Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Basic K-8 Curriculum: How to raise an outstanding student by studying only four subjects

I was having minimalist thoughts last night, and was thinking what the most simple education curriculum would look like. Dealing with home school parents as much as I do, I have always advocated that they simplify. They think that they have to do all the rigmarole that a school engages in, when, in fact, they don't.

Traci Lee Simmons says somewhere in his book, Climbing Parnassus, that any school that has more than 4 or 5 subjects doesn't know what it is about. I completely agree with him. Proliferating academic subjects should be swatted down like flies in summer.

So here is my minimalist (but highly rigorous) K-8 school curriculum:
  • Latin
  • Mathematics
  • Reading & Writing
  • Music
Now let's think about this for a minute.

The primary purpose of K-8 education is to teach students how to think, and give them a basic familiarity with Western civilization. A systematic study of Latin, math, and music will train your brain like nothing else. Latin will teach you all the qualitative thinking skills you will ever need, and math all the quantitative ones. Music transcends both, since it is both quantitative and qualitative. It is the capstone to training in the mental arts.

But where is science? Where is history? Where are the social sciences? For purposes of K-8, fuggetaboutem. But how can we do that? Won't we be distorting them for life?

I don't think so.

In regard to science, a solid grounding in mathematics will be the best thing you can bestow on a child. Why do kids crash and burn in, say, chemistry? It is largely because they can't handle the math. If they handle the math, they are ready for high school chemistry and physics.

In regard to history and the social sciences (and, to a certain extent, earth science and physical sciences), the reading list essentially covers these. If your student is reading and writing about narrative histories, novels, historical fiction, nature books, the Bible, short stories, essays, and biographies of great scientists, writers, inventors, politicians, artists, and philosophers, then what, precisely will he miss out on?

If, by 8th grade, you have a student who knows Latin well enough to translate basic Latin passages into competent English (and therefore knows grammar very well), who is on grade level in math, who has taken basic strides toward the mastery of a musical instrument, and who is widely read, is there a parent out there who is not only not satisfied, but not ecstatically happy?

Something to ponder.

40 comments:

Kentucky Progress said...

Wow, this is terrific. Couldn't agree more.

The impact this would have on the high school drop-out rate, college readiness, and college graduation rate would be tremendous!

nicholasville conservative said...

The traditional order pedagogists inherited from the Greeks was: grammar, logic, rhetoric. Today's education-crats want to skip straight to "rhetoric" asap.

Here's a fine article applying this truth to the modern mis-teaching of mathematics:

http://www.mathpath.com/booklet.htm

Anonymous said...

As a home schooler i have to agree with. I have taken each course(though i've only just started learning music)throughout my middle and high school years. Latin increased my knowledge in vocabulary,grammar,and English itself. My PSAT rated my language skill 78% higher than high school juniors. And that just one area.

Motheral said...

Dealing with home school parents as much as I do, I have always advocated that they simplify.

Gee, if the homeschoolers can't handle complexity, maybe they should send their kids to some sort of school, y'think?

That certainly makes life easier for the parents: you've given them another great excuse not to teach them anything they don't know themselves, or don't want their kids to learn; and now they don't have to trust some outsider to give the kids any ideas they didn't learn themselves. But while the parents may be happy about this, you've saddled the kids with that "soft bigotry of low expectations," to which they'd be all too happy to live down.

Do you really think kids can't handle any more than the four subjects you recommend (two of which few parents know themselves, and which they're likely to drop as soon as the going gets tough)? There are plenty of places on Earth (including the US) where kids are successfully taught more than four subjects in the K-8 range, and they seem to do okay.

Proliferating academic subjects should be swatted down like flies in summer.

What about kids who show great curiosity and motivation to study subjects outside your very small range? Should they also be "swatted down like flies in summer?"

In regard to science, a solid grounding in mathematics will be the best thing you can bestow on a child.

What about a solid grounding in the basic principles of science?

More commentary as I have time...

Martin Cothran said...

Motheral,

I think a little familiarity with how home school students do on college entrance exams and in college itself would go a long way toward addressing your questions about the competency of home school students.

In addition, you accused me of two contradictory things: 1)Giving parents an excuse not to teach their kids subjects outside their expertise, and, 2)Requiring parents to teach things that are outside their expertise.

And I didn't say that kids couldn't handle anything outside the four subjects; I said that they would get a better education if the focused on those four things.

I think you are assuming that those four subjects somehow provide a student with a narrower education, when, in fact, if you look at these things closely, you will see that most other subjects are contained within them.

Mrs. T said...

Thanks for a good post. We're not really classical homeschoolers, but what you describe is still pretty much what we cover.

It might be more accurate to say that you don't need many *discrete* subjects (well, that is what you said, actually). If you've read, say, a book of biographies of famous mathematicians, from Euclid to Norbert Wiener, then have you "just" done reading? Have you not "also" done math, on a conceptual level? Actually, given that the biographies necessarily entail descriptions of each mathematician's time and place, have not "done" history and geography, and maybe also some science, as math and physics, for example intersect heavily? If we've done that book as part of our math course, do we have to do something else for "reading?" If my kid happens to be writing a novel about the Civil War in her spare time, am I remiss in not coming up with something for us to study in history, or not buying a "composition" curriculum? And so on.

Motheral, believe me, it's not that we can't handle complexity. Truly. It's just that complexity doesn't have to entail re-inventing the wheel every hour of the day.

Anonymous said...

My only experience with K-8 is taking courses as a student and a very little tutoring of a few children. So there is no sound experience behind my comments. As most of us here know, there's often nothing sillier than someone's comments on a field they have little knowledge of. Not only that, there is not enough information given in this short post for me to understand much of it.

