Posts Tagged ‘homeschool’

Principles of Reformed Education: Interesting but not Entertaining

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed philosophy theology of education. You can find all the posts here.

Having spent the first seven months of the year talking about the theory behind a reformed Christian philosophy of education, I am now attempting to spend the latter part of the year addressing more practical concerns — How are we actually going to do this? What will it look like? What should I be doing with my kids when they wake up this morning?

As I chip away at these posts, I have been debating how to even discuss the topic. I promised you many times that I would begin going through subjects one-by-one and talking about how and why we learn them. Upon further reflection, I think we need to spend time on some general principles.

My goal in all this is not to create a curriculum which can be followed without thought. Educating our children is always going to be a mindful enterprise and a major presupposition of this series is that we should not be just buying someone’s curriculum and using it as is without some serious discernment. Rather than creating something new for you to buy, what I’d like to give you is principles to apply and tools to consider in selecting among the many options that are already out there.

We have already seen a few such principles. We talked about the expectation teachers should have — that God will work in their students to bring redemption and sanctification — and the attitude the teacher should have which should be one of joy and delight in the things of God as he himself grows in knowledge. Last time we said that we need to give a broad education, a principle which is founded in God’s creation of and purpose for the universe.

Today’s principle is this:

Education should be inherently interesting but not entertaining.

I have argued that when we educate we are placing before our students the things of God as revealed in general revelation. It is God’s truth, goodness, and beauty that we are putting before them. These things have their own inherent attractiveness.

As teachers, our job is not to try to soup up the things of God and to make them more fun or entertaining. We could not do so if we tried. Just as loud drums and strobe lights in worship manipulate the emotions of the audience but do not make the worship more pleasing to God so too our efforts to entertain in education are manipulative but not ultimately productive. One of my favorite analogies for education is that of a meal. We place the intellectual food before our children; they have to eat. If we want them to eat squash and they are not initially attracted to it, we can hide it in brownies. We will achieve a short-term goal of getting squash in them, but we do so at the detriment of a long-term goal; they will not learn to like squash or to see its innate goodness and value. So too in education, when we gussy up the things we are teaching, we may get a few facts in our kids, but we are teaching them to love games and crafts and flashy videos. We are not teaching them to love knowledge and truth. In fact, we are sending quite the opposite message — that knowledge is not interesting and that it needs us to make it palatable. We need to beware, then, of curricula which entertain. They are manipulative and they do so at the expense of a genuine love of knowledge.

We can also go too far the other direction, however. It is quite possible to take these things — and remember they are the things of God — and to suck all the joy and interest out of them. I used two analogies above — that of worship and that of a meal — so I will use these again. While we do not need to make our worship flashy to make it more pleasing, we should also be wary of worship which because of its slowness and/or lack of enthusiasm is genuinely hard to listen to. I argued that the teacher’s attitude needs to be one of genuine joy and delight. If we are unenthused or if our books and materials are dry and boring, the child will believe that the things of God are thus. Tedious repetition, boring textbooks which do little more than list facts are the dry fiber bars of education. They may get the necessary nutrients into our kids, but again they do not convey a genuine love of knowledge and truth.

Education is not always going to be a joy for us or our students. Education is sanctification. It is the renewing of our minds. But our minds would not need renewing if they were not fallen and corrupted [1]. While we should always be expecting God to work,  there will be times when we are not seeing progress or when the work seems slow and fruitless. The way through these times is through prayer, repentance, and just continuing to do the things we know we are supposed to be doing.

There is no perfect curriculum. As we evaluate the choices before us for a given subject, we must keep in mind that the things we are teaching are God’s things. They have an inherent attractiveness. We need to be wary on the one hand of resources which try to dress up that godly knowledge too much and thereby send the message that it is not in itself interesting and beautiful. And, on the other hand, we need to beware of resources which strip all the beauty from the things of God. In the middle ground somewhere is the place where God’s revelation is allowed to shine on its own with its inherent attractiveness. This is where we want to be.

