Tuesday, May 08, 2007

What Kind of Homeschooling?

It seems almost as inevitable as the arrival of lupines or the migration of the robins that in the spring I will start pondering where I am in homeschooling. For example, May 17 of last year: Classical Unschooling Again!

And the year before that, in April and May -- Unschooling and Real Learning, CM and Classical on the Real Learning forum. It really is a pattern!

I seem to keep returning to those three -- unschooling, Charlotte Mason, and classical -- in one form or another, again and again. Karen E calls her style "schizophrenic" and some people go by the title "eclectic". I could certainly go by Karen's label on some days, but I have always hesitated to use the term eclectic. It always sounded a bit patchwork-quilty to me -- though I just looked at the definition and it isn't so bad:

Etymology: Greek eklektikos, from eklegein to select, from ex- out + legein to gather
1 : selecting what appears to be best in various doctrines, methods, or styles
I guess that is what I do; and patchwork quilts are a nice way of taking bits and pieces to make a cohesive and useful whole, come to think of it.

So the patches in my quilt seem to come down to classical, Charlotte Mason and unschooling, with perhaps a couple of accents of other patterns.

What is the theme in this piecework?

They have several similarities. All of them, in different ways, have a commitment to what my friend Cindy calls "authenticity". They are personalistic methods, based on the concept of the human being (even the child) as a rational, free creature who has responsibility and agency, and to whom dignity and respect is owed by his nature.

They look for "whole" methods -- not divorced from day to day life, but integrally connected with it. For instance, Thomas Aquinas says that though teaching is sometimes necessary and often efficient, the best kind of learning is "inventio" -- discovery, leading to knowledge that is not simple second-hand.

when the mind moves by its own natural power to an understanding of things previously unknown to it. This is called discovery (inventio).
(De Magistro)

They emphasize the child's consent. Learning is diminished in conditions of fear or boredom or coercion. For example, though he did say that discipline was necessary to drive away evil, Augustine wrote in his Confessions about how much more poorly we learn during these circumstances:

For the tedium of learning a foreign language mingled gall into the sweetness of those Grecian myths. For I did not understand a word of the language, and yet I was driven with threats and cruel punishments to learn it. There was also a time when, as an infant, I knew no Latin; but this I acquired without any fear or tormenting, but merely by being alert to the blandishments of my nurses, the jests of those who smiled on me, and the sportiveness of those who toyed with me.

I learned all this, indeed, without being urged by any pressure of punishment, for my own heart urged me to bring forth its own fashioning, which I could not do except by learning words: not from those who taught me but those who talked to me, into whose ears I could pour forth whatever I could fashion. From this it is sufficiently clear that a free curiosity is more effective in learning than a discipline based on fear.

Recently, when I have been thinking about "classical", I have been thinking about "non multa, sed multum", which was an Ignatian motto (I wrote an article about this and other Ignatian mottoes a few years back -- it is here in pdf form). This reminds me, among other things, to Keep It Simple. You don't have to juggle dozens of plates to teach effectively. If you give your kids a few tools, plus a motivation to learn, they can teach themselves. The Liberal Arts are called "artes" because they are things you can learn to DO, and this provides the groundwork for the kind of learning that don't have to depend on direct experience.

As for Charlotte Mason -- I love her idea of a "wide and generous curriculum." :

Children make large demands upon us. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. 'Thou hast set my feet in a large room' should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking -- the strain would be too great -- but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest .
This reminds me that my homeschooling is not just about making sure my children have a grasp of the basic "artes" or foundational skills for further learning. Those skills are means, not ends. The "end", the goal, is lifelong ability and desire to learn.

Thinking about unschooling right now reminds me of kairos . This is a word that I first came across when I was reading about rhetoric --from Kairos (rhetorical definition)

signifies "a time in between", a moment of undetermined period of time..."a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved."
Unschooling reminds me to be in the moment. We live life in the present, not in the future or past. The present is the moment that can be acted upon. That does not mean not planning or retrospecting. But it does mean being aware of what's going on right now.... something that is sometimes difficult for me.

This got scattered, but it is where I am right now in thinking about this! I'm sure I'll be contemplating the pieces of the quilt again next year at about this time!


Becky said...

Lovely post, Willa.

I suppose the theme of the piecework is that you pieced it together expressly for your own children : )

Mrs. Darling said...

Enjoyed this post. I am doubt eclectic in my schooling. And Im a million miles from unschooling. I cant unschool because every 15 months of homeschooling the state requires us to take a test. If the putcome is under 15% the state steps in. With Tinks disabilities there is no way she would make that mark with unschooling.

I guess we all do what we have to do. Thats the beauty of schooling at home.

Willa said...

Thanks for the comments.
Becky, that's true! It is made from piecework that suits our family.

Mrs Darling, it would be a pressure to keep up with state requirements. We used to live in one of those states.

I think it may be true that different approaches suit different families too. Aidan loves a more workbooky approach (as long as I keep it short since his attention span is short). He is different from my other kids that way. It is very concrete and he can "see" what he is doing. My other kids got discouraged with too much seatwork and so a an open-ended approach with lots of reading worked better with them.

Anonymous said...

Hi Willa,

I still love it when you write what *I* am thinking!

Funny, isn't it how we come full circle to the same sort of spot over and over? Thank goodness for journalling (and/or blogging) b/c we can see where we have been.

Sometimes when I am feeling discontent, I will go read my blog or my spiral personal homeschool journal and see... oh, yes I have been there. And I KNOW I would not have remembered if I didn't write it down... sometimes my mind is like a seive (not yours, but mine!)

I think we have to keep re-visiting to keep us fresh. We have no real models-- none that we can copy exactly. Like a family chooses a school and then lives as best they can complying with it (often very successfully) we don't have that boilerplate. So it causes us to have to re-think. Especially the thinkers among us (like you..)

So glad you are thinking and writing to share with the rest of us. You always give me something good to ponder.

I am at a bit of discontent, too. It is that I see the value in the interest led we do, but then wonder if I spend too much time trying to make myself content with it?

My self education is growing a lot, and I want to share more with the dc.. and also wonder if they had a really dynamic teacher if that person might give them a gift I cannot?



Willa said...

>>Sometimes when I am feeling discontent, I will go read my blog or my spiral personal homeschool journal and see... oh, yes I have been there. And I KNOW I would not have remembered if I didn't write it down... sometimes my mind is like a seive (not yours, but mine!)>>

Oh, you speak for me too, Cindy! I don't mind admitting it.Except that I can't usually read my writing in my spiral, so blogging has been better for me that way. : )

>>I am at a bit of discontent, too. It is that I see the value in the interest led we do, but then wonder if I spend too much time trying to make myself content with it?>>

I know from experience that this can be a problem with other-directed learning too.

I think you've mentioned a kind of dancing that goes on -- my homeschooling seems to go best when there's that back and forth. Hard to describe, and *it's still not perfect* (I always have to remind myself of that) but it seems OK.