The Curriculum Rating Game Part 1
Jenn keeps score as she, Courtney, and AJ rate curricula, Yelp style. On deck in this episode are: 100 Easy Lessons, All About Learning, Analytical Grammar, History of US, Seton, Ambleside Online, Art of Problem Solving (Beast Academy), ARTistic Pursuits, Blossom and Root, Barefoot Meandering, Beautiful Mundo, Five in a Row, Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, BookShark, Botany in 8 Lessons, Botany in a Day, Building Thinking Skills, Brave Writer, Build Your Library, Calvert, Canon Press, Logos, and Veritas, Matin Latin, Writing & Rhetoric, Latin for Children, Phonics Museum, Classical Conversations, Core Knowledge, Charlotte Mason, Ecce Romani, Evan-Moor, Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool, English from the Roots Up, and Elemental Science.
English Language Arts: what they are and how to teach them within a classical framework.
Parts of ELA:
Teaching your child to read is perhaps the most difficult and most important job you will ever have as a homeschooling parent. The Simple View formula presented by Gough and Tunmer in 1986 is: Decoding (D) x Language Comprehension (LC) = Reading Comprehension (RC)
Hollis Scarborough, a reading researcher, came up with the analogy of the Reading Rope. Her analogy is that learning to read requires seven strands of education for children to become fluent readers. Addressing each strand is necessary, but insufficient on its own.
Classical education addresses all of them, often with specific curricula.
Decoding (the early years)
Why it matters?
Stanovich, Keith E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 360-407.
Quote: “The increased reading experiences of children who crack the spelling-to-sound code early thus have important positive feedback effects. Such feedback effects appear to be potent sources of individual differences in academic achievement”
- phonological awareness
- sight recognition
Comprehension (accumulates) — the Matthew Effect
In 1988, Recht and Leslie tested children by dividing them into four groups based on two factors: reading ability and prior knowledge of baseball (creating groups of high-high, high-low, low-high, and low-low). In all measurements, the students with high prior knowledge performed better, regardless of which reading level they had been grouped with. “In light of the importance of adequate prior knowledge, strategy instruction and the knowledge base should be equally considered in the design of instruction.” In other words, we need to give kids background knowledge AND teach them how to decode texts.
- Diffuse background knowledge
- “field trips to museums, art galleries, and the like, as well as … travel and exchange programs”
- talking with your child–possibly the most important intervention you can do with young children. Erika Christakis wrote a whole book about why it was so important (The Importance of Being Little)
- picture study
- “an ongoing atmosphere of exploration, experimentation, and happy chaos” — Susan Wise Bauer
- Memory Work (AJ! Poetry memorization, etc) Classical education uses memorization as a way of cementing the knowledge gained in the curriculum. Memorization frees up working memory to deal with new cognitive tasks (i.e., what you’re trying to teach them!). It also provides connecting points for new information to build knowledge.
In ELA, that can include things like grammar definitions or more general background knowledge (mythology, proverbs, etc.), but memorizing poetry is the most common and popular type of ELA memory work. As Courtney mentioned, nursery rhymes and tongue twisters build phonemic awareness and help with pronunciation (mention my recent Spanish class). Children’s poetry is often playful and humorous but also introduces simple poetic forms and accustoms children to the rhythm of language. Classic poetry for older students helps exercise the memory and helps them recognize common types of figurative language, which will be important both in literary analysis and in their own writing.
- Spelling -> vocabulary/etymology
- “a systematic curriculum that presents new words in familiar contexts, thereby enabling the student to make correct meaning-guesses unconsciously” — E.D. Hirsch, Jr.
- “In the content areas (history, science, literature, art, music), classical learning provides a [systematic] framework” for learning about new things — Susan Wise Bauer
- Spelling Workout
- All About Spelling
- Vocabulary from Classical Roots
- Wordly Wise
- language structures/Grammar and composition
- verbal reasoning
- Read-alouds/literacy knowledge
- Writing With Ease (curriculum that includes print concepts, genre)
- “The student who is working on ancient history will read Greek and Roman mythology, the tales of the Iliad and Odyssey, early medieval writings, Chinese and Japanese fairy tales, and (for the older student) the classical texts of Plato, Herodutus, Virgil, Aristotle.” — Susan Wise Bauer
- Handwriting Without Tears
- MP’s New American Cursive
- Logic of English–Rhythm of Handwriting
Show notes links:
Living Memory and 101 Poems anthology: https://quidnampress.com/memory-work/
Becoming an Educational Architect. We think this is not only the best podcast in quality that we’ve recorded, but it’s also the most important one for you, the listener, to take to heart.
