Thursday, November 16, 2006

Thoughts on education.

The Lesson

Pierre Auguste Renoir - 1841-1919

Almost eighteen years ago, we made a decision that proved to “rock our world”, then when we recovered, there was no looking back.

We hesitated, but it was the most convincing idea we could connect with at that time. We chose the route to home educate one daughter for Grade seven, a grade often known for hormonal rushes and mass confusion. The elementary school she was registered in, employed a newly certified teacher thrust into a Grade 5/6 split class, too much of a newbie to become enabled to deal with the age level, nor teach to both grades at one time with their varied curricula, therefore dumbing down the teaching to only encompass the lower grade, a repeat for many of the students present from the previous year.

1. Confusion 2. Class Position 3. Indifference 4. Emotional Dependency 5. Intellectual Dependency 6. Provisional Self-Esteem 7. One Can't Hide. It is the great triumph of compulsory, government monopoly mass-schooling that among even the best of my fellow teachers, and among even the best of my students' parents, only a small number can imagine a different way to do things

- John Taylor Gatto

Boredom ensued all year long for our daughter, a child who loathed summers when school wasn’t in session because she loved the mental challenges she had become accustomed to, a child who always loved a great read in hand, musing, learning, thinking and mulling over all the topics of interest to her. After cleaning many chalkboards and listening to younger children read in lower grades when her work was completed before others, it was time to re-energize this gal and allow her to move forward at her own pace, usually ahead of the pack. Her first year learning at home allowed her to do just that, 1 ½ grades in full motion, speeding ahead and enjoying the rush of the challenge.

"Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children" - United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26(3)

It was not our actual intention to continue beyond that one grade initially, however during that same year, one son seriously desired to school at home too, and when both sons wished to “do what their sister was doing”, it was by grace we continued to move forward with our educational pursuits at home. And so it began, a lifestyle of learning, at home instead of in an institutional building our taxes supported. We used our own funds to support our educational needs with curricula, outside courses or sports, and allowed it to become a way of life for all future children born within our home, who too, have been educated the same way as their elder siblings, though from birth.

I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education.
They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that
every child is a kind of idiot who must taught to think.

- Anne Sullivan (Helen Keller's teacher)

Home schooling is not “school at home”, set up like a school with specific hours and bells. Home schooling is educating children as a personal “way of life”, with the heart of the home being a fundamental realization education is found in every facet of life, and can occur at any hour of the day, not limited to a fancy room, having recess whenever a break is necessary or not, no silly bells to signal time outs or back to class lineups. We in our family continue to work as a team, even as some of the members have moved out or married.

We roll through our days with a natural rhythm everyday, rising in the morning, proceeding with assigned daily chores, enjoying a breakfast meal, then rolling into daily schooling schedules, and continuing throughout the day working as we need to, in order to keep our regular routine in focus and in balance, yet remaining flexible enough to bend should the need arise. Our bending has included time off when hubby has his vacation days, time off for the birth of new siblings or grandbabies, time off to celebrate special feast days in the liturgical year, time off to celebrate personal Saint days or Name days (baptismal anniversaries) and allowing for those buildups of assorted doctor and dental appointments. Time off lately was to visit a daughter visiting from the west as I wrote about last week.

Upon occasion too, in and around all the hubbub of ever growing scheduled children’s activities outside of the home, mom and dad have “date times”, and mom often schedules in “mother culture moments” when necessary to recover from life’s busyness.

Our family’s home education has always required a huge commitment in all ways from we parents and certainly on me for sure, as I seem to participate and render the bulk of the teaching, purchasing of curricula and organizing of the family schedules. There are often depleted physical, mental, emotional, and financial moments, yet this educational adventure has been a personal vision we developed years ago as parents, loving it, embracing this way of life that others may or may not share or even understand our passion for. Certainly it’s equaled to a fulltime job for me, and there has been much in the way of sacrifice. Even still, though sounding a bit daunting when remembering it’s already pushing towards eighteen long years of teaching, we will continue to be diligent and press on with the pursuit of this lifestyle of learning.

In its Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum Educationis (GE) 3, the Vatican Council also forcefully reminds parents of this natural-law right and obligation to educate their children, teaching: "Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators."

Having accepted a work transfer geographically, and currently living in our new residence at the east end of our country, we value our ability to enjoy continued historical and geographical explorations. Along with this selected pursuit of education, we will forge ahead, plug along with tweeking schedules as necessary, and attend conferences to select and purchase curricula to enhance learning styles, raise our readers to think and dream, motivate, correlate and finally, assist them with their future plans for their personalized career or continued education choices down the road.

Here’s a peak into our required subjects and schooling philosophies….

In my opinion, many schools have given up on teaching classic and timeless literature. There is no pursuing the interests of the child (how can they, they are an institution so it’s highly impossible to do), nor often no whetting the appetite for the world around them through hands on nature studies with sketching and daily walks or hikes through their young world.

