gain by asking a seventh-grader to read the Iliad if that seventh-grader hasn't developed the maturity to understand and appreciate what he's reading? Nothing at all. You gain nothing in the way of emotional and mental development by pushing difficult tasks down to earlier grades.

I am not talking about the lowering of academic standards. I don't want them lowered; I am just talking about extending the time needed for children to meet those standards. Children move from grammar to logic stage thinking, and from logic to rhetoric stage thinking, at different times in different subjects. We should focus on this, rather than focusing on age or grade level. And I hope that classical schools will also begin to think seriously about what is being gained in the classroom if immature students are being asked to do work that continually frustrates them. Is our goal to educate as many students as possible, or to identify a small, advanced, elite core of classical scholars? I hope it's the first, and not the second. I think there is a very high level of achievement that all children can reach, given the appropriate amount of time. Keep the standards high, but give each child the appropriate amount of time for those achievements.

from The Old Schoolhouse.

Like every teaching parent, I need reassurance.

We are so far behind in our curriculum that there's no way ds is making it to University by 18! Yes, he's only ten, but my heavens, I calculated today that if we continue school without any breaks, we'll be done this year's curriculum by September 13, 2008.
September 13th?!
No breaks?

We took a long long break in the fall--the entire fall, in fact. We did about three weeks of school in August, and feeling smug and quite ahead of the game (public school doesn't start here until after Labour Day) we took a bit of time off--that turned into a week, that turned into two weeks. Then a month went by, and then another, and then, why, it's almost Christmas, so why not wait until after Christmas? One January 7th, I could wait no longer...the public kids went back to school and so did we.

It's been a tough month.

First, we decided to visit relatives in Montreal and the Ottawa Valley this spring, so I decided it was time to get moving on the Canadian History course I'd partially planned. I've been doing a lot of on-line research in the evenings, pulling together resources here. It's been fascinating, but time consuming.

Second, I've been introducing our curriculum back in slowly. My objective is to do math, latin, grammar and spelling every day. The kids love to do their History (using Bauer's Story of The World, Vol. 2) so they keep me on task to get it done! We added in Art--just to give our poor brains a rest.

I started Bible this week and it was a disaster.
And we did start that Canadian History course.

There's science to add (I have found two great lesson plans for a study on the Human Body) and writing and Bible Study for the younger, and dictation.

I am overwhelmed.

Because we are so far behind, all the planning I did last year seems irrelevant. The schedule, even before we fell behind was overwhelming. I had seven and a half hour days planned for the ten year old, and only an hour less for the seven year old.

It just doesn't feel possible to do everything I'd planned to do and get through a day--let alone a month--or, even, the rest of the year.

Contributing to this is the third thing: our daily wake/sleep cycles are completely out of whack. The kids and I are up until 2 or 3 in the morning--and thus not up and at it until noon. I feel preassured all day long to keep moving. I hate giving the kids breaks because it is nearly impossible to bring them back from them. So, I keep pushing, let's do one more thing before we....But, it's Newton's law in action: the more I push, the more they resist. I haven't found a rhythm to our day, such as it is.

Lastly, I've been spending a lot of time over at the Well-Trained Mind message boards. I've been checking out other homeschooler's blogs. And I'm depressed. The women (and men) on those boards would be the very last people in the world to heap scorn and shame upon my head, yet I'm intimidated by their energy and committment (pre-reading? A Mom is actually pre-reading her history book selections?) and in the inevitable comparison between her kids and mine, mine seem to be way, way behind.

I must take a few days and get a handle on what's happening and what I want to have happen. My original plan was a 40 week school year with a week off every six weeks. That leaves us with six weeks for a "vacation" --now to be divied up between the three week trip to be taken out East in the spring and maybe three more weeks in the summer.

I have yet to figure out how far back that pushes our curriculum to next fall--but as Bauer writes: is there really a rush? Still, I can't help cringing. You just can't take half a year off and expect not to be half a year behind. In the words of the Wise, this needs to be my focus as I reevaluate:

Children move from grammar to logic stage thinking, and from logic to rhetoric stage thinking, at different times in different subjects. We should focus on this, rather than focusing on age or grade level.

or where we are in the curriculum.