AJ Campbell- (AJC) Courtney Ostaff (CO) Jenn Naughton (JN)
The Importance of Being Little by Erika Christakis (AJC)
What’s Going on in There?: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life by Lise Eliot (CO)
Science of Learning
Make It Stick by Peter Brown et al. (AJC)
How Learning Happens: Seminal Works in Educational Psychology and What They Mean in Practice by Paul A. Kirschner and Carl Hendrick (CO)
Uncovering the Logic of English by Denise Eide (AJC)
Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can’t, and What Can Be Done About It by Mark Seidenberg (CO)
Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics by Liping Ma (AJC) (JN)
The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics by Stanislas Dehaene (CO)
The Writing Revolution by Judith C. Hochman and Natalie Wexler (AJC) (CO) (JN)
K-12 Homeschooling Guide
The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer (AJC) (CO) (JN)
Classical Education (Theory or History)
Climbing Parnassus by Tracy Lee Simmons (AJC)
Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass (CO) (JN)
More Books for the Avid Reader
Closing of the American Mind by Bloom (CO) paired with Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz (CO)
The Great Tradition by Richard Gamble (AJC)
People to Follow on Twitter for Solid Educational Info
Daniel Willingham @DTWillingham (AJ) (JN)
Right to Read Project @right2readproj (JN)
Tom Sherrington @teacherhead Curriculum Design (CO)
Harry Fletcher-Wood @HFletcherWood Habit training, “knowing what students know” (CO)
Michael Pershan @mpershan Math Instruction (CO)
Patrice Bain @PatriceBain1 implementing cognitive science at home (CO)
Timothy Shanahan @ReadingShanahan science of teaching reading (CO)
Oliver Lovell @ollie_lovell Cognitive Science in teaching (his podcast is fantastic) (CO)
Stephanie Ruston @Spell2Read how children learn to read (CO)
Jennifer Binis @JennBinis historian of education (CO) (JN)
Vesia @VesiaHawkins Black mother, grandmother, education & reading proponent (CO)
Emily Hanford @ehanford NPR journalist focused on cog sci of reading (CO)
Get Yourself a Plan!
The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise (neoclassical)
Core Knowledge Sequence (K-8) – free download, free curriculum (public/charter)
CM Your Way Form Guides (Charlotte Mason)
Other works mentioned:
Chetty, Friedman & Rokoff’s research on teacher effectiveness
The researchED Guide to the Curriculum
Here we are back in 2021. We’re starting strong out of the gate with two episodes talking with our favorite Math guru- Lu Allen.
Lu Allen is an educator and homeschooling parent living on D’Harawal land in Australia. She currently teaches history, mythology, literature, languages, and mathematics to small groups of students through her business Epic Education Illawarra. Lu is interested in Ethics of Care in education, and in teaching children with learning exceptionalities including but not limited to autism, ADHD, and giftedness. www.epiceducationillawarra.com facebook.com/epiceducationillawarra
Show Notes: Aristotle’s Laws of Thought: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_thought#Three_traditional_laws:_identity,_non-contradiction,_excluded_middle
Mandelbrot Set: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandelbrot_set
Courtney’s math curricula recommendations:
- RightStart — Montessori-based, lots of manipulatives (you do absolutely need their kit), very hands-on, expensive, rigorous, scripted (good for busy parents). The review is built into games, parent-intensive. My personal favorite for kindergarten. Suitable for children with learning disabilities.
- Singapore Math Essentials — just what it reads, the essential bits of math. Easy to use. Singapore Math is justifiably regarded as a high-quality math program.
