Posts Tagged ‘high school’

A Charlotte Mason Education in High School

Dear Reader,

I ran across this wonderful quote recently while rereading Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake:

“Also, it would be wrong not to equip our children with ‘passports’ to our society. There are exams to be passed if Johnny or Ann are to be allowed into the fraternity of our society’s demands. But let us try to keep the true spirit of education alive as long as possible.” (p. 68)

This quotation sums up so well my own take on homeschooling high school. As I consider my own children, two of whom are now high school age, I am not at all displeased with their educations, past or present (if anything, what I would change is to have done less in the earlier years). I like who they are and I am comfortable with what they are learning. Rather than abandoning a Charlotte Mason approach in high school, I find that it is in these later years that I am truly beginning to see the fruit of it. And the tools we have used thus far — the use of living books and narration in particular — are still the best ones I have found for inspiring interest and producing true learning.

My own view of homeschooling high school is that its true difficulty lies in the fact that one must now do two things: educate, as one always has, and prove that education to others. Of course, depending on the state you live in and the state of your relationship with your in-laws, you may already have been trying to prove yourself for years. But with college and/or employment looming on the horizon, high school becomes the time to really think about satisfying society’s expectations. While I do think many colleges are getting more homeschool friendly, it is hard to avoid things like standardized testing and grades at this point in our journey.

These, then, are the “passports” Macaulay speaks of. They are the legal paperwork we must have in order to move forward, and, as she says, we would be foolish to not help our children get those emblems that our society requires. The key, I think, is to satisfy those external requirements without abandoning everything we have done so far and, I should add, without essentially requiring a double load of our children as we have them meet both our demands and those of society.

So what is my high school advice? Don’t abandon what works for you. Learn to translate it into a language that the institutions of society will understand (grades, credits, etc.). Take those standardized tests. Consider a few outside classes, perhaps in subjects that are either less central to your education or easier to quantify anyway (eg. math, foreign language). But don’t feel like you have to give into the system completely. Remember that your goal is still about who and not what.


Sample Narrations (9th Grader)

Dear Reader,

My older two often type up their written narrations. The problem with my 9th grader is she rarely actually prints them out. I told her she had to this past weekend or else she wouldn’t get snack. So I ended up with about a million narrations, all patched together in one long document. Below is a short excerpt covering three subjects to give you an idea of what a 9th grader can do. I haven’t edited it; all mistakes are hers, though I suspect more are typos than outright mistakes.


There is a famous painter named Titian. He has only a half dozen paintings that we know he painted. He is said to be one of the best painters ever.

He has a painting called the Concert. It is a strange painting because you can’t figure out what the people are doing. The two men are said to e in contrast because they are opposites. One is rich and the other is poor. The women are supposed to be nymphs or spirits in human form.

John Wilkes Booth was from a famous family of actors. They were the first real actors in America. He was the youngest and they called him Johnny. He had two brothers named Edwin and Junius Brutus and a sister named Asia. He was a normal child. When he got older he became very anti-north and pro-south. He was extremely racist and hated Abraham Lincoln. His ideas were not strange for the time but he was more firm in his ideas.

He was a very good actor. He was very handsome and women always gathered by his dressing room door. He was pretty famous.

The rest of his family was in favor of the north. Once he said something about the north must fall and his sister said “but we ARE the north.” We know a lot about John Wilkes Booth because his sister Asia wrote his biography after he died.

Johnny had always hated Lincoln, but once Lincoln’s son, Robert, was leaning against a train. The train started to move and Robert fell between the platform and the train. A man pulled him out and the man’s name was Edwin Booth.

Johnny booth had a big group of followers who all wanted to get rid of Lincoln. Originally they jus wanted to kidnap him. Booth had the opportunity to shoot him at his second inauguration. Once they made plans to kidnap him, but they realized that Lincoln had sent another man in his place who was also wearing a top hat because Lincoln didn’t feel well.

When the south lost the war, Booth got angry and decided to kill Lincoln because Lincoln had destroyed his “country.” Booth was not the only one who hated Lincoln. Lincoln was a very unpopular president. All the southerners hated him and a lot of republicans did too. They thought he wanted to make the black people rule over the white people. They trained their children to hate him. One little boy was handed a picture of Lincoln and he threw it on the ground and started punching it.

Lincoln did not do a very good job guarding himself. He often went unguarded. He said that if someone really wanted o kill him then they wound get around a bodyguard and they would do it anyway.

Protoazoas are small things. They are alive. They are footprint-shaped. When they reproduce, they separate into two baby protoazoas. The Zoa part of protoazoa means “animal.” It is like the word “zoo.”

Algaes are in the same kingdom as protoazoas. They are usually in the water, although there are some land algaes. Lichen is algae sandwiched in between two fungis.

The word protozoa is plural. The singular word is protoazoan.

There were tow scientists who discovered protoazoas. They liked to make miroscopes.

