Friday, June 23, 2017

My Simplest Homeschool Schedule Ever!

A couple of days ago I got our homeschooling "approval" letter from the local school superintendent. The paperwork for our state is of course necessary, but the approval can't be denied as long as everything is in order. Still, it's nice to have the formalities completed and not to have any loose ends hanging over my head!

I've been doing a lot of journaling lately as part of my contemplative, devotional practice. I do believe that as I pray over our homeschool, the Holy Spirit guides me, especially by way of intuitive insights. One day a couple of weeks ago while I was writing, I made a list of subjects--handwriting, math, piano, reading, art, and Spanish. Can you imagine what Charlotte Mason would have thought about a mere six subjects?!  I fleshed this out to seven daily subjects/books, based upon the unit studies I have planned. (Notice, there are no loop schedules!) I'll enumerate them first, and then explain how the system will work. 

1. Bible History/Geography
    (sub in Religion and Songs of Songs)
2. Hamilton's Arithmetic (supplemented with Total Math)
3. Cursive Writing (Seton)
4. Learn Spanish with Grace!
5. Language of God (CHC grammar)
6. Art Project/Nature Study
    (sub in The Story of Painting/Prehistoric Art/The Feelings 
7. Piano Practice

The first unit I've created for the upcoming fall term is based on the Old Testament. Since Beezy already read an Old Testament historical novel this past spring term, King David and His Songs (Windeatt), Seton's Bible History: Old Testament will serve as her primary reading text. I will be reading aloud the relevant chapters from A Child's Geography of the World (Hillyer), for which Beezy will write narrations. So the first "subject" is actually History/Geography, alternating twice each in a four-day week. (Fridays Beezy will have Choir and Musical Theater classes with a homeschooling co-op.) 

We will finish the Geography chapters before the Bible History (which will cover King Solomon to the end of the book), so then Seton's Religion 6 for Young Catholics book will be subbed in (continued from this past school year), as well as passages from the Songs of Songs; incorporating copy work, dictation, and memory recitation. The Song of Songs is poetry, so you can see how more subjects are being worked in than initially meets the eye...

Art projects for this year will come from Draw and Write Through History, the first one being the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Art will alternate with Nature Study, for which we will be using Some Animals and Their Homes. When the art project is finished, we'll read the first section in The Story of Painting (Jansen, cave paintings), followed by Prehistoric Art (Hodges). From there we'll alternate between Some Animals and Their Homes and The Feelings Book from American Girl, which will be one of our Health topics. 

Obviously this is not a "true" unit study, because all subjects are not related to the central theme of the Old Testament. The next topic, Ancient Egypt, will be more comprehensive. I think that this approach is going to be rich and varied enough in subjects/books, while keeping to a more multum non multa, classical philosophy. We will go more deeply into subjects, and the course of study will be more unified. And all of the books for the unit can fit into Beezy's workbox, including her composition and nature notebooks! I'm hoping to keep each unit to about six weeks. 

In addition to the homeschooling co-op, Beezy will have weekly piano and horseback riding lessons, and tumbling classes. 

So what do you think of my new, pared down schedule for the 7th grade? I can't wait to try it out, but for now we are all about summer!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Good of Charlotte Mason

It may seem to readers that I've been very hard on Charlotte Mason lately. I felt the need to really pinpoint what the issues might be for Catholics, to be very aware of what elements don't mesh with the Faith and the Church's educational tradition. I do not mean to completely reject CM. After all, the Catholic Church is not opposed to new ideas. She does not insist upon any particular pedagogical method. It's entirely possible and permissible to take the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty found in non-Catholic resources. We simply need to be discerning. 

I was reminded of the good of Charlotte Mason when I received a Stories of the Saints reading comprehension book that I had ordered from Catholic Heritage Curricula for the upcoming school year. For the first story, there are 12 vocabulary words to define and 10 comprehension questions. This seems like a lot to me. For Seton's Bible History chapters there are only about four, fill-in-the-blank questions to complete. I imagine that Beezy would blanch at the idea of doing so much more work!

