Good Enough Homeschool S1 Ep 10

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.

Episode 10:

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, and we’ll put a link to it in the show notes.) 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:

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?

Good Enough Homeschool S1 E9

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.

Seton Homeschool

Kolbe Homeschool

Rod and Staff

Memoria Press

Lit Based:

Sonlight

Winter Promise

Guest Hollow

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.”

Introducing AJ Campbell and we stan the WTM: Ep. 6

“Welcome, listeners, to the Good Enough Homeschool podcast, where we cheerfully eviscerate popular homeschool curricula. In today’s show, we’ll introduce our new co-host, AJ Campbell. Welcome, AJ! Then we’ll talk about a common question: “Shouldn’t homeschooling be joyful? Instagram-worthy? Don’t kids learn better when they’re joyful about it?” Finally, we’ll talk about the Well-Trained Mind book and associated materials and what we love. Honestly, we can’t think of much (anything?) we dislike!
Let’s begin with AJ! (Full disclosure, we love AJ! He’s an admin on SICT, a tutor, and one of our wise sages of homeschooling.)

AJ: Thanks! I’ve been working in education since the 1980s and have been actively involved in the classical homeschooling world for about 15 years now. I started out as a homeschooling parent, then was a cottage-schooler, then a classroom teacher and administrator at a classical school in New Hampshire, and now I’m a private online tutor for writing, literature, and Latin, working with homeschooled students. I’m the author of The Latin-Centered Curriculum, a classical homeschooling guide that’s now OOP, and I Speak Latin, a Latin curriculum for elementary age kids. I’m married to Anne, who is a web designer, and we have one adult daughter, Ruby, who’s currently taking a pandemic-induced break from her graphic design studies. My family and I just moved from rural Western Massachusetts to Orlando, Florida. You can find me at quidnampress.com and the SICT group on Facebook.

Now let’s switch gears to our question of the day: “Shouldn’t homeschooling be joyful? Instagram-worthy? Don’t kids learn better when they’re joyful about it?” 

Jenn– Let me say, that if internet culture had been around when I was a young Mom I would have failed at it entirely. Especially for parents of bigger families the pressure to have every kid look put together, your house spotless, and every kid happy in order to Instagram your life to everyone you ever met and strangers? *picture me shrugging* It’s too much. 

Courtney–I think this idea that you should find joy in homeschooling is deceptive. Obviously kids can’t learn when they’re in full meltdown mode. But many sullen students have been poked and prodded through long division or learning phonics. Reading is hard. Math can be hard. It’s OK to acknowledge that something is hard, that we don’t want to do it, and that we’re going to do it anyway. If we just avoid everything that’s difficult, we’re going to have a hard-knock life.  I also think that making everything easy and happy for students robs them of the agency in mastering a difficult skill. We can successfully engage with things we don’t like–we do it all the time! I hate cleaning, but I engage in it every day!  

We throw out some love towards The Well Trained Mind Press Courtney works for The Academy so she stays quiet while AJ and Jenn say only nice things.

Side note from Courtney: SWB takes a lot of heat for not being religious enough on the one hand, and a lot of heat for including religion on the other hand. Personally, I am less interested in whether materials are religious and more interested in whether materials are effective. You’ll note that up until this point, Jenn and I have not differentiated between secular and religious materials. Part of that is because the definition of secular varies. Another part is that we’ve both been shamed by various groups for our choices in curricula, whether that choice was secular curricula or religious curricula. Good Enough Homeschool is about whether the curriculum is good enough, not about whether it carries a whiff of secularism or religion.

We talked in a previous podcast about what classical was. We do discuss curricula that aren’t seen as traditionally classical because these are frequently recommended, and we’d like to know what they’re about. Also, we discuss them because classical is open to interpretation–if you interpret it as different subjects at different age levels, then the content of the curricula is more important than the way in which the material is presented. Finally, we discuss a wide variety of curricula because we aren’t purists–we’re about what’s Good Enough, not what meets some debatable narrow definition.

Some Books Go Out of Print For A Reason Podcast Ep 3: Pandia Press

In today’s show, we’ll talk about a common question: “What is the best online curriculum?” Next, we’ll talk about types of curricula, and finally we’ll talk about the Pandia Press’s Ancient History, Level 2 curriculum, and why we won’t use it.

We chat about parents moving to homeschooling. They want all online curriculum and there are definite problems with most online curricula.

Don’t get wrapped up in pedagogy. When you start wading into homeschool curricula you are going to be affronted (accosted?) with so many kinds of methods. Put that aside for now. Think: one room schoolhouse. If you continue homeschooling after this is all over you can tweak a basic 3R routine into whatever flavor of homeschooling you desire. Remember that we are all in emergency mode. I was looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs this morning and although we are accepting this new normal- none of this is the old normal and kids know that too.

For all ages you need Math, Science, History (social studies in school is history and geography), Reading and Grammar. Start with Math and reading and do a placement test test like DORA. Start your child where she is is even if the grade level is nowhere near their age group. You need to fill in whatever gaps she has.