The most deadly protoazoa disease is malaria. It is deadly because we don’t have a cure for it.

The protoazoas and the algaes and some other things are in the kingdom of Protista.

Another High School Homeschool Essay

Dear Reader,

I recently shared an essay my 10th grader wrote so to be fair I thought I should share one from my 9th grader as well. My point here is to show that kids who have been educated with a Charlotte Mason education and with little direct focus on writing skills can wrote coherently and even better have intelligent thoughts, that they can, as Charlotte says, form relationships with the material.

My dd is working through the American literature curriculum I developed last year for my son which can be found here. Her assignment was to discuss Thoreau’s view of government and her own responses to it. She had some preparation for this in the short answer questions I had her do as she read the passages but was here asked to pull it all together.

In Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Resistance to Civil Government,” he says that he believes the best government is no government. He also says that the government is run by a few people with a lot of power, and those people misuse their power.

I do not think the world would go well if everyone could do whatever they liked. Thoreau is a transcendentalist and transcendentalists believe that the most pure and sacred thing is the human mind. God says that all people have sinful, imperfect minds. If you take the “pure mind” point of view, then no government might work out pretty well. Unfortunately, since people have sinful minds, then if everyone did exactly as they wanted, the world would be chaos because people would want to do sinful things and people do not naturally get along with each other.

If everyone was running around, doing exactly as they pleased, and probably fighting with each other quite a lot, then it is quite possible that a few people would become more powerful and start a government. In other words, there is a good chance that a government would start all over again.

Now, to look at the other side of the argument, there is no reason that just because there [are] laws doesn’t mean everyone obeys them. In fact, there are quite a lot of people who don’t. The laws do cut down on bad things, but they don’t completely get rid of them.

Just because the government says some thing is illegal doesn’t mean that thing is bad. There are probably quite a few laws that outlaw perfectly good things. I think most laws are necessary to keep order, like laws about not murdering, and laws about not yelling “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater. There are also a good many laws that don’t really help anyone, like about not running over small children getting off a schoolbus.

Thoreau thinks that the government shouldn’t be able to tax people. There are probably some useless taxes. A lot of taxes, though, help the military, and help to set up libraries and things like that. If one had a choice whether to pay money to fund a library or not, then most people would not pay and would get to use the library for free. That is not fair.

To sum up, I think everyone should be smarter in general. The government should only do what it needs to do. People should pay only taxes that benefit them and society. Thoreau views taxes as a burden because he doesn’t experience any of the things taxes fund because he lives in a tiny cabin in the woods.

Okay, it’s not perfect. She uses the word “things” way too much for too many . . . well, er . . .things. And that last sentence probably should have been earlier on. But, she is thinking about the material and forming her own opinions. Also when I asked her how she knew transcendentalists value the human mind, she said Emerson (whom she studied previously) said so and that he was a transcendentalist too. So bonus points for that. Oh, and the bit about running over school children not hurting anyone? I didn’t teach them that. Honest.


Writing and Literature in a Charlotte Mason Education

Dear Reader,

A Charlotte Mason education is a long-term affair. It can be hard as the parent of younger kids to trust that you are doing the right thing, especially when your (classical) homeschooling friends seem to be doing way more. My oldest two are in high school now and I am starting to see the fruit of their labors. I posted some narrations my eldest did recently. Today I’d like to share an essay he wrote for me.

For a little background, I’ll tell you that this year I am having him study “Great American Bestsellers.” I am using the Great Courses series by that title and have selected 10 or so of their “bestsellers” to read. After each one I have him write me some sort of essay or response and then we listen to the Great Courses audio lecture. He just finished Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. His assignment was:

Uncle Tom’s Cabin Essay Questions

1. Faith plays a large part in the book. For each of the following characters, write a paragraph saying what they believed and how it affected their actions:

Uncle Tom

George Harris

Augustine St. Clare

Miss Ophelia

Little Eva


the Hallidays (the Quakers)

Simon Legree

2. What do you think Harriet Beecher Stowe’s view are? Is there an overall statement about faith she is trying to make? Can you discern what she believes or which character(s) she would most agree with?

And here is what he produced:

In her story, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe paints an array of characters.  Each has unique characteristics and traits.  Belief also played a large part in the book.  Belief very much governed the actions of the characters.

Uncle Tom, as the central character, plays one of the largest roles in the book.  His actions are almost entirely by his belief in the Christian God.  I cannot think of a single instance where he did not act as God would’ve wanted him to.  He always carries his Bible with him and he is loyal unto death.  He gladly takes a beating, unto death, for the sake of Cassie and Emoline.  In his last words he forgave the worst man in the book.  He showed Christianity to all of those around him.  Even if his Christianity didn’t change them he showed everyone the strength of the one, living, and true God.  I feel more like I am writing an obituary than an essay.

