Frankenstein, by Jen W.

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In August of 1945, after the bombing of Hiroshima, radio announcer H. V. Kaltenborn said, “For all we know, we have created a Frankenstein! We must assume that with the passage of only a little time, an improved form of the new weapon we used today can be turned against us.” It has been nearly two hundred years since Frankenstein was birthed into existence during the cold, stormy summer of 1816 by Mary Shelley. Frankenstein was a revolutionary novel. Not only did it create a sympathetic, beautiful character out of a monster, but it created a villain out of an educated member of the nobility. The book broke class barriers and protested treatment of the hated “other,” whomever that “other” might be. Since that time, the story has never been out of print and has been regularly reinterpreted and referenced in popular culture over and over again.

Many people have heard the story of how Frankenstein came to be. Percy Shelley took his wife, Mary, and baby William to Lake Geneva in order to meet with Lord Byron. It was July, but the year of 1816 was known as the year without a summer. Scientists today have a variety of theories, that the weather was due to a volcanic eruption in Indonesia or part of the the Little Ice Age or was caused by historically low solar activity or some combination of these factors. Regardless of the cause, the cold, dreary, stormy weather found the trio stuck indoors. Their boredom soon led to a game of telling scary stories. It was Mary’s story of a scientist destroyed by his greatest triumph that would have a lasting impact upon western culture.

 

Upon reading Frankenstein for the first time, some are surprised to find that Frankenstein of the book’s title is not the monster, but the scientist, Victor Frankenstein. We discover the creature never receives a name. He is simply called “the creature.” This accomplishes two things — it is designed to dehumanize the creature, but at the same time it makes the creature a sympathetic character. But we meet neither the monster nor his creator, at first. We first meet a ship captain in treacherous seas.

Robert Walton is a young ship captain who is navigating the waters of the North Pole while looking for passage between the Pacific and Atlantic. The letters he writes his sister reveal his intelligence, the spirit of adventure and discovery that border on obsession, and his loneliness. His crew discovers a man on the ice — starved, exhausted, near death. The captain finds the man well-spoken and genteel. The captain’s nature and situation help him to sympathize with and relate to the man. However, as our young captain describes the intensity of his passion to complete his quest, the rescued man becomes disturbed, begging the captain not to drink from the same cup of madness that had brought about the current circumstances. The captain listens as the man slowly unfolds his story: The story of Frankenstein.

Victor describes his carefree, idyllic childhood which was spent in the company of Elizabeth Lavenza (his cousin or adopted sister, depending upon the edition) and his friend, Henry Clerval. Victor studies philosophy, science, alchemy and the occult, but when a visiting scientist explains electricity to Victor after he witnesses lightning strike a tree, Victor realizes that the alchemists were mistaken in their ideas and latches on to this new and exciting field. This part of Victor’s life seems ideal.

Any loss experienced by the family is compensated for and any difficulty overcome by love and charity. At the same time, with each bit of trauma, Victor proclaims each an omen of his current misery. Even his mother’s death shortly before he leaves for university is described in this manner. Victor’s fatalism has a two-fold effect. First, it builds the tension in the narrative, but eliminates a piece of the suspense because we already know that Victor eventually ends up stuck on the ice of the North Pole. All of the talk of omens and signs indicates that Victor accepts his situation as his fate rather than a self-fulfilled prophecy that Victor could have avoided, if he had made different choices, much like Romeo’s proclamation, “I am fortune’s fool!”

When Victor arrives at the university he meets with a professor of “natural philosophy” who tells Victor that his studies of alchemy have been wasted. Victor decides to study science after attending a lecture on chemistry. Victor quickly becomes obsessed with reanimation, the harnessing of the power of life and death. He neglects every other aspect of his life, focusing on this singular pursuit. His vision is one of wonder and beauty. Following the example of the alchemists he had studied (and whose examples have already been discredited in the novel) Victor works alone in his reclusive apartments.

It is important to note these aspects of his work: He is going against the scientific beliefs of the time, going against scientific discipline, going against the close advice of his professor, and he is reverting to an earlier time rather than working within the framework of the modern science of his time. His studies lack scientific rigor, discipline, oversight and ethics. These are some of the things that will ultimately lead to his downfall.

He begins to patch together a corpse to re-animate. All together, his study of reanimation takes two years. His studies culminate in zapping the creature with lightning, bringing the spark of life back into the decaying corpse. But, as the creature comes to life, Victor finds it repulsive and, after awakening to find the creature looming over his bed, terrifying. Strangely, Victor attempts to simply ignore the living nightmare of his creation, avoiding his apartment. This continues the theme already begun: He is avoiding his responsibilities in favor of acting with the emotion of the moment. Rather than alerting authorities or getting help from the scientific community, he attempts to avoid the issue entirely.

Soon, Victor chances upon Henry who has newly arrived to study at the university. Victor takes him to the apartment, apprehensive that the creature may still be skulking there, but relieved when it is not. Victor falls into a long illness, implying that guilt or remorse may be at work within him. Henry slowly but surely nurses Victor, presenting him with a letter from Elizabeth upon his restoration to health. These attempts at ignoring the problem and hoping it will simply go away hint at the dire consequences that we know will lead to Victor being trapped on a ship in the ice near death.

