Friday, July 25, 2014

So, a curriculum? What does Mrs. Krabappel think? (School Education)

 "The curriculum which should give children their due falls into some six or eight groups--Religion, Philosophy (?) (question mark is hers), History, Languages, Mathematics, Science, Art, Physical Exercises, and Manual Crafts." ~~ Charlotte Mason, School Education (1903)
This seems like kind of a funny list, or at least one that has some strange gaps in it, especially after all Charlotte's talk about education based on books.  Where are Literature, Writing, Grammar, Geography, and so on?   They're in there--these are just broad headings.

Bible, is, obviously, Bible; but it's not clear what she meant just here by Philosophy (with the question mark), since there isn't any discussion of it.  History, in this era, included Plutarch.Under Language she mentions English grammar and literature, although if you look in the included sample programme, literature selections for the term are included under history.  She then discusses "Practical Instruction," with comments on Science (meaning mostly natural history, and that includes the books they were reading in that area); and finally Drawing and Picture Talks.

But if you really want to know what they were doing in the different subjects, at all the different levels, you have to read the Appendices.  The specific subjects for Form or Class III are Bible Lessons and Recitations (Poetry and Bible passages); English Grammar, French, German, and Latin; Italian (optional) English, French, and Ancient History (Plutarch's Lives); Singing (French, English and German); Writing, Dictation, Drill; Drawing in Brush and Charcoal; Natural History (included a book on animals), Botany (practical work and readings from two or three books on plants), Physiology (one book), Geography; Arithmetic; Geometry, and Reading (books from Geography, English history, French history, and "tales" (not explained here)). Literature, including Scott's poems in this term, is included under History, but the examination question seems to expect knowledge of Scott's novels, and it isn't clear how this was to be covered. Composition is not taught as a subject, because "no considerable writer was ever taught the art of 'composition.'"  "Writing" meant copywork.  "Dictation" was given from a book not scheduled elsewhere, Growth and Greatness of our World-wide Empire.  There are some "work" (craft) suggestions at the end of the programme.

And if you're at all familiar with Charlotte Mason's methods, you can fill in a lot of what is not specifically listed there--narration, nature notebooks and so on.

Actually, what we do ourselves isn't too far off from that, if you subtract the multiple languages and Drill.  But I'm trying not so much to compare this to our own family's middle school work as to think about how that would fit into one of those overblown government curriculum descriptions, or with certain other conceptions of education.  Assume that we have up-to-date, excellent books in all those areas, so we are hypothetically eliminating the problem of "Victorian books."  Who can you imagine objecting?
My thought is that the educational establishment we have in North America would take a long time to accept a term programme that simply says, for Physiology, "Read and narrate this book."

It doesn't seem like enough work for the teacher; it sounds like Mrs. Krabappel gets to put her feet up even more than she already does. It doesn't provide enough work for the curriculum writers and packagers.  It's not specific or extensive enough.  There aren't enough reproducibles. There isn't enough accountability.

But what if they did?  What if they tried it?  What if the confused kid in Bart's class actually learned something?
In the end it isn't about teaching, teachers, administrators, or textbook committees.  It's about learning. It's about the students.
 Theodore shouted, 'Hey, Mrs. Collins, that's cool.  Everything links into something else, doesn't it?'  Marva beamed.  'Now you've got it.  Every scholar, every writer, every thinker learned from those who came before.  You are all becoming so erudite, we are going to have to dub you MGM--'Mentally Gifted Minors.'" ~~ Marva Collins' Way

Thursday, July 24, 2014

How to fail at teaching--and it's more work to fail (School Education)

At the end of School Education, Charlotte Mason does talk very specifically about what a curriculum based on her "educational manifesto"--she jokingly refers to it as the Children's Magna Carta--would look like.  Or what it did look like in 1903, twelve years after the Parents' National Educational Union had begun to offer a formal curriculum.  I tend to think of this time in the P.U.S. as sort of its adolescence, if childhood was the beginning period in the 1890's, and maturity was sometime in the teens through the time of Mason's death in 1923.  Middle age?--the still-going-strong nineteen-twenties, thirties, forties, probably till after the war.   Declining years would be the time of increasing school standardization, changing culture, and other things that seemed to de-popularize PNEU methods, at least for a while.

