Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Homeschool Bleg

Some of you, and you know who you are, are organized. Some homeschoolers have had their lesson plans and their booklists all set out on their lace tablecloths while the freshly ironed curtains float in the breeze, gently rippling to the happy shouts of the children as they weed the vegetable garden.

Please. Here I am, a few weeks before school starts, pulling together this and that so we won't fall on our faces in the first four days. I'm trying to come to terms with the fact that crayons and pencils and glue sticks are consumables, not one-time purchases. I'm hoping the inkjet printer will hold out one more year if I hit it that special way. And I'm finally sitting down to write up some notes on curriculum.

This year is a fresh start (just like every other year). We're making a semblance of being settled in the new house, even though all the books on the shelves in the school room are still the random collection that were shoved here and there when we unpacked. Last year we faced the constant issue of never being able to find anything at the moment we needed it, which I hope will be resolved this year by better structure and beatings.

So, books. Bearing has recommended Joy Hakim's A History of US as a good history spine. I'm intrigued, but the entire set is rather expensive. Has anyone else used and enjoyed this? (Darwin spent a couple hours reading through what's visible on Amazon and says, "It seems to have a slightly liberal and secular point of view, but it seems scrupulously fair, which may actually be better than having an openly conservative or Christian book that isn't.")

The oldest two are heading into 3rd and 4th this year, and since it works well to have them do things in unison we're leaning towards putting them through two years of US history and kids literature (with enough Ohio specific side-lights to say that we met the state education requirements) and then circling back to World History for 2-3 years before launching into the high school Humanities Program (four years Western history and literature from origins to modern day.)


Kelly said...

My local library carries the entire set, so I've checked out volumes as a supplement. I used From Sea to Shining Sea from Ignatius Press for American history, but I think it's good to have something secular to balance it out with.

Margaret Mary said...

I've actually been reading a very interesting book in which this series was mentioned. Anthony Esolen's Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child describes them as "written for beings whose minds have been blasted by electronic jitters and cannot concentrate on a sentence or a thought of any complexity." (pages 108-109) I own the series and my kids found it to be an interesting overview, but you'll want to go elsewhere to get much depth.

I really would recommend the Esolen book and wish I would've read it earlier in my career as a homeschooling parent. It's a fascinating point of view.

bearing said...

That is a good characterization of Hakim. It does lean slightly left. But it feels very fair, and it isn't dry at all. I haven't found anything better. I felt I could achieve the balance I needed through supplements. Of course, it wasn't really my primary text.

Take a passage from Amazon Look Inside and read it aloud. How does it feel to read it aloud? That is a good test.

You remind me I still haven't written the last post in my American History series... I guess I better get on that.

Margaret Mary said...

Have you checked out the Story of the World books/CDs?

bearing said...

I use SOTW for elementary world history, but OMG does it need to be redacted whenever it talks about the Catholic Church.

I said to my co-conspirator in co-schooling, I CANNOT READ THIS STUFF ABOUT HENRY THE EIGHTH WITH A STRAIGHT FACE.

Also, Rasputin was blithely identified as "a monk" as if he behaved the way you would expect a monk to behave.

Also, every time Catholics do something good they are "Christian" and every time they do something bad they are "Catholics."

Chris Burgwald said...

Pretty much what bearing said for us, but our oldest is going into 2nd, so we haven't (yet) faced Susan's Reformed biases, such as they are.

I still like her better all in all, though, than anything else I've come across for elementary.

bearing said...

Looking forward to seeing your Humanities Program, incidentally. May steal it.

Oh, and I got the post up with the history curriculum. So here it all is:

U. S. History I: Prehistory through 1812
U. S. History II(a) The Civil War
U. S. History II(b): Topical survey of the 19th century
U. S. History III: Topics of the twentieth century

Julia said...

We bought our Story of US books used, through, and I doubt we paid more than a couple of dollars each. They're workable, though we always skipped the first volume as being too PC.

Get a copy of the Sonlight catalog so you can see the historical fiction list for US history. There are a number of books that are quite good, though at your kids' ages I'd skip Calico Girl.