The plot continues to proceed in a similar manner with Victor shirking his responsibilities, trying to “fix” the problems that compound one upon the other, never admitting his horrific mistakes or seeking help, but patching the problems after the fact as if he were sticking his fingers and toes into a very leaky dyke.

The creature first murders Victor’s youngest brother. Despite the fact that Victor believes the creature committed the murder and even sees the creature at the site of the murder, Victor allows a young woman to be tried, convicted and put to death for the murder. Victor does nothing to stop it. he is afraid to admit his wrong-doings, afraid to admit his shortcomings, afraid to admit the horror that has come to pass at his hand, afraid that he might not be believed. These are poor excuses for allowing the death of an innocent girl and shine a light on the lengths Victor will go to in order to avoid responsibility for his actions.

The Frankensteins go on vacation as a family to escape their grief. The fact that Victor goes with them, never warning them, is an indicator of his denial. Eventually, Victor meets with the creature. When he hears the creature’s side of the story, Victor actually feels so much sympathy for him that Victor actually agrees to create a mate for him. Victor patches together and reanimates a female corpse, despite knowing that the creature’s murderous behavior. Clearly, Victor is not a man who easily learns his lesson the first time.

The family travels back to Geneva, where Victor promises his father that he will marry Elizabeth, but first he must travel to England. He passes through England, going on to a remote island in Scotland where he will build a mate for the creature. When the she-creature is as hideous as the first creature, Victor destroys her. The creature is furious. He swears revenge and promises to be with Victor on his wedding night. Victor believes the creature wants to kill him. But most readers will be able to read the foreshadowing and recognize that the monster plans a revenge that is like the wrong Victor committed upon him, that of killing his mate.

As Victor starts to leave Scotland he begins to receive a taste of what he has visited upon others. He is accused of murdering another person that was killed by his creature. When he finds out that the victim was his friend Clerval, he falls into a delusional state once again. Once again, a member of his family must nurse him back to health. This time, it is Victor’s father who also talks Victor’s way out of the murder charge. Barely escaping with his life and with a vengeful, murdering monster hot on his heels, Victor merely continues on to Geneva in order to celebrate his wedding. He doesn’t admit the truth, even to his own father. These are further examples of Victor having his head in the sand and ignoring his problems rather than facing them or at least admitting them so that he doesn’t bring everyone else down with his quickly sinking ship.

Given the Victor’s present circumstances and the fact that this story is told in the form of flashbacks, modern audiences can intuit what happens next. Victor marries Elizabeth and the creature murders her on their wedding night. In a fit of grief, Victor’s father also dies. Finally, Victor takes decisive action. He vows revenge upon the monster, chasing it to the far ends of the earth. This is where the story comes full circle. After telling his story, Victor begs the captain to reconsider his desire for glory. As Victor sleeps, the crew confronts the captain for a second time, demanding they return to England if and when the ship is freed from the ice. This time, the captain listens, considers and finally agrees. Soon, Victor dies, but as he lay in his coffin, the creature comes aboard. He speaks to the captain, giving him an eloquent explanation of his own miseries. But. we already know what the captain has decided. He is allowing caution to be the better part of valor. He is placing the lives of his men above his own path to glory. He has decided to take the more ethical path.

This, ultimately, is the lesson of Frankenstein. Victor had been engaged in scientific fancy instead of hard science. Science without oversight, ethics, discipline or responsibility is a dangerous business. At the same time, the history of gothic romance indicates the strong sense of sympathy that Mary Shelley and other Romantics would have had toward Victor’s passion and obsession. This will be a distinct difference between how a Romantic age teenager (Mary Shelley was only 19 when she wrote Frankenstein) and a modern adult will experience the novel. Recently, I heard a young man explaining how Marianne from Sense and Sensibility was the sole character from literature that he felt a strong sense of relation to. This sense of Romance is one that teens and young adults still strongly relate to. It’s important to recognize this within our young adults. Every hurt cuts deeply, every love is the greatest of loves, the sense of wildness found in Bronte’s moors and the obsession of Victor Frankenstein are all imminently relateable. Victor’s obsession is not just with science, but is a duel with death itself. Mary Shelley had recently lost her first baby when she wrote Frankenstein, and one can imagine that this experience influenced her choice of subject. What young person doesn’t dream of living forever or of finding a fountain of youth or permanent reprieve from the pain of the death of loved ones?

Echoes of Frankenstein, often considered the first science fiction story, reverberate though literature, popular culture, politics and even hard science itself. Every debate on scientific ethics from the atom bomb to human cloning carries with it the ghost of Victor Frankenstein. Every scientist carries the weight of his or her ethical burden. Teens and young adults can relate to the single-mindedness of Victor in his quest to defeat death. Those are some of the reasons that Frankenstein continues to be a relevant part of the “great conversation.”

Why Classical Education? Roots and Wings, by Angela Berkeley

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Why Classical Homeschooling?    The answer is probably different for each family that chooses it.  Here is our story.