Nebby

[1] Would Adam and Eve and their children have needed education if there had been no Fall? As far as I am concerned, the jury is still out on this one. I do not think they had all knowledge (or all the knowledge appropriate for humans) but whether there would have been a gradual learning or whether they would have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge and gotten that knowlegde instantaneoiusly we do not know.  One thing I think we can assume — that knowledge would have been inherently interesting and attractive to them, as it should be to us, if only our sin did not get in the way.

A Broad Education

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed philosophy theology of education. You can find all the posts here.

In the coming weeks we will be going through individual subjects and looking at how we should view and teach them from a reformed Christian perspective. Before we do that, however, I want to make sure that we are understanding the context in which we do these things. While I will be talking about math and grammar and history individually, we are never to view these subjects as free-standing and unrelated disciplines.

This realization affects how we teach. It also affects what we teach. There is a time for specialization. That time is when one has a solid foundation of knowledge (and even then dabbling in other areas is quite useful intellectually). As our immediate concern is the education of children (pre-college) we are not too worried about that. There may be some level of concentration in the final years of high school, but most of what we are talking about is the years when one should be getting a broad, well-rounded education.

Why a broad education? In my recent  post on methodology  I discussed the kinds of evidence we can argue from. The biblical witness is, of course, always paramount, but, on issues to which the biblical text does not speak directly, we have recourse to logical reasoning and common sense on the one hand and observation  and scientific studies on the other. This particular issue is a good way to get our feet wet because arguments can and have been made from a number of starting points.

The trend in recent years has been to combine, or perhaps one should say recombine, various academic disciplines. This is exemplified by a change in acronymns.  Not so very long ago the buzz word of the day was STEM. STEM stands for sceince, technology, engineering and math. It was believed that to get ahead in this world (where getting ahead seems to translate to having the best technological innovations and therfore the best economic position) America needed above all a large number of students well-versed in these STEM subjects. This emphasis on one particular kind of knowledge led to an undervaluing of other subjects and an underfunding of the arts in particular. More recently,  popular opinion has backed away from this viewpoint and turned STEM into STEAM. The extra “A” is for arts as educators realized that the creativity which the arts engender is necessary for us to truly achieve their goals. [1]  Though the change is narrow (one wonders what has happened to history and the social sciences), the transition from STEM to STEAM represents a small concession to the idea that no one kind of learning can stand on its own.

While the STEM/STEAM movement pervades our elementary, middle and high schools, colleges and universities have also made a move towards what might be termed creativity education. In May 2013, Radcliffe Magazine reported on a conference with the title “Breakthroughs: Creativity across Disciplines.” The title of the conference sums it up. The keynote speaker, Richard Holmes, is reported to have said that “creativity, ‘with its criss-crossing patterns of inspiration,’ defies disciplinary borders” [Corydon Ireland, “How revolutionary leaps of insight occur across disciplines—they’re not always sudden,” Radcliffe Magazine (May, 2013)]. In 2014, the New York Times reported on the effort by a small number of colleges (four are listed in the article) to deliberately teach creativity.

“And creative studies offerings, sometimes with a transdisciplinary bent, are new options in business, education, digital media, humanities, arts, science and engineering programs across the country.” [Laura Pappano, “Learning to Think Outside the Box,” The New York Times (Feb. 5, 2014)]

The idea behind creativity education, as behind STEAM, is a very practical one — there are problems to be solved and crossing disciplines seems to allow one to solve them faster and more creatively.

