Posts Tagged ‘homeschool’

Method vs. System in the Law of God and Living Books

Dear Reader,

In the very CM spirit of making connections, I would like to discuss educational methods,  living books, and the Law of God.

In Charlotte Mason’s first volume, Home Education, she urges parents to consider the “method” behind their parenting but not to be sucked into accepting a “system.” Following a method, she says, implies “an idea, a mental image, of the end of object to be arrived at” (Charlotte Mason, Home Education; Wilder Publications, 2008; p. 18). But, Charlotte warns, a method may degenerate into a system which “is pledged to more definite calculable results” (p. 18) and “is mischievous, as producing only mechanical action instead of the vital growth and movement of a living being” (p. 19). Notice the contrasts: A method is an idea, a system is mechanical; a method aims at an image whereas the results one gets from a system are quantifiable. With a method, you have a picture in your head of where you are going. With a system, you can use a checklist: Have I done this or that? You can assign a number (a test score perhaps).

A system is not living and should not be used on living beings; it is for things. But a method takes into account the needs of living beings. It accounts for personality. If a method is an idea, it follows that a system is fact-based. So we see the first connection: as a method is to a system so living books are to textbooks. The one gives ideas and feeds a living soul; the other is mechanical and fact-based. It is not fit food for a living being. The attraction of a system is that it is quantifiable — you can measure it and you know what you are getting. So too when we assign a non-living book, we can give fill in the blank questions. We know what we want — specific facts — and we can check off whether the student has learned them. Not so a living book which demands narrations. One test of a living book is that Jane and Bob will get different things out of it or even that if Bob rereads it he may get new things out of it. Its results are unpredictable, but of far greater value than the facts we get from our textbooks.

I am indebted to one of the members of my local CM discussion group for the second connection. She equated method and system to the Law and Gospel. I am going to alter this slightly. I think the line is not between Law and Gospel but between what God’s Law truly is and how we portray it. God’s Law (and have said before in this post and this one) is a perfect image. God in  His being defines what is good. His Law is not a list of do’s and don’ts but is a perfect picture. If we were doing picture study, I would show you a picture — let’s say it’s the Mona Lisa — and ask you to describe it. You might do a wonderful job and tell me about the woman and what she is wearing and how she is smiling and even maybe say something about the artist’s brushstrokes and how he achieved his effect (if you are very good at these things). But if I took your description and handed it to another artist and said “now paint this,” would he produce the Mona Lisa? Of course not. No matter how good your description of the picture is it cannot truly convey the picture itself. So too our synopses of the Law of God do not accurately convey the Law. Even the best of them — of which the 10 Commandments is one — are only approximations. This is what Jesus tells the Pharisees when He chastises them for obeying the letter and not the spirit of the Law. It is what He teaches when He says that “Thou shalt not murder” also means don’t curse your brother or that lust is akin to adultery. The best summation of the Law is the briefest: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” But we don’t like this because it is hard to see if we are doing it. We want that checklist; we want quantifiable results. God humors us in that to a certain extent; He does give us the Ten Commandments, as well as various other summations of His Law, but they are all imperfect; they cannot truly encapsulate a Law that is just as full and perfect as its Creator.

I started with Charlotte Mason’s discussion of parenting philosophies so I will end there. Parenting is a big, important job. It’s not one you can do over (at least not with the same child) and, because we love our children, we consider the outcomes vitally important. We really, really don’t want to mess this one up. I think we often start with a method in our heads; we have some picture or where we want to go. But we get tense about the results and whether we are really getting there so, as Charlotte says, we let it degenerate into a system with quantifiable results. It doesn’t help that this is a long-term project and the outcomes are not easily or soon visible. But — just as in our efforts to keep God’s Law — the answer is not in ourselves. The answer is in the Gospel. It is Grace. It is God doing for us what we cannot do ourselves.

Nebby

Living Books on Anatomy and Medicine

Dear Reader,

Rather inadvertently, my 7th grader has ended up reading a number of books this year on anatomy and medicine so I thought I would share what he has read this year as well as some books we used in the past. You can find all my lists of living books here.