- Singapore Math Primary — Singapore Math is best-in-class for math curricula. However, it is parent-intensive, expensive, and has lots of moving parts (2 textbooks per year, 2 workbooks per year, 2 necessary home instructor’s guides). Manipulatives are required and must be purchased separately or scavenged from around the house. Very little interleaved, interval spaced review. Not suitable for children with a math learning disability. Renowned word problems available in yet another book. (tip: use the grade below, not the current grade)
- Singapore Math Dimensions 7 & 8 Algebra I. Singapore Math is best-in-class for math curricula. However, it is parent-intensive, expensive, and has lots of moving parts (2 textbooks per year, 2 workbooks per year, 2 teaching guides, 2 solutions manuals). Very little interleaved, interval spaced review. Not suitable for children with a math learning disability. At this level, mostly suitable for parents who are themselves math teachers or very confident in explaining rigorous mathematics.
- Saxon K-3 — one of the favorites among homeschoolers for decades. Many engineers come out of the Saxon math curricula. Scripted, mostly aloud, intensive interleaved, interval spaced, varied retrieval practice. Parent intensive, but short lessons (15-20 min). Required manipulatives kit sold separately. Often available inexpensively, used. Suitable for children with learning disabilities.
- Saxon 5/4 and up one of the favorites among homeschoolers for decades. Many engineers come out of the Saxon math curricula. Written to the student. No instructor guide available. Intensive interleaved, interval spaced, varied retrieval practice. Often available inexpensively, used. Suitable for children with learning disabilities who can read well or whose parent will read to them.
- Miquon Math — very different. Based around Cuisenaire rods, it’s all hands-on, no to very little reading. K-2 only. Required teacher’s books sold separately. Very conceptual, good for later transition to Singapore or Beast Academy. Suitably primarily for parents who themselves are math teachers or early childhood specialists.
- Math Mammoth – grades 1- 7 written to the student (a fluent reader could probably do this without much support), very high quality, easy to use, excessive practice, inexpensive, no manipulatives, very conceptual, not much review. Comes with fillable PDFs, so a student could use an iPad or similar to do the work (no need to print).
- Beast Academy — Grades 2- 5 Designed by math competition academics. Highly conceptual, typically much more difficult than one would expect. Comic book style (children will either love it or hate it). Expensive, with four workbooks and four textbooks per grade level. Some levels available online. Feeds directly into the Art of Problem Solving curricula.
- Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra and up Designed by math competition academics. Highly conceptual, typically much more difficult than one would expect. Includes access to online practice and videos. Available as an online class through AoPS and other online boutique schools.
- Teaching Textbooks, To be honest, this is not a particular favorite of mine. However, it does allow the student to work independently, and at the middle school level, which can reduce conflict between student and parent. All a parent would need to do is check and make sure the work has been done. This is a streaming service that covers the traditional topics, with a digital textbook. Suitable for slower math students.
Courtney Ostaff (she/her), author of The Teaching Online Handbook, has been teaching online and offline since 1999. Her second master’s degree is in Secondary Education, with certifications in mathematics, science, and social studies, and a special education certification in teaching the visually impaired. Currently, she homeschools her own children and teaches online at the secondary level, ages 8 to 18. CourtneyOstaff.Com
AJ Campbell, PhD, (they/them) has worked in education since the 1980s and has been actively involved in the classical homeschooling movement for over 15 years. AJ is the author of The Latin-Centered Curriculum, Living Memory, and I Speak Latin. A former homeschooling parent, classroom teacher, and classical school administrator, AJ now offers secular curriculum and private online tutoring through Quidnam Press & Tutorials at Quidnampress.com
Jenn Naughton, (she/her) is a five-time homeschooler and lifelong bookworm who champions the power of reading for children of all ages. She is the creative behind The Bookish Society which introduces both great new books and new people who share a literature love. Our round table sessions bring bookworms of all ages together in a safe and welcoming atmosphere to bond as readers.
Today we are talking about my most favorite things: Choosing Books for Curricula, and Free Reading.
Jenn: It’s funny when I sat down to write my notes I was stuck for a bit. This topic is completely in my wheelhouse, and yet it is a difficult thing to “teach” It’s actually easier to start with a list of What Not to Do:
- Don’t censor your kids choices (within reason of course). What I mean is don’t worry if they only want to read a certain kind of book. IE: graphic novels, tumblr blogs, fan fic, one certain book series, etc. ‘
- Don’t hound them with questions about free reading. They’ll share if they want to.