1) Mr Cothran frequently points out others' seeming contradictions. Yet here he says (as Mrs T politely points out)
a) only 4 or 5 subjects are necessary, and
b) most other subjects are covered under 'reading & writing'.
(By the way, math deficiency shouldn't cause kids to 'crash and burn' in chemistry unless they are taking physical chemistry or quantum mechanics.)

2) Mr Cothran's states that his list of 4 or 5 subjects is the best way of teaching students how to think. I would suggest that how subjects are taught is far more important that what subjects are taught.

3) I'm not sure what Mr Cothran means by Western civilization (history and philosophy?), but I think that not exposing kids to science is a bad idea. I still fondly recall my 3rd grade pink science book. It is a lot more difficult to initiate enthusiasm in high school than to feed on earlier interest. Expose students to many different subjects and let them specialize in college or professional school.

4) And no, I don't think that reading biographies of scientists or mathematicians (however much it may generate interest in a topic) is equivalent to learning science or math. (Mrs T, I had looked up your math book before but found multiple titles. I also think 'non-schooly' conveys a much better image than 'un-schooly'.) Reading a biography of Roger Bannister is not going to make someone run faster than actual physical exercise.

5) Nothing is said here about how to teach. How important is rote memorization of facts (14 x 14 is 196, Nineveh fell in 612 BC)? What does it mean to say that learning Latin teaches all the qualitative skills (?) you will need? And why Latin and not Spanish or Chinese or even English? How do you teach children to think?

6) How much time should be devoted to music? What is taught in music?


A philosophical, potential problem I see with home schooling:
If interested parents home school or private school, what motivation will there be to improve our dreadful public school system so that kids with uncaring parent(s) can learn?


j a higginbotham

Mrs. T said...

No, reading a book isn't the entire "equivalent of" study of a discipline. That's why we study formal math as part of our core curriculum. But a grounding in the history and ideas of a discipline provides a far richer understanding of it than simply doing exercises -- the belief of my mathematician brother, incidentally, who gave us the book (it's an old one called Famous Mathematicians, don't have it in front of me at the moment to remember who the author is). That's where the running analogy breaks down. Math and science aren't merely something you do -- they are a way of thinking and looking at the world.

I have been both a public-school and a university-level English teacher, and have had my children in a state school for a time (in England, where we lived during my husband's doctoral studies). I can tell you from all three perspectives that parents can be involved until they turn blue, but putting our kids in public school will NOT save the public schools. Sorry. You'd have completely to reinvent "schools of education," for one thing, not to mention the textbook companies which churn out the drivel kids are getting fed. I don't hate schools, and I'm glad they exist to meet a need, but I am also grateful to live in a society where I do have the freedom as a parent to make choices about my children's education rather than having the state make them for me.

My husband also teaches in a university -- he can tell you which kids come prepared to learn at that level, and which ones don't.

Re learning methods -- well, what we do depends on the particular child, but I will say this: Latin requires a lot of rote memory work and in that way is an excellent cross-disciplinary exercise. It also encourages students to think structurally and logically -- we teach most of our English grammar through Latin.

Would love to say more, but I have to go and teach philosophy to ten homeschooled high-schoolers this morning.

One Brow said...

So, your four critical subjects are: a language that no one speaks anymore, a formal system, a method of entertaining yourself and others, and a skill that involves inputting and outputting information. There a few very large gaps, which at least include critical thinking, learning where you fit in the world, and interactive learning. Science is an excellent tool for the first and third, social studies for the second.

Also, I think you are underestimating the building process of knowledge. Students under your curriculum would probably find it more difficult to pass a high-school or college chemistry class. They will be exposed for the first time in those classes to the notions of compounds, of reduction, of any number of other things that my children have already seen in school. Everything is easier to learn the second or third time around. If the math of the high-school chemistry class is the stumbling block for a student, it’s because they have never used that level of math in chemistry before, it’s the new part of the class.

Finally, while I agree that it’s wrong to dismiss home-schooled kids as receiving an inferior education, you do understand that self-selection bias has a big influence on comparative test scores?

Motheral said...

I think a little familiarity with how home school students do on college entrance exams and in college itself would go a long way toward addressing your questions about the competency of home school students.

Funny, you don't cite an actual study, nor do you mention how well home-schooled kids to relative to kids schooled in other ways, nor do you address how specific teaching styles affect learning. (Also, were the kids in the studies you mention all home-schooled according to your recommendations?) I've met plenty of people more intelligent and better educated than I, and none of them were home-schooled (although some of them went to a grade-school organized by their parents, as did I, which doesn't count because they hired some damn good teachers to teach what they didn't know themselves).

Math and science aren't merely something you do -- they are a way of thinking and looking at the world.

And like most other ways of understanding the world, the best way to learn them is by doing them, and encouraging interest in them as early as possible.

A systematic study of Latin, math, and music will train your brain like nothing else.

And how many parents have enough grounding in either subject to teach it to their kids? At the K-8 level, that only applies to math; and even there you'd need to teach them how math works in other disciplines such as home-ec, science and engineering. As for Latin and music, not so much -- they'd learn how to play an instrument and read Caesar's commentaries, which is perfectly okay, but no substitute for a better-rounded education. It's not enough to "train your brain;" you have to give it material to practice and work with.

And why Latin, when Americans are behind other nations in learning foreign languages? Why not a living language, which would give kids the added advantage of being able to communicate with people of different cultures? Or do you consider that desirable?

Why do kids crash and burn in, say, chemistry? It is largely because they can't handle the math.

Says who? How many kids "crash and burn" in chemistry? And of those who do (however you define "crash and burn"), did they all fail for the same reason?

If they handle the math, they are ready for high school chemistry and physics.