4 comments :

scb said...

I've been wondering if it would be at all possible to do a school session (of the quieter subjects) from 9 to 12 p.m., if the three of you are going to be awake anyway? (If nothing else, it might make the kids suddenly want to go to sleep at 9 p.m.!)

Just a thought.

drwende said...

Can you make time for a post that shares with us what the reasoning behind homeschooling is for your family? I know The Pioneer Woman does it because they're so far out in the country that transportation to the public schools is painful... Reviewing why you do it may re-ignite your enthusiasm for ploughing ahead.

One thing that's puzzling me -- and this is an observation, not a criticism -- is that the justification behind homeschooling used to be partly that learning would follow naturally from the child's curiosity during daily activities, while the people on your messageboards seem to have developed a more structured, more onerous day than what the children do in school.

Alana in Canada said...

Thanks Wende and scb.

Friday night we did actually do a few things after supper--we made paper Iroquoian longhouses and did some science. The kids resisted in a huge way, but later called it "fun."

About why we do what we do: 1) a rigorous academic education is important to me and 2) this approach fits our parenting philosophy (if not the practice!) best. I've decided to start a homeschooling blog and the first entry is the backstory

Myrtle Hocklemeier said...

While I appreciate and agree with the sentiment expressed by SWB in her response to the question, I wonder if it wasn't non-sequiter.

Classical homeschoolers in general have been accused of doing "developmentally inappropriate" work with their kids and this charge is leveled for no more reason than the fact that the homeschooler is achieving more than peers in public school. When the curriculum of the public school is to be examined it can be determined that time isn't being used efficiently and a lot of assignments are fluff. Remove the fluff and make wise use of time and the results might be similar to what homeschoolers are able to accomplish.

More specifically Saxon math does not make efficient use of an individual's time. It wasn't designed for one on one teaching. It's designed to give enough practice so that almost every kid out there will "get it" and in a public school setting every kid who gets it right away is required to go through the motions (inefficient use of instructional time) anyway. Furthermore, there are many topics in the earliest grades of Saxon which are NOT math topics. For example, while calendar reading is a necessary skill in life, it is not a prequisite to arithemetic.

These people that are using the Robinson method, are skipping "the fluff", teaching basic math facts and algorithms which is the prequisite to Saxon 5/4 and then going straight to that level.

While I can't speak for the engineering mommies and daddies rushing to get their kid to Calculus as soon as possible, I know even finishing the entire arithmetic program by the end of the 5th grade and beginning algebra in 6th does not give us enough time to teach all the math that we want to teach.

Algebra I takes longer than a year since we are taking an axiomatic approach. We have enough supplements that provide depth to elemetary algebra that it effectively adds another year on top of that. Geometry will take at least a year, Algebra II is scheduled to take two years and pre-calc topics include group theory.

By sticking with a conventional schedule we only nominally cover "algebra" and geometry and then in the most superficial way.
For those interested in a Liberal Arts education, "higher math" is usually synonymous with engineering calculus and "doing good on the SAT." If that is one's perspective of the field of mathematics then it would make sense not to worry about rushing there.

It's just as developmentally appropriate for a sci-math parent to begin algebra early as it is for a Liberal Arts leaning parent to begin Latin and its declensions in the 3rd grade. Why "push" Latin in the 3rd grade when all the kids get to Latin lit in high school anyway? Because the literature that a kid fluent in Latin has access to is completely different from that which a kid who is just finishing up the study of Latin grammar in the eleventh grade has access to. Sure, they both technically get literature, but the kid that was fluently reading Latin by the 8th or 9th grade has made massive inroads in the literature four years later, while that high school senior who delayed it until high school is superficially covering literature in a highly glossed anthology.

What do you think about Saxon 5/4 in the third grade? Depends on the educational goals of the parent.

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