When I decided to homeschool, I had a wonderful library of homeschooling theory, practice, and curriculum books available to me, and I read voraciously about it. I was attracted to unschooling, particularly as it related to being a continuation of the way that very young children learn — led by their own curiosity, assisted by having parents, and others who are interesting in answering questions and delighting in learning new things themselves; and relying on self-motivation as the primary factor in educational direction. I thought that this sounded beautiful, and was confident that I could create an environment that would enrich this kind of approach. And I remembered how much I learned that way as a kid, reading on my own about varying subjects — ants, mountains, theology, chemistry, revolutionary war history, pioneer how-to skills, all kinds of things.

But what about skills? I was skeptical about whether a child would necessarily memorize the multiplication tables, or learn grammar, or learn essay forms of her own volition. How would a child even know that it is important to learn these things? Also, what about the developmental changes that made it easy for me to memorize things up to about the 5th grade, but more difficult after that? How would a child know what to memorize, and what would make sure that she did so during that key window? What about the known advantage in learning a foreign language as a child, crucial to developing a native accent? Why let those windows go by? And what would keep someone studying enough arithmetic (so boring) to prepare for learning actual mathematics? Could this method possibly end up giving children an excellent and well-rounded education? And was I willing to bet my daughter’s future on that assumption, even if, as some unschoolers I knew, she did not learn to read until she was 12? Sure, as an avid reader from childhood I could ensure that she would learn a ton of great things and enjoy fantastic conversations and stories and ideas and discoveries just by reading to her, but was that really going to end up enabling her to develop her own abilities? I love history, literature, and theology, and studied chemistry in college, so I had a well-rounded enough background to be able to create an enriched learning environment in our home, but I questioned whether facility in basic skills would ever result from that.

Then two pivotal factors arose. One was that I realized that my particular daughter needed to be taught to read, and sooner rather than later. She was hearing all her friends claim to be reading and starting to decide that she was just too dumb to read, because she would pick up a book and not be able to see what it said. Yet the informal work on reading that was supposed to lead to her ‘picking it up’ was not working — she had learned letter sounds, and I read to her for hours each day, but she was not connecting the words on the page with what she heard well enough to recognize them, nor was she sounding words out. We clearly needed a more structured approach, and Teach Your Child to Read in 100 EZ Lessons was the one we tried. This was not a response to her initiative, but it was a response to what she needed. And it was clear to me that arithmetic was going to need to be similarly structured. We weren’t going to be able to unschool after all.

The other factor was that I finally ran across The Well-Trained Mind.  And there it all was — a complete and thorough plan for a solid and appropriate education. This approach honored the developmental stages that children naturally grow through, starting with easy memorization and love of stories during the grammar stage, and progressing through increasingly more affinity toward logical patterns of knowledge during the logic stage, and then progressing further toward assimilating and critically considering new information in light of the broad body of knowledge that is already present during the rhetoric stage.

There is an emphasis on teaching skills gradually and in an age-appropriate way, using copywork, memorization, read-aloud books, reading acquisition, and oral work at first, and then progressing to more and more written work, more advanced grammar, composition, literary writing, and arithmetic, and then moving into advanced writing, difficult literature, and mathematics rather than just arithmetic. In parallel, the approach to teaching content was also engaging and age-appropriate — early exposure to foreign language study, hands on and demonstrated science study that included the language and the logic of science, history taught first as engaging stories, and then later filling in dates and details with timeline work, and literature progressing from discussion to writing summaries, then to increasingly complex literary analysis, and then full-fledged thesis papers at the most mature stage.

This made beautiful sense, and it was exactly what our family needed to teach skills well, and also to enjoy the learning of content. Additionally, it gave me the opportunity to convey both roots and wings. Roots were provided abundantly in the study of history, great literature, the work of great thinkers in math and science, foreign language competence and its relationship to English, and theology. Wings were conveyed in developing skills and knowledge to the point of being able to assimilate new information critically, to be able to approach learning any brand new subject with a clear methodology (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) that leads to mastery, and a broad enough exposure to lay a foundation for studies of any chosen discipline at the college level down the road.

Angela angela_berkeleyBerkeley–Although Angela Berkeley wanted to homeschool her daughter, she was unable to find others to partner with in this endeavor and felt that it was unfair to homeschool an only child; so she enrolled her in kindergarten. However, because the family was facing a mid-semester cross-country move during their daughter’s first grade year, she pulled her out to homeschool until they settled into their new home. This went so well, and her daughter liked it so much, that they ended up homeschooling through 8th grade.  Using an eclectic classical style, this was an extremely successful process, producing a confident, personable, and academically well-prepared entrant into a local high school.

Map Skills, by Cheryl

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In middle school and high school I had an amazing science teacher. She is one of a few teachers who have had a lifelong impact on my life and the way I teach my children. (The others being my high school drama teacher, a math teacher, an English teacher, and my dance teacher.) This science teacher led a summer class in which she took us to the Wichita Mountains several times during the week. We hiked, we camped, we cooked out, we learned about the plants and wildlife, and had a blast! The skills that I took away from her summer class (and the orienteering course she taught us as a part of 8th grade science) were the ability to read maps of all kinds, and the use of a compass!

I want my kids to have these skills. Instead of teaching at home, I put together a ten-week course for the 7-9 year olds at our co-op. The following is an outline of the course as I taught it. For six weeks we put together a lapbook to help the kids remember what they had learned. Click the links to see the pieces.

Week 1: Types of Maps

Supplies: Box of maps, globe, history or economics book (for informational maps), scissors, tape/glue, folders, lapbook pieces.