Though not the first book he read, John Hudson Tiner’s History of Medicine would be a good place to start.

anatomy1

Tiner’s books are generally middle school level though I have used them in high school as well (especially for non-science kids). Though they have lists of questions at the end of each chapter, we just use them as we would any other living book — read and narrate, read and narrate. Though they may appear textbook-y, they really are quite readable. I like the history of science approach of this one.

Another middle school age book — I am Joe’s Body by J. D. Ratcliff — goes through the body systems one by one. Though older (and perhaps harder to find), it is quite detailed. There may be some things which have changed in our understanding over the years though I think it’s always nice to be able to point these out and show that science is not static.  I would not use this book for elementary but you could use it in high school as well.

One of my favorite books was a use book find from a number of years ago: Spare Parts: From Peg Legs to Gene Splices by Wendy B. Murphy (pic below) is about all the ways we alter the human body, from ancient prosthetic noses to modern genetic engineering. Middle school level again though I use it as part of my high school biology reading list.

anatomy-2

Another winner: Phineas Gage by John Fleischman. This is the true story of a New Hampshire man who got (I think) a railroad spike through his head, the problems he faced and what his doctors learned about the brain from him. It is not long and is engaging reading.

Albert Marrin is one of our favorite authors. Many of his books are on history, but he has a couple on science. One I’ve used for high school biology is Dr. Jenner and the Speckled Monster, a book about smallpox. Another to consider is Little Monsters: The Creatures that Live in Us and on Us. I may have my son do this one next.

biology4

Again, probably a high school level book: Mr. Tompkins Inside Himself by George Gamow. My Tompkins literally goes inside himself and explores all his bodily systems.

Lastly, a few books for younger kids: The Brain: What it is, What it does –well, you can guess what that’s about and Your Insides by Joanna Cole (oh she of Magic School Bus fame; I won’t even begin to list Magic School Bus books; you can look them up on your own if you like them). The latter is one of these flip and see inside books. Both are elementary level. Blood and Guts which is from The Brown Paper School has text and simple experiments. We used it a few years ago. I would call it upper elementary to middle school level. Not perhaps a true living book but it is written in an engaging manner. There is one illustration of mammals and their brain sizes that I can still picture in my head. Lastly, if you have a boy resistant to reading, you might try the Andrew Lost series by J.C. Greenburg. My oldest enjoyed them for a time. They are chapter books on about the level of Magus Treehouse. I am sure they will strike some as not real living books. A boy and his friend (cousin? It’s been a while and I’m not sure) get shrunk and go on some gross adventures — but at least they are gross in a finding out about anatomy and plumbing sort of way.

Happy reading!

Nebby

 

Living Books on the 1950s

Dear Reader,

This is part of a continuing series as we work our way through American history. You can find all my booklists here.

Our spine series this year is called Our Century. Though perhaps not living by some definitions, it is well written. You can read the earlier posts for more on why we are using this series (which has a lot to do with availability).

I am finding that there are some eras for which little is available. The 1950s is one of these. When we come to the 60s and Vietnam, there is a ton out there, but there seems to be a dearth of good books for kids on the 1950s. Even in the Truthquest guide for the period (which I use as a bibliography), I couldn’t find much. We are only spending a week or two 50s, but I will still disappointed with the selection.

The two big topics for this decade are the Cold War and Civil Rights. I am trying to give my 11th grader a more global perspective so I am him read The Long Peace by John Lewis Caddis.

The book really covers much more then just the 50s and it will take him at least a month to read so this will be his history for a while. We had this book on our shelf, I assume from some class my husband did in college. I read the beginning and while it is dense I found it quite readable.

My 6th grader read The Story of the Cold War from the Cornerstones of Freedom series. I like this series for upper elementary and early middle school to get a brief introduction to a topic we can’t spend a lot of time on (see this post for more on the series and why you should look for the older editions).

