Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bi-Polar Home Schooling

I'm home-schooling myself in the art and practice of home schooling. So far I've read two books on the topic, and they are diametrically opposite in many ways. One is an unedited, self-published, self-indulgent 400-page verbal emesis: 60 percent diatribe, 30 percent anecdotes, and 10 percent ideas.

The other is a 700-page, well-organized thesis that documents the history, method, and curriculum of a classical education.

One of them makes me want to hug a filing cabinet; the other makes my stomach hurt from insecurity and anxiety. Is there a Middle Path?

The first book, The Teenage Liberation Handbook, inexplicably gets a 4.5 out of 5 star rating on Amazon. It's inexplicable because the organization, writing, and editing are terrible--but it's also understandable because it has a powerful, counter-intuitive message to teenagers and parents. The message is this: schools don't have all the answers. They may not even have some of the answers for some kids; and many kids will be better off, and get a better education, through home schooling and/or unschooling.

I asked A. Peevie and Mr. Peevie to read "Chapter 16: Starting Out: A Sense of the Possibilities," because it offered a glimpse into the first baby steps toward homeschool, or as I'm starting to think of it, self-directed education. This chapter attempts to describe a different kind of educational structure, one which is goal- and student-directed. I don't find the "morsels of advice" from unschoolers and their parents to be particularly helpful or informative; but if you wade through those, and through the lessons in Chinese philosophy, and if you get past the author's overstated aversion to "school-style structure"--there are one or two nuggets of helpful advice, such as this:

If you are completely confused as to how to start structuring your life, here's one way: do "academics" for two hours each day--not necessarily lots of subjects, or the same ones every day; you are not going to dry up if you don't do 45 minutes every day of "social studies." Do some kind of work or project for four hours. In the rest of your time, read, see friends, talk with your parents, make tabouli. Take Saturdays and Sundays off. Sound arbitrary? It is. I made it up, although it is based on a loose sort of "average" of the lives of a hundred unschoolers, most college-bound. Once you try this schedule for a month, you will know how you want to change it.

The next chapter, "Your Tailor-Made Intellectual Extravaganza," presents a couple of good thoughts as well, explaining the method and value of interdisciplinary studies and offering a few strategies to enhance learning. "Create a small museum that relates to your interest," Llewellyn suggests; I could totally see A. Peevie doing this--although his museum might include gross things like a box of toenails, or things with questionable museum value like used cream soda bottles.

"Write letters to people and organizations, asking thoughtful questions"--also a cool idea. As a member of the Save the Manatees Club, and A. Peevie could initiate correspondence with someone from the Club to ask questions or even organize a fund raiser. I'll bet they don't have very many fundraisers in the midwest to benefit manatees. 

I think A. Peevie might find some useful ideas in the second half of the book, which focuses on "how to study all the school subjects without school." Handbook is over-written and under-edited, but like an all-you-can eat buffet, we will find something to meet our needs, and ignore the rest.

The second book, The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (TWTM), offers a "step-by-step, grade-by-grade, subject-by-subject guide to the classical pattern of education called the trivium." And yes, it is as detailed, systematic, polysyllabic, and guilt-inducing as it sounds.

The classical education is language- and history-intensive; it helps students learn to analyze and draw conclusions; and it requires self-discipline and dedication. The trivium structure "recognizes that there is an ideal time and place for each part of learning: memorization, argumentation, and self-expression." These three stages, or methods, of learning are known as grammar, dialectic (or logic), and rhetoric.

Grammar refers not just to the grammar of language, but in a broader sense, to the building blocks of all subjects: words, facts, and dates. The dialectic, or logic stage, teaches children to "connect the facts she has learned and to discover the relationships among them. The first grader has learned that Rome fell to the barbarians; the fifth grader asks why and discovers that high taxes, governmental corruption, and an army made up entirely of mercenaries weakened the empire." This critical thinking stage builds on the foundation of basic skills and knowledge. The third stage, rhetoric, refers to expression. It is dependent upon the first two stages of the trivium: "the student uses knowledge and the skill of logical argument to write and speak about all the subjects in the curriculum."

The massive text of TWTM applies the trivium step-by-step to each subject in each grade. Most chapters include comprehensive reading and resource lists that will make your eyes water, plus examples of daily schedules, methods, timelines, and activities to create the most perfectly educated robotic child ever known to mankind.

OK, that was a bit harsh. I'm sure that anyone who chooses to apply TWTM will nurture well-rounded and well-educated children--but if you check the index, you won't find any reference to child development, play, or fun--except for Fun With Hieroglyphs on page 311. In fact, the authors go so far as to say that if you find yourself hooked up with a group of unschoolers, you may want to find yourself another group (p. 617).

I'm sure this kind of home-schooling is great for some people--but on the continuum of unschooling to classical education homeschooling, we will fall far closer to Liberation than Well-Trained.


Kristen said...

So, every summer, I go back to TERM just for a baseline. One of those "just-so-my-relaxed self doesn't get too far afield" type exercises. And then I look at my children and think "this is never going to look like good old Susan Wise Bauer wants it to." So then I make up my own curriculum:) Happens every year!
On a more serious note, would Charlotte Mason proponents have any constructive ideas for A. Peevie's age? I've only read her stuff for the younger ones...

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should try reading Senior High a Home-Designed Formula or something by Mary Hood. I have both of them if you'd like to borrow them.

Leslie Wolf said...

E, Jill and I know some people who have done a lot of research on homeschooling. I'm not sure that I should share their names in this forum, but you can always shoot Jill or me an email. Hang in there!