But anyway, what she's describing here is not too far off from the format of the term programmes I'm more familiar with, those of the 1920's and early 1930's.  There are some book differences, especially in subjects like mathematics and grammar, and some of the subjects aren't as fleshed-out here as they were later on, but the overall shape of the curriculum had been pretty much set by this time.  In fact, she suggests that the PNEU had now been "beta-tested" enough in private homes to be recommended to classroom teachers.

Buried in those notes just before the end of the book, she gives a list of six causes of failure in education.

a)  Too many oral lessons.
b)  Too many lectures.
c)  Too many "text-books."
d)  Focusing on any intellectual motivation other than the desire of knowledge, e.g. prizes, liking the teacher
e)  Too many gadgets, manipulatives and models
f)  Too many "Readers."

Four out of those six items on the list are basically the same thing: read books, real books.  Isn't that a relief for teachers?  Maybe not such good news for textbook publishers, but doesn't that actually take the pressure off the rest of us?

You do not have to know everything. You do not have to spend hours Googling information and activities to teach the circulatory system or the Elizabethan stage. You do not need to buy out the teacher's store, or have every science kit in the homeschool catalogue. You do not need a rack of expensive teaching posters, or a boxful of stickers. You do not have to depend either on your own superior knowledge, or on the availability of the latest technology.  It seems to me that you'd have to put more effort and money into these less productive activities, than you would in simply offering a generous serving of books, sauced with some real things and other "affinities."  It's less burdensome to do what's more let the students dig for themselves.
For some reason that reminds me of one of John Holt's books*, where he had bought a Polaroid camera and decided, on the spur of the moment, to unbox it and try it out right there in the classroom. Here's a package, here's what's in it, here's the camera, here's the instruction booklet, let's try it out together. What's this for? What if we try that?  Can I do it too?  This may sound like it's getting away from Charlotte's emphasis on books and natural objects, but here's my point:  this activity came out of something real.  It did not take John Holt hours to plan.  It did not come with worksheets or a quiz afterwards.  It did not come in a package marked "Afternoon with a Polaroid Camera: Oral Communication and Technology Objectives."   It wasn't a lecture, it wasn't even an oral lesson--it was an experience with a real thing that grownups were using. Yes, the kids enjoyed it partly because they liked John Holt, but what they really wanted to know was what was in the box and how it worked.

Charlotte repeats her point on page 247, the last page of the main text:  "that the young people shall learn what history is, what literature is, what life is, from the living books of those who know."  Yes, she says, many of the best schools did use books, but, in her opinion, not enough of them, and they didn't make full use of them.  So she adds appendices to show "how a wide curriculum and the use of many books work in the Parents' Review School."**

*Holt's book What Do I Do Monday? has some fantastic ideas for getting kids engaged with concepts such as size, speed, and strength, using "real" measurement tools.

**What the Parents' Union School was called at that time.

(For related posts, click on the Volume Three label below.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Vocation, the Ultimate Intimacy (School Education)

In the last chapters of School Education, Charlotte Mason has been using the example of William Wordsworth and John Ruskin, two nineteen-century writers (among other things) who preserved many details of their childhood experiences.  What is it about the child that makes the man?  Yesterday's post here covered most of their contrasting examples: an affinity-building childhood (Wordsworth) vs. a more restricted one (Ruskin).

But in the end, she talks about vocation.  Not in a necessarily religious sense, but as, literally, something that calls out to you.  For Ruskin, it was the day he discovered Turner's paintings and Byron's poems.  To use a more recent phrase, he had "found his people."  One of Charlotte's points here is that Ruskin was not very old when he settled on Turner and Byron as his guiding lights.  If we assume that children won't appreciate good music or art, that older books will be too hard or too dull for them (so we kindly abridge and adapt them all to death), that they won't be able to survive a road trip, even, say, through amazing mountain scenery, without headphones and DVDs...we're shortchanging them.  If they have the opportunity to have even a small taste of what's good and real, presented, if possible, with our own enthusiasm, they will want more.  And somewhere in the world of so many possibilities, they may find one or a few things that really connect.  Charlotte talked about children growing up to have many vital interests, and that's a good thing, but it's also important to allow them to zero in on whatever speaks to them the loudest.