George Harris was Tom’s first owner.  I believe that his belief is best expressed at the very end of the book when he frees all his slaves after he witnesses Tom’s death.  Actions speak louder than words, and this action screams about George Harris’s faith.  He is always a good steward of those put under him.  He was definitely a Christian before Tom’s death, but I think Tom’s death opened his eyes to the sin of slavery.

Augustine St. Claire is Tom’s second master and he has a lot more “screen time” than Harris.  St. Claire grew up with Christianity but he was never a true Christian until his final hours.  His greatest love was his daughter Eva and that is reflected very clearly when he bought Tom right up until his death.  He was always kind to his slaves, to a fault.  He had no cares about what the slaves do as long as they get their jobs done.  He doesn’t seem to care about his life, as long he has Eva.  Like everyone else, St. Claire is changed by Eva’s death.  It seems like after Eva’s death he doesn’t have the will to live anymore.  If Eva hadn’t died Tom’s words wouldn’t have rung so true in St. Claire’s heart.  You can very clearly see God’s plan in St. Claire.  His actions in his final hours reveal his heart.  I think at the end of his life he reveals himself to be a Christian.  His major failing was not freeing his slaves, but he simply didn’t have the time for that in his life.

Miss Ophelia is St. Claire’s cousin and spends the majority of the book at his house.  At her introduction she is shown to be an abolitionist but she soon shows she doesn’t know what she is fighting.  She seems to be racist at her introduction but by St. Claire’s death she seems to have changed.  What really had a hand in changing her was seeing Topsy change.  Topsy was given to Miss Ophelia as a gift from St. Claire to act as a ward.  At the start of the book she wouldn’t dream of having a black in her house, but by the end she wouldn’t dream of not having one in her house.  Throughout the book she is a Christian and she is an abolitionist but God calls her to be more effective in her work and for that she needed to understand slavery better.  God did exactly that for her.

Little Eva is portrayed as an innocent from her first appearance to he dying moments.  The two innocents, her and Uncle Tom, both die prematurely.  The Good Die Young.  She is shown to be kind to all creatures, from horse to slave.  She was innocent from her beginning but she only became aware of the presence of God when Tom showed her.  She knew she was dying and she embraced it because she knew she was going to go to the Lord.  Like others, her character was best shown in her last action, making her father promise to free Tom.

(*This would not be in a real essay* It really doesn’t help that Pandora is playing all sad songs.)

Topsy was the little black girl bought by St. Claire to help Miss Ophelia.  At first she was a little devil.  She stole whatever she wanted and then got away with it by asking for punishment from Miss Ophelia.  But even more than Miss Ophelia changed Topsy, Eva changed her.  Eva persisted in showing Topsy the Bible, even after Topsy bragged repeatedly how “very wicked” she was.  Eva’s death was the final blow to Little Topsy and she broke down and finally changed her wicked ways.  She became a firm Christian and ended up helping Miss Ophelia with the abolition movement in the North.

Not too much is known about the Hallidays, but their few actions showed their characters’ beliefs very well.  They showed compassion on fugitive slaves and gave safety and food to the fugitives, even though they knew they would be hated for it.  Their few actions speak louder about their faith than any number of their words could.    They might not have had a perfect faith but they believed in a God of compassion and love and this is what was shown best about them.

Simon Legree was the “villain” of the story and he sure played the part.  He is the one character in the entire book who got any real “screen time” and still kept a hard heart.  (There was the slave trader at the start of the book, but he barely got any screen time.)  He was changed by Tom’s actions, but it was not the same way as everyone else in the book.  He seems to have killed all emotion in himself with the death of his mother.  The ways people deal with death are grief and anger, frequently both, and Legree took his anger to an extreme, so much so that it killed all his other emotions.  He didn’t really seem to be striving for anything either.  He was just cruel.  He would have made a really good Sith Lord.  His killing of Tom was the action that I think showed his character best.  He wasn’t looking for money, or else Tom would have lived.  He wasn’t particularly looking for cruelty either.  It is kinda hard to tell what he was looking for.  Other than him being a superstitious atheist, the only sure thing I know about his “faith” is he lives by the Sith Code.

I think Harriet Beecher Stowe paints herself into this book as the role of Miss Ophelia.  Especially the last chapter, seems to be written from Miss Ophelia’s religion.  It seems interesting to me that the last chapter was so strongly portrayed from Miss Ophelia’s point of view.  Both Ophelia and Stowe are strong abolitionists and females trying to work at it in a man’s word.  My guess would be that Stowe started out with the same racism as Ophelia until she was shown the error of her ways.

What I noticed about all of these characters is that they are entirely governed by their faith.  As long as you know their faith, you know exactly their next move.  This makes the story a lot more relatable because we are all governed by our faith on one level or another.  Having people who act solely on their belief and not on their emotions is interesting and it gives the book a unique aspect.

