Assessing Your Children

How do you know what your child knows? Are you worried about them being behind in math or reading? What grade are they really capable of doing? Did your child actually learn all the key concepts last year? If you’re concerned about your child being behind, or ahead, one way to figure it out is to test them.

WVHEA’s annual spring testing meets state requirements. The TerraNova is a “norm-referenced” test. Norm-referenced is a percentage ranking compared to an average population. For example, Johnny is at 45th percentile. This means if you took 100 students and ranked them from top to bottom, Johnny would be 45 from the bottom. The TerraNova is a good annual test, but your score report usually doesn’t offer the detailed information you might want as your child’s teacher–is Tommy just being difficult, or can he really not divide two-digit decimals?

One product to test your child’s math and reading levels is Let’s Go Learn’s ADAM and DORA tests–available for homeschoolers. They are “criterion-referenced” because they report in grade level equivalent scores.  For example, Jane’s phonics skills are low 4th grade level. They are also:

  • online (computer, iPad, or tablet), meaning your child can do them in their pajamas
  • untimed (as many sessions as you like, take as long as your child needs, when your child is ready to work), and
  • individualized, adaptive tests (questions change depending on whether they got it right or wrong, so you know what grade level your child is actually capable of).

The best part is that they give you many pages of detailed results (Johnny can add like fractions, but not unlike fractions, for example). Sample report.

These are not the only tests, or even the best tests (an educational psychologist can administer much more detailed, much more thorough assessments, including screening for learning disabilities), but these tests can be a useful part of your homeschool planning.

Annual Assessments in WV

Chapter 18, Article 8, Section 1 lays out the compulsory school attendance requirement in West Virginia, and the exemptions–including homeschooling. In order to qualify for exemption c, subdivision 2, you must begin homeschooling with an NOI (parts A and B), and “obtain an academic assessment of the child for the previous school year“.

There are four ways to do this, two of which are not usually recommended.

Recommended:

  • WVHEA offers the first option every spring: “a nationally normed standardized achievement test published or normed not more than ten years from the date of administration and administered under the conditions as set forth by the published instructions of the selected test and by a person qualified in accordance with the test’s published guidelines in the subjects of reading, language, mathematics, science and social studies”
  • The third option is a portfolio review by a certified teacher. This is a recommended method, although WVHEA does not typically recommend working with public school teachers because they are rarely aware of the legal requirements of homeschooling. WVHEA maintains a list of portfolio reviewers, although WVHEA does not endorse any particular reviewer. The homeschooling parent is responsible for locating a portfolio reviewer with whom they feel comfortable, and paying for the portfolio review.

Not Recommended:

  • The second option (the testing program currently in use in the state’s public schools) is not usually recommended, because homeschoolers are legally required to obtain the results by June 30, while the public school testing program results are often not yet back by then. Every year, WVHEA takes calls from homeschoolers who have been contacted by their local BOEs because they have not yet turned in their annual assessments, because the results aren’t yet available to them. Therefore, this option is not usually recommended.
  • The final option is “an alternative academic assessment of proficiency that is mutually agreed upon by the parent or legal guardian and the county superintendent.” This is not typically recommended because of the imbalance of power between the homeschooling parent and the county superintendent. Every year, WVHEA takes calls from homeschoolers who chose this option, and find that they’re having difficulty working with the superintendent’s designee, usually because they’re not aware of the law. Therefore, this option is not usually recommended.

Once the option is selected, you are required to keep copies of each child’s academic assessment for 3 years. These assessments assist parents in combating charges of educational neglect.

“The parent or legal guardian shall submit to the county superintendent the results of the academic assessment of the child at grade levels three, five, eight and eleven, as applicable, by June 30 of the year in which the assessment was administered.”

Holding a child back or double-promoting a child does not exempt them from the requirement for an assessment for a given grade level.

Homeschooling Kindergarten in WV

WV Code §18-8-1a covers when students are required to start school and how you get in. Beginning in the school year 2019-2020, parents don’t have to file a Notification of Intent (NOI) until the child is six by July 1, or if they’ve enrolled in a publicly supported kindergarten program. Easy, right? Then why do school systems call Child Protective Services?