And sometimes that's a surprise.  Did you know that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were both big Richard Wagner fans?  According to The Tolkien Gateway"Tolkien studied the works of Wagner during the late 1920s.[1] Another member of the club, C.S. Lewis, was an avid fan of Wagner, and collected recordings of Wagner, owned illustrations by Arthur Rackham (a British illustrator, often depicting scenes from the works of Wagner), dreamt about turning the Ring into prose, and took Tolkien to London to see a staging of the Ring.[2][3][4] " (The footnotes are on that page.)

For Maurice Sendak it was Mozart.  “Art has always been my salvation,” he said in an interview, “and my gods are Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, and Mozart. I believe in them with all my heart. And when Mozart is playing in my room, I am in conjunction with something I can’t explain. I don’t need to. I know that if there’s a purpose for life, it was for me to hear Mozart.”  (from Bibliolore)  

Not all of us are that definite about what we like most, but for some it seems not even to be a choice--it's as if their mentors reach out and grab them.  They hear one instrument, see one thing under a microscope, or hear one talk about people suffering, and that's it.  

With all his heart, Maurice Sendak said.  And that's Charlotte's final point--though it's really been said over and over, all through this volume. How do you know it's a living book?--if it quickens your emotions, makes you not only see things in a new way but care about them more too.  Ideas are just information if they stay in your head but don't touch your heart.  "Of all the joyous motives of school life, the love of knowledge is the only abiding one; the only one which determines the scale, so to speak, upon which the person will hereafter live." (School Education, page 246.)  

Joy, love, and life.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Probably the first time anyone used "ectoplasmic" in a literary book review

I just found this and thought it was cool:

" 1922, the year that Proust died with his great mythical Recherche complete, the appearance of The Waste Land, Ulysses, and the more ectoplasmic Fantasia of the Unconscious startled the literary public also into realizing the importance of myth.  It was the next year that Cassirer began to bring the problem into systematic philosophy, and in the thirty years since then the word myth has continued to produce that uninterrupted flow of talk which is generally called, and sometimes accompanies, a steady advance in thinking."

(Northrop Frye, 1953 review of Ernst Cassirer, Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, vol. 1, trans. Ralph Manheim.  Included in Northrop Frye on Culture and Literature: A Collection of Review Essays, edited and with an introduction by Robert D Denham.)

What's for supper? Pizza and pasta

Tonight's dinner menu, on a hot evening:

Frozen pizza, baked in the toaster oven on a piece of foil (because none of our round pans fit this toaster oven)

Pennine Primavera, made with zucchini, mushrooms, and chickpeas

Partly-thawed strawberries, very cold yogurt, and yesterday's zucchini cake.

Ruskin and Wordsworth go under Charlotte's microscope (School Education)

Did you ever read an autobiography and wish you could have lived in that person's family? Or not, as the case may be?

In the last several chapters of School Education, Charlotte Mason gives a sort of bucket list of the things that children need, the relationships (intimacies, affinities) they need to form; she's been over this ground earlier in the book.  She then spends a number of pages setting up her list against the childhood memories of William Wordsworth and John Ruskin, from Wordsworth's Prelude and Ruskin's Praeterita.  As a little postscript, she includes Wordsworth's advice on prigs.

That's it, that's what all that poetry and quoting is about.  Ruskin wanted to ride a pony, a real pony, just ride it outdoors and imagine he was really going somewhere and doing something; he thought afterwards that that might have made him a bit less of a wuss.

His parents signed him up for indoor riding lessons, but those were a failure, maybe because his heart wasn't in it.  He also spent a lot of time by himself, and he didn't have anybody to take him on nature walks and tell him the names of things, so he settled for collecting pebbles.
Wordsworth, on the other hand, spent most of his time with his friends, skating and swimming and stealing birds' nests. (What Charlotte calls Dynamic Relations.)
They both had books that fascinated them; they both had more-or-less similar opportunities to see art and experience a few of the other things on the list. Wordsworth appears to have had a more balanced, less neurotic upbringing than Ruskin, but in the end they both achieved greatness, contributed to the world.