Plan: Look at different maps. What are they for? How are they used? When would you use them? Look at the globe, find the North and South Poles and the Equator, and point out lines of latitude and longitude. Learn to use map coordinates. Look at an atlas. Find cities on a map. Give directions from a map. Make lapbook pieces.

Lapbook Pieces: Cover and Types of Maps

Week 2: Using Keys and Legends

Supplies: Box of maps, globe, history book (for informational maps), scissors, tape/glue, folders, lapbook pieces.

Plan: What does a legend tell you? Identify points of interest from the legend. Learn how to use a map scale.

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Week 3: Compass

Supplies: Cork, magnet, paperclips, pans for water, red sharpie, real compass(es), maps, lap books and pieces.

Plan: What is a compass? Find compass points on map. Use a compass to find north. Make a compass.

Lapbook Pieces: Compass, Pocket, and Activity Sheet

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Week 4: Early Navigation and Explorers

Supplies: Books on Marco Polo, Magellan, Balboa, Livingston; lap books and pieces; straws, plastic cups, thumb tacks, pencils, construction paper

Plan: Study early navigation tools (land and sea), hints in nature ( sun, stars, etc.), famous explorers.

Lapbook Pieces: Constellations, Early Navigation, and Famous Explorers

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Week 5: Latitude and Longitude

Supplies: Globe, lapbook pieces and books, protractors, straws, string, paperclips

Plan: What are latitude and longitude? Find important lines on a map and a globe. Make an astrolabe.

Lapbook Pieces: Astrolabe, Lat and Long, World Map

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Week 6: Sundials

Supplies: stick, paper, pencils

Plan: How can a sundial help navigators? Make a sundial outside and check it at least twice.

Lapbook Pieces: Sundial, Finding North

Week 7: What is Scale?

Supplies: yard stick, ruler, measuring tape, graph paper

Plan: Measure student paces (steps). Pace off the length of the room. Calculate actual size based on steps. Use a yard stick, ruler, or measuring tape to measure and map the entire room to scale.

Activity: Map the room and all furniture in it.

Week 8: Map the Building

Supplies: measuring tape, graph paper

Plan: Break into groups and measure the interior of the building, work together to create a full map of the building.

Activity: Create a map of the building to use for treasure hunts later. (We were doing this section of the class in November. Had it been spring and warm, we would have mapped the outside of the building for the treasure hunt.)

Week 9: Following Maps

Supplies: coffee, white paper, bowls, cookie sheets, hair dryers

Plan: Talk about using the compass and landmarks to orient yourself with a map and make pirate maps.

Activity: Make a Pirate Map! Tear the edges of the paper and crumple it up to look old. Soak the paper in coffee. Carefully remove paper and lay it flat on the cookie sheet. Use the hair dryers to dry the paper more quickly. Draw a pirate map. Include all elements of a good map – legend/key, compass points, and scale. (With younger students, you can soak and dry the paper before class, then let them draw their maps.)

Week 10: Treasure Hunt

Supplies: 2 maps, 2 treasure chests, 2 sets of clues

Plan: Follow the map, collect the clues, and find the treasure!

I over planned a little bit for our group. Cutting and pasting did not go as quickly as I had planned, and the couple of things that needed to be handwritten really slowed us down. We ended up cutting out some of the explorers section to make up for time. Once I finished making the lapbook, this class was easy to teach! Most of what we did came from my memory of what I learned in middle school and my hands on experience with maps in high school at various summer camps. Here are a couple of books that would be helpful for someone not as experienced with maps and navigation:

Tools of Navigation by Rachel Dickinson- This is a great introduction for kids. I found some fun activities in it. It also prompted me to add a day of history into our study (the day on Navigators). I just wish we had had more time that day!

Be Expert with Map and Compass by  Bjorn Kjellstrom – This looks like another good resource for brushing up on some skills. I do not have this book, but it was on my short list as I was making purchases.

Orienteering Made Simple And Instructional Handbook by Nancy Kelly – I picked this up to help brush up on my orienteering skills. I did not do as much orienteering as I had originally wanted, but we did the basics. This gave me a good reminder of what all orienteering entailed.

Teaching Orienteering, Second Edition by Carol McNeill – This helped me decide what skills would be best to teach the group I had. The book breaks the skills up into age levels.

With the availability of GPS navigators in cars and on phones, kids don’t see the need to learn to read an actual map. I do believe it is still a valuable skill. I hope this plan makes it a less daunting task for some who have not had the training I was given.

 

Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taughtcheryl ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

Why Classical Education? From the Well-Trained Mind to Charlotte Mason, by Megan

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I made the decision to homeschool when my oldest child was two. Even though I had several years to plan, I immediately began scouring the internet for curricula. I was overwhelmed by the numerous options. I wanted to ensure that my children received a better education than my own but I didn’t know which path would get me there.

I asked for help on a homeschool forum, and someone recommended The Well-Trained Mind (WTM). I got it from the library and couldn’t put it down. This was exactly what I was looking for, but didn’t know existed! It was how I wish I had been educated.

I loved the idea of laying a foundation that could be built upon in greater detail further down the road. It seemed so logical, so obvious once I’d read it, yet so completely different than my own experience that I never would have come up with it on my own.