Another buzz word,  “transdisciplinary” [2], implies a deeper philosophical viewpoint:

“Transdisciplinary teaching and learning operates from the belief that there is knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and actions that transcend subject area boundaries and forge the curriculum into a coherent transdisciplinary whole that is engaging, relevant, challenging and significant.” (“Transdisciplinary Teaching & Learning,” from Discovery College)

Such a transdisciplinary approach has been termed holistic in that it presents a worldview that seeks to unify all areas of knowledge:

“The transdisciplinary approach of holistic type, that overreaches the disciplinary fragmentation limits with its disadvantages, offers a vision of the world and life, as competent as possible, and has as starting point the human nature with all its complexity and diverse forms of manifestation.” [Daniela Jeder, “Transdisciplinarity — The Advantage of a Holistic Approach to Life,” Procedia: Social and Behavorial Sciences (July 9, 2014)]

The impetus of the STEM/STEAM movement is largely economic with some national pride thrown in. With transdisciplinary studies there is some awareness of a larger meaning. Ideas themselves are transcendent and there is some acknowldgement of a unifying truth behind it all. If, however, we begin with “human nature,” as in the quote from Jeder above, we will never get far or be able to establish a true unified view.

This is an argument Francis Schaeffer made numerous times and in numerous ways. Writing in the late 1960s, Schaeffer said that in humanism, or rationalism, “men and women, beginning absolutely by themselves, having only selves, try rationally to build out from themselves, having only Man as their integration point, to find all knowledge, meaning and value” (Francis Schaeffer, “The God who is There,” from Three Essential Volumes in One. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990). Because these men and women were not able to build a unified view of reality starting with themselves and having no idea of a Creator, they abandoned the effort:

“The philosophers came to the conclusion that they were not going to find a unified rationalistic circle that would contain all thought, and in which they could live.” (Schaeffer, p. 10)

In the 1960s and 70s, Schaeffer documented the abandonment of any effort towards a unified understanding of reality and with it the idea of absolute truth.

Now it seems that there is some movement back towards unification. This is a good trend and as Christians we should applaud it, but we also need to recognize that there can be no true and unified view that begins with man.

When we begin with God, we begin with unity. God is One (Deut. 6:4). It is He that has created all things, and this creation gives them their meaning (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 11:3; Rev. 4:11). It is also what gives them unity (Col. 1:17). As they have one Maker and one Sustainer (Heb. 1:3), they have one purpose as well (Rom. 8:28; 1 Cor. 8:6) which is to glorify and reveal their Creator (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:20).

We all tend to have subjects we don’t like. For one it is math, for another grammar or science or history. Yet the Bible tells us that all things are made by God and accomplish His purposes. Because they all both originate from and point to the same One, there is an inherent unity. On a practical level, we must learn our addition facts in one moment of the day and our spelling rules in another and our biology in still another. But as we do so we must always keep in mind that these things are part of one system because there is one Creator God.

Nebby

[1] There is no shortage of articles on STEM/STEAM available. One I found helful for explaining the trend and the changes in it is Christine Liao’s “From Interdisciplinary to Transdisciplinary: An Arts-Integrated Approach to STEAM Education.” [Christine Liao (2016) From Interdisciplinary to Transdisciplinary: An Arts-Integrated Approach to STEAM Education, Art Education, 69:6, 44-49, DOI: 10.1080/00043125.2016.1224873]

[2] One may see various similar terms — transdisciplinary, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary. While they do have distinct definitions, delving into them is beyond the scope of this post. It is enough for our purposes to note that the trend is towards combining disciplines or at least crossing boundaries between them.

Reformed Christian Education: Practical Details

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed philosophy theology of education. You can find all the posts here.

Thus far I have tried to demonstrate that when we educate we place before children the things of God. Our expectation as teachers is that the Holy Spirit will use these things in their lives, for their salvation if they are not (yet) regenerate and for their sanctification, specifically for the transforming of their minds, if they are. Our attitude should be one of joy and delight as we also revel in God’s truth. We should view ourselves as those who, while perhaps a little further along, are also being thus sanctified.  With this under our belts, we are now ready to jump head-long into the practical details of education.