Charlotte's final point: Ruskin and Wordsworth were each intelligent enough to overcome childhood difficulties, to make the most of what they had.  Even Ruskin's pebbles were the beginning of a lifelong interest in geology. But what if Ruskin hadn't had so many disappointments, had had more time to just play outdoors, make friends, have a few more of those affinities in place? What more could he have become? We'll never know.

And all that sounds like a recipe for pure parental guilt, especially if we can't send our children to kindergarten in the woods.  As Charlotte says in her first volume, a quick daily march around the square won't do either.  So what can one do if one doesn't live in a nature-friendly area or one doesn't have sympathetic neighbours or one has babies and toddlers, or illness, or blizzards?

The answer is, the best one can.  After all, knowing what children need is what opens our eyes to opportunities.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Teacher training this week

Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night (done that; lots of discussion about women's education)
Re-reading the last half of Charlotte Mason, School Education (got through that in one morning)
Making Sense of Adult Learning, by Dorothy MacKeracher (taking me longer)
Wendell Berry's poems
A surprisingly relevant newspaper column today about the science of relations (maybe I'll write a post about that)

Listening to:
Dr. Gwendolyn Starks, "Creative Writing with the Inklings and Friends"

Using all that to:
re-edit some of our Grade Eight plans.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sad day in TV Land: In memory of James Garner

I could have picked almost anything, but what's Rockford without a good car chase?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Charlotte Mason Quote for the Day: The reason we need will

 Robert E. Weaver, Daniel in the Lion's Den (1952)
"[A person of will has] the power to project himself beyond himself and shape his life upon a purpose." ~~ Charlotte Mason, Ourselves

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What's for supper? Make-your-own taco salads

Tonight's dinner menu:  Make-your-own taco salads, with sides and/or toppings. Meatless or not, whatever you want.

Main components:

1 lb. ground beef, browned and with a bit of seasoning added (salsa, not much because the jar was almost empty; chili powder, water, and cornstarch)
Homemade "refried" beans, made from pressure-cooked pinto beans that I combined with a can of black beans, onion powder, cayenne and black pepper, salt, and a bit of cumin (an idea that I got from Miss Maggie's old Frugal Abundance website--the recipe isn't there anymore, though)

Taco chips, olives, chopped lettuce, chopped peppers, grated cheese

Brown rice and two sweet potatoes
Plums, and cookies from the Eurostore.

Quote for the day: some Zen of cooking

"There is completely no secret: just plunging in, allowing time, making space, giving energy, tending each situation with warm-hearted effort.  The spoon, the knife, the food, the hunger; broken plates and broken plans.  Play, don't work.  Work it out." ~~ Edward Espe Brown, Tassajara Cooking (1973)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What are the really basic cooking skills?

This is not a new post, but I'd never seen it before, and the comments are interesting (and I don't think there are any really rude ones). What should everybody (that is, not every cook, just every normal person) know how to do in a kitchen?

I agree with the one comment that everybody, no matter what their circumstances or food style, should know how to make three different main meals more or less from scratch, something simple but decent enough that they could also feed a friend or two. It's a reasonable-enough don't-leave-home-without-it goal, and it's one that they could probably learn from just one issue of a familly or food magazine. If you have and use tools like a slow cooker, this can be even easier. Our Treehouse classic: open lid, put in sauerkraut, put in meat, put on lid, plug in, turn on.  Cook.

What's your personal survival list?  What do kids need to learn so that they don't end up like this poor guy on the Possum 911 line?  (Fast-forward to 13:27.)

What I learned from a French teacher

I was watching an online video produced for Canadian public-school French teachers in one of the western provinces.  Because that province has several different options for French teaching, they have produced a series of 15-minute videos explaining and comparing them.  This one was about core French (so just "regular" French classes) at the middle school level, and it showed both students working and comments from teachers.  One of the teachers said something like this:  "I used to plan my lessons around what I wanted the students to hear me saying.  Now I plan around what I want them to be able to say."