Most parents want to start their child in kindergarten at age 5.

WV Code says: “beginning in the school year 2019-2020, compulsory school attendance begins with the school year in which the sixth birthday is reached prior to July 1 of such year or upon enrolling in a publicly supported kindergarten program.”

The child isn’t legally required to attend school yet, and so no NOI is legally required. However, the law continues on to say:

(b) Attendance at a state-approved or Montessori kindergarten, as provided in section eighteen, article five of this chapter, is deemed school attendance for purposes of this section. Prior to entrance into the first grade in accordance with section five, article two of this chapter, each child must have either:

     (1) Successfully completed such publicly or privately supported, state-approved kindergarten program or Montessori kindergarten program; or

     (2) Successfully completed an entrance test of basic readiness skills approved by the county in which the school is located. The test may be administered in lieu of kindergarten attendance only under extraordinary circumstances to be determined by the county board.

If parents have done kindergarten at home and haven’t filed an NOI, from the BOE’s point of view the child hasn’t yet been in school and the kindergarten law would apply. Therefore, if parents try to enroll their child in first grade in a public school, they will either deny entrance to first grade, or test the child into first grade.

As a result, if parents are homeschooling kindergarten and there is a possibility that their child may attend first grade in the public school system, parents should try to make sure the child is prepared to pass a first grade level reading and math test.

This is good advice even though the law does not require that homeschoolers use the public school standards for reading, language, mathematics, science and social studies.

If the parent doesn’t mind a younger child doing kindergarten twice, once at home and once at school, this is not an issue.

Because the law doesn’t explicitly mention homeschooling as an acceptable substitute for kindergarten, filing an NOI and obtaining an end-of-year assessment is not a guarantee that homeschooling will be accepted for entrance into first grade, but it certainly increases the odds.

Note that the law only applies to children entering the first grade – a second grader would probably not be sent back to kindergarten.

However, if

  • parents try to enroll their child in first grade without an NOI or an end-of-year assessment, and
  • the school system tests the child and believes that the child should be placed in kindergarten on the results of the test, but
  • parents file an NOI for homeschooling first grade instead of taking the kindergarten placement,
  • then a school system may file charges of educational neglect with the Department of Health and Human Resources.

At this point, parents should hire an attorney, assuming they’re not already a member of a homeschool legal defense association.

–Courtney Ostaff (2018)

Common Concerns

Academics – Homeschoolers generally do well academically. In fact, children who received structured homeschooling had superior test results compared to their peers, anywhere from a half-grade advantage in math to 2.2 grade levels in reading.

Socialization – Homeschoolers tend to walk their own path. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be homeschooling! But, homeschoolers have many opportunities to be social—in fact, many experienced homeschoolers are so busy with activities outside the home that they work to find time to do academics! More research is available here and here.

Special Education – One of the strengths of homeschooling is the ability to tailor the education to meet the needs of the individual student. One size does not fit all—especially for children with special needs. Homeschooling parents have access to a wide range of resources to help their children.

Sports – Homeschoolers in WV cannot play WVSSAC sports. But, depending on your area, your student can participate in local, private leagues and teams.

College – Some of the best colleges in the world love homeschoolers, and accept them at higher rates than the most applicants. WV parents issue their child’s diplomas and transcripts, legally equivalent to public school diplomas.

–by Courtney Ostaff

Good Enough Homeschool S1 Ep 12

Books!!

Today we are talking about my most favorite things: Choosing Books for Curricula, and Free Reading.

Jenn:

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:

  1. 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. ‘
  2. 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.

AJ: 

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.

Good Enough Homeschool S1 Ep 11

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/

Courtney:

[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:

  1. your thinking is novel—that is, you aren’t simply drawing a conclusion from a memory of a previous situation; 
  2. your thinking is self-directed—that is, you are not merely executing instructions given by someone else; and 
  3. 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.

Jenn

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. 

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) 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.”