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Two of the biggest reasons drawing me to this method were how Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise handled History and English. In the public elementary school I attended growing up, Social Studies started with the child and they learned about self, then their community, then their state, and then their country. Social Studies in 7th-12th grades were a convoluted mess. Between 6th and 12th grades, I took four and a half years of American History and only one year of World History. In the WTM method, History is done chronologically from beginning to end and the cycle is repeated every four years. And every time it repeats, the historical facts make more sense as they build upon they foundation the students already had. I loved this idea that History could actually make sense!

I listened to Bauer’s method of English instruction here. I loved the methods of copywork, narrations, and dictation, and her explanations of why they were so important. I could understand the skills they taught and appreciated that they’re developmentally appropriate for younger children. I could also see how students will take those skills and build upon them as they grow, and learn to be persuasive writers by college. That made me hopeful because I feel like I struggled so much in college whenever I had to write papers.

After a year of this method, I began to realize that although it was exactly what I wish I had had, it wasn’t working very well for my son. Apparently, different people enjoy learning in different ways. I started learning more about Charlotte Mason’s take on classical education and we’ve added some more of her methods. I still get chronological history, copywork, narrations, and dictation (among other things), but I’ve tweaked how we approach them. He’s behind in some areas and ahead in others. I get to tailor his education to his needs and it works out very well. I still love the WTM as a guide and a starting off point whenever I need curricula suggestions, but I love the natural learning of Charlotte Mason’s approach.

Even though we’re still in the “sandbox” stage of our homeschooling journey, I feel confident that we’re on the right path. We may no longer strictly follow WTM, butI know my son is getting a high quality education. It’s a proven method and my friends who are much further along in this process are there to encourage and support me. With their help, I am able to see the big picture of where I want my children to be in ten years.

 

Meganmegan–Megan is mom to three children: Pigby (boy, age 7), Digby (boy, age 4), and Chuck (girl, age 2).  She loves history, ballroom dance, and crocheting.  She made the decision to homeschool when her oldest was three and they’ve been on this journey ever since.

Student Spotlight: Achievements–Leesa's Silver Award

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My name is Leesa. I am 14 years old and live in rural New Jersey. I spent over 70 hours constructing this bridge/walkway to earn my Girl Scout Silver Award. The bridge is located in Chesterfield, New Jersey at Fernbrook Farms Environmental Education Center.

The inspiration for this project came from my desire to protect the environment and my passion for building things.

Along with my involvement in scouts, I also dance, crochet and love to play piano.

Student Spotlight: Achievements–Leesa’s Silver Award

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My name is Leesa. I am 14 years old and live in rural New Jersey. I spent over 70 hours constructing this bridge/walkway to earn my Girl Scout Silver Award. The bridge is located in Chesterfield, New Jersey at Fernbrook Farms Environmental Education Center.

The inspiration for this project came from my desire to protect the environment and my passion for building things.

Along with my involvement in scouts, I also dance, crochet and love to play piano.

Mathematics Education in the Era of the Common Core, by Caitilin Fiona

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Dear Caitilin, Why is today’s elementary level math so confusing? Has mathematics education always been this controversial?

Common Core! State Standards! Testing! These are the hot issues in mathematics education in our times, and they are issues we hear about daily, on the news, on Facebook, from our friends. All these ideas arise out of the good intention to see that America’s children are educated for success in today’s world. Of course, the reality is far from that utopian vision. One problem is that it is not the case that implementing the standards associated with the Common Core inevitably raises educational standards. A friend in Indiana, for instance, realized that in her district, which is not a stellar one, the Common Core standards were appreciably lower than the previous, but recently revamped, ones. Indiana has now opted to drop the standards mandated by the Common Core, and once again developed its own State Standards for mathematics education.

There is a sense, a sense based in fact, I hasten to add, that a sizable population of parents in the United States are all up in arms, reacting and railing against the changes to education resulting from school districts’ aligning their curriculum with the Common Core standards. Often they receive the response, “If you don’t like what’s happening in the public schools, pull your kids out. Send them to private school, or homeschool!” But many of those who rail against common core already are homeschooling; they rail precisely because of those not-their-own children who haven’t got other options; they rail on behalf of kids whose parents may not be able to help them negotiate a new method for doing the math problems they come home with at night. It’s not that the only complainers are those who have kids in the system; in fact, many from outside the system see things about it that concern them, and seek to have their concerns addressed for the sake of those who cannot seek redress for themselves.

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A friend of mine recently wrote an impassioned Facebook post in support of the methods for teaching mathematics which correspond with Common Core standards. She rejoiced in the fact that her daughter was unfazed by either new material or by word problems because she could just “get out her tools” (number lines, tally marks, etc.) and plow ahead. This is wonderful–it IS extremely satisfying to see one’s children learning, to see them achieving academic success–and nothing I say here is to downplay the importance of that success in children’s lives.

However, there are a couple of problems with her statement:

1) Why on earth would/should her daughter freak out when presented with new material? Who told her that word problems were hard, and worthy of a freak-out?
2) Why should she need “tools” to work through problems in material and concepts she, presumably, has been introduced to and understands, simply because it is presented in word problem form? These tools, increasingly, are taking the place of conceptual or practical understanding of mathematical ideas.