I’m pretty pleased with the results. We have really done very little in the way of teaching writing. We do a lot of narration including written narrations as well as dictation and copywork. I make observations on some things like “you really need a comma here” occasionally but I don’t tend to overemphasize these things. Last year when I had him study American short story writers, essayists and poets (see this post), I introduced the idea of an essay and talked a wee bit about the form it should take but again we really didn’t spend much time on it.

Now I am not saying this essay is perfect (he misidentifies George Harris for one thing) and I don’t honestly have much basis for comparison but here is what I like about it: he shows original thought (we actually disagreed in our interpretations of Topsy’s character), he writes clearly but with a humorous edge, and he makes connections (very CM!) to other things he knows (albeit Star Wars based). He was shocked and horrified to find that I don’t know what the code of the Sith is though I can guess. I liked his conclusion about Harriet Beecher Stowe and Miss Ophelia though I have no idea if it is true.

I also have an essay from my 9th grader which I will share soon.



Update: 9th Grade American Literature

Dear Reader,

I wanted to give you a heads-up that I have been updating my post on 9th grade American literature as I go through the course with my daughter. Some of the resources I originally used have been taken down and in other instances I have added material that I didn’t use with my son. I expect this editing to continue as we go through the school year so if by any chance you are using this resource, you might want to check back frequently.


9th Grade Lit: American Poets, Essayists and Short Story Writers

Dear Reader,

For my eldest’s ninth grade year, I decided to ease into high school literature by tackling American poets, essayists and short story writers — basically everything but novels. I selected eight authors who seemed pivotal and had him spend about a month on each one. He did literature twice a week on his own and we as a family did it about the same amount in our “together time.” If you are not schooling multiple children or don’t want to do things all together, you could have the student do all the work on his own or do the parts we did together alongside him as a sort of introduction before turning him loose on the other parts.

I combined this with grammar and dictation and called if “English 9” (or will do so his transcript). One could also just call it  a half credit literature course or combine it with another half credit to make  a full year course. I used a number of outside resources to piece together this curriculum so what I am about to give you could not stand alone as a curriculum guide; you will either need to find the resources I used or else find something to substitute for them. But I hope that this will benefit someone as a framework for a similar course.

Keep reading for the meat and bones . . .


9th Grade American Literature

Authors studied: Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot


Cummings Study Guides

Mr. Gunnar’s English Classes

Mrs. Mammana’s Website


Henry Builds a Cabin and others by D.B. Johnson

Thoreau at Walden by John Porcellino


Academy of American Poets

The Big Read



The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving; illus. by Scott McKowen (Sterling Unabridged Classics, 2013)

The Stories of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe; illus. by Scott McKowen (Sterling Pub., 2010)

Emerson Central

Poetry Foundation

Thoreau Quotes

Walt Whitman ed. by Jonathan Levin (Poetry for Young People series)

Emily Dickinson ed. Frances C. Bilon (Poetry for Young People series)

Washington Irving

Irving is really the beginning of American literature. That is, he is the first to consciously make American literature. His stories are fun to read and are probably familiar so they make a great introduction to our course as well. I used a couple of different books for the text of the tales themselves. It doesn’t really matter what edition you use for the stories, poems, etc. for most of these authors. Just make sure it is the original, unabridged text.

I stumbled upon the Sterling edition listed above at our local library. It has discussion questions in the back for all the tales in the book. While I was selective in which ones I chose, I found these an excellent resource so I highly recommend trying to find this specific edition, if not for the texts, at least for the questions.

Texts read:

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

  • Read the story and write an essay answering the following questions: Compare Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones. How are they similar? How are they different? Which man do you think Katrina should have chosen? Is Ichabod a hero? Why or why not?

“The Devil and Tom Walker”

  • Read the story and write and essay addressing the following: Discuss Tom Walker’s fate and his wife’s. How were they alike? How were they different? What do you think happened to the wife?

“Rip Van Winkle” (together)

  • Read the work. Discuss what changes from before Rip’s long nap and after. What has changed in Rip’s life? What has changed in the country? How have the townspeople changed? What do you think this is saying about the new post-Revolution America? What might Rip’s wife represent? (spoiler: bossy mother England) Are things better or worse post-Revolution (or for Rip post-nap)?

“The Specter Bridegroom” (together)

  • Read the story. This is a lesser known work but we really enjoyed it. There is a lot of humor here. We loved the accomplished young lady who could write her name so well even her own aunts could read it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

We’re getting into a lot tougher stuff after Irving. Emerson is hard; many of his contemporaries didn’t understand him. Yet he is pretty big in the history of American writing. My solution is to be pretty selective and to read excerpts. We looked at portions from two essays and a number of poems.


I used Mr. Gunnar’s notes for this work. The portion on “Self-Reliance” can be found here. I divided the assignment up into four sessions. The numbers refer to Mr. Gunnar’s discussion questions.