However, she does need to be doing more writing, and answering all those questions with complete sentences would give her that opportunity. At the same time, because of CM, I know about alternative language arts methods. I can have Beezy do copy work and dictation lessons from the text. I could have her simply write a narration, and in fact the Stories of the Saints book suggests topics for essays. I could have her give me an oral narration after the story, and then she could answer only those questions that she did not already cover. With the vocabulary, she would only have to look up those words that she didn't already know. In the introduction, the author suggests several options for how the book might be used. In any case we are not locked in to only one way of doing things. That is the mentality I really want to get away from.

What I love about homeschooling is that we can try different things and do what works best. Even if I required Beezy to fill in every blank and answer every question, the work wouldn't have to be done all in one day. A number of different approaches and writing assignments can be used to encourage retention of the material and enhance thinking skills. 

I think I simply needed to branch out with some new teaching ideas for the upcoming school year, to keep things fresh for both myself and my child. I've assimilated what I needed from Charlotte Mason and will probably have the occasional opportunity to revisit her. But I think that now, for the most part, we are on to new challenges and experiences. And we're just going to enjoy being the unique Catholic homeschooling family that we are!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Reason and the Catholic Mind

Those who...honestly accept the final effect of the Reformation will none the less face the fact, that it was the Schoolman (Thomas Aquinas) who was the Reformer; and that the later Reformers were by comparison reactionaries... For instance, they riveted the mind back to the literal sufficiency of the Hebrew Scriptures; when St. Thomas had already spoken of the Spirit giving grace to the Greek philosophies. He insisted on the social duty of works; they only on the spiritual duty of faith. It was the very life of the Thomist teaching that Reason can be trusted: it was the very life of Lutheran teaching that Reason is utterly untrustworthy."   --G.K. Chesterton  (emphasis mine)

In the words of a popular 1990s song, Woop, there it is!  I started reading Chesterton's St. Thomas Aquinas today, and already in the first chapter a fundamental difference between the Catholic and the Protestant mind is succinctly stated. And herein is further elucidation on the question of Charlotte Mason's appropriateness for Catholic educators.

Charlotte quite clearly did not trust in Reason, for the reason that the mind can logically defend any notion that it already believes to be true. In other words, we can easily fool ourselves. In this point I will agree. We can rationalize our way out of a nailed shut coffin. Today psychologists label rationalization as a defense mechanism used to justify bad behavior. It is a fallacy of reasoning, only superficially seeming to be logical. This is not a true use of the human faculty of Reason. But alas, Charlotte also disagreed with the training of the mind's faculties. She did not believe in the faculties of the mind at all.

This explains why CM discouraged Socratic questioning, why she wanted to leave the child free to come to his own conclusions. She seemed to believe that putting questions to the child's mind was encroaching upon his personality; and she argued that when given the ideas found in living books to feed his mind, he would not fail to come to the right conclusions on his own.

In the article recently discussed, "Thomas Aquinas and the Great Recognition," Art Middlekauff draws the distinction between Charlotte's educare, to nourish, and the classical educere, to draw out. Once again I must agree with Art. Charlotte was not a classical educator, in that her philosophy and method were not based upon the Greek and Latin studies of antiquity. He quotes her to prove his point:

Specialists, on the other hand, are apt to attach too much importance to the several exercise of the mental ‘faculties.’ We come across books on teaching, with lessons elaborately drawn up, in which certain work is assigned to the perceptive faculties, certain work to the imagination, to the judgment, and so on. Now this doctrine of the faculties, which rests on a false analogy between the mind and the body, is on its way to the limbo where the phrenologist’s ‘bumps’ now rest in peace. The mind would appear to be one and indivisible, and endowed with manifold powers; and this sort of doctoring of the material of knowledge is unnecessary for the healthy child, whose mind is capable of self-direction, and of applying itself to its proper work upon the parcel of knowledge delivered to it. Almost any subject which common sense points out as suitable for the instruction of children will afford exercise for all their powers, if properly presented.  (emphasis mine)