To clarify that, she did not mean parroting back phrases or canned dialogues.  Her students now spend a lot of their class time talking with partners and in groups, asking questions and answering them, in planned "situations" or just in friendly French chitchat.  The middle schoolers in the video were having conversations on the level of "What time does the movie start?" "6:30."  "I can't come then, I have to do my homework."  "Should we go later?" and so on.  This may not seem particularly profound, but it certainly beats only being able to talk about the plume of your tante.  She (and other teachers) mentioned the challenge of getting students to take risks in the target language--being encouraged to try.  It's a bit like being given a verbal blank page, instead of a worksheet.

I thought that what she was saying made perfect sense, in situations outside of language teaching.  Sometimes the way school subjects are taught seems like a swimming class where the teacher talks about swimming and demonstrates swimming, but the students never go into the pool themselves.  Of course we wouldn't put up with such a silly class at the Y--so why does it seem like such a fresh idea for school classes to take a hands-on, or in this case mouths-on, approach?

When I used more open-ended math materials with my Squirrelings, I found that evaluating what they were actually learning each day was not always obvious or immediate; but they really were learning.  It would be nice to think, even with math, that every answer has one method and one solution, that there are arithmetic and algebra and geometry and they're quite distinct; and that, really, all you have to do is keep assigning lesson after lesson and that sooner or later they'll know everything they're supposed to know.  In other words, that everything has an answer key, that you can check everything off and move on to history.

You can either settle for routine and memorization, or you can take some risks, let the students go right into the water and see if they've learned enough to at least dog-paddle. Teaching in a more natural, open-ended way is more challenging, riskier, than just filling in the blanks.  But the rewards are also greater...what we struggled to achieve using traditional methods, we may find now coming naturally.

Free for the Kindle app: homeschool and more

These books are free for the downloading right now--they may not be for long, though.  (I am not an Amazon affiliate, I just post them if I see something interesting.)

Senior Year Step-by-Step: Simple Instructions for Busy Homeschool Parents (Coffee Break Books Book 29) by Lee Binz

Discovering Mathematical Thought: Growing the Math Side of the Brain by Hal Torrance -- Dollygirl used this book last fall (Grade Seven).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Carnivals This Week, and other good things to read online (Updated!)

The Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival is at Harmony Fine Arts.

At Home and School hosts the Carnival of Homeschooling: Finding Solutions Edition. I found this entry interesting:
"Then there are times when local authorities seem to forget that homeschoolers live, work, and pay taxes too. Christine of The Thinking Mother and other homeschoolers in her area resolved the problem in Texas Homeschool Daytime Curfew Law Defeated."
Wildflowers and Marbles used to have a thoroughly enviable learning room.  Now they have a mobile learning cart--also very beautiful.

Fresh figs and monster cucumbers: the Prudent Homemaker is another blogger who is very good with a camera.

And Ordo Amoris has a keeper post called The Little Way to Success.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Mama Squirrel's Library Pile

From the public library, reading and leafing through:

The Map That Changed the World, by Simon Winchester
Why Geology Matters, by Doug Macdougall
The Seashell on the Mountaintop, by Alan Cutler
Eric Sloane's Weather Almanac

Thursday, July 10, 2014

When you realize you're getting old

Or just too out of it, one way or another: when you see a list of the Emmy nominees, and realize that you have never watched even one of those shows.  Or, moreover, that you don't really care.

Our TV time lately has been a combination of Foyle's War, Mission Impossible (the 1970 season), and Hogan's Heroes.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Laughter is a good thing: reposted link

I posted a link to The Laugh of the Future in July 2006.  It's still there, and it's still worth reading.

A sample:
"It took divine revelation to teach us that there is a foolishness wiser than the wisdom of men; or that in the lowliest and stupidest of men there is a grandeur and a mystery that should make us laugh not for scorn but for wonder.  One old Shakespearean critic has called it the Comedy of Forgiveness -- the strange belief, quite foreign to the pagans, that laughter too might be redemptive, as participating in the greatest comedy of all, that of a world wherein man is saved by the means he least expects, and therefore by the most fitting and comical means of all.  For the fact is that we like Bottom not just as a source of laughter, but as Bottom and no other; as we like Don Quixote, and Charlie Brown, and the fat bus driver Ralph Kramden."
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