  • Read through the essay (that is, the portion Gunnar uses). Go through paragraph by paragraph and write briefly what you think the major points are.
  • Reread the first paragraph and answer questions 3 and 4.
  • Answer questions 8, 9, and 10.
  • Write and essay summing up Emerson’s ideas and giving your own reaction to them.

“Nature” chapter 1

I used the text from Emerson Central and discussion questions that I originmally got from Mrs. Mammana’s website at Darien Public Schools. Unfortunately the latter appears to no longer be available online. So instead, you can find my version here.

Poems — I got the text of these poems from the Poetry Foundation website and got notes on each from Enotes. Many of these we did together.

  • Read “Hamatreya” and discuss Emerson’s view of land ownership. (Reading the blurb from Enotes will help the teacher know what to expect.)
  • Read “The Snow-Storm.” What is this poem saying? What metaphor is being used?  To what is the snow-storm compared? What is Emerson saying about art (again Enotes will help here)?
  • Read “Days.” Emerson had a fairly idle life as a poet and essayist in the midst of a very busy culture. How does he reflect on this in this poem? What is he feeling about his own life? What picture does the poem give?
  • Read “Concord Hymn.” We actually had seen this poem recently on the monument at Old North Bridge in Concord where it is inscribed. Discuss the events behind the poem (note that the poem itself was written long afterward). What does the poem say about the purpose of the “votive stone”?
  • Read “The Rhodora.” What is Emerson saying the purpose of beauty is?
  • Read “The Humble Bee.” How does Emerson use sound and form in this poem? How does he compare the bee to humans? Which one has the preferable life?
  • Read “Forbearance.” What is forbearance? Look it up in the dictionary and write out a definition. What things does Emerson think show forbearance? How would he define it?
  • Read “Each and All.” What point is Emerson trying to make? (Hint: reread the 9th-12th lines.) What examples does he use to support his argument?

Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau follows close on the heels of Emerson, chronologically and idealistically. The two were friends and Emerson encouraged Thoreau. I highly recommend the series of picture books on Thoreau by D.B. Johnson. Even older children can read these to get a brief intro to Thoreau’s life. He is one author whose life is highly relevant to his works. Another fun intro to his life which I recommend is Porcellino’s Thoreau at Walden which presents key events in a cartoon like format. While we discussed the events of Thoreau’s life and have in the past visited Walden Pond and the reconstruction of his cabin there, we didn’t actually read any of Walden beyond the bits in the books I have mentioned.

“Resistance to Civil Government”

I relied on Mr, Gunnar again for this one. The relevant page is here.

  • Read the first two paragraphs and answer questions 3, 4, and 5.
  • Read the third through 5th paragraphs. Answer questions 7 and 10.
  • Read the rest of the essay. Answer questions 11, 12 and 13.
  • Answer questions 16 and 17.

Various Quotes

I printed out a page of Thoreau quotes and chose a few for my son to comment on. You could also let the student choose or pick others of course.

  • Read the quotes that begin “I know of no more encouraging fact . . .” and “The finest qualities of our nature . . .” Discuss what each of these means.
  • Read the quote that begins “”No way of thinking or doing . . . ” Copy it. Tell what it means. Tell if you agree.

Edgar Allan Poe

Because this post needed a picture . . .

Because this post needed a picture . . .

Whew. If you’ve had enough of transcendentalists, it’s time for something completely different. Poe is fun. Poe is scary. Poe is just plain weird. Kids like him.

“The Black Cat”

  • This story and discussion questions were on Mr. Gunnar so I used it. The relevant portion is here. I didn’t have my son write out answers for this story. Instead I had him read the story in one sitting and then asked him the questions and we discussed.

“The Raven”

  • Read the poem. What actually happens in this poem? What is real and what does the narrator imagine?

For the other Poe stories I used the edition illustrated by McKowen and relied upon his discussion questions. If the stories were longer, we took a few sittings to read them and then discussed at the end.

“The Tell-Tale Heart”

  • Read the story. Is the narrator a madman? Why did he kill the old man? How is he caught? Was there really anything to be heard to give him away?

“The Masque of the Red Death”

  • Read the story and answer questions #4 and 8 from McKowen’s edition.

“The Purloined Letter”

  • Read the story. This is a longer story and will likely take more than one sitting. As you go along then, ask what the student(s) think the answer will be: Where is the letter?

“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”

  • Read the story and answer questions #5 , 7 and 13 from McKowen’s edition.

“The Cask of Amontillado”

  • Read the story and answer questions #6, 12 and 14 from McKowen’s edition. What was the fued between the two men?

“The Pit and the Pendulum”

  • Read the story and answer questions #9 and 15 from McKowen’s edition.

Walt Whitman

Now that you’ve had a bit of  a break, we can continue with something a little less bizarre. I used a few resources for Whitman: Poetry for Young People, GradeSaver, and the Academy of American Poets. I pieced together questions for the various poems. You will also need a more complete book of Whitman’s poetry.