How do I get my kid to read? Read to them. If you hate reading to them, get them all the audio books they like. That is still reading and whether or not your kids switch to book books at any point they will still learn to love the written word. Many adults only have time to listen to books, so it’s not a bad skill to have.
Let them see you reading. Anything that you take time doing shows them that you value that hobby/pastime/obsession.
Don’t expect a long attention span at first. Feel free to edit on the fly in order to help the listeners make it successfully through the book.
Now, let’s get to the fun part and I’ll gush about some books your kids will love. I posted an entire Amazon list. It’s an affiliate link so I’ll get like quarter off Bezos if you purchase 10 books.
Typical classical approach to choosing literature in conjunction with history or geography: historical fiction, contemporary fiction, travelogues (historical or contemporary), biographies, and (my favorite!) traditional tales (=fables, folktales, fairy tales/wonder tales, myths, legends, etc.). The world of 398.2!
Benefits of traditional tales: cultural literacy, short enough for young kids to focus on, convey important cultural values/virtues, clear structure prepares kids for more involved plots, easy to teach basic literary concepts (character, setting, plot, theme, moral…).
The importance of reading traditional tales, poetry, and drama aloud, even with older students.
Traditional tales as preparation for Great Books, especially ancient and medieval. Think about what books you want your high school student to be able to read, and prepare them starting in elementary school with the necessary background: myths, cultural info, historical context, etc. (LCC as an example of a literature curriculum designed for this.) Example: If you want your child to read Homer in high school, give them D’Aulaires’ Greek Myths in elementary. If you want them to read The Divine Comedy, give them the Christian Bible. For 19th-century novels, give them short stories and novellas from the period in middle school.
Courtney gave some excellent advice on teaching children to read and I’ll refer you to her earlier blog post on that.
In today’s show, we’re focusing on critical thinking: What is it? Can you teach it? And if so, what curricula work best? After you listen, don’t forget to like, share, and leave us a review.
AJ: I thought we’d start by defining what we mean by “critical thinking,” but that’s not as easy as it sounds. Merriam-Webster doesn’t even offer a definition of it as a set term. The Oxford Languages online dictionary defines it as “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes it as “careful thinking directed to a goal.” John Dewey defined what he called “reflective” or “critical thinking” in an educational context as “active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends.”
“Critical Thinking” article at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/critical-thinking/
[Note that this is from Daniel Willingham’s most recent article on this subject: found here.]
Willingham defines critical thinking as having 3 key components:
- your thinking is novel—that is, you aren’t simply drawing a conclusion from a memory of a previous situation;
- your thinking is self-directed—that is, you are not merely executing instructions given by someone else; and
- your thinking is effective—that is, you respect certain conventions that make thinking more likely to yield useful conclusions.
Willingham argues that critical thinking can be taught if you define it this way. For example, teach students to certain criteria for evaluating something, have them evaluate something by that criteria, and et voila! They do better than students who are taught general principles rather than evaluation criteria.
If this is interesting to you, I highly recommend Thinking, Fast and Slow by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman and Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value by William Poundstone, as well as counters against cognitive biases like the ideas in The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.
As usual, I’m here to present practical applications and precedent after homeschooling/parenting for so long. Basically, my anecdotes support the science that Courtney and AJ quoted. Critical (deep thought) is hard won and IMO only achieved when you get the student heavily invested in the subject matter. I want to do a quick dive into the very many Critical Thinking workbooks on the market.
In my opinion, Critical Thinking workbooks don’t do much besides raise test scores in most cases. They also teach kids how to “game the test” While test practice is helpful- especially for students at home who don’t get as much practice- it doesn’t take long for students to figure out shortcuts on the standardized tests. But, do standardized tests measure Critical Thinking? I don’t think so.
Episode 10!! Wow, thank you all so much for tuning into our show. Courtney, AJ and I are thrilled that so many of you are finding our words useful. We hope that you’ll stay with us.