Let’s remember, first off, that all these tools that the kids are being given are just that, tools. They are just tools, approaches, methods. Using any particular “tool” oughtn’t to be held up as an end in itself, and any given “tool” ought be used to build mathematical fluency, so that the students can move away from needing them. Otherwise the use of the “tools” can too easily become nothing more than a glorified version of counting on one’s fingers–fine in kindergarten, not so fine in 7th grade. The idea is that the students are to know a variety of ways to approach a problem, and implement the one that best suits the problem itself, as well as their own learning style. Again, this is fine; any good math teacher has always demonstrated various methods for arriving at correct answers. The problem lies in placing use of a particular method ahead of the result.

The math program I use at home with my children, for instance, makes a point of teaching multiple approaches to problems. Teaching multiple approaches is not an issue. But when Approach A is privileged over Approach B simply because A is new and B is old, that IS a problem. The purpose is to be able to do arithmetic, exercise logic, perform higher mathematical operations, whatever–in other words, to be educated in the concepts. The purpose of math class is NOT to demonstrate whether you’ve fully grasped every possible strategy for approaching the problem. Once you’ve got one that works for you, great, use it! But requiring every student to solve problems in the same way just because that’s THE tool of the day is silly.

In the end, though, I believe our concerns about mathematics education are misplaced. It’s not simply the standards set by the Common Core that are the problem; rather, it is a group of inferior math curricula which are often, perhaps even usually, taught by teachers ill-prepared to do so that should worry parents. When students are never exposed to an efficient method for performing mathematical operations, hearing instead sentiments like “Don’t worry about getting the right answer, just see what you can do,” then parents should worry. When we no longer teach math, but only play in it as in a sandpile, shifting its beautiful principles to suit our own laziness–it is then that we should be fearful.

 

Caitilin Fiona–Caitilin is the mother of six children, ranging from high school down to early elementary, all of whom scaitlin_fionahe has homeschooled from the beginning. Her particular interests in the homeschool universe include teaching Latin, Shakespeare, and Great Books. Outside of homeschooling, her interests include languages, literature, theology, cookery and nutrition, movies, and fooling around, er, researching on the Internet.

Why Classical Education? Peace of Mind Pedagogy, by Lisa

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I spent last weekend at a large homeschool conference vending for a company we’ve worked with for years. I talked with parents who were trying to sort out the best curriculum for their unique children with homeschooling budgets that varied from stingy to excessive. Some came with lists and were clear about what they were looking for; others needed whatever help was offered. The common denominator was that each of these parents was homeschooling and wanted to provide their kids the best education they could afford.

When I was a younger mother, I remember walking through vendor halls feeling a mixture of anxiety and personal struggle. Would I spend our curriculum dollars well; would my kids respond well to the purchases; would they learn; would we have fun; would this solve the problems we’d had the year before; would the difficult subjects be mastered?

I don’t think I’m the only one who goes to vendor events with that level of anxiety. In fact, when I jokingly mentioned to a harried mom who came to my booth that I was a trained therapist (I am), she breathed a huge sigh of relief and exclaimed, “Good! Maybe you can help me!” I laughed with her, but seriously, don’t you sometimes feel the intense pressure and weight of what it is homeschooling endeavors to do – provide your kids with an individualized, cost-effective quality education provided by…you?

I like themes; I look for them. As I gazed around the vendor hall I didn’t find a theme- just a whole conglomeration of mismatched stuff, thrown out there for people to “eclectically” pick and choose from, hoping that it would all come together – like stew. You know, you just pick out whatever’s left over in your refrigerator, throw it in a pot, add some seasonings, and everybody loves it.

My understanding of the theory of eclectic homeschooling is much like the theory behind a good stew. You throw whatever you have in to the pot and the results will be pleasing.

What about when the stew turns into a gloppy mess, everyone grumbles and complains, and it really is so bad you can’t justify forcing people to choke it down? In my years of “eclectic” and “literature-based” homeschooling, it could go either way. We had some wins; we had some losses; we spent a fortune; and every year it was the same anxiety, the same worry and frustration over choosing the right stuff, and finagling a bit more money for the latest “wonder curriculum” that would solve all manner of problems.

I saw both the beautiful stew and the gloppy mess as I looked around the vendor hall. And frankly, I breathed a sign of relief that my days of “other-than” classical ed were over. We’ve homeschooled for a long time. And we know others who have homeschooled for a long time. Many of the people that we know/knew who have homeschooled for many years have essentially given up on academics and turned their homeschooling attention towards “delight directed” learning (whatever the kids want to learn) or “life skills” (keeping the house running). They quit worrying about their kids understanding math and talked about how they would learn what they needed to know when it was important to them.

My personal testimony is that this is false.

Just because I want to learn something doesn’t mean that I have the skills or ability to learn it. This becomes more true the less natural ability you possess or the more skewed your abilities are. Furthermore, if you don’t spend time building a firm foundation, it’s hard to move on to more difficult subject areas. Basic math is necessary for algebra which is imperative for the study of astrophysics. If I don’t know algebra, no matter how much I want to learn astrophysics, I’m not going to be able to do so. This applies to subjects both simple and complex. Guessing at whole words does not a strong reader make.