First, if they can handle the math (and you imply they can, otherwise you wouldn't recommend they learn it), why not add the sciences as well? Second, many basic principles of various sciences can be taught without prior grounding in math.

And what about history and law? Do you really think kids can't understand, say, the Constitution and the basic rights of US citizens? Or do you not want them to understand this? My parents started telling me about the Constitution when I was in grade-school, because they believed it was important for me to know both my rights and my obligations under the law. Your refusal to include this in your recommended curriculum speaks volumes about your values.

The most cruel disservice we can do our kids is to say, and assume, that they can only learn so much, or can only perform so well. As I said before, they WILL live up, or down, to our expectations.

Most of the education-success-stories I've read start with a kid being exposed to something at an early age, getting interested in it, and learning as much as possible on his/her own steam. There is no substitute for this, which is why it is important to expose kids to as many subjects as possible at an early age, thus increasing the likelihood of each kid finding something to pursue with a passion.

...putting our kids in public school will NOT save the public schools.

No, but social committment will. You know, electing concerned and competent lawmakers and executives, not stifling learning in favor of narrow religious opinions, trusting people who know more than we do to get the job done, and -- most important -- raising enough tax-revenue to pay for good schools, facilities, books and teachers. In counties where these things are done, the public schools are indeed both safe and effective -- or at least better than you seem to imagine.

I don't hate schools...

But you don't seem to care enough to get over your defeatist attitude and join a real effort to make them better.

...I am also grateful to live in a society where I do have the freedom as a parent to make choices about my children's education rather than having the state make them for me.

What about the many kids who have NO choice? Don't we, as a society, owe them a public school system that works as well as possible? Or is your choice more important than their opportunity to be the best adults they can be?

Motheral said...

And I didn't say that kids couldn't handle anything outside the four subjects; I said that they would get a better education if the focused on those four things.

Your exact "word" was, and I quote directly, "fuggetaboutem." As in, you see no place for them at all, period. And that is why your advice about education is owrthless: you really don't care.

Anonymous said...

I didn't say that students should be required to attend public schools. It may very well be that Mrs T and other home schoolers are actively involved in trying to improve the broken school system. I was pointing out that parents whose children do not attend public schools have no direct reason to try to change the system (actually their kids are better off in the short term if other kids are poorly educated). If no citizens get involved, the system will not improve.

I've already agreed that a background in a subject is much better than merely doing exercises. [Running is not the perfect analogy but it does illustrate what we already agree on, that 'reading about' is not the same as 'doing'.] So if mathematics is part of the core curriculum since reading biographies is insufficient, then why is science excluded from Mr Cothran's core subjects? How many questions little kids ask (Why is the sky blue? Why is ...) are science related?

And why is music better than painting?


jah

Mrs. T said...

Motheral et al.:

I pay my taxes. I vote. I take these things seriously. So do the other homeschoolers I know. My sending my kids to the actually reasonably decent school in our neighborhood would not help the kids who seriously need help, the ones in the school across town who, as a teacher friend reports, can't as sixth graders even manage to line up to walk to lunch, much less accomplish anything else. Like me, their parents have choices. The choices they make, sadly, are reflected in their children's lives. This is too often a tragedy -- though of course there are people who transcend these kinds of limitations. That's why I'm glad school is available and free to those who need it, because a good teacher can offer a child a lifeline out of poverty and degradation. That's why I'm happy to pay my taxes and vote thoughtfully.

It's also why, though my means are pretty modest, I help support a local private Christian school which serves children in its neighborhood, one of our city's poorest, often boarding them if their homes are such that it would be detrimental for them to go back to them. The teachers there work for next to nothing; they often have just enough operating budget to keep the lights on from month to month. The kids typically go on to a boarding high school, which prepares them for college. This school was founded by my father's cousin as a labor of love; it offers the children it serves a real, substantial way out of a dead-end life (literally; the crime stats in our city are grim, and in that neighborhood and demographic, especially for boys, they are even grimmer), rather than eight hours in a holding pen, then home, to whatever "home" is.

I see my tax dollars going down the sump of our local schools (and ours really are a sump -- I know it's not this bad everywhere, though I'd still choose homeschooling regardless). I see rampant corruption in my city government and my school board. I also see that although many of my friends are heavily involved in their kids' schools, their involvement mostly benefits their own kids (children do better in school when THEIR parents are involved, not just "parents"). I'd really rather support the private option, because in this instance it's actually DOING something to help actual children, not just going on about objectives and benchmarks and taking home its paycheck. Which IS what's happening at the administrative level in public education, here and elsewhere -- I taught in what was supposed to be a "very good" system -- which is the part no amount of parent involvement is EVER going to change.

As for the quality of the sort of education Mr. Cothran proposes -- teaching a minimal and integrated core of basics does not mean you're not doing anything else. We do a lot of science at our house, for instance -- just not as a formal subject. Currently my husband and older son are researching and preparing to build a ballistic device -- either a potato cannon or a tennis-ball mortar; they keep changing their minds -- and discussing quite a lot of concepts related to physics in the process. We play around with experiment books. We read science magazines. We read scientific biographies. We discuss questions and find answers. I don't call it a "subject," and we don't sit down and answer "discussion questions" at the end of a chapter, but from the conversations we have around the dinner table, and the things my kids seem to know off the tops of their heads, it's clear to me that learning is going on. Nothing could be further, at our house, and I suspect in Mr. Cothran's paradigm as well, from the kind of "shut up, we don't talk about that" scenario which some of you seem to be imagining of us. He wasn't saying, "Don't do this," but simply, "There are things which don't need to be formal subjects in the lower grades." Largely they don't need to be formal subjects because they're the kinds of things kids get into anyway.