Introduction to Hirsch’s work:
E. D. Hirsch, Jr., is best known as the author of the book Cultural Literacy and as the founder and chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation. For decades, he has championed the idea of a knowledge-rich, sequential curriculum. Although his work is focused on public and charter schools, many homeschoolers will be familiar with his “Grader” series: What Your First Grader Needs to Know, What Your Second Grader Needs to Know, and so on. The Core Knowledge Foundation also makes their entire K-8 scope-and-sequence document available for free, as well as their language arts and social studies programs. (Their site is coreknowledge.org) It’s an incredible resource for homeschoolers who want a well-designed, coherent, and academically rigorous program that is broadly compatible with classical education. Hirsch’s most recent book is How to Educate a Citizen, in which he argues that American students need a shared knowledge base and a healthy sense of patriotism if we are ever going to overcome our divisions as a nation.
We discuss his newest book: How to Educate a Citizen
Our guest Julie is a fan of the Core Knowledge Sequence.
AJ: Ten years ago, when I was given a chance to design the curriculum for a PreK-12 classical school, I chose Core Knowledge as the basis for our Lower School’s program. Our Upper School’s Humanities program was all Western Great Books, and Core Knowledge gave kids the background they needed to discuss those intelligently. I still believe that it’s a very solid program and miles better than what you’ll find in most American public schools.
In the intervening years, though, I have developed some serious concerns about the assumptions that underlie Core Knowledge, and those tie into my problems with Hirsch’s most recent book, How to Educate a Citizen.
I’m fully on board with many of Hirsch’s basic ideas: that students need a knowledge-rich curriculum, that the curriculum should be cumulative and therefore carefully designed, that it should include heavy doses of world history and geography and literature, and that kids of all backgrounds are capable of high academic achievement when given the right kinds of support.
Hirch’s premise in How to Educate a Citizen is that a common knowledge base, instilled in elementary school, will lead to a unified national culture. He bases this assumption on periods in American history when, at least on the surface, we had such a thing, and he claims that it was largely created by a common curriculum in the form of textbooks like McGuffey’s Readers and the patriotic education of the 1940s and ‘50s. Right away, this raises some red flags for me. I’d argue that we’ve never had a unified culture in America, but we had and still have a dominant culture – WASP culture: white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant culture. Emphasis on the white. When Hirsch talks about “cultural literacy,” he’s talking about fluency in the language and assumptions of this dominant culture, including its presumed superiority. In short, he’s conflating cultural unity with cultural dominance.
Courtney: This is a long-term divide in social studies education, but I don’t think it’s necessarily all that out of touch. Historically, one of the purposes of public school was to be educated in what it was to be a US citizen–think about the naturalization process, for example. You are actually tested on your knowledge of what it means to be a US citizen. Part of the explicit goal of social studies is to socialize children into our culture.
And yes, our idea of what our culture is, is changing, broadening, becoming more inclusive, and I think that’s a good thing. I don’t think it’s an impossible task, although I do think it’s a difficult one. I thread that needle every week when I teach social studies, and it’s by far the most difficult task I face as a teacher. A couple of years ago, I read a blog post by Jasmine Lane, an early teacher from Minneapolis, and she made the excellent point that it’s a privilege to not have to worry about test scores–that for children who are not of the dominant culture, choosing not to know these pieces of knowledge is not an option if they want to be successful in this culture.
Jenn: I feel like again, like I do with religious curriculum I’m forced to cherry pick from the CK list of “cultural literacy” In other words what happens when the story of us- is no longer us?
Religious Curricula We Love and How We Secularized Them
One thing that sets the Secular Inclusive Classical Teachers Facebook group apart from other secular support groups is that we’re open to using religious curricula if they get the job done. All things being equal, we prefer secular materials, but sometimes things just aren’t equal, and an otherwise ideal curriculum is religious. How do you make that work?
Jenn: Let me start by listing the material that I’ve seculariized. Then if anyone has questions they can ask me over on SICT.
These very different companies offered something that suited us at one time or another.