My 7th grader read The Berlin Wall by Lisa Mirabile. He says it was a “decent sort of book” which is high praise from him 😉 It could be used for upper elementary as well. I think it does a pretty good job of showing the impact of the wall.

The second big topic from the 1950s is Civil Rights.

I had my 10th grader read The Barred Road by Adele Leeuw. It is fiction — the story of a white girl who, against her mother’s wishes, works with black children and makes friends with the new black family next door. This is a book to give the feel of what it was like to be black, or white, then, not to get specific historical information from. She seems to be enjoying the story.

My 6th grader also read Bright April by Marguerite de Angeli. The book itself was not hard and could be used at a younger age. De Angeli is a well-known author so I had high expectations but I’m not sure my daughter got as much from the book as I would have liked.

I read North Star Shining aloud to my two younger ones. It is poetry showing the plight and progress of African Americans in the US. It talks about both the general and about specific people. I enjoyed reading it for the sound of the poetry. One could certainly use it with elementary age but you could also use it even in high school I think if you wanted to take the time to learn a little about each of the people it mentions.

I looked at but did not use two other books on the plight of African Americans: Going North by Janice N. Harrington and Time of Trial, Time of Hope: The Negro in America, 1919-1941 by Milton Meltzer. The former seemed too simple for my children; it has relatively few words but might be good for lower elementary. The latter, as its subtitle suggests, really covers the period of the world wars. It looked good but wasn’t quite what I was looking for right now.

That’s all I’ve got on the 50s. Next up: the 60s and the Vietnam War (lots of books there!)

Nebby

Living Books on WWII

Dear Reader,

We spent four weeks on World War II which is a lot for us this year with more than 100 years to get through (1900-present). Still there are so many books I wish we had gotten to but didn’t have time for. You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living Books on WWII

We continued with our spine series Our Century. I won’t dwell on it; you can read my reasons for using this series in earlier posts. To this I added another book that covers the scope of the war:

ww2-8

The Good Fight by Stephen Ambrose covers the major battles and movements of WWII in a page each. It doesn’t look too much like a living book on the surface, but I was pleasantly surprised by the content. Though Ambrose gives sidebars of “quick facts” and only spends a page on each subject, his writing is good. He incorporates quotes and little tidbits from those involved and manages to make each little segment a bit of a story. FYI this appears to be the same Stephen E. Ambrose who wrote Band of Brothers and other adult books (which you might want to consider if you have a high schooler).

My 11th grader read Hitler’s Cross by Erwin Lutzer. I’m a little jealous; I wanted to read this one myself 😉 Lutzer is a retired pastor and writes about Hitler’s Christianity and his theological import (is he the/a antichrist?). My son ate this up. He even went online himself to look up Lutzer and his church to check his credentials.

I love Albert Marrin (my children are of mixed opinions). His books tends to pick a specific aspect (Stalin, the war in the air) but to nonetheless cover pretty much all of a topic. We only made use of one this time: my 10th grader read Uprooted about the Japanese internment camps in the US. Generally Marrin’s books are high school level though he has some that are simpler.

Another favorite author, Irving Werstein, writes at a slightly easier level; most of his books are middle school level. He too has a lot of books on specific subjects within the broader heading of WWII. I had my 7th grader read The Uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto.

 

My 6th grader also read a Werstein book, The Long Escape about children escaping from Belgium during the war.

The stories of people escaping and/or hiding from the Nazis have given any authors many wonderful stories. I couldn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the books available. But here are some we used or considered:

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan tells the story of Norwegian children helping to secret their country’s gold out of the country right under the noses of Nazi soldiers. We happened to have a long car trip so we listened to the audio-book version.

Twenty and Ten by Claire Huchet Bishop is a charming story about some children who having fled the city themselves, help hide Jewish children from the Nazis. I read it aloud to my two younger children (though it is really elementary level).

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is upper elementary-middle school level. Again, a girl’s family helps her Jewish friend escape. We did this one as a read-aloud as well (trying to squeeze in as many books as possible).