Also, if you're going to spend two years doing US history, make costumes (or have your kids make'em) so they can 'play' Johnny Tremaine, etc. There are simple patterns for mob caps and aprons for girls online, and you can make breeches out of old khakis by cutting them off below the knee, slicing up the outer seam a few inches, and punching holes along the slit. Insert a shoelace to lace up the holes, and you've got it. Hats are a bit harder.

There are good supplies (candlemaking, tin cups, rucksacks, etc.) at Jas. Townshend & Co.

And do look to see if there are any Rev War re-enactments anywhere remotely near you. Ya never know.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Mrs Darwin,

I have all the vols of Hakim. I don't particularly like it, and am happy to send them to you. So don't go out and spend your good money! If you decide it's not for you, you can pass it on to someone else. E-mail me.

We're on Week 8 of school around here (like we're going to go outside when it's 100+ every day, and even the scorpions are looking at Air Alaska jets, saying, Yeah, I'm out of here, and climbing aboard?), and have it all, if I may say so, all together this year. Now having just jinxed myself, it's off to morning lessons for me.

bearing said...

I have a feeling that when the beautiful weather comes in late September I'm going to wish I started school in mid-July so I could take a break.

Darwin said...

The section of SOTW on the Reformation is also highly worth skipping... In this case, though, we're mostly looking for a different text because we want to do a couple years of fairly in-depth US History, and SOTW is more of a world history text. (And, of course, we'll mostly be using the text to provide context and gap-filling while we work through books on particular people and events -- doubtless ripping off a lot of Bearing's ideas from her American History list.)


FWIW, the high school list is pretty much all up at this point, I just haven't been able to fill in notes and links as much as I'd like. Plus there are a bunch of poets listed with "selections" where I need to either link to public domain stuff or pick an edition of something like the Norton Anthology to work with and go with what's in there.

Year One: From the Rise of Civilization to the Hellenistic Period

Year Two: From the Rise of Rome to Beowulf

Year Three: From the Rise of Islam to the Protestant Reformation

Year Four: The Modern World

I'd the elementary program on which I've been such a deadbeat -- though I guess with three more kids not yet started on that period of schooling, there's still plenty of time to catch up!

Darwin said...

Opinionated Homeschooler,

Any chance of elaborating on your reaction to Hakim? (Though I guess if you're volunteering to send it over, we can dissect it at leisure -- for a couple week till school starts at any rate.)

mrsdarwin said...

I dunno. If OH doesn't like it, it may not be for us. I've never gone wrong with any of her recommendations.

Margaret Mary, I have the first two volumes of SOTW, and we were humming along in the second, until I read ahead to her Martin Luther hagiography. At that point, I said, "I'm done with this junk." Maybe I'm throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but I just couldn't take the rest of it seriously after that.

I have a few history books that are for the older grades that I'm considering adapting for the youngsters. Maybe later in the week I can take some pix of the volumes and post them for everyone's delectation.

Maria Johnson said...

I can't stand history books that suck the life out of the stories they present. It makes me want to throw them across the room. I have the complete History of US and (despite the slightly liberal bias) I enjoyed reading it just for fun growing up. It was interesting . It tells the little stories that put flesh on 'dem dry bones of an outline.

This year, I'm doing a unit on early American History (St. Brendan the Navigator through the Civil War), using library storybooks as the primary teaching tool. Granted, Patrick and Elaina are in 1st and K, so we're still doing lots of "tell me the story," and not so much "date memorization." I can send you a copy of the list I came up with if you'd like. If you use Hakim's set, supplement with your local library. Columbus should be tied into a pretty good interlibrary loan system.

bearing said...

TBH, I probably wouldn't like Hakim either if I used it as a primary text. I did think it worked well to dip into here and there as a supplement.

A good book to read before starting U. S. History is James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me. He writes with a left-liberal perspective, which you may not appreciate, but I think he succeeds admirably in his goal is to uncover biases and omissions in standard U. S. history texts that arise because of the political wrangling over which text will be used in public schools. One thing he points out is how biased American History texts are towards Protestants.

bearing said...

And I'd be interested in Maria Johnson's booklist, by the way. I'm always tweaking, and I am starting over with the first year of U. S. history with a younger set this fall. Please share!

Kelly said...