Seton was my jumping off point into homeschool, all workbooks and graded for you. It made homeschooling seem doable. However it is very religious and soon after that I read the WTM and we moved on. Over the years, I used parts of the rest of the list for different kids. We used Kolbe in part for their grading and the fact that they have a completely laid out classical curriculum. In the younger years Kolbe worked well for us because Memoria Press didn’t sell anything except Latin and with Kolbe they were actually mostly secular materials in the younger years except Latin. Their high school is different and very hard to tweak.
The reason that I lean towards Lit based curriculums is that I can delete entire books easily, then add my own math and science. I can basically frankenstein their booklists, use their schedules and get a “poor man’s neo classical “ curriculum.
AJ: I have two very different curricula to discuss here. First up: Classical Academic Press’s Logic and Rhetoric books for high school. I used a few of these as-is when I taught in a religious classical school and then, more recently, in my secular online tutorials. These aren’t the kind of books that have Bible quotes on every page, but they are written for Christian classical schools, and it shows. For my tutorials, I use the books as an outline for structuring my class. I create short lectures based on the materials but rarely use anything verbatim from the teacher’s manuals or students workbooks beyond some basic definitions.
I supplement heavily, either from college-level textbooks or from the internet. When we went through the Art of Argument, which covers logical fallacies, I brought in examples from Facebook, letters to the editor, memes, Reddit, YouTube, and other realia, and I asked my student to find examples of our “fallacy of the week” on her own. (She really enjoyed pointing out when her family members used those fallacies!)
The second curriculum is one I used with my daughter, Rod and Staff English. It’s a very traditional grammar program from a conservative Mennonite publisher in Kentucky. This one does have Bible quotes on every page and lots of references to farm life and church events. The illustrations are black-and-white and show kids and adults in plain dress. These are folks who don’t teach any secular literature in their schools, only the Bible and Anabaptist devotional writings, so it’s about as sectarian as they come.
But I love it. It’s clear, it’s thorough, and it Gets the Job Done. It’s also much less expensive than comparable secular programs, like Hake. Now my kid doesn’t have a religious bone in her body, and even at age nine, she thought a textbook called “Building with Diligence” was a hoot.
Courtney: I agree, and perhaps this is why I am more attracted to Well-Trained Mind style education. Because it doesn’t have prescriptive content, I can pick and choose which books or individual I use with my kids. I can seek out own voices texts, add in updated history texts, and so on. I also keep an emphasis on skills-based programs like mathematics, science, and writing.
Also, I think that because I grew up and still live in rural West Virginia, I have a much higher tolerance for curricula that include religious content than most people. For example, when I worked at a local public school, the principal brought in a pastor to lead a prayer at employee meals, and everyone who attended high school football games bowed their head and prayed before the games. In that milieu, a passing reference to a Bible verse or the inclusion of Bible stories in a history text are not an issue.
“Thanks for listening to Good Enough Homeschoolers. Before we go, show some love for your favorite podcast by leaving us a review. Then stay tuned for next week where we will show some love and hate for another curriculum.”
Part 1: Question
“What kinds of tests should we give our kids? Why should we test them?”
Courtney: I have used:
1) end-of-chapter tests — good for assessing whether they’ve learned that particular chapter
2) normed standardized academic tests (CAT, TerraNova, Stanford, SmarterBalance, MAP, etc) — good for assessing where they are in relation to their peers, meets state requirements
3) criterion referenced academic tests (ADAM, DORA, etc) — good for assessing what they know as compared to an external standard, like national standards in mathematics
4) normed intelligence tests (WISC, Stanford-Binet) — good for helping to determine whether giftedness, learning disabilities exist
5) normed achievement tests (Woodcock-Johnson, etc) — good for determining knowledge relative to their peers, helping to ID whether learning disabilities exist
6) curricula placement tests (RightStart, Saxon, etc) — good for determining the right level of curricula for the student
Jenn– All of the above Only I would Memory Work/Recitation as a sort of test. If you begin when your kids are little it becomes routine all the way through school.
History of Classical Education: Traditional or “Latin-Centered” Classical
In our last episode I talked about what is probably the most popular style of classical education among homeschoolers: neoclassical education, as represented by TWTM and Christian classical publishers like Classical Academic Press. For all the details, check out episode 7.