“Song of Myself”

I used the excerpts from the Poetry for Young People book for this one.

  • Stanza 1: What do you think he means by “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you”?
  • Stanza 2-end: What does he see in the grass? What does it represent? The Bible says “man is grass.” Do they mean the same thing? Why or why not?
  • What do you think Whitman believes about God? Man? Sin?
  • Whitman called his book of poetry Leaves of Grass. Why do you think he did?

“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” and “O Captain! my Captain!”

These poems are both about the death of Abraham Lincoln, read them together and compare and contrast.

“Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand”

Read the poem. What is this poem about? Hint: what is being carried in hand? What is he saying about writing?

Various other poems

I selected various other poems from a big book of Whitman’s work that we had checked out and had my son write paragraphs telling what he thought they meant. Among those we used were: “A Sight in camp” and “Come Up From the Fields.”

Emily Dickinson

I used a number of different sources for Dickinson: the Poetry for Young People book, GradeSaver, Mr. Gunnar’s site, and the Big Read. For some of these I had my son write out answers, others we read and discussed aloud. FYI Dickinson did not title her poems; they are named by their first lines.

  • Read “I heard a fly buzz” and “Because I could not stop.” Compare the two death scenes.
  • Read “Success is counted sweetest” and “I’m nobody.” Compare and contrast.
  • Read “To fill a gap.” What is this poem saying? How does its form contribute to its meaning?
  • Read “Tell all the truth.” What is this poem saying? How does she feel about truth?
  • Read “The bat is dun.” How does she describe the bat? What can we learn from him?
  • Read “A light in spring.” What is the poem saying about nature? About God?
  • Read “Behind me dips – eternity.” What does she say about eternity and life and afterlife? What is the tone of the poem by the end?
  • Read “They shut me up in prose” and “I dwell in possibility.” How does she portray pose? Poetry? What does the house represent in the second poem? What do these two poems have in common? How can these be read as feminist poems?
  • Read “Safe in their alabaster chambers.” Think back to other Dickinson poems you have read as well. Does she write more about death or life? What is her view of death and the afterlife?
  • Read “This world is not conclusion” and “I know that He exists.” It has been said that Dickinson was “not entirely orthodox in her Christian faith.” How do we see that in these poems? What are her beliefs?

Robert Frost

I relied heavily on the Cummings Study Guides for Frost except for “Birches” for which I used Shmoop.

“The Road Not Taken”

  • Read the poem. What is the setting (time and place)? Read “setting and background information” from the Cummings guide.
  • Go through the poem again. Write a summary of each stanza.Read through Cummings’ summaries and notes.
  • Which road does the title refer to?
  • Write responses for study questions 1,2, 3 and 5 from Cummings.

“Fire and Ice”

  • Read the poem. If reading aloud, have copies for all students so they can follow along.
  • See if the students can figure out the meter of the poem and its rhyme scheme. From the Cummings guide read “meter” and “rhyme.”
  • Define alliteration, anaphora, and paradox. Find examples in the poem.
  • Read “Dante’s influence” from the Cummings guide. What does Frost think is worse — desire or hatred/betrayal? Do you agree?

“The Mending Wall”

  • Read through the poem. What is the central theme or question of the poem? What is the neighbor’s view of walls? How is the neighbor portrayed? What are the pros and cons of walls? What does the poet/speaker think of walls? What is the verdict of the poem? Why does he help his neighbor rebuild?
  • Read the poem again. Can you determine the format/meter of the poem? Read “verse format” from the Cummings guide.
  • From the Cummings guide read “literary devices and imagery.” Write out definitions and examples for: anastrophe, metaphor, personification and hyperbole.
  • What types of walls separate people? How are walls in the Bible symbolic?

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

  • Read the poem. What is the setting (time and place)? Find specific words n the poem that tell you about the time and place. Who are the characters? Read “Intro” from the Cummings guide.
  • Go through the poem again, stanza by stanza. Summarize each one and then look at the Cummings guide notes.
  • Define alliteration, hyperbole, metaphor and personification. Find examples in the poem. What is the meter of the poem? Discuss end rhyme versus internal rhyme (see Cummings guide notes).
  • Why does the author like the woods? Read Cummings Guide “meaning.”


  • Read the poem. Summarize it. What is the form (style) of the poem? Read “Blank verse” from Shmoop.
  • Reread the poem. What is the contrast being made? List the characteristics of the boy swinging and the ice storm. What do each of these represent?