Poetry has been long forgotten, but it’s so important to include into our lives as we still use this communication art throughout our lives. If you don’t believe me, check out your local Hallmark store and watch their stocks climb year after year. I once wrote an article with our use of poetry in our home, and the response was enormous. It’s not passé so let’s get the books out and dust them off again!

Historical readers for most of his year..

One daughter’s favorite author in Grade 5 was “Charles Dickens” and the teacher was stunned when all other girls her age preferred “Judy Blume”, cornering me one day asking “how” in the world we were able to get our child interested in such a great author. At first I was amused, and then saddened as children are likened to sponges, so feed them well! Use good literature & throw out the junk is my motto!

The introduction of good literature happens at an early age of course, and our little ones always had an older sibling and/or mommy, reading aloud to them each day. There’s always a family novel on the coffee table in progress.

All men who have turned out worth anything have
had the chief hand in their own education.

- Sir Walter Scott

The younger children love to curl up each evening with dad as he retires early; waltzing toward him with puppy dog eyes every night and their favorite book in hand to read. He obliges them well, and these have become special moments as they tuck in beside him, often up to four children at one time in the past have cuddled up for the nightly readings. Favorite authors to date are; Charles Dickens, Aesop’s Fables (all of them), James Herriot, Thornton Burgess, Beatrix Potter, Laura Ingalls Wilder and selected stories from “Beautiful stories from Shakespeare for children”.

Of course too, we read many biographies of those folks who walked this earth before us, lives of those who lived in various centuries, those who battled, conquered and survived world disasters. Reading the lives of the Saints, lives of great explorers, convinces them those men before us have passed on much for continued skills relevant today.

Math lessons

We use a planned cycle for learning our history, this year the younger two are learning World History 1, elementary year level. We are into the explorers at this time, and when Canada celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving, we were also celebrating Columbus Day with a study of this explorer geographically and making replicas of his ships, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria.

A retro-project, completing an older brother's
models of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria.

"To know nothing of what happened before you
were born is to remain ever a child"

-- Cicero

All of the children could tell you details of the Homer’s “Trojan War”, and “the Odyssey”, as well as; Egyptian, Greek and Roman histories, and of course – their own beloved science specialties; astronomy in our country dark night skies, and animals being the new favorite these days. *wink*

How about the long forgotten introduction to great musical composures (it’s been proven listening to Mozart improves the brain’s ability to absorb more and allow for better concentration), or introducing famous artists throughout the ages, those that lived and breathed on this earth in another era on the history timeline, gifting us with great historical values within their paintings of the time for continued study today.

The two younger children are currently attending an eight week art class offered by a local art gallery successful artist. So far the art mediums have been interesting with more to come to experience. To date they have sketched with pen and ink, molded clay to make two pieces of pottery and sketched with oil pastels for creating a unique piece of artwork scenery. Each week the teacher keeps their own individual art works in their portfolios for storage and will present them to the parents on the last day in an “art show” we are to attend in December. I can hardly wait to see it all, but here are a few pictures I took while there watching twice….

Art class items so far, pottery above, oil pastels below.

Our children still living at home could show you their sketch books and their beloved nature find collections. They can play a tune for you on the piano (or the many recorders in several keys), as music is one school subject they must attend and practice each day, and if I may say so myself, they are all becoming established musicians which is a great bonus for we the parents to listen to each day. *smile*

Lastly, I can’t stress it enough, there is the importance of teaching children and teens as much of the “Classical Trivium” especially during high school years as possible, being a gentle leader into the classical style of education, teaching the student to “rationalize and use a defense of clear logic”, rather than have their heads “crammed and filled” with irrelevant twaddle, hardly memorable in the future as a pleasant schooling experience to brag about.

One quarter of our family library filled with "living" books.

If you offer your children a book, ensure there is an efficient amount of “meat” in the vocabulary context, the story line isn’t silly or the book itself doesn’t dumb them down educationally. Toss out those garbage books and fill the shelves with “meat” for the mind. The brain is a muscle. Challenge the muscle to grow and get strong!

“Nourish a child daily with loving, right, and noble ideas...
which may bear fruit in his life.”

--Charlotte Mason, 1842-1923

Half of our "Great Books of the Western World" encyclopedia collection.

Our choices for curriculum as I’ve mentioned before change with each child leading the way with his specific interests in regards to his/her future, though mom has her own specifics which must be scheduled in as well. Take for instance the desire to enhance studies by use of a Liberal Arts education (back to good literature), getting thoroughly involved in the “Great Books of the Western World”, meeting up with great minds such as; Socrates, Aristotle, Cervantes, Aeschylus, Plato, Plutarch’s lives, Augustine, Shakespeare, and many more to equal an entire set of 60 precious classical readings still popular today centuries later. Yes, Mortimer Adler was able to reprint this “Great Book” series into a set of encyclopedias in the early 1950s and we’ve obtained a used set to use for schooling. It is best coupled if possible with a Socratic discussion method, and today you’ll find groups meeting all over the world to “suggest”, “discuss”, “debate”, and "conclude" on their relevance in education still today. These great minds of days passed had a heavy hand in molding the future of the world, teaching wisdom beyond the comprehension of mankind in their day, YET, their words ring true still, are in print for all to peruse and one cannot go wrong by absorbing them deep within our minds. Surely they are classic in nature and we can benefit from their written word for years to come.