I would argue, too, that reading does provide a tremendous way to learn quite a lot about a subject, but then I was one of those kids who sat in the back of the class with a novel under the desk lid! There's a reason why in English Oxbridge university parlance you "read" a subject instead of "majoring" in it. But seriously, if you're talking about "doing" -- tell a child completely absorbed in the world of a book that he isn't "doing" something. He's living and breathing it, and meeting ideas, figures, and events as living, 'happening" things, not merely as textbook information. Of course this isn't the only way to learn things, and it's not the sum of how we do math, for example; just a component that's often missing from math classes, in my observation.

We've done most of our history informally in precisely this way, using a timeline book (which includes our own family history) to keep things in chronological order. We also take lots of field trips. Again, we do this for "fun," as a family, not as sit-down, scheduled schoolwork. A lot of it happens around the dining-room table, as we're driving and listening to NPR on the radio, etc. We take our kids with us when we go to vote, as again most of my homeschooling friends seem to do. My kids, on a diet of this, seem at least as well-informed as their schooled friends.

With a streamlined curriculum, instead of trying to pack up the day with lots of discrete school subjects, you've got time to read, play, and pursue interests. It's really not a limited life at all. My kids do music -- just a way to entertain yourself and others? Ever listened to somebody practice a new piece on the violin? This is discipline for all involved! And I think the advantage of music over painting is that it is a regular, total-body-mind discipline, even for a relatively young child -- drama, swordfighting, art, camping, gardening, scouts. Our house is full of books, and they have time to pick them up at their leisure. We don't have a tv, so maybe boredom is a great motivator. My oldest daughter read Paradise Lost at 11, because it was there, and she was fascinated by the beautiful old book (Milton's Poetical Works, given to my great-great-grandmother as a prize at her "female seminary" in the 1870s). Nobody had told her it was "high-school reading" -- at least, I read it in 10th grade, though I'm not sure anyone does any more. She just thought it was a cool, if familiar, story in poem form.

So what's being proposed here is not dumbed-down, or narrow, at all. It's rigorous -- Latin, whatever you might think of its value, isn't easy to learn. The kids I know who have come through a program like this, and whom my husband has encountered as college undergraduates, are well able to tackle work at the university level precisely because they have been nurtured on what classical educator Laura Berquist likes to call "the good, the beautiful, and the true." They've been brought up on real literature, not the multiculti claptrap which fills school readers (yes, I know. One of my friends was the person who chose the 3rd grade reading curriculum for our city schools for this year. I saw what they ended up with. She did the best she could with what she had to choose from). They've developed autodidactic habits. They like learning. Again, my husband has run across a fair cross-section of students from various backgrounds in the several institutions where he's taught, and across the board, the homeschooled students are better equipped to rise to the level which he demands of them, not so much because of the content they've ingested, but the habits of mind and character which they've cultivated.

Well, I've held the podium for far too long. I suppose these conversations draw me because, well, I'm intrigued by the level of outright hostility which the mention of anything to do with homeschooling seems to inspire in people. I suppose the operating assumptions are that

1) we're stupid (if we're religious, then we're stupid twice; we're certainly narrowminded)

2) we're selfishly uninterested in the rest of mankind

3)we're hurting our kids

And, well, you know, those are hard assumptions to argue with, when the person you're arguing with can't see how the ideas Mr. Cothran proposes play out in real life. Time to turn the microphone over to somebody else. Think I'll go read The Hobbit to my 5-year-old now; he's been very patiently waiting for me to finish my "computer work."

Motheral said...

I'm intrigued by the level of outright hostility which the mention of anything to do with homeschooling seems to inspire in people.

Are you not also intrigued by the outright hostility that Cothran implies when he uses words like "fuggetaboutem" and "Proliferating academic subjects should be swatted down like flies in summer?" Judging by what you just wrote, you don't "swat down" your kids' interests in subjects outside your "core curriculum," because (apparently) you know that would be bad for your kids -- an act of "hostility" toward their mental development, if you will.

Kristina said...

My comment was really to long to post as a comment. So, I have responded on my blog.

http://kristinas-soapbox.blogspot.com/2008/01/martin-cothran-teacher-and-author-made.html

But, one final point I want to make is this: If you have ever read about Nathaniel Bowditch, you know that you do not a)need to go to school to get a "college" education or b)need to do hands on science to learn it.

Anonymous said...

kristina's link is

http://kristinas-soapbox.blogspot.com
/2008/01/martin-cothran-teacher-and
-author-made.html

jah

Anonymous said...

kristina made a lot of good points but I will just list a few I disagree with.

>That is what is meant by “covering all the other subjects in the first 4”.

This is just semantics and Mr Cothran, not surprisingly, is trying to have it both ways. The assumption seems to be that unless you have a course called 'History' with an associated history textbook, you are not teaching history. [Is that the way the teaching business works?] If you are reading books about history then you are learning history. To say that you are only studying 'reading' and not studying 'history' is patently ridiculous.

>Latin is the language of science, math

Not in any of our lifetimes. This must be a typo of some sort.


> Can I learn from the book the week before my child does? Of course I can.

Maybe you can get by with this for a year or so in a foreign language with a small child, but I just can't believe that most parents can do this. You can tell whether an answer matches the one in a book but not answer questions which aren't covered. How much do you have to know about the second law of thermodynamics to answer the question: Does evolution violate the second law?

jah

Kristina said...

jah,
Thanks for reposting my link.:)

This is just semantics...
I agree. However, a lot of people don't. Those people are the ones who create curriculum and syllubi for schools. These people also have influence over home schoolers, since most home schoolers are having to find their way for themselves.
I can't speak for Mr. Cothran. This was just the impression I got when I read his post.