I want in the coming weeks to go through subjects one by one and talk about how and why we teach them. But for today we need to cover some of the boring background stuff. This is another methodology post.

As we move more and more into practical details of education, in some sense we move away from Scripture as well. We can and should look to the Bible to tell us what the nature of the child is, but we are not going to find much there about whether we should use worksheets or how to drill math facts or whether to teach American or world history first. We need to keep in mind the principles we have gleaned from Scripture, but, in matters on which God’s Word is silent, we then turn to the other resources He has given us. Among these I count science and observation, and logic or common sense. By science I mean the science of education and of the human mind including such things as studies that tell us how we learn or how our brains work. Observation is not quite so technical; it is simply the experience we have of our own children or of the child in general. God has given us all some measure of logical reasoning. While acknowledging that our reason has been affected by the Fall and  that we cannot always trust it, we should also make use of this gift in our efforts to discern what to teach and how to teach it. All of these things, of course, if there is any contradiction, must be subservient to the Word of God.  Nor should we hold them too tightly. We need to be willing to change and adapt or just plain admit we were wrong as we get new information.

We also don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Many have come before us and, while there is no one (not even Calvin) who is always right, we should make use of their wisdom. I have reviewed a number of books on education in the course of this study and will continue to pull from them.  On the theological/theoretical side of things two of my favorites are J.G. Vos and Cornelius Van Til. Vos’s book is very short, more of a pamphlet. Van Til has more to say though is main emphasis is not on the education of children but on  higher education.

On the more practical side (though she certainly does not neglect theory), Charlotte Mason has been a major influence on my thinking. I feel this needs some explanation as it may seem I have spent quite a lot of time arguing against Charlotte’s ideas. If it’s not inappropriate to make the comparison — Jesus criticized the Pharisees because they were the sect whose ideas were actually closest to the truth. I keep harping on Charlotte Mason for the same reason — because she is actually the closest to where I want to be. I have not found any other  philosophy of education which fits so well with the Christian worldview and which is so distinctly Christian. Yet her Christianity is not mine (she is Anglican and I am a Reformed and Covenantal Presbyterian) and our very real theological differences make very real differences in our approach to education as well. Nonetheless, we are both Christians and what I am trying to do is what she tried to do — to build a philosophy of education based on my theology — and we will likely end up with a lot of overlap.

A final note before we leave the methodology aside — one of my informing ideas is that truth, God’s truth, can come to use through non-Christian sources.  When we are looking at the science especially but even the more philosophocal arguments, we must not neglect non-Christian sources. They should always be held up to the light of Scripture and taken with a greater degree of reserve but we should also not be surprised to find wisdom in them.

In this light, I’d like to end with a call. I have read some things but there is a lot more out there. If you have favorite books on education or things you think I really should read or consider, please let me know! I am in need of more input.

Nebby

CM Curriculum: Mater Amabilis

Dear Reader,

I have added one more installment to my charts of Charlotte Mason curricula overviews. This time we are looking at a distinctly Roman Catholic curriculum, Mater Amabilis:

CM curricula fourth

You can find all the charts comparing CM curricula here. Thus far I have restricted myself to fully CM curricula and not CM inspired ones. If you know of any I am missing, pelase let me know!

Nebby

 

Comparison of CM Curricula — updated!

Dear Reader,

I just updated my charts comparing Charlotte Mason curricula. Find them all here.

Nebby

Living Books for Environmental Science

Dear Reader,

I let my 11th grader pick her science this year and she chose environmental science. She is big into art of any kind and photography so she has been working on a project for a local Audubon sanctuary to make a bird watching handout for them. She also watched some Khan Academy videos (here; she only did the ecology section half-way down the page) and read a lot of books. The wonderful thing about this age if that you can find good adult books that are written to be interesting (as opposed to a lot of the books written for kids, sad to say). You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living Books on Environmental Science

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson — THE classic of the environmental movement. We hadn’t read it yet so I made sure she got this one in.

