Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sheep from Goats

I’m back from my conference and am now jumping into issues about AJ’s school for next year. We are, for now, assuming he will stay at the public school for second grade, unless we have a concrete reason to believe that it won’t work. In the mean time, I’m researching other area schools so that I know what else is out there, to look for extra-curricular resources, and to get ideas for things we can ask the school to do. We will be having parent-teacher conferences again in mid-February and I’ve already given AJ’s teacher a heads up about the fact that I’d like to ask her for her advice in preparing both AJ and the school for the transition to second grade.

At the moment, I’m working through home school resources to get some ideas for things to do with AJ at home, outside school. I’ve also been trying to talk to other parents who homeschool, but I have yet to find a homeschooling family who isn’t doing it for religious reasons. This doesn’t necessarily mean we have nothing to learn from them, but we are so different that it is often hard to find common ground. There are so many resources for homeschooling families in our area, but we can’t find any groups that are not affiliated with evangelical Christian churches. That is totally not us. Any homeschooling Agnostic-historically-Catholic-and-Episcopalian/Presbyterian/Unitarian-but-maybe-Buddhists out there? Anyone?

But really, I'm not looking to homeschool, just for ideas for what to do and where to get necessary materials. The interesting thing about this process is that it has forced me to come to terms with some of the things I think are fundamentally important about education. Some of these have relatively little to do with curricular learning and much more to do with social learning. I’m finding that I think schools are important, even if they’re not doing a great job at defining or teaching curriculum. I think group learning, something I always abhorred when saddled with it, is pretty important. Variety of experience is key in education. Sometimes one thing works, sometimes something else does. Ideally, many methods should be available.

Also, I’m seeing more and more difficulty ahead with the notion of moving through curriculum in an orderly fashion. I’m intrigued by the idea of a topic-based curriculum that would incorporate all subject areas. Some elementary schools actually manage to do this some of the time. But what about, to use an example I mentioned a post or two ago, studying Ancient Greece and Rome. Language arts could be focused on reading myths, learning some Greek and Latin words and learning how they function as roots for English words. Learning about history and culture; In art, studying art and, I don’t know, painting vases and using the golden mean to look at proportion. Math is wide open – so many of our mathematical ideas are based in that era. Music might be tough – we don’t have much actual music that survives. But the tuning system and our concept of harmony could connect it. Etc., etc.
And then there’s the idea of spiral learning – introducing topics, moving on to new ones and spiraling back over them, adding on. I am not an educational theorist (except as it suits my own purposes) and haven’t done much research since college. But for something like math, this makes sense to me. And I can see it makes sense to AJ, who is bored if all he gets to do is think about how to add and subtract in rote logarithms. He has big ideas about math and he needs to have a chance to express them, even if he’s not quite ready for the higher levels. Why not introduce the big ideas at the same time you introduce the basics? It helps motivate you when you know where you’re headed. The more pedestrian tasks are less dull when in service of something more interesting. Of course, I’m sure that’s not for everyone. I know some who are scared off by the big picture too. But some need it desperately.


drew olanoff said...

Hi there,

My name's Drew, I just joined a company called "Learning By Grace". My focus will be on working with parents and students directly, forming a community of homeschool participants. I would love to hear more of your thoughts as you decide what to do.

You can check us out at:


scartoonist said...

My brother and his wife roughly fit that description. But their home schooling is designed to supplement a school that doesn't run five days a week. I will draw their attention to your blog in hopes they take to it.


scartoonist said...

A little story. At AJ's age I was declared gifted and bumped up to third grade. After Christmas break, I wasn't sure if I was to continue in third grade, so I returned to second grade. No one counseled me about it. They left me in second. This had big consequences years later when I was clearly ready to leave school, but still had to attend 12th grade.

Moral: The fact that you are involved is excellent.

Harriet said...

scartoonist, thanks so much for your comments! I'd love to hear more about what your brother and his wife are doing, should they feel like sharing.