Today we’re going to look at the other major style of classical education that homeschoolers are likely to encounter: traditional — or what’s sometimes called Latin-centered — classical ed. This is much closer to what “classical education” meant until the 1980s, and what many people outside the US would understand by the term even today.
The tl;dr version is that traditional classical education uses the study of Latin and Greek — the European classical languages — as its organizing principle. Just as TWTM is structured around the four-year history cycle, Latin-centered education is all about mastering the classical languages and their literatures. It’s an education in and through the classics of the ancient Mediterranean, with some later Great Books added in. In practice, this approach balances its strong language emphasis with equal amounts of mathematics. Both Latin and math are cumulative and require years to master.
Some of us in the secular homeschooling world are looking for ways to preserve the positive aspects of this style of education (the rigor and the simplicity, for example) without the cultural myopia and retrogressive politics.
Links for the show notes:
Finally we talk a bit about (MCT) Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts Curriculum and why we have mixed feelings about it.
One of my boys used MCT Vocab (Word within the Word) in high school and I tried the Search Trilogy with my daughter and it wasn’t a good fit for her. So I had mixed results.
I think selecting a level and understanding how the parts of this program fit together is difficult. I like that it is written by an expert. I didn’t gravitate towards it simply because of the amount of books that were required and there was no schedule included.
He’s pretty enthused about grammar. And he is a word nerd- which I love- cause Same.
I’m still planning on using his vocab program in high school this time around.
First, as far as I know, Michael Clay Thompson came up with his unique grammar teaching system all out of his own mind. I actually asked a sales rep about that at a conference, and that was the impression that I received. I’m suspicious of any full bore curriculum that one individual person came up with, because I think that real experts will have their work double-checked by other people and ideally, be co-written by a team. For example, when I wrote that book on online teaching this summer, I sent chapters hither and yon, asking people to double-check my work, and I worked with someone who reviewed each chapter as it was written. So, already I was a little…well, skeptical.
But Gwen is gifted in English language arts (yes, that’s not just proud mama talking, I had her tested), and I’d heard that it’s great for gifted students, so I thought I would give it a try. This was when she was finishing third grade. I emailed Royal Fireworks Press, listed all the curricula she’d completed in the last year, and asked them what package I should buy. I was willing to lay out the cash for the whole set if need be. Keep in mind, she was reading at the high school level at that point. They emailed me back and recommended Level 2 (ages 9-11) or Level 3 (ages 10-12). In other words, despite the fact that she was already advanced, they didn’t recommend any acceleration at all. That’s an entirely different, but relevant discussion.
AJ: My experience with the levels was similar. We were advised to use level 2 (the “Town” level) with Ruby in 4th grade. She was a very strong reader (like Gwen, high school level) and had been in a classical cottage school in 2nd and a private classical academy in 3rd. We’d been doing Latin together since she was maybe 5. We went through Grammar Town and Paragraph Town, which the publisher recommends for 5th grade, and Ruby had learned everything in those books years earlier. (I also really wonder how many 5th graders are going to be excited about talking ducks; the presentation seems pretty childish for kids that age.)
So I can see using those books with a child who’s gifted in LA, but you’d have to do the same thing you do with most programs: zoom through multiple levels in a year or skip to a higher level to challenge the child. That’s not what I’d expect from a company that positions itself as a “gifted education” resource. But to be fair to the folks at Royal Fireworks Press, part of the challenge of working with gifted kids is that they are so individual in their needs. Many display asynchronous development, meaning that they are at very different levels in different subjects. That’s why it’s so challenging to put together a curriculum for them and also one of the reasons that homeschooling is such an appealing option for families with gifted or 2E kids. But I’d also expect a curriculum company to be aware enough of what’s taught in their competitors’ products that they can accurately place a child based on the curricula that child has already completed successfully.
That said, I think the products themselves are nicely done. They’re quirky and the art is high quality, which was a plus for my aesthetically driven child. She liked that the author threw in little asides about Greek words, in actual Greek letters, probably because, well, she’s my kid. I just would have used them with her at a much earlier age. The “Town” books would have worked for us when she was in K-2 range, not 4th or 5th.