My 7th grader also read Silence over Dunkerque by John R. Tunis. It tells the story of a soldier and his family during the British and French evacuation of France early in the war.

Books we considered but didn’t have time for: The Ark by Margot Benary-Isbert, When the Sirens Wailed by Noel Streatfield (at one point my older daughter read a number of Streatfield books), and That Denmark Might Live by Irving Werstein (again).

Next up: the 1950s.

Nebby

Charlotte Mason and Homeschooling:

Dear Reader,

I got in trouble in an online forum recently for saying that Charlotte Mason “was not particularly in favor of home learning though the PNEU did have a correspondence course for those who needed to do so where they would send parents the materials” (my exact words). The other side maintains that “CM was most definitely a proponent of home education–for whichever families were able to do that” and that “all of her recommendations for curriculum and school are assuming a homeschool environment first.” She does say that this was not an issue as such at the time and with that I definitely agree. I told her I would think about the rest of it and so I have been.

To a certain extent, I think this is an example of just what CM talks about — we get an idea and then we find evidence to support it. I had in my head an idea and so when I read CM’s works, I tended to see that idea reflected.  This idea came from something I now only vaguely recall reading. I have some recollection of having read in the murky past that she first developed a program for schools and then added the correspondence course for those, like missionaries, who could not put their kids in regular schools for one reason or another. I was confirmed in this idea, as I first read through her volumes, by some passages from volume 5 in which Charlotte seems to prefer a school environment. I remember vividly reading such passages for the first time because I did not like them or the implication that Charlotte was not pro-homeschooling. Nonetheless, the idea that she favored  a school environment stuck with me.

So which is it — was Charlotte Mason in favor of schooling at home or did she tend to a more traditional school set-up? (Charlotte would not have use the word “homeschooling” but does use terms like “home education” and “school education.”)  This post is not going to answer the question but only to begin the process by asking how we should look at it and what questions we should ask.

The situation in Charlotte’s day was not the same as in ours and we can’t expect her to have our concerns or to use the language we do. We often come to homeschooling with something of a chip on our shoulders because we are making a counter-cultural choice (albeit less and less so every year). If we do choose a brick-and-mortar school for our children, we do not have many choices. Yes, there are public and private and religious schools as well as charters of various stripes, but for the most part they all follow the same basic trends — classes segregated by age, textbooks, tests, etc. You might have a Montessori or Waldorf school in your area, especially for the younger grades; you are less likely to have a Charlotte Mason method school available to you.

In Charlotte Mason’s day the situation was surprisingly similar, but not precisely so. Schooling was compulsory by her day though poorly enforced (see “The 1870 Education Act“). Most children who were educated would have attended traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Christina de Bellaigue has written a wonderful little article on educational choices in Charlotte’s day. She sees a mish-mash of educational options with parents cobbling together the best program they can from available resources:

“Rather than seeking to set up dichotomies between home and school and between formal and informal education, it is more fruitful to think in terms of the individuals experiencing a range of educational environments and influences along a spectrum of formal to informal.” (Christina  de Bellaigue, “Home Education in Historical Perspective” from The Oxford Historian, electronic edition volume 1, p. 22)

Educating children at home, which would have been the only option available to many, had declined for a time, but by Charlotte’s day was again on the rise as parents balked against the educational institutions of their day and sought to be more involved in their children’s education:

” Even in the 1880s and 1890s, however, as my work on Charlotte Mason demonstrates, significant numbers of elite parents were drawing on eighteenth-century models to educate their children at home, choosing something other than the dominant public-school model.” (de Bellaigue, p. 21)

In my own experience — and this is bolstered by much anecdotal evidence from other homeschoolers — there is more of a dichotomy today. Though homeschoolers may, as in Charlotte’s day, cobble together variety of resources, homeschooling itself is seen as a rejection of the traditional school system, both by its proponents and often by the homeschoolers themselves. This view, I think, arises from a disconnect between home and school and between the role of parent and that of teacher in our own day. As the position of teacher has become more institutionalized, with specialized training and professional certifications, the idea that education happens in the home as well has retreated. When Charlotte addressed parents, she spoke not just of academics but of habit-training, hygiene, and moral training. Education was see as more comprehensive which also allowed more of a place for parents:

“Exploring the history of domestic learning also emphasizes the narrowness of twenty-first century conceptions of education. As Crone comments, the domestic curriculum could be usefully defined to include ‘learning to crawl or speak, developing an awareness and later knowledge of identity and community, and cultivating and expanding the imaginative faculties’. Similarly, home education might be defined to include occupational training. Charlotte Mason’s conception of the educational work done by parents was also broad, incorporating the training of habit and character, nutritional choices, physical education, as well as activities more conventionally defined as educational.” (de Bellaigue, p. 22)

The first conclusion we can draw, then, is that Charlotte would not have said: “School education is better than and should replace home education when possible.” She would not have seen  these as either/or choices as we tend to. School education in her mind could never do more than complement home education. Because her view of education was more comprehensive and because using a hodge-podge of resources was not abnormal, she never would have said that education should be wholly outsourced to the schools; there would always be a home component.

Rather than asking “home education or school education” then, we should ask: Assuming the availability of good schools, is it better to educate exclusively at home or to make use of the schools? Of course, many would not have had access to “good” schools, but we can imagine a situation in which a parent lives near a school using Charlotte’s own methods; should that parent make use of the schools or is home education still preferable? We can ask some related questions as well: Are there subjects or areas which are better covered in a school setting? Are there benefits to school education which cannot be duplicated at home?

These are harder questions to answer — for any of us. There are homeschoolers today who think that homeschooling is the only way to go, there are others who only choose it as their last resort, and, of course, there are a wide variety of opinions in the middle. Most of us, I hope, can see that there are pros and cons on both sides. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages.   In an ideal world, perhaps, we would have the flexibility to pick the best of each.

Acknowledging these difficulties, I’d like to ask just this question: For the child of 7 or 8 and up (that is, definitely of school age) and looking at academic subjects (math, history, language, science, the arts) would Charlotte say these things are better learned in a home or a school environment? I define the question this way because formal education would not have started until age 7 or 8 and because Charlotte, and many others in her day,  would  have always acknowledged some role for the parent, at least in less academic subjects such as moral education.

I don’t think Charlotte herself is going to give a clear answer to this question. It is possible somewhere in her history someone came to her and said, “One of your schools is right down the street from me, but I really like teaching my own kids at home. What should I do?” But, to the best of my knowledge, we don’t have her answer to such a direct question. All we can do is look at what she has to say about the pros and cons of each situation.

I am not going to take the time to answer this question right now, mainly because it would make for a very long post, but were I to do so (and I may in a future post) my main recourse would be to the second, third, fifth and sixth volumes of Charlotte’s Original Home Education Series. The first volume, Home Education, starts with a wonderful tribute to the power and influence of the  parent but it is focused on children up through age 6 which is before our purview. The fourth volume, Ourselves, is about personal character and does not address education as such at all.

Nebby

Oliver Wendell Holmes on the Way of Reason and Living Books

Dear Reader,

I have been reading Autocrat of the Breakfast Table by Oliver Wendell Holmes and find these two very intriguing quotes:

“You can hire logic, in the shape of a lawyer, to prove anything that you want to prove. You can buy treatises to show that Napoleon never lived, and that no battle of Bunker-hill was ever fought. The great minds are those with a wide span, which couple truths, related to, but far removed from, each other . . . Some of the sharpest men in argument are notoriously unsound in judgment. I should not trust the counsel of a smart debater, any more than that of a good chess-player.”