The Curious Naturalist by Sy Montgomery — Short essays on subjects from lichen to beavers. Divided up by season.

Autumn Across America by Edwin Way Teale — I love Teale’s books. This one is part of a seasonal foursome. Also look for Circle of the Seasons and A Walk through the Year.

Wilderness Essays by John Muir — Nature lore. I’ve heard Muir was a Christian.

Anthill: A Novel by E.O. Wilson — I’m not crazy about Wilson’s view of evolution/creation (he is not a Christian) but when he talks about his subject, entomology, his love of creation comes through.

Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson — Another classic from Carson.

Beekeeper’s Lament by Hannah Nordhaus — Why are the bees dying and why does it matter?

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson — Amusing anecdotes from the author’s walks on the Appalachian trail.

The Darwin Myth by Benjamin Wiker — I am going to make all my kids read this one. I love Wiker’s books. This one is a pretty easy read. Wiker tells the story of the man and how his life and personal views affected his famous theory. It is kindly but fairly done. He is not anti-evolution but is anti-Darwinian evolution. Wiker inspires hope for a godly view of creation ad evolution which will bring us closer to, not farther from, our Creator.

Our Only World by Wendell Berry — Ten essays from one of my favorite American fiction writers.

How to Clone a Mammoth by Beth Shapiro — A professor tells how we could, maybe, clone animals to reintroduce them and asks why and if we should. A little tough and technical in parts but good and engaging.

Happy reading!

Nebby

 

Book Review: The Christian Home School

Dear Reader,

Thank you all for continuing to give book suggestions. My latest read has been Gregg Harris’ The Christian Home School (Gresham, OR: Noble Publishing Associates, 1995; originally published 1988).

Harris’ book is a bit dated (can one still realistically homeschool for $100-200 per child per year??) and I found its scope too narrow, particularly in talking about how to homeschool, but there enough good material here to make it worth perusing.  As my source indicated, there is one stellar chapter here, chapter 5: “The Biblical Basis of Education.” If you are new to homeschooling and need encouragement and the very basics of how to begin, you might appreciate the rest of the book; otherwise you can probably just skim large chunks (as I confess I did).

The Christian Home School begins with a lot of the usual scary stories about public schools. I don’t doubt the truth of these stories; there no doubt is something indeed to be afraid of. But I’m not a big fan of this approach. Harris also includes a brief history of public schooling in the United States and shows why reforming the current system is not an option.

Harris then turns his attention to Christian schools. For me as a homeschooler, this was refreshing; all the other books I have read thus far have been pro-Christina school and not even mentioned homeschooling as an option so it was nice to hear arguments for homeschooling in particular. Nevertheless, while I agree with a lot of what Harris says, both anti-Christian school and pro-homeschooling, I don’t think he is as fair and well-rounded as he could be. Let’s just say there are pros and cons in any option.

Having established the case for homeschooling, Harris then gets to the meat: the role of the Bible. Though he appears to be a fairly conservative writer, Harris’ stance is not overly fundamentalist. The Bible, he says, “isn’t intended to be a textbook for teachers and school administrators . . .But it does tell us everything we need to know to evaluate education – to tell the basic difference between good education and bad” (p. 66).

Parents are the primary educators (p. 66). This point is easily established. Harris makes the case that as our parenting is compared to God’s that we will be better parents the more we emulate God and adopt His style. While the Bible may not give us many specific instructions in how to parent, there is much we can learn from examining how God parents and educates us (p. 67). [1]

Harris finds the purpose of education in the purpose of man (p. 70). He goes on to say: “It only stands to reason, then, that one of the primary purposes of education is to prepare people to be born again and then to worship and fellowship with God” (p. 70) and again: “Thus, education is to benefit our society and the Church by equipping us to fulfill our part and take our place in the community of faith” (pp. 70-1). I agree with him in much of this — the purpose of education is found in God’s overall plan for man; and the primary purpose is for the individual but the larger society also benefits. I have a slight quibble with his phraseology, however. Harris speaks of “preparing” and “equipping” as if children are not yet a full part of the Church. I have argued here that there is no real divide between children and adults in the covenant community. Children are fully part of that community, are able to contribute to it, and are already interwoven into God’s plan (see this post, this one, and this one).