As I looked around the vendor hall I did not see what I was looking for. I didn’t see it years ago and I still don’t see it. What we were looking for was an academic pedagogy that guides and directs the training of minds; that affords study as worship; that pushes us beyond our own wants of the moment, that shore up our weaknesses. What I found in the vendor hall was some really great curriculum, lots of information on worldview and religious training and plenty of books, books and more books. Those are all good things. Necessary, but not sufficient.

We continued to seek for an educational method that actually taught people to learn and think and seek, that taught the benefits and joy of discipline, that increased knowledge and wisdom. I found all that in the Classical Model of Education.

Classical Education provides a methodology that is time tested, works effectively, trains the brain to retain, gives your child the gift of knowing what they know, and provides a clear incremental, sequential, logical path that points the way to what’s next. Now, if you are thinking to yourself that you are not a left brain, logical sequential learner or thinker, don’t worry. I’m not either. I’m a big picture, random, global thinker who needs to know the why and where of things. I think in Venn diagrams, not time-lines themes, not specific details. The classical pedagogy is not a formulaic plan for a specific type of thinker. It provides a plan for any type of thinker.

That is part of the beauty of it: classical education works regardless of your abilities or lack thereof.

Using a classical pedagogy has saved us thousands of dollars. Why? I’m not second guessing choices nor am I catering to fun or my kids learning style or the latest homeschooling fad. I’m not comparing myself to the draconian homeschooler or the radical unschooler or the Christian school or the public school. I’m simply following the path and pattern of assured academic success. And we have lots of fun along the way. Furthermore, my children know the deep and lasting satisfaction of sustained effort that bring forth excellent results.

While many pedagogies tend to focus on either skills or content, classical education focuses on skill building and content. Students end up with more tools in their academic toolbox and a better appreciation of how to apply them.

With a clear vision of what I want and how to get it, I look around the vendor hall and purchase very little – some audio books and signed copies from a favorite author – and was totally at peace. I already have a clear plan in place for next year. This plan requires some research and planning on my part but no desperate searching or pressured buying or frantic questioning. I’m just sticking to the plan we implemented years ago and trusting that it’s going to yield the results it’s known for.

Classical Ed, all the way, Baby!

 

Lisa hasImage homeschooled her 5 kids for 23 years, 3 of whom have graduated. She continues to homeschool her two youngest and has recently re-entered the working world. You can find her blogging at Golden Grasses

Why Classical and Why Now? by Apryl

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Our homeschooling adventure did not start out with Classical Education in mind. In fact, I had never even heard of Classical Education, nor did I know a thing about educational theory. I just knew that I could provide a better education than my children were receiving at school. They were in the 3rd and 6th grades when they came home to stay.

We started off, as many new homeschooling families do, with an all-in-one curriculum. Then, as I discovered the gaps in my children’s education and began to see how they learned best, we moved towards a literature-based curriculum. I began to read more about homeschooling methods and began to frequent homeschooling forums online. That is how I came across The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer.

The Well-Trained Mind put into words the thoughts I had swirling around in my head about the kind of education I wish I had had as a child. It made me realize that I wanted something better for my own children.

We began to study history in a four year cycle. Latin and Greek entered our home. Great Books were read. While I never followed The Well-Trained Mind methods exactly, our homeschool began to have a classical flavor that it didn’t have before. The girls learned how to ask questions. They became familiar with the great minds from our past. They developed critical thinking and a desire to obtain wisdom. They began to show an intellectual maturity that I did not see in many of their peers; they could ask the deep questions and have deep discussions.

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Since Classical Education entered our home fairly late in the game, our eclectic methods have only a strong flavor of the classical. There are things I wish I had done differently, or had learned before my children ever set foot in a public school classroom. Now, though, my thoughts are shifting away from their education, and more towards the future of education in general.

I have begun reading more about the Great Conversation, and begun to think about the studies I want to pursue at home, for myself, such as logic, and a deeper study of the classics. The developments in the public education of our youth are becoming more of a focus for me, and the ways a Classical Education could improve the ability of future generations to problem-solve are becoming more apparent. I am realizing that the failure to pass on the ideas of the great minds of the past to the potentially-great minds of the future would be tragic.

So why do I care at this point in the game, when we are so close to the end of our homeschool journey? I care because it doesn’t end with my children.  Someday they too will have choices to make about their own children’s education, and I want to be there to help them. However, the scope extends beyond my own family. There are millions of parents out there who are looking at homeschooling for the first time; I want to be able to facilitate homeschooling for those families. I want to be able to explain the benefits of a Classical Education and point them towards the resources that can help them achieve it.

Finally, I want to do it for myself. A spark ignited in my mind as a small child, lit by my father: He gave me books. They weren’t easy readers or picture books. He gave me Aesop’s Fables, Bulfinch’s Mythology, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. They were gloriously thick, hard-bound editions that were not watered down. He handed them to me with the expectation that I could and would read and understand them at the ripe old age of seven or eight. He encouraged reading in a way that was nothing like what I encountered in the public school system. It sparked that desire to learn for learning’s sake, a desire that has stayed with me far beyond my school years and I expect will be there for many years to come. I want to fan that spark into a flame and watch it spread to the next generation.

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“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

― T.H. White, The Once and Future King

 

 

Apaprylryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

Taking Courage: Homeschooling a Child With Disabilities, by Jodi L.