I do in fact agree with Charlotte to a certain extent. This is why I'm not truly "classical" either. As I argued in the last post, I don't believe that Latin is absolutely necessary for training the mind in the faculty of Reason. I don't think her science on the brain is quite right, however. We do know that injury to a certain area of the brain can affect a particular function, such as memory, and that certain kinds of exercises can strengthen such functions. She is right that the brain is more complex than originally imagined and works as a whole, but we now know that all brains are not created equal. For example, the male brain is more compartmentalized; while the female brain is more complex, with a greater amount of connective tissue between the two hemispheres. No doubt we will continue to develop better understanding of brain science as time progresses.

I agree with Charlotte's emphasis on nourishing the mind on living ideas, as opposed to merely teaching a child how to learn, which seems to be the classical emphasis. I think that what Charlotte achieved was a nice balance in this respect. For example, memory recitation was a part of her method, but the curriculum wasn't centered upon rote memorization. It wasn't limited to, or even focused upon, the trivium of antiquity. There is no reason that children should have to wait until high school and college to obtain knowledge in a variety of subject areas, to have intimate acquaintance with many ideas and things. Both are right, both are necessary--educare and educere. And this is the Catholic Way, isn't it, the "both/and" frame of mind? I would have to argue with Art on this point: the Catholic Way is not "classical" as defined by his terms. It's scholastic.

Thomas Aquinas reconciled Aristotle to the Catholic Faith. Faith and Reason could live together in harmony; in fact, could not really live apart. Now, you may be wondering, why wasn't this point obvious to me before, that Charlotte Mason was simply not Catholic, and that of course there would be areas of disagreement. The thing is, I'm only now coming to understand why that matters. It's not just "Bible only" Christianity vs. Scripture and Tradition. It's Charlotte's philosophical rejection of Reason against St. Thomas' validation of Reason. Charlotte placed too much faith in the self-direction of the mind of the child, perhaps to the point of magical thinking; and hers is a Bible-only, educare-only philosophy. Training the Reason is the proper antidote to rationalization. And in a proper Catholic curriculum, the marriage of Faith and Reason is inherent.

Clearly we must be guided to developing our powers of Reason and the ability to come to the Truth. Vatican II put a primacy on the informed conscience of the faithful in decision making. It wasn't until college that I realized how bad I was at making decisions. Being presented with the most trivial of decisions (ie., a restaurant menu) would fluster me. If the conscience has not been properly formed, then the faithful will likely make decisions in opposition to the teachings of the Church. Hence we have Catholics and other Christians who support abortion rights, who live together before marriage, who believe in homosexual "marriage", etc.

Vatican II presupposed that Catholics would be raised with the proper development of their faculties of Reason! That they would know both what they believe and why, and would be able to defend the Faith. That they would be, with grace, safeguarded against rationalization. We see the results of watered-down catechesis and the failure to develop critical thinking skills all around us.

Charlotte Mason got part of the picture right, and to the extent that she was right, we can emulate her. But we have to be very aware of the ways in which her philosophy is diametrically opposed to Catholicism, and we have to choose the Church first. I would go so far as to say that the truths she "discovered" were already inherent in Catholic philosophy; and the more that we understand the Church's teachings on education and everything else, the less we Catholics will need to depend upon her. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Project, Simply Catholic Homeschooling (and the Latin Question)

Happy June! What glorious weather we are having!! I am now the mother of a teenager, and we are about to host a big birthday slumber party. Our public pool will open next week, and it will be time to just relax and sink into summer. I have even already delivered my homeschooling paperwork to the local school superintendent's office!