(Autocrat of the Breakfast Table by Oliver Wendell Holmes, p.11)

“We can make a book alive for us just in proportion to its resemblance in essence or in form to our own experience.” (p.35)

In the first quote, we see echoes of what Charlotte Mason calls “the Way of Reason.” The best arguer, Holmes tells us, is not necessarily your best source of truth. Conspiracy theories, it seems, are not a 20th century invention. One may produce seemingly rock-solid evidence and arguments that, as Holmes says, Napoleon and Bunker-hill never were or, as some in our day would claim, that Elvis lives and men never walked on the moon, but arguments, even ones that seem solid and convincing at the time, do not make truth. Reason can be contorted to support any position.

Notice as well that in the midst of this first quote that Holmes also speaks of what Charlotte calls “the Science of Relations.” Great minds, he says, have a wide body of knowledge – Charlotte said to “set their feet in a wide room” – and are able to make connections between seemingly diverse ideas.

The second quote above speaks of living books. We often speak as if a book is living or not, and indeed some books seem to be almost universally living books for whoever reads them while others are quite the opposite. At times, we may find books in the middle; perhaps you, like I, have found to your disappointment that your child despises a book you adore. Books may be living for one person and not another. But Holmes adds a new thought: it is our own experience which may make a book alive for us. Do you think Charlotte would agree? It certainly seems to make sense though I think we may also have books come alive for us which have no relation to our own experience, perhaps even because they are so new and different.

What do you think?

Nebby

Good Books for Beginning Readers

Dear Reader,

Another question I see a lot: “What good books can my kids read after phonics but while they are still beginning readers?”

Let me start by saying that I love the Bob Books. These are really learning-to-read books. The simplest ones are very simple. They manage to tell a story with very few words and with words that beginning readers actually can read. None of those more difficult words thrown in to through your little one off.

Once they are a little more proficient Arnold Lobel’s books make wonderful choices. The Frog and Toad books and Owl at Home are some of our favorites, though he has others as well. They are divided into very short, manageable chunks. They tell a humorous story and often convey ideas as well. Living books in simple language.

Lobel’s books are part of the “I Can Read” series. There are other books in this series that you will see recommended. Some I am not a big fan of. Amelia Bedelia comes to mind. I remember reading these as a child but as an adult, I just can’t take them. Puns are fine in moderation only and I just want to slap Amelia most of the time. I am also not a fan of Berenstain Bears (some of which are done as “I Can Read” books). But Syd Hoff’s books Danny the Dinosaur and Sammy the Seal are worth a read. As with most living books — older is better. Else Holmelund Minarik‘s Little Bear books are charming as well.

If Maurice Sendak illustrated it (as with the Little Bear books) or wrote it , you can bet it is worth a look. Some of Sendak’s books are harder to read or even of more mature content (Brundibar is a favorite of mine) but some like Chicken Soup with Rice and Pierre are more easily readable.

Cynthia Rylant is a prolific author of series for beginning readers. I am not a fan of all of them, but I do like The Lighthouse Family and the Cobblestreet Cousins series. Both is these might appeal more to girls than boys.

Don’t forget those classic Dr.Seuss books — the smaller ones like Green Eggs and Ham and Fox in Socks can work well for beginning readers.

While newer readers are often happier with shorter books, Little House in the Big Woods is actually pretty easy reading. I gave up reading lessons for my older daughter when at 4 years old I caught her reading it on her own (don’t be jealous; of 4 kids, she was my only reading prodigy).

If you are looking for short chunks, Thornton Burgess’ shorter books are wonderful. Look for ones with titles like “The Story of . . .” and then an animal’s name, like “Sammy Jay.” Chapters in these books are often just a page or two yet the story moves along. His Bird Book and Animal Book are wonderful too but are not easy reading.

A more recent author — Dick King-Smith’s books are great stories as well. He wrote Babe  and The Water-Horse, both of which have been made into movies (the latter is nothing like the book), as well as many more. I think they all contain animals, sometimes as speaking characters, sometimes as pets.

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia Maclachan was a favorite of my daughter when she was still pretty young. There are sequels as well.

Need more suggestions? Check out these older posts:

Book List for a Reluctant Reader

Book Series for Tween and Teen Boys

Book List for Girls

Happy Reading!

Nebby

 

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