When it comes to the how of education, Harris tries to keep an open mind, allowing for various methods of education [though not unschooling (p. 88), a conclusion I agree with], but he clearly has a favorite. His own preference is for what he calls “Delight-Directed Study” which he equates with Unit Studies. Very briefly when we began homeschooling, we tried unit studies. I have some problems with the idea of unit studies (see this post or this one) though Harris’ arguments make me more amenable to his approach that I would have thought I would be. Part of the issue is that Harris shows no awareness of a living books approach to homeschooling such as Charlotte Mason advocates. I suspect this is because his book is older and the Charlotte Mason resurgence in homeschooling circles had not occurred, or at least not developed so much steam.  [More than any other approach we have followed the Charlotte Mason method in our homeschool. While I have become less enamored of her philosophy in recent years (and this series is the result of that disillusionment), hers is still the best single approach I have found.]

In reality there is much that Harris says that would fit well with Charlotte Mason’s philosophy. He argues that children have an innate, God-ordained appetite for knowledge (p. 69) and advocates a broad liberal arts education (p. 71). In fact, his language is very much like Miss Mason’s when he argues for a balanced intellectual meal that will bring pleasure to the child (pp. 101-02). They also both say that education cannot and should not be accomplished through force or discipline and that the role of the parent/teacher is largely to prepare the feast (Charlotte’s image) and to wait for the child to respond, as flower bud opens (Harris’ image, p. 111). 

Harris is a bit more in the classical mode in that he sees stages on education, those his are not strictly defined (pp. 112-17). This should not surprise us given the emphasis he places on education as preparation (as I argued in this post).

Delight-directed studies, as Harris defines them, teach multiple subjects through whatever topic the child is interested in. That is, if a child has a particular interest in cats, he might do language arts by reading and writing about cats and learn math by starting a cat sitting business. This were he is most like Unit Studies and least like Charlotte Mason. Though I think in the end, there is more similarity here than I thought; Charlotte’s approach also teaches some subjects, like grammar and writing, indirectly through readings and narrations done on history or other topics.

Harris advocates delight-directed study not just because it works but because, he says, it is biblical. This is perhaps his best and most unique argument — that God intended us to have pleasure even in the things we need, from food to procreation, and that we should also find delight as we satisfy our intellectual appetites (pp. 96ff). For evidence of this he points to the Psalmist’s pleasure in his study of the law of God (Ps. 1:2 among others).

One final quibble — I am once again (as I was with Rushdoony) uncomfortable when Harris talks about education for boys versus that of girls (pp. 119-20). He argues that high school age boys should be educated for a specific career but that girls should be given a broad education so that they will be prepared to help their husbands in whatever their calling might be.  My problem with this kind of thinking is two-fold: It ignores the very real possibility that not every Christian will get married. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that it is better not to be married (1 Cor. 7:32ff) and  perhaps we would take this injunction more seriously if we didn’t start our kids off with marriage as the be-all and end-all of Christian life. Secondly, it tends to undervalue knowledge for its own sake. Harris does not go as far as Rushdoony in this but perhaps just teeters in the edge of the idea.

The bottom line is that Gregg Harris’ The Christian Home School is not a book you necessarily need to run out and get right away but there is one solid good idea in here which I think we need to add to our discussion of a reformed Christian approach to education.

Nebby

[1] As a side note, I don’t agree with Harris’ definition of “to train up” in Proverbs 22:6 as “to touch the palate” (p. 68).  I have no idea where he got this. You can see my own interpretation of that verse here.

 

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