Quick Takes: Cornerstone Curriculum

Dear Reader,

In times past I have looked at various approaches to homeschooling. While I have been focused in more recently on first the Charlotte Mason approach and then on developing my own (Reformed Christian) philosophy of education, I have been asked to look into a couple of other curricula so I will be taking a post or two to do that. This is the second of these posts (you can find the first on Generations Homeschool Curriculum here).

Today we are going to look at Cornerstone Curriculum which was created by David and Shirley Quine and bills itself as “The Original Biblical Worldview Approach.”

Let’s start with some practical details:

  • Cornerstone covers all the years — from kindergarten through high school.
  • Subjects covered include: math, science, art/music, and history/literature/geography.
  • I am not sure if everything is here or if some is still in the works, especially for the history/literature/geography subject (which would be a major part of the curriculum). In elementary years, there are two modules (Egypt and China) with a third coming soon. But what happens after that? By my calculation, you would still have a couple of elementary years with no curriculum left to do. For junior high, the only history/literature/geography seems to be a selection of (very good) classic books, but there is no history I can see. In high school, the broad span of history is covered using a guide created by the Quines and a selection of classic works (think Plato and C.S. Lewis).
  • The curriculum uses some books from other publishers and some classics. While there is mention of living books, there does not seem to be a wide range of living books being read. It also uses a number of books created specifically for Cornerstone.
  • A weekly teaching schedule is given.
  • Materials are given by stage (eg. early elementary, middle school) rather than grade and seem to be geared toward having the family work together on a subject.
  • Because subjects are sold separately, it is a little hard to get an idea of the cost. I am guessing to get started with an early elementary child, you might pay $200-400. But some of these resources would be used for multiple children or over multiple years.

Method and Philosophy:

Cornerstone lists as its influences Charlotte Mason, the Schaeffers, and the Moores.

In terms of method, Cornerstone seems to have a bit of Charlotte Mason (CM) in it and a bit of classical. The site quotes CM in a number of places and there is talk of living books and narration. From my perusal of the materials, I would say there are living books used but not as many as I would like or expect to see. The worldview emphasis is not something that is CM (though I have my own issues with her philosophy so I am not unsympathetic with what they are trying to do here). Narration is mentioned but I an unable to tell from what I can see how it is used. Like CM, Cornerstone emphasizes the individuality of each child as a unique person. There is also an emphasis on finding relations between various subjects, though I suspect that this is done for one more than in a CM education.

Cornerstone does not mention classical education, but it does have classical’s tripartite division by age.  The three age ranges it gives are: birth-12; 13-15; and 16+. Cornerstone rejects the rote memorization of facts, however, so its initial stage would not correspond precisely to the grammar stage of classical.

There is an emphasis, particularly in the early years, on active learning. Cornerstone quotes a statistic that while we remember 10% of what we read, we remember 90% of what we do [1]. They posit something they call the learning cycle in which the student observes by encountering a new concept, interprets by digging deeper, and then applies by linking the new concept to what has already been learned.

Answering Some Questions

When I was doing my series on different approaches to homeschool, I asked four questions of each. It seems useful to ask these here as well. They are:

  1. What do they assume about how learning works?
  2. How do they view children?
  3. How do they view human nature?
  4. What do they believe is the goal of education?

Taking these in turn, Cornerstone assumes that learning works best when it is active and the child is an involved participant and makes connections for themselves as much as possible. It does not, like Unschooling, assume the child will gravitate toward the good. There is a careful selection of materials and they tend to be older and/or to present a very specific Christian worldview.

Regarding questions 2 and 3 — the nature of children and of man — Children are viewed as people made in the image of God. There is an emphasis on flexibility yet a clear belief that there are certain things one needs to be taught. Though they do not mention it as such, there is clearly an underlying belief in man’s sinfulness as well. There is a staged development of children but, unlike in classical, they are viewed as worthy of real ideas at a young age.

The goal of education is to make disciples who adhere to a particular worldview.

What’s To Like, and Not

When I first started my series on approaches to homeschooling, I was very much in the Charlotte Mason camp myself. Over time, I have seen some flaws in her philosophy. Cornerstone very much comes off as a curriculum founded on a CM-style philosophy but which is trying to supply what perhaps her philosophy lacks. As such, I can appreciate what they are trying to do. I am not sure I would go the same way they do, however.

On one hand, I don’t like some of what has been dropped here. There just aren’t enough good living books for my taste. Narration is mentioned but I am not sure how it is used so the jury is out on that.

On the other hand, I am not sure I like what has been added. Some of the actual books used are good; I have used many of the same books with my own kids. But, while I agree that CM may be too “mere Christianity” for me, I am not convinced that adding in a worldview subject is the way to go. My own philosophy (which I am in the process of writing up more fully) would take a more indirect approach to incorporating worldview. There are a few fundamental differences at the base of this decision. I agree with CM that ultimately God Himself is the Great Educator and that we need to trust His work in our children. I also agree with her that being too preachy and direct often drives children the opposite direction. I don’t know, because I can’t see specifics, how Cornerstone teaches worldview but I suspect, since they are so deliberate in it, that they would be more direct than I am comfortable with.

On another level still, I would incorporate a fair amount of books from non-Christians (especially as children grow older). Though again I am not entirely sure, it doe snot seem that Cornerstone does this. Underlying the difference again is a big idea. It is about how we view God’s work in non-believers and what we think of natural law. I don’t want to rehash everything that has been said before but I would refer you tothis post on common grace andthis one on Fesko’s recent book Reforming Apologetics.



[1] This is a very un-CM idea. While Charlotte might agree that reading alone does not lead one to retain knowledge, her approach is very heavy on the reading of living books. The difference is narration which is a process by which the child processes what is read for himself.  It is not a hands-on, active curriculum in a modern sense, however. Though, again, I am not sure how Cornerstone uses narration or how they incorporate what they call active learning.

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