For history, most kids in public schools haven’t had any substance so  I’d start with the ancients no matter what the grade level. Make a timeline and match your reading to the history and science. None of this is actually my idea by the way- it’s all courtesy of learning about education from classical educators like Susan Wise Bauer. In grade school I’m a huge proponent of interest led science so I’d choose something your kid wants to learn about and save more formal science progression for high school- although in the 4th edition of the WTM even Susan Wise Bauer has changed her stance and said you can switch up the order even in high school.

A great online store for all things homeschooling is The Rainbow Resource Center. You can search and more than likely they will have several homeschool programs with unique long descriptions. They do include religious curricula, but it is all marked. You may find that you are willing to tweak some religion out if it is an otherwise perfect fit for your student. They also have excellent pricing.


Look at all the sample pages you can before hitting that purchase button. It’s tempting to take too much on when you first begin learning at home. Concentrate on the minimum this year and leave some time for projects. I think we’ll talk about scheduling another episode.

Pandia Press says: *The Story of Mankind: Due to the polarizing nature of The Story of Mankind by Hendrick Van Loon, it is optional reading in this level two course. It should be considered a possible resource for gathering information. If students choose not to read TSOM, they might need to seek out other resources on the Internet or at a library in order to complete some of the lessons. 

We compared Van Loon to Wikipedia

In the seventh century, however, another Semitic tribe appeared upon the scene and challenged the power of the west. They were the Arabs, peaceful shepherds who had roamed through the desert since the beginning of time without showing any signs of imperial ambitions.

Van Loon

versus

The Nabataeans, an Arab people, formed their Kingdom near Petra in the 3rd century BC. Arab tribes, most notably the Ghassanids and Lakhmids, begin to appear in the southern Syrian Desert from the mid 3rd century CE onward, during the mid to later stages of the Roman and Sasanian empires.

Wikipedia

Here’s another example.

When they listened to Mohammed, mounted their horses and in less than a century they had pushed to the heart of Europe and proclaimed the glories of Allah, “the only God,” and Mohammed, “the prophet of the only God,” to the frightened peasants of France.

Van Loon

versus

The Umayyads continued the Muslim conquests, incorporating the … Iberian Peninsula (Al-Andalus) into the Muslim world. At its greatest extent, the Umayyad Caliphate covered 6,000,000 sq mi and 62 million people, making it one of the largest empires in history in both area and proportion of the world’s population. Survivors of the dynasty established themselves in Cordoba which, in the form of an Emirate and then a Caliphate, became a world center of science, medicine, philosophy and invention, ushering in the period of the Golden Age of Islam. The Umayyad caliphate ruled over a vast multiethnic and multicultural population. Christians, who still constituted a majority of the Caliphate’s population, and Jews were allowed to practice their own religion but had to pay a head tax (the jizya) from which Muslims were exempt.[12] There was, however, the Muslim-only zakat tax, which was earmarked explicitly for various welfare programs

Wikipedia

This is a problem with many older spines, and why I’m not terribly attracted to Ambleside or very pure Charlotte Mason style curricula, which tend to use older books. The racism, sexism, and casual xenophobia are baked into the texts that are chosen. 

Here is a handy dandy list of Middle Grade novels set in Ancient Times.

Torchlight: Why it Doesn’t Light Up Our Homeschool Lives Episode 2

And we’re back with our second podcast about secular classical homeschooling. This time we begin with this question:

  How did you handle that so you didn’t end up feeling like a terrible parent?

You’ll have to listen in for our answers. It’s tricky.

We also talked about more complete curriculum recommended on Facebook and why that may or may not be a great idea if you are new to the home education environment. Within that discussion Courtney mentioned The Overton Window and said,”  when the discourse shifts because the limits of acceptability shift, is something I think a lot about in homeschooling.” Follow the link to read more on that. The Let’s Go Learn tests can be found here.

And then we talked about TorchLight. Although parts of are excellent-– Right Start Math for instance–as a whole it isn’t for us. We do recommend these books:

If you like what you’ve heard please join us here on Facebook:

Also if you want to outsource some Classical Ed we love WTMA:

Meet the Secular Classical Homeschool Duo Podcast Episode 1

“Stacks of books on every surface…”

We know how to reel in our bookish homeschool people. We’ve been haphazard about blogging, and in these pandemic times, we’re worried about your new homeschoolers. Join us weekly to here all the tips and tricks we’ve learned over the years.
Episode 1 of our new podcast is ready for your listening enjoyment. Please sit back and let us school you on the finer and broader points of home education. Courtney Ostaff and Jen Naughton are a part of the old guard of secular homeschooling.
In this episode, you will hear our origin stories into the educational world of Secular, Classical Homeschooling.
Jenn and Courtney are two experienced homeschoolers who practice classical, secular homeschooling. Jenn’s been doing this since 2001, and Courtney has been homeschooling since 2014. Using their experience and expertise, they cheerfully eviscerate popular recommendations and curricula. Join them to hear what they consider the good, the bad, and the ugly.

In this episode we mentioned several books