T.S. Eliot

Eliot was American but renounced his US citizenship. Nonetheless, I included him among our American authors. Some of his works are long and tough. Others are quite fun.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

  • From the Cummings guide read “Explanation of title” and “type of work.” Read the Dante quote, its translation and the note about it. Read the first 2 stanzas. How does he describe the setting? the mood? What do you think the 2nd stanza means? How are the women portrayed?
  • Read “speaker”, “characters” and “themes” from the Cummings guide. Read stanzas 3-10. Give a brief summary of each.
  • Finish reading the poem. In stanza 11, who is being alluded to? (Hint: Note the head and prophet references.) Stanza 12: Read Luke 16:19-31. Stanza 14: How is Prufrock like Hamlet? How is he different? Stanza 15 to the end: How does he end it? What are his thoughts now?
  • Find examples in the poem of simile, personification, metaphor, alliteration, anaphora, and hyperbole.

“Sweeney among the Nightingales”

  • Read the poem. Discuss the setting. From the Cummings guide, read about Agamemnon and his connection to the poem.
  • Read the poem again and go through stanza by stanza. Note the rhyme and meter.
  • Read the poem once more. Discuss its meaning.

Various shorter poems

  • Read “A Song for Simeon.” If you are not familiar with it, read the biblical passage on Simeon. How does Eliot portray Simeon?
  • Read “Journey of the Magi.” If you are not familiar with it, read the story fo the magi from the Bble. How does Eliot portray them?
  • Read “the Hippopotamus.” What two things are being compared? Does this surprise you? How are they compared? What is the end of each? What point is Eliot trying to make?
  • For fun read selections from “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”

Raising Who Children in a What World

Dear Reader,

A Charlotte Mason education focuses on who. The child is treated as a person; their whole personality is taken into account and must not be violated; and the goal of their education is not to produce a worker or to enable them to get into college or earn money but to shape their character and personality. It is all about who they will be, not what they will be.

Unforunately, we live in a time and  a place when society is most concerned with the what. What college will they go to? What job will they get? How much money is involved? Will there be fame? Fortune?

I think the conflict comes to a height in the high school years. Up until that point one can blissfully ignore the world’s expectations. But after high school comes, for many, college. And in order to get into colleges one needs to play the game and produce results in the forms that the world likes and understands.

I have never struggled very much with homeschooling. We started when our kids were young (they have never been to school) and our approach grew and developed as they did. I never doubted whether we should be homeschooling and I have come to love the approach (Charlotte Mason) that we have taken and to appreciate it and to like who it is turning my kids into.

But now we are faced with having two high schoolers in the upcoming year and there are more struggles than previously. Not because I doubt what we are doing — I am happy with what my kids are learning and think they are well-rounded people. But they will likely want to go to college so I need at the same time to make sure that what we are dong is translatable into the world’s terms. And that is the hard part.

My oldest is a science and math type guy. For his 9th grade science this year we have combined a curriculum and labs with living books. But I have found that the living books are the real treasure here. He learns so much from them and they are truly interesting. But will a science curriculum based solely on living books be acceptable to a university? My older daughter struggles with math. She has always been an artist at heart (and already has here own business; see here) and I really, really doubt she will ever need any math beyond algebra. I am hard pressed to think of times I have ever needed more than this. But can she get into college without at least algebra 2 beneath her belt?

These are the sorts of questions I have but I don’t have the answers yet. And it feels awfully risky to experiment on my kids in the hopes that they will be able to do what they want if I don’t comform to what is expected.

What do you think? Have you used a truly CM education throughout high school? What areas did you compromise in, if any?


Living Books for High School Biology

Dear Reader,

My oldest is finishing up his 9th grade year, that first year of the dreaded high school which seems to throw us homeschooling parents into such a dither. While I expect him to take outside classes at some point, for this year we were still doing everything at home (well, almost; see the bit about labs below). Never one to take any curriculum as I find it, I ended up piecing together different bits for his first year of high school science for which the topic was biology. To see the initial plan, refer to this post from the beginning of the year.

There were three parts to his biology course this year: a video based curriculum from DIVE Science, a lab component through Landry Academy, and a number of living books. Though he has done not the lab yet (that’s in about a month), I will say the living books have been the treasure of this year. I am really glad I decided to use them rather than just taking the readings assigned by the DIVE curriculum, which on a brief perusal I had found deadly dull and quite one-sided, and I am recommitted to including living books in future years.

I would like to give you reviews of both DIVE and Landry, but I will save that for a future post (or two). For now, let me share with you the books I had him read and how each of them worked out for us.

Living Books for High School Biology:


Here is the schedule he used. It’s not very fancy, I know, and I am not sure in this picture how much you can read. If you can see at the top I wrote in “Narrate daily – written 1x/week.” I realize in high school he should perhaps be doing written narrations for everything, but I thought this might still be a bit burdensome for him. He’s a great narrator but has always struggled some with the physicality of writing too much. In other words, it slows him down a lot and he holds his pencil in such a way that his hand aches. Maybe next year we’ll up the quota on that. I’d also like to point out that in true Charlotte Mason style, this is a pretty simple, straightforward approach. Yes, I felt the need to add in the video component to make sure we weren’t missing key points and to give more of a method of evaluation (I made him do the tests from DIVE) and to add labs as well because I know colleges like to see those, but to me the core of it all is the living books. There is not a lot of busy work here, no worksheets and reading comprehension questions — just read and narrate, read and narrate. And it is effective. I really feel like he learned a lot this year and took a real interest in his studies as well.