Episode 8: Michael Clay Thompson (MCT) ELA

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:

https://www.memoriapress.com/articles/apology-latin-and-math/https://rfkclassics.blogspot.com/2019/04/on-history-of-western-civilization-part.htmlhttps://eidolon.pub/how-to-be-a-good-classicist-under-a-bad-emperor-6b848df6e54a

Finally we talk a bit about (MCT) Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts Curriculum and why we have mixed feelings about it.

Jenn:

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.

Courtney:

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.

Episode 7: The One About The History of Classical Ed and Oak Meadow

“Welcome, listeners, to the Good Enough Homeschool podcast, where we cheerfully eviscerate popular homeschool curricula. In today’s show, AJ will give us a classical education history lesson. Finally, we’ll talk about Oak Meadow and what we love and what we don’t love.

From A.J.: Dorothy Sayers, Douglas Wilson, SWB, and the redefinition of “classical education”

Last time around, I talked a bit about the idea of “the grammar stage,” “the logic stage,” and “the rhetoric stage” that was popularized by Susan Wise Bauer’s excellent homeschooling guide, The Well-Trained Mind. I’d like to dig a little deeper into that history because I think it helps explain why there are several different definitions of classical education out there and why the modern classical education revival has been so closely tied with conservative Christianity and politics.

First, a couple of definitions. The Trivium refers to the study of grammar, logic or dialectic, and rhetoric, which were the three language arts disciplines established by the ancient Greeks and Romans. They were taught, in various forms, all the way through the European Middle Ages and Renaissance until at least the Enlightenment. 

Grammar referred specifically to training in Latin and Greek grammar and literature. Logic meant how to structure arguments correctly and dialectic is how to engage in debate. Rhetoric covers the art of persuasion, especially in public speaking.

So how did we get from those arcane subjects to the idea that young children are good at memorization and middle school kids are sassy?

Part 2: Oak Meadow

Courtney: First, let me start by saying I really like the concept of Oak Meadow. I have no idea if this is true or not, but I dearly love the idea of a bunch of hippies on a commune in Vermont sitting around and coming up with their own progressive, nature-oriented low-key curriculum. But, I never really messed with it much when my kids were younger because they tend to have integrated programs and my oldest child was so wildly asynchronous in her academic development. At one point she was on six different grade levels in six different subjects. 

When she hit middle school, I decided to look into their Ancient Civilizations, Grade 6. Keep in mind that I have a current teaching certification in social studies, grades 5-12, a B.A. in history with a specialization in Middle Eastern history, and I’ve professionally taught WTM-style history at both the middle school and high school level. When I review a history curriculum, I’m using that perspective.

Jenn:

 Reading and talking with Courtney really helped me to clarify my OM feelings.HEre’s a list of the grade levels and results that I’ve purchased:

Kindergarten- I wanted to love this, only it went so slooow. A letter a week? Nope. 

4th grade- We used the whole thing as is after coming off of a few years of MP and just wanting to slow down.

6th grade- bought and returned- the writing was way too hard

High school we used their art and photography and that kid is now getting her BFA in studio arts Photography so I guess that part worked? 

I just purchased a bunch of OM high school books as an insurance policy for having most of a high school curriculum here at home in case of apocalypse. I had the old American history from 2007? And then bought the 2018 version.

Lesson 4: Read about the American Revolution. This course doesn’t require a specific textbook. 

Students can research this on their own. They are told to make sure they read about 

The French and Indian War

British taxation and restrictive policies in the colonies

Significant events leading up to the American Revolution

Declaration of Independence

Articles of Confederation

Their assignment is to then write a newspaper article from the POV of either the Americans or British about another list of events like the Treaty of Paris.

All of this is creative and interesting, I like that you can tweak it for different students’ strengths- like you could make a newscast or something. But— this is what I think of as extra stuff. If students don’t have those pegs from earlier years none of this will stick either- no matter how engaged they are this week.

Further reading:

The Pandemic Created A Surge in Homeschooling: and Concerns about the Movement’s Christian Culture

Why I an (not) an Evangelical