Monday, July 18, 2011

Teaching the Kids, Part III

I've been writing through our educational decisions for the year, and I'm at the point where it's time to consider particular curriculums out there. I've decided against piecemeal and making it up as I go--both because I'm lazy and I'm eager to learn. Most curricula have been designed by women (and men) who have taught their own children steadily, at home, for years. They've been there, they've invented that wheel. I want their wisdom, and I want my children to reap the benefits of wisdom wherever it can be found.

Charlotte Mason has always attracted me: I love the idea of learning through "living books," of bringing history and its characters into the home and imagination. I believe--and have found in my own education--that it is immersion in history through the imagination that makes all the disciplines attractive to the child. In living stories, I discovered the drama of the human condition, the redemption, the abyss of evil, and the heights of the divine: these exist and thrive in human history, in society, and in every human heart. I have these seeds in me: this was the thought the so enchanted me as a child through the living books of history.

I also ascribe wholly to the educational philosophy of Dorothy L. Sayers: that through the various stages of development, children revisit the same content again and again but with new capabilities and new skills. Hence, the tradition of the trivium and quadrivium.

So, I'm looking for a kind of smash-together Charlotte Mason/Classical approach. And I'm also a complete snob about art and music. It's true: I have a hard time swallowing those 19th-century prints of Jesus and St. Joseph wearing eye-shadow. A lot of poetry in Garlands of Grace is... just smooshy. I want strong beauty, masterful language, and work that has stood and will stand the test of time.

Unfortunately, a lot of Roman Catholic offerings are just saturated in books published between 1880 and 1960. Not that there's nothing good to be found in them: they have that blessed imprimatur. They really and truly are sincere and orthodox (little "o") in their fidelity to the Church. But there must be something better than catechisms and Church histories that use terms like "Hottentots" or "Negroes" (Could someone please write a 21st-century translation of Laux?). Again, these are great books and students who read them will receive a good education. But we can do better: I think I will either have to go much earlier or write my own (someday when I, too, am a seasoned homeschooler). Hence, my foray into an Orthodox curriculum.

In Evlogia's (Katherine Johnson's) new Ages of Grace, I'm hoping to find the tools to make that Mason-Sayers mesh while, at the same time, exposing my children to the ancient beauty of the Church (in both her lungs, East and West). The language of the Eastern liturgies, supplemented with our Western Liturgy of the Hours and Gregorian chant, is something I want them to hear. The power of the icon, the depth of the Church Fathers, the Jesus Prayer--these are a common heritage for East and West. Evlogia has made a sort of reconciliation possible.

I also love the concept of the history cycle: the six ages of the world, presented in three levels as the children grow, are a beautiful vehicle for understanding the movement of history and the story of salvation.

And, quite frankly, my budget for the year is: "$200, but it would be really good if you didn't spend more than $150." Yeah, a full-blown Catholic curriculum is not an option right now. I steal paper from neighbors' recycling bins. That's our budget.

Ages of Grace is entirely electronic, making it so much more manageable on a budget (Did I mention the interface is aesthetically gorgeous, too?). And our library consortium has all of the books in Level A. It's affordable, it's doable, and it will demand just enough tweaking on my part (as a Roman) to keep me from falling into the "workbook/checklist" mode.

I'm anticipating the need to substitute in a Roman calendar, but this should not be difficult given the plethora of calendar-based saints books for children in the Catholic tradition. I'm also very glad that she's starting in the "Middle Ages," so I'll have a couple of years to discern how best to teach the so-called Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, and the post-Schism councils.

I'll let you know how it goes. And, I'm not an expert. I'm just a nerd with Internet access and a love of the true, the good, and the beautiful. Sayers says we are all entitled to have educational opinions: "There is also one excellent reason why the veriest amateur may feel entitled to have an opinion about education. For if we are not all professional teachers, we have all, at some time or another, been taught. Even if we learnt nothing--perhaps in particular if we learnt nothing--our contribution to the discussion may have a potential value."

Suggestions and encouragement welcome: you were, at some point, taught, too.
Image source: Icon

OOPS! Update: Thanks, Dianna, for catching my blooper. I meant to link to Seton, not Catholic Heritage. Corrected.


Melanie B said...

I haven't had time to really look at Katherine's curriculum, but I'm intrigued. Off the bat one question I've been meaning to ask (besides the question of how you are going to negotiate the Orthodoxy-Catholic compatibility) is I suppose really better directed at Katherine; but I'd like to hear your thoughts as well. why 6 ages? When I first read The Well Trained Mind I was rather taken with the four-part division of history and the idea that the child will revisit each part three times during his schooling and that each time will correspond with one of the three stages of the trivium. Of course having six historical periods lets you dig deeper in each one as you hit it. But will there be perhaps a greater unevenness? I don't know. Does that make sense?

And I'd love to hear more details about swapping out the Catholic calendar for the Orthodox and how smoothly that works for you.

Erika Ahern said...

Hi Melanie, Yes. The four ages seems at first glance just more "balanced" (4 x 3 = 12, and all!). Katherine does address the question in her FAQ's, but doesn't give specific reasons why she prefers the 6 years (other than "years of experience"). I personally like the six ages, because I'm hoping it will allow more in-depth study of the two periods I think other curricula are sparse on: the 3rd-13th centuries and the 20th century. I have No Idea where we'll be when Miriam hits Level C (high school), though. It may be that for high school I do decide to condense it into four ages (or just add summer readings to cover the ages she'd miss out on at Level C).

Erika Ahern said...

Here's the link to Katherine's answer:

Modest Mama said...

I have a ton of stuff to pass alone if you would like it. I could probably send it to you media mail. Email me if you do!

Love, Jessica

Dianna from St. Theresa's said...

Hi Erika,

I am surprised that you would post a link to Catholic Heritage Curriculum as an example of a Catholic curriculum provider that depends on materials from the 40s and 50s, because they are the only one I have found that has material written in the past decade. (Yes, they do carry the slightly bizarre "Catholic Children's Treasure Box", but they carry modern stuff too.)

For myself, I have found that trying to adapt a pre-made curriculum is almost as much work as making it from scratch. Good luck with your adaptations.

When you reach the Reformation era, depending on how old your kids are when you do it, I may have ideas and materials you can use. it is a tricky balancing act!

I wish you were staying in our area so I could pass down our used stuff to you.

Erika Ahern said...

Dianna, Oh, thanks! Yes, I think Seton is what I meant to link to... I had too many tabs open. Corrected! Thank you!