Maybe you can get by with this for a year or so in a foreign language with a small child, but I just can't believe that most parents can do this.
Why not? I choose to believe that people can do what they want to. However, going on your premise, I have only just started teaching my children Latin. Fortunately, since it is mainly a written language, pronunciation is not nearly as important as, say, Spanish. Next year, we will begin Spanish. Fortunately, for me, I speak Spanish quite well and my husband is having to learn it for work, so we should have a good time. Also, we are looking to send our oldest to a lanugage immersion camp the summer of '09. Since I am just beginning instruction, I don't currently see any difficulties. The program that I am using is written with the assumption that the teacher has had no prior exposure to Latin. There are language programs like this for a lot of lanugages. Plus, there is always the Rosetta Stone. Also, in a society like ours, we can find a native speaker, for just about any language we want to learn, to help tutor our children. For Latin, at least, there is an online course that I intend my children to take when they are further along.
(Although, I have become so interested in Latin, myself, that I am considering going back to school to major in it. Our local university has a major in ancient languages and I think that would be a lot of fun.)
How much do you have to know about the second law of thermodynamics to answer the question: Does evolution violate the second law?

Well, since I don't know ANYTHING about thermodynamics, currently, I can't answer your question. However, I do know that I have access to an enormous resource that will answer that question. I have a very good friend (also a home schooler) who is a geneticist (sp?) and whose husband is an engineering and chemistry professor at our local university. I think they could help me if I couldn't wrap my brain around it. However, who's to say that my son and I couldn't figure that out for ourselves? Or, maybe my husband, who does have the background, as a meteorolgist, in science that I do not.

One of the fundamental differences in home schooling teachers versus institutional teachers is that we can admit we don't know something. Then, we can reach out to the home school community (which is much larger than many people seem to think) and find help with the answer.

Motheral said...

I'm not completely against home schooling in all instances, but I do have serious reservations about it, and while it clearly does work well for some families, it just as clearly doesn't work at all for others. Which makes it similar to just about all other educational methods and philosophies, in that it has its share of stunning successes and disgraceful failures.

My parents would have made pretty good home-schoolers: they both had post-graduate degrees, had successful careers that exposed them to many important global issues, and set good examples of self-discipline and dilligent work. Unfortunately, I also met a lot of people whose parents, for whatever reason, couldn't have taught their way out of a wet paper bag, didn't earn respect from their kids, and didn't get it. Even the lamest public school would have given them a better education than their parents could have; and at least those parents admitted it and sent their kids to public school.

(And no, you can't always do what you want, however much it may comfort you to "choose to believe" this. Some people have enough opportunities to enact the right decision, and some don't. Them's the breaks.)

One of the important experiences school provides, is socialization in an environment where you're subject to rules that come from outside your own family, and where you're not the sole center of everyone's proprities, but have to obey the same rules as everyone else, and have to deal with other kids as equals.

Another important experience provided by at least some public schools, is exposure to kids of different ethnic and economic backgrounds from one's own. My mother went to a school where she met kids from much poorer families, and at least learned that poor people exist -- something a lot of people seem not to have learned.

Another problem I have with the home-school movement, is that it really appears to be driven by parents who are trying to "protect" their kids from exposure to ideas and/or people they don't like: particularly "conservative" Christians who don't want their kids exposed to any information that threatens or contradicts their beliefs, such as evolution, sex-ed, free exchange of ideas, people who practice different religions, etc. (I notice one commenter complains of "drivel" being taught in public schools, but doesn't specify what material she's objecting to.)

There are such things as overprotective parents, who are afraid to let their kids be exposed to the wider world, or who simply don't wnat their kids to grow up or have a life in any environment outside the family. (Notice how Martin's recommendations center around "simplicity" and limiting what kids are exposed to?) I don't know if any of the commenters here fit that description; but such people do exist, and they don't always have their kids' best interests at heart.

I also notice a bit of class or "tribal" bias in the hostility expressed toward public schools, particularly in this comment:

I help support a local private Christian school which serves children in its neighborhood, one of our city's poorest, often boarding them if their homes are such that it would be detrimental for them to go back to them. [Good Gods, if a public school did that, they'd be accused of kidnapping and destroying families, just like the Commies did!] The teachers there work for next to nothing; they often have just enough operating budget to keep the lights on from month to month. The kids typically go on to a boarding high school, which prepares them for college. This school was founded by my father's cousin as a labor of love; it offers the children it serves a real, substantial way out of a dead-end life...

So why can't this commenter show a similar degree of respect or support for public schools that try to accomplish the same purpose, often with little more in the way of needed resources? Are public school teachers less deserving of respect merely because they get a paycheck (not exactly a huge one) from "The State?" Perhaps that Christian school you rightly praise would be a little less strained if more people got together to make the public schools better and more attractive.

My own (admittedly subjective) gut feeling about home-schooling, is that my school, and my classmates, were the best I could ever imagine; my teachers pushed me to learn things my parents would never have had time to learn, let alone teach me (things which, in fact, I took home to teach my parents); and as wonderful as my parents were, home-schooling would have been an absolutely lousy and boring substitute for the schooling I got. Getting kids out of the house is, in itself, extremely important as an educational tool.

Motheral said...

One of the fundamental differences in home schooling teachers versus institutional teachers is that we can admit we don't know something.

I've met quite a few "institutional teachers" who readily admitted the limits of their knowledge. This false dichotomy strongly implies a less-than-rational prejudice against "institutions" outside one's own family.

One Brow said...

Kristina,

You sound like a very motivated parent who takes an interest in your children's education. I have no doubt your children will do well, regardless of environment, as do the children of any other highly interested and motivated parent. I am personally neutral on homeschooling, it has advantage and disadvantages compared to other models.