But I know you are waiting for the main course so here it is:

Evolution by Paul Fleisher – To start off with the most controversial, I had my son read this book on evolution. The DIVE curriculum is unabashedly literal 6-day creationist and I wanted him to get a sense of all sides of the issue. You can read my own thoughts on the topic, which are quite rambling and ambivalent, here. Fleishman has a number of books on science topics. Not all are so controversial (not much is, after all). They are all slim volumes and we have found them well-written. He is good at taking what could be complicated topics and explaining them simply. In general I’d say his books are a middle school level.

To balance things out, I then had him read The Great Dinosaur Mystery: Solved! by Ken Ham. As the title suggests, this book seeks to explain (or explain away, depending on your point of view) the scientific evidence regarding dinosaurs in the light of that literal 6-day creationist understanding. Though intended for adults, it is written at a fairly simple level and is quite accessible to a younger reader as well. The edition I have is perhaps a bit dated but my impression is that the basic arguments remain the same. I do not find this book  convincing myself. As a biblical scholar of sorts (I almost got a PhD in Biblical Hebrew but for a little thing called a dissertation), this book irked me. The whole topic led to a number of good in-the-car-type discussions and also led me to write this post on the evidence (or lack thereof) of dinosaurs in the Bible.

For a little bit of a lighter take, the next book I had my son read was The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. This classic is about a scientist on an isolated island who is operating on live animals to alter them. The results are grotesque and disturbing. It’s a good book.


The World of Biology by John Hudson Tiner — This volume does not on the surface look like a living book. It is laid out more like a textbook and its content would make a good, if slim, middle school biology course. But it is relatively interesting in how it is written. My son after reading a chapter told me not just how food is digested in the various parts of the body but the story of how they found out that chemical reactions happen in the stomach. It was pretty interesting and I learned something as well from his narration. And he seemed genuinely interested and eager to tell me. If that doesn’t make  a living book. I don’t know what does. The content here might be a bit simple for a high school level class which is why I am calling it “Middle School” but combined with others, I think Tiner’s book made a wonderful addition to our curriculum. And he has many others as well that I look forward to using. In fact my 8th grade daughter has been reading his History of Medicine and though she does not tend to be as enthused about her studies, she too seems pleased with her book.


The next book was a treasure: Mr. Tompkins Inside Himself by George Gamow. Gamow is an older writer who has written a number of volumes which teach science in a narrative format. Most of his books are on physics but this one is biology. The premise of the book is that Mr. Tompkins goes about his day, starting with a visit to his doctor’s office, and falls asleep a lot and dreams of, for instance, traveling inside himself with his own blood cells. This is a fairly dense book and I would say it is high school level. My son really took to it and it didn’t seem to go over his head at all. FYI, the book Mr. Tompkins Learns the Facts of Life seems to be a subset of this book and could be worth using if you have less time to spend on it. But if you have time, do the whole thing.


Next up is Dr. Jenner and the Speckled Monster: The Search for the Smallpox Vaccine by Albert Marrin. Marrin is a favorite author and we get his books whenever they are relevant. He has more on history and I suppose this one is history too in a way but it is medical history. When I asked my son which was his favorite book this year, this is the first one he mentioned. Marrin does a wonderful job of making a story of things, even things one might not expect to be interesting like oil. This is not too long a book and is an upper middle-early high school level.


Lastly, there is Spare Parts :  From Peg Legs to Gene Splices by Wendy B. Murphy. My son has actually not gotten to this one yet but I read it myself and am excited for it. It is the history of what we do to our bodies from ancient prosthetic noses (kind of gross and with pictures!) to modern genetic engineering. The modern stuff is a bit more scanty but the whole thing is pretty interesting. My sister-in-law has a fake leg and I found the part of prosthetics, of which there is quite a bit, fascinating. It really made me realize how much she goes through or has been through that she never complains about.

And that’s the list. Next year will be chemistry and I am excited to use the Life of Fred Chemistry book (we love all things LOF) ut am also looking for living book suggestions.

Edited 5/23/2020: I have now had all four kids go through biology. We never used DIVE again and my experience with it is what has convinced me to stick with living books for high school science. Occasionally a child has already read some of these books so we have used a few different ones with different kids. My second child did a year on ecology and environmentalism and some of those books were use by numbers 3 and 4 as well. You can find that list here. My fourth child wanted to study diseases in 8th grade. Many of those books would work for high school biology too. That list is here. Also with the latter two kids I couldn’t find labs locally so I got some things together and we did them with a few other families. Read about that here.



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