Historical readers for Grade 9, 10 plus 26 more on order!

"Employ your time in improving yourself by other men's writings,
so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for."

-- Socrates

Mother here insists on “living books” that stand the test of time, those that make history come alive by making you feel as though you were there experiencing each and every detail along with the characters. We begin with a repeated cycle of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Middle Ages, and onward ho through the years, to the present modern day era. All the readings from historical timelines presented teach us about man and his life before us, what he did, what he thought, how he lived, where he traveled, customs of the day, family lifestyles and so on. These days with the assistance of the information superhighway of the internet, teaching and assimilating the wisdom in these great books of varied authors, has taken the student out of his own comfort zones, placing him/her before his webcam and microphone on the computer, to learn with fourteen others and two moderator teachers, live, in a cyber space class setting, discussing and throwing more logic and thinking into any arena available with the Socratic discussion methods being taught today. One daughter was present for such a class for the duration of three years, and not once did I have to remind her to catch up on the 4600-7000 plus (!) pages of reading expected each year.

That’s a lot of reading!

That’s a lot of history!

That’s a lot of wisdom attained!

This same daughter’s Grade 12 English professor who also taught in a local Western University admitted to her even he had not read all such titles and marveled that she had. She had fun poking quotes and text with him throughout her course, and wants her very own set of these “Great Book” encyclopedias for a wedding gift someday. Like her and the older ones, the younger ones are following suit with the completion for two of them of a first round of Great books readings in the Socratic discussion style online.

With these Great books in mind, Grade 10 math in high school, includes the use of “Euclid’s Elements”. One son works online with the Socratic Method discussions using Books I-III this year, for a Part 1 on this classical geometry. It will enhance his logic abilities for Algebraic question solving for the future, a huge advantage these days for our young people to give them confidence for future types of math and physics.

Online course - Euclid's Elements.

Shakespeare is a must! Oh yes, we read, absorb, act, attend live plays and giggle over his crazy famous coined sayings. And did you know many of his quotes are within Aesop’s Fable stories? I’ll quote one for you… “All that glitters is not gold”… Remember that one? Would you like to read more quotes yourself, try this link HERE;

The Bard visits our home frequently.

Education is a discipline.

Education is a life.

Education is a tremendous gift for those rich or poor, just for the taking.

Education does NOT end at graduation from high school, or college, or further studies.

Life is filled with educational possibilities making the old saying ring true; “If you aren’t learning something new everyday, why not?”

Our G.A. Henty collection grows and grows...historical classics all.

Perhaps this gives you an insight, if not a wee bit of clarity as to what our schooling philosophies include, either seeing the big picture we strive for in the education arena on behalf of our children, or perhaps you're certain now that we're totally nuts! *smile* It's okay you know, I think we've been subjected to almost every kind of kudo, scorn and direct insult over the years, still though it hasn't deterred our desire to continue inching forth towards our educational goals thus far. After almost eighteen years, those remarks roll off and our course stays firm.

Ride on cowboy!

If all this education sounds as though it can pass any academic testing around, it can. However without our faith permeating throughout every subject, through the liturgical year as well (great history significance here to note with this and a Bible in hand), and taking time to teach children to pray and know their catechism, all is lost. I can attempt to create and organize the perfect yearly schooling syllabus for each child to follow, tweeking as I go, but there are issues entering our lives to deal with no book ever taught us how to navigate around. Since we aren't perfect, there doesn’t happen to be a perfect curricula either. But, the good news is we were given a map to find the treasure, with three specifics called faith, Bible and tradition to find the "gold". In Deuteronomy 6:7 we are commanded to;
Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

A high school diploma is not the only goal in life worth striving and sacrificing to attain, rather the ultimate goal to keep in mind is entering those pearly gates of heaven with our own salvation as the super life long goal overall. I would be remiss to exclude thoughts of these in the formation of our children's education, passing along the practice of virtues to challenge them and hopefully have them yearn for in the process. The learning curve is huge, intense upon occasion and worth every bit of it in the end.

Life is hard work - period!

Life is fragile, handle it with prayer.

Raising children is hard work - period!

It's a tough walk for each and every person somewhere along the journey

It can be often a long and sometimes difficult journey, not always a cinch to press onward, forks often appearing for us to choose which way to go, crossing our fingers and just hoping our choice will be the right one.

Likened to a race where winner takes all, "Life really is a Highway" but if we don't attempt to use our controllers to stay on the road, we can get a flat tire along the way...laugh. For this, AAA just can't help us out. But imagine how elated we will be just hearing the words at the end of the race of life.... "Well done my good and faithful servant"..... ahhhhhhhhhhhh......

It'll be worth it all! That's what we believe....

Tough as heck for sure, but at the very least, we all can try to do our best while walking along through our journey.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

- Philippians 4:8

Good night, goodnight - Parting is such sweet sorrow….