While I understand that you feel a rapport with Cothran because he is such an advocate of home-schooling, surely you realize that the Montessori-style environment you describe for your home schooling is far different from the depiction of Cothran in his essay.

There are a couple of comments that annoyed me. Firstly, you can't competently teach a subject on a "I'm learning it a week before you" basis. It takes time to digest knowledge, to practice the knowledge in other areas, to truly master it, and if you have not mastered it, your teachig will be flawed and superficial. Of course, in the heat of the disagreement with motheral, it's quite possible that you neglected to mention that you also go through more expert hands in planning your lessons to make sure yout material is correct and properly represents the subject.

The other was the very unfair comment on teachers, most of whom are quite aware of their limitations. Of course, that may have been an over-reaction in the heat of the discussion.

Kristina said...

And no, you can't always do what you want, however much it may comfort you to "choose to believe" this.
Well, perhaps you are right. I come from a family of gifted learners. However, I can not transform those stupid Transformers!

One of the important experiences school provides, is socialization in an environment where you're subject to rules that come from outside your own family, and where you're not the sole center of everyone's proprities, but have to obey the same rules as everyone else, and have to deal with other kids as equals.

What makes you think that home school children are not exposed to rules that come from outside our won families? My own family lived on military bases for four years. Believe me, there were a lot more rules for my children to contend with there than now. Also, we attend cub scouts, participate in orchestra, swim lessons, martial arts.... There are rules everywhere. And, while some are consistent (respect for those speaking and for the teacher) others are different (stay in the ready positiion to play your instrument, watch for the scout sign as a signal to stop talking). I'm not sure my oldest son will ever learn to deal with children his own age as equals. Rather, he deals with intellectual peers as equals. Unfortunately, it is hard for us to find age peers that are also intellectual peers for him. However, most home school children are learning to treat all people of all ages with respect. If this is not enough, I don't know what is.

Also, home schoolers do come from diverse backgrounds. That geneticist I spoke about, she's from India. We go to a homeschool gym that has a family with in interesting family makeup (there are more moms than there are dads). We have friends who are poor and use the library as their primary source for books. These families do very little that requires driving or paying for entrance fees. Usually, when they do, it is because someone has offered to let them ride along. And, I'm not sure why you think home schoolers don't leave the house.

Now, I will admit that I know some of those homeschoolers that you think you are talking about. The ones that have what many would consider strange religious beliefs (myself included in that thinking). However, these kids have a strong sense of their parents being right. They are the ones that would be made fun of in school for their attire and beliefs. They would argue with their teachers. School would not definitely change any of that.

One brow--I actually don't do a Montessori type school. I do a very "schooly" type school. We have a set schedule that includes history and science as seperate subjects. However, many home schoolers don't. Some go to the library and tell their kids to pick out books from history, science, religion, fiction, etc. And, in that way, encompass history and science--not as a seperate subject--but as a part of every day learning. I think that is a philosophical difference that those outside home schooling may not understand the semantics of.

"Learning it a week before" Yeah, that was probably a bit facetious. However, I really am learning Latin about a week before my oldest. And, some things, I am learning along side him. I read his books a chapter before he does (although I totally got behind on the Iliad and was never so happy when he finished it.)
I do do a ton of research about my children's curriculum. I do not feel competent to teach my children without a curriculum for, say, math. The main reason for that is that I am just not organized enough. However, if I wanted to buckle down, I could make a up a curriculum for them using resources available to me. It is just easier to use prepared curriculum.

Finally, about teachers not admitting their limitations. I did not mean that they did not. Nor did I mean that they did not have the resources to come up with the answers. Rather, I meant that it is easier for a mother to look at her son and say, "I do not know the answer to that, but we can find out." This is a professional stumbling block. I have great respect for teachers. I understand the restraints that they deal with. I also understand that they just don't have time to answer all the kids' unrelated questions.

My oldest son has gone to both private and public schools. I homeschooled him for 2nd grade. This is the first year I have homeschooled him since (5th). He did get some very needful support from his private school teachers in 3rd and 4th grade. However, he did not learn a thing academically in those two years. I chose his school for emotional reasons. He needed the emotional support that those teachers gave him. He was ready to learn again when we moved. We moved to the district that we did for their IEPs for gifted students. Too bad they don't do anything with those gifted students until 6th grade. Too bad my son needs acceleration NOW. Even worse--I am not educated beyond a couple years in college that I did while I was in high school--13 years ago. I have been a stay at home mom for 11 years (I spent 2 in the Navy). I do not believe that experience has in any way limited my knowledge of the world and how it works. I read--a lot. It is my passion. I read all kinds of things--books, magazines, newspapers...

My children ARE protected. I do not allow them to watch the news. I do not expose them to death on a daily basis. Yet, my children are fully aware of the fact that death is an ever present reality of life. I do not expose them on a daily basis to the war in Iraq. Yet, they are fully aware of what is going on and ask questions that get answered. They are also fully aware that their dad will eventually be in that war and death is an ever present reality in our family. Many people believe that our children need to be exposed to the "real" world as early as possible. I say that our children need to be protected as long as possible. I am raising my children to be men. I am not raising them to be everlasting children as we see so often in today's society. In the meantime, my seven year old does not need to worry about Stacy Peterson.

Hannah J said...

Motheral: "And why Latin, when Americans are behind other nations in learning foreign languages? Why not a living language, which would give kids the added advantage of being able to communicate with people of different cultures? Or do you consider that desirable?"