I'm happy to say that my decluttering project, which I focused upon during Lent, is still in action. My terrible bedroom annex is finally presentable. It isn't finished yet, but it's no longer embarrassing. My daughter's bedroom is also slowly but surely being relieved of its burdens of stuff.

In addition to that project, and in relation to it, I'm going to apply the concept of schole, learning as leisure, to myself. I'm going to solve the mystery of what Catholic home education actually is! Here's the thing. When I first started homeschooling, I often came across the assurance that parents know their children better than anyone and are the most qualified people to teach them. And this, regardless of educational background. We could teach our children well without any type of certificate, training, or degree. I rarely see these sentiments being expressed anymore.

Instead, it's all about which is the best method or curriculum program, and whether or not you can--or must--do this or that as a Catholic (or an unschooler, or a classical or Charlotte Mason homeschooler, etc...). There is a potent sense of insecurity in the atmosphere. There is also much argument over what increasingly seems to me to be much ado about nothing. We have forgotten that we are not teaching curriculum programs--we're teaching children. Our children. Who we know better than anyone else. Remember?!

It seems to me that Catholic homeschoolers are, by and large, putting teaching methods and gurus before the Faith. Perhaps I'm wrong, and I hope that I am. The most pertinent question on our minds should be this: What does the Church teach us about education? What do the Bible, the popes, and the saints have to tell us? What particular guidance is being given us by the Holy Spirit? Do we even have the eyes to see and the ears to hear? Or are we too caught up in philosophical anxiety?

I'll tell you what. Let's get the Latin thing out of the way right now, and at least one problem will be solved. Yes, Latin plays a substantial role in the tradition of the Catholic Church. Yes, a curriculum centered around the Latin and Greek languages, literature, and history might be the most authentically classical one. And yes, studying inflected languages does help better one's understanding of English grammar; and yes, by all accounts Latin helps to develop critical thinking skills. But no, you don't have to study Latin to be a Catholic homeschooler. You don't have to re-create the Jesuit system of classical education in your home to be an authentically Catholic educator.

French and Spanish are both inflected languages, and there are others. You aren't obligated, however, to teach any foreign language to your child. He will need a certain number of years of foreign language study in high school if he's college bound. Before then, it doesn't have to be an issue. It's entirely up to you!

As far as critical thinking skills go, Latin is not the only way to get them. For me personally, Shakespeare was the ticket! Reading the Bard, forming a thesis, and proving it with the text at hand and within the historical context was the process that developed my ability to think for myself, and to back up my opinion with substantial evidence. This is what honed my writing skills in college. At any rate, I dare say that Jesus Christ excelled at critical thinking and rhetorical skills, without the benefit of Latin.

But is Latin worthy of studying? Of course it is! It can be a wonderful way of passing on the cultural heritage of Western civilization, and I have a library book all ready to teach me over the summer. We are raising our children to be lifelong learners, yes? If we do not get to Latin while they are under our roofs, they will have the opportunity to pursue it on their own at a later time. 

I feel like my critical thinking skills have been enhanced simply by becoming Catholic. The very process of learning the Catholic Faith itself has formed new pathways in my brain, to be sure! Along the journey, it occurred to me that Catholicism is very logical. As I've mentioned, a key figure in Catholic theology, philosophy, and education is St. Thomas Aquinas and his Scholastic Method of the 13th century, by which he successfully united faith with reason. It's becoming ever more clear why the Faith is at once both extremely rational and deeply mystical.

I finished reading Guide to Thomas Aquinas by Joseph Pieper and have a couple of other books going on the scholastics of the Middle Ages, which in fact include not only Christians, but Jewish and Muslim thinkers as well! I've printed off Pope Pius XI's encyclical, Divini Illius Magistri (On the Christian Education of Youth), and I've started reading Catholic Home Schooling by Mary Kay Clark.

I want to know what Catholic education is, pure and simple. And I do think it is much simpler than the mountains of methods that we've been forcing ourselves to climb.