Saturday, August 25, 2007

Unschooling with Latin, the progym, and maybe navigation

I noticed that Ragamuffin Rosie has me down as a Latin-centered homeschooler, and it probably describes what we do better than anything else would, but it made me smile because though we do put Latin close to the center of our curriculum, we rarely spend more than twenty minutes a day on it. In fact, we rarely spend more than twenty minutes a day on any formal academic subject.

Rosie wrote a fascinating post about how she came to homeschool. I started one of my own, but got blogged, hmm, bogged down in detail and I didn’t think it was interesting enough to post… maybe someday.

But one thing that came to mind when I was writing it was my experience in an alternative “middle school”. When I was going into seventh grade, my parents couldn’t visualize me attending a conventional large middle school, and we visited several alternatives, including a Christian school run on a sort of A Beka model. This one my parents ruled out decisively; but we liked one that was just in its inception year, and that still is apparently operating more than thirty years later.

IT was designed as an “open” school, similar to some of the ones that come up occasionally in the early pages of the Growing Without School magazine. I assume that it was soon realized what an undertaking it was to run a democratic free school, or perhaps the government wouldn’t allow it to be completely “open”, because after about a semester the structure of the classes seemed to get considerably more conventional. (I attended for 3 years, and then went to a sort of Hogwarts-type British school in Switzerland, except that we had Double Chemistry and Biology rather than Double Potions and Care of Magical Animals).

What I was REALLY going to say though was that at this free-style alternative school, I still remember the content of classes I chose to take in seventh grade, and these were: Logic, Latin, Children’s Lit, and Greek Mythology. Oh yeah, and I took Algebra and embroidery too. I think it was ironic that with a “free” environment and a wide range of options, so many of my choices were so classically focused. I HAD to take some sort of boring Health class about safe birth control choices and physiological adolescent functions, but I don’t count that as a choice.

That’s all… lots of lead-up for a very short bit of biographical information.

What made me start thinking about this a bit more, besides Rose’s post, was this Real Learning thread on unschooling. I’m linking to it because I thought the whole thread was interesting, but at some point I wrote on there:

I am much more unschooly in method than I am in goals or content. To me, real education is something like classical and CM — I may use unschooly ways to reach those goals, and I do think “real life” and informal playing and activity lays an important foundation for learning, but I can’t say “as long as they’re reading” or “as long as they’re learning” when they’re sitting around reading junky books or watching edutainment TV.

Then after contributing to a couple more threads on Latin and the progymnasmata, I realized that I am in my happy zone when I’m talking about things like that. I moderate and co-moderate a couple of classical e-groups, and I have realized for a long time that most of the members are way more structured than I am in their homeschooling approach — structured meaning that they spend more time focusing on formal academics, assume that learning comes from teaching, and are achievement-motivated in a way I am not. Many people do this very effectively, but it does not work for me, and it was helpful for me to realize that you could play it otherwise and still do all right.

On the other hand, some of the more “unschooly” curriculum choices leave me cold. Again, it’s not a critique of other ways of unschooling. It is just a fact, that I’m writing down because I realized it. Furthermore, “learning from life” or “community-based learning” has always given me a feeling of anxiety, not liberation, even though I realize this is partly a weakness in myself. I would love to homeschool like David Albert does, in theory, but in practice it would not suit me or my kids or where and how we happen to be living. Our approach is going to look different, because we are different.

On my day-to-day learning notes blog, Schola et Studium, where I’m keeping track of our rather minimal academic endeavours, I put Prince Caspian’s curriculum, which isn’t exactly like what goes on at our house either, but which I also rather admire:

“He learned sword-fighting and riding, swimming and diving, how to shoot with the bow and play on the recorder and the theorbo, …. besides Cosmography, Rhetoric, Heraldry, Versification, and of course, History, with a little Law, Physic, Alchemy, and Astronomy. Of Magic he learned only the ehtory, for Doctor Cornelius said the practical part was not proper study for princes. “And I myself,” he added, “am only a very imperfect magician and can do only the smallest experiments.” Of Navigation (”which is a noble and heroical art” said the Doctor) he was taught nothing, because King Miraz disappoved of ships and the sea.”