Perhaps because (1) meanings of approximately 50% (or more) of English words can be elucidated by knowledge of Latin; (2) Latin is the root language of "living languages" such as Romanian, French, Spanish, Italian, and Portugese.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Cothran's original post claims his four subject curriculum "will train your brain like nothing else". There is nothing in his column limiting this curriculum to home schooling. So I am trying to nudge this discussion back to evaluating the merits of his curriculum rather than those of home schooling.

While I don't believe there is any 'best' curriculum, here are three objections to this one (recall that I have been a student only):

1) Concentration on Latin. Although there are the benefits to learning Latin, it doesn't seem worthwhile to make it 25% of the curriculum. Why can't other subjects provide such levels of qualitative thinking skills (whatever those are)? For example ancient Greek? It has more tenses, numbers, and a significantly different alphabet. More importantly, why not study a useful spoken foreign language such as Spanish or Mandarin? Translating Latin is a lot different from learning to think in a different tongue. It is easier for young children to acquire a foreign language than older people.

2) Lack of diversity. Why eliminate science and other fields? Reading and writing about biographies of scientists is not going to provide an introduction to the basic principles of science. And just as with math, doing exercises is essential for comprehending science. Mr. Cothran has no provision for this.

3) Concentration on music. I don't see how playing an instrument (which I've never done) is the "capstone to training in the mental arts". Why concentrate on music and neglect all other arts? What about sports?

Some people lament that we are no longer living in the 'good old days' of the 1950's; with his curriculum, Mr Cothran is apparently nostalgic for the 1500's.

jah

Anonymous said...

I have a question about home schooling. What percentage of home schooling in the United States is done almost entirely by the parents with some form of instructional aids? The home schooling that Mrs T and kristina describe, with access to other parents for instruction, language camps, specialists in different fields, etc, is more akin to a mini-private school or tutoring.

jah

Anonymous said...

jah, homeschools ARE just very small private schools. They don't exist in isolation; they exist in a world chock full of resources and opportunities. Most homeschoolers take advantage of quite a variety of these.

Very few hire private tutors or specialists to teach their children, but I have never known any in my 16+ years of homeschooling that holed up in their house every day with just some curriculum materials.

You know, we have a lot of conferences and book fairs, support groups with informational meetings, learning co-ops, social gatherings, internet email lists and websites, libraries, curriculum swaps, books on homeschooling, teaching, learning, special needs, etc. - the list is pretty endless.

Our kids form and join interest-based clubs, have dances and graduations together, go on field trips, compete in academic contests and sports, both individually and on teams, go to camp, take lessons (music, dance, etc.), take part in parks and rec type programs, join scouting organizations, act in plays, do volunteer work, and a million other things, most of which involve getting together and working/playing together with other people.

My local homeschooling list currently has over 1300 families on it. There are parents who are experts in just about everything, who are willing to answer questions. There are people who have homeschooled for a long time who can pass on what they've learned to newer homeschoolers. There are folks who have used just about every method and curriculum product out there. We have a database of classes and lessons, teachers, tutors, part-time schools, specialists, etc., with descriptions and reviews from those who are familiar with them.

We have special email lists: one for teens to plan social activities, one for parents and teens preparing for, applying to, or going to college, one for swapping materials, one for parents of children with special needs, and so forth. We have a homeschool library of donated textbooks and other materials that can be checked out by anyone in need.

We have two math teams, a math club, a science bowl team, a first lego league team, a weekly gaming day, a chess club, a twice-weekly pick-up soccer game, park days every day of the week at various locations, several young writers' clubs, a drama program, a one-act play competition, a half-dozen learning co-ops, various story times, a teen social club, three or four dances a year, a yearly "not-back-to-school-day" party, a yearly valentines day party, a graduation ceremony, an academic interscholastic team, a volunteering group, scout troops, camp fire clubs, and much more.

And there are eight other homeschooling support groups besides ours in this mid-sized city.

Motheral said...

...meanings of approximately 50% (or more) of English words can be elucidated by knowledge of Latin...

First, I'm highly doubtful of that "50%" figure. I would have agreed with your thesis back in junior-high when I was learning Latin and had a more technocratic outlook; but since then I've realized that the usefulness of Latin is overrated.

Second, French and German also contributed a lot to English vocabulary and grammar -- possibly more than Latin in the grammar department, since English grammar is closer to French and German than to Latin. So why not skip Latin and teach French and German instead? They both contributed to English AND they're still widely spoken today.

Anonymous said...

Why not skip Latin and French and German and just teach English grammar? In high school we had a year or so of very rigorous grammar; most of which I have long since forgotten. And concerning roots, if I know that 'phil' means 'love', does it really matter if I know which language it came from? :-)



jah

Anonymous said...

A Nonymous,

Thanks for the lengthy background on home schooling.

jah

Martin Cothran said...

The 50 percent figure concerning the percentage of English words derived from Latin could be high when it comes to conversational English (where, I am told, Anglo-Saxon holds more sway), but it is too low in regard to words listed in the dictionary. Which is just to say that the more academic the English, the higher the influence of Latin.

Motheral said...

Martin, that claim is even fishier than the last one. Are you really trying to say that there's a significant number of Anglo-Saxon-derived words in "conversational English" that still aren't in the dictionary? I've heard quite a few neologisms in common use these past few years, but they're mostly derived from tech-speak, names, brand-names, famous one-liners, and pre-existing English words. And no, the words in "Clockwork Orange" don't count -- they're mostly derived from Russian.

There may be a few "conversational" words derived from Anglo-Saxon, but there are plenty more derived from just about every other language spoken by immigrants to the US.

Anonymous said...

kristina wrote: >Latin is the language of science, math

Here is the most recent I can find:
($32 for full article)

Resumen Modus Mc Weeny matrices densitatis extenditur, ut eigenaestimationes eigenvectoresque recta et confestim computari possint, si metricam matricem S 1/2 R o S 1/2, in qua S est "overlap" matrix et R o est matrix densitatis, diagonalem facias. Via computandi quoque describitur.