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My oldest child was in the 2nd grade when we decided to homeschool him. It was a difficult decision, one fraught with fear and anxiety. Jack, who has autism, was barely verbal. He had to be taught one on one, required a schedule, and couldn’t entertain himself. I wondered where I would even begin when it came to curriculum. Among the many questions I had, the most ominous was: Could I give that much of myself? Was there enough of me to go around? Jack’s autism was going to make things complicated, and I wasn’t sure I was qualified. I did have four other children at home to consider: a kindergartener and first grader, whom I was already enjoyably homeschooling, as well as a toddler and a baby. How on earth could I balance all of this?

The school was trying the best they could, but it was crystal clear that the system was not designed for children with moderate- to low-functioning autism. They were constantly asking for advice in their effort to improve Jack’s school experience. We worked together to come up with rewards, picture schedules, and adaptations to the curriculum and the environment.

Still, the stress on Jack was causing nonstop meltdowns every morning and afternoon. Jack was refusing to eat at school. He was miserable, we were miserable. I felt sometimes as if I barely knew who Jack was. The only peaceful time we had was at bedtime. I wasn’t sure bringing him home full-time was the answer to a better life for Jack, or if it would just multiply all of our miseries. I prayed fervently about it. One thing was certain: I, as his mother, who knew Jack intimately, was more in tune with his needs than strangers, even if they were well-intentioned strangers.

Just one year, I thought. I mustered all the courage I could, then I launched off into the unknown.

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The first year was an experiment. My main focus was to find out how Jack learned, and what he was interested in learning, and using that to motivate him. It took trying out a few different curriculums and a variety of household schedules to find something that worked. I had to adjust what I was doing with my other children as well, to accommodate Jack and his needs. Nothing is ever perfect, but we found a place where we could function, remain sane, and even have clean underwear. Who says you can’t have it all?

In my search I found that some curriculums were too wordy, others were too abstract. I hunted down the most concrete and simple math and language arts curriculum I could find. This curriculum-hopping was a bit expensive at first, but I didn’t get too attached to any one curriculum. It was still cheaper than the private school tuition we had paid in previous years. I left science and social studies to what I could find for free, and that included mostly student-lead, hands-on activities. I then plugged them into a schedule.

Through trial and error I learned that it worked best to have a “flow” chart rather than a schedule with specific times. Remarkably, Jack’s most peaceful and focused time was in the evening when his siblings were all in bed, and we would sit down and work on math and language arts. This first year was the biggest learning curve, but on the whole, it was a success. I had a happy kiddo whose tantrums had decreased by 75%. He started interacting more with his sisters and brothers, learned how to help around the house, and started making jokes and laughing more.

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I learned more about myself that year as well. I learned that, while I disliked schedules in the beginning, they actually helped me be more productive during large chunks of the day. I discovered that Jack needed everyone’s behaviors to be predictable, which meant we all had to be on a schedule. The day-to-day had been difficult at times, but the year on a whole saw many improvements in Jack’s quality of life, as well as ours. So we committed to a second year.

The second year had a different focus. I knew what curriculum I felt most comfortable with and how to use it as a tool to aid me in educating Jack. I knew much more about Jack’s personality and what made him tick. I wanted this year to be the one that saw growth in his independent work habits and found activities where he could work with his siblings. I needed to find ways to combine materials so that I could work with my 1st and 2nd grader at the same time, on the same thing. I wanted to transfer the chunk of school time that had been previously happening at night to early morning.

I also learned to humble myself and ask for help. I reached out to friends of friends who knew quite a bit about autism. I let other people help me. I discovered that my insurance company would cover ABA therapy in my home, so I had therapists come in and help with areas I knew I couldn’t reach, such as increasing Jack’s vocabulary and independent self-help skills. I also enlisted my other children to help me teach Jack some basic games.

Homeschooling isn’t singularly about academics. It is about developing the personhood in each of our children; it is about relationships, and fostering virtue, within our family setting, to create successful adults. This year I worried less about whether or not Jack was keeping up in the academic sense, and concerned myself more about the adult he would become. I had to redefine what I considered to be of value (and what I considered a reflection on myself) by letting the house be less “kept” than I would like. This is humbling when a therapist is coming to your house every day!

Our second year was also an overall success. So…we committed to a third year, and a fourth.

At various times over these years, our homeschool theme could have been taken from G.K. Chesterton: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” However, as we come to the close of our fourth year, one that even included the birth of a baby, I consider it all to be a success. Every trial and failure taught us all a little bit more about ourselves. All of us have grown, academically and spiritually. We are closer together than ever. We are all a little tougher, a little stronger.

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Recently I had the opportunity to enjoy a sunrise with Jack, as we shared some humorous banter over my coffee. Jack was laughing, the rising sun was warming our living room, and my heart suddenly overflowed with gratitude for the opportunity to be there, sharing that moment with my son. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.

 

 

Jodi is mom to six kids, ages 12 years to 11 months. She has been homeschooling for five years, four of them have included her son with autism. Her interests and hobbies include allergy-free cooking, r13403663284_0c3085af92eading, hiking, canoeing, and camping. It is more likely that you will find her buried in laundry, however, than doing any one of these.