Journal Title - Theoretical Chemistry Accounts: Theory, Computation, and Modeling (Theoretica Chimica Acta)
Article Title - Modus Computandi Eigenvectores et Eigenaestimationes e Matrice Densitatis
Volume - Volume 7
Issue - 1
First Page - 1
Last Page - 3
Issue Cover Date - 1967-01-01

Author - T. K. Lim
Author - M. A. Whitehead
DOI - 10.1007/BF00537361
Link - http://www.springerlink.com/content/w663749460372w5h


jah

Kristina said...

jah,
I think you misunderstood what I meant. Most scientific names get their basis in latin. IE purple dome aster (flower)=A. novae-angliae

Isaac Newton's Principia was written in Latin. Of course all these great works have been translated. However, as we all know, it is best to study something in the original language to fully understand it. Of course, it is also best to understand the history of the time period it was written in, as well. Otherwise, there are many things that will just not be understood the way they were meant.

I don't know if that made it any clearer or just muddied the waters.:)

Also, as far as language is concerned, my son is having an amazing time finding all the derivitives of the latin language in the English language. How does that translate to higher test scores? Well... Two of the things tested are vocabulary and comprehension. If you know latin and are finding derivitives popping up in your test, it is easier to figure out what they mean.

Of course, in America, our language is also full of words from languages not latin based (such as Chinese, Japanese, Greek...), but most of our CORE language is based on latin. Also, our language structure is actually Greek, not German as metioned somewhere.

One Brow said...

Isaac Newton's Principia was written in Latin. Of course all these great works have been translated. However, as we all know, it is best to study something in the original language to fully understand it.

I think that's a very good practice for history and literature, and has some justification for philosphy, although you would have hoped philosophical argumentws have been better refined over the years. It's a bad idea for math, which is in many ways like a separate language to begin with. You might as well say it's better to read French translation of Kafka than an English translation. It's even worse for science, where outside of naming anatomy there is much more to be lost in translation than gained.

Motheral said...

Isaac Newton's Principia was written in Latin. Of course all these great works have been translated. However, as we all know, it is best to study something in the original language to fully understand it.

In cases where an author wrote in his "first" language, this is true. In the case of an Englishman like Newton translating his ideas into Latin because that was the convention for scientific writing, the need to read it in the original language is quite diminished. Besides, he was writing about math and science, not history, literature or stories; and such ideas would have been less likely to lose anything in translation.

Also, our language structure is actually Greek, not German as metioned somewhere.

I don't know enough Greek to verify this; but I'm suspicious of the claim, because "the English-speaking peoples" had far more direct cultural and demographic input from Germanic-speaking peoples than from Greeks. (After all, it wasn't hordes of Greeks who pillaged their way across the British Isles as the Romans retreated.)

Kristina said...

Motheral--I meant our grammatical structure, if that helps. Perhaps German is, as well. But, it goes back to Ancient Greek.

One Brow said...

The grammatical structure of English, German, and Russian is very similar. Since they all come from a common language, that's not a surprise.

Stevo said...

I did not have time to read all the comments on this blog post. I just wanted to provide a perspective from a recent home-school graduate...

I am a computer engineering major. I am currently enrolled in Calculus 2, Chemistry, Computer Science, and the nanotechnology track of the Honors program. To be completely honest, I have to say that the four things from my K-8 education that I appreciate and use most often are math, reading, writing, and music. (And yes, I would have listed these even before I read this post.)

In fact, I actually wish that I had focused on these subjects more. In other words, I completely agree with you, Mr. Cothran.

Anonymous said...

While knowing roots helps, it is not as advantageous in science as in other fields of study. Likewise, reading an original author is not that important.

1) Sar in another thread points out that her kids know lots of Latin roots despite never having studied the language. Knowing the Latin root of "quantum" will only give a student a trivial advantage in studying quantum mechanics. Science study should be about ideas and concepts.

2) Therefore reading an original author can be much worse than reading a modern explanation. There will be fewer mistakes and usually a better written introduction. Despite its being such an important work, the only English translations of Newton's work are from 1729 and 1999(*). Trying to learn chemistry through reading original works would be much more difficult.

The "purple dome aster (flower)=A. novae-anglia" (why use Anglia rather than Albion?) does not exist. It is now Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, based on scientific studies of the different plants.

As Feynman said "You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."


(*)http://www.hno.harvard.edu/gazette
/1999/10.21/newton.html
The first English translation since 1729 – three years after Newton’s death – is 974 pages long and took 15 years to complete.
...
The Principia is not an easy work to read. It’s filled with scientific propositions, theorems, and geometric diagrams. To help the reader, Cohen provides a guide that takes up the first 370 pages and includes chapters on the history of the book and how to read it.
... The 1729 English translation from the original Latin was modernized, revised, and published by the University of California Press in 1934. However, most scholars agree that it contains troublesome mistakes as well as outdated and unfamiliar expressions

jah

Rebecca said...

Thought provoking post! I'd agree that mastering basics is the priority in K-5. History and Science can be handled very well as more fluid subjects at this age if the parent is well organized. The single biggest problem I faced as a high school Math and Science teacher was kids who didn't know their basic math facts, how to manipulate fractions and decimals, or how to read and write intelligently.
That said, I'd encourage any parent to make the most of the 6th - 8th grade years by providing a solid foundation and framework in their child's mind for upcoming work in History and Science. It would be very difficult to both learn and process the sheer volume of information in those subjects in one school year.
Again, I applaud you for a provocative post. I didn't agree with you 100%, but you sure got me thinking :-)