I really liked Lies My Teacher Told Me, but I was annoyed at his treatment of our local landmark. He made it sound as if they were still trying to pass off a fake cabin as Lincoln's birthplace until recently when they put a small plaque in the corner admitting it was a fraud. Even back when I went there on field trips in the early 80's they told us that it was a very old cabin that was like the one where Lincoln would have been born.

bearing said...

Kelly: Funny. Wonder if he was relying on second-hand information, or if he exaggerated for effect.

Darwin said...

Hmmm. Better than the Howard Zinn quote on the cover would lead one to imagine, eh? Shall see...

Kelly said...

Erin, I had the same thoughts. Had he never been there or was he exaggerating? I mean, the plaque has got to be 3 ft by 3 ft and prominently displayed. It made me take some of his other anecdotes with a grain of salt.

bearing said...

Honestly, I think Loewen is probably even more useful for conservatives to read, because he specifically ferrets out biases and blindnesses that are particular to a patriotic and conservative worldview that, in his view, unduly shaped U. S. textbooks. Where I have blindnesses and biases and gaps in my learning that I'm not aware of, I want to be made aware of them so I can deal with them rationally.

But his larger point that history books are boring because they leave out controversial details, and because they oversimplify and present history as a settled narrative, is worthy independent of political outlook. Some interesting material about the sausage that is the U. S. textbook acceptance system, too. The book may be a bit out of date by now.

Darwin said...

Honestly, I think Loewen is probably even more useful for conservatives to read, because he specifically ferrets out biases and blindnesses that are particular to a patriotic and conservative worldview that, in his view, unduly shaped U. S. textbooks. Where I have blindnesses and biases and gaps in my learning that I'm not aware of, I want to be made aware of them so I can deal with them rationally.

I agree, to an extent. Certainly, nothing drives me up the wall like falsehood peddled in favor of comfort -- particularly when it's "my side" doing so. (For example, when I was looking at an American History textbook written by conservative Catholics -- sorry, I don't recall the title or author -- some years ago and found that it described the Conquistadores as "soldiers of Mary" who brought pro-life values to the Americas, I resolved immediately we'd never own a copy and didn't bother reading any further.)

At the same time, I find that reading people who are simply out to push a radically progressive narrative (even when in the process they point out mistakes made by conservatives) mostly just serves to raise my blood pressure. And skimming the first few pages of Loewen on Amazon (in which he's talking about the "heroization" of people like Hellen Keller and Woodrow Wilson -- I note that in getting past the bland portraits of these characters (neither of them actually likable once you read enough about them, though both interesting in their ways) he still leaves a lot of things aside. For instance, he's at pains to claims Keller for "radical" causes, even if he is willing to concede that her support for the USSR was "naive", but he leaves entirely unmentioned her views of eugenics and the euthanasia of the "unfit".

I certainly agree that most textbooks are boring, and I think it's important to take an unvarnished view of history rather than a mythologized one. However, I guess overall I'd rather a historian who's simply interested in getting at the truth, rather than a polemicist from the other side who punctures some rightist illusions but then leaves one needing to dig into his own narrative distortions and blind spots.

Still, I'm sure the library has it, I'll have to take a look at a bit more of it. Maybe he's just opening with more ideological stuff (and I'll admit: the publisher's description of it as "Loewen's politically correct critique of 12 American history textbooks" and the Howard Zinn praise covering the front cover are strongly biasing me.)

Kelly said...

I just had to go and check, and the Catholic American history book you described was NOT From Sea To Shining Sea.

My good friend recommended the Don't Know Much About History series so I read it alongside FSTSS and I was very surprised at how often they agreed. I thought FSTSS was overstating the Spanish colonization or being too sympathetic to Benedict Arnold but Don't Know Much agreed with what it said in both of those places.

RL said...

Bah. Just make the kids tune into the History Channel. They'll learn stuff about WWII, the Long Haul road in Alaska, the Great Bayou Culture, tree killers, Nostradamus, spaces aliens, Big Foot sightings from the Middle Ages to now. All you ever wanted to know about history is there.

Skywalker said...

I used DKs Children's Encyclopedia of American History, when I taught 5th grade and I supplimented with materials from teacher created resources. I liked it a lot, but I only taught history from European exploration to the Civil War, so I didn't get into modern history. I have yet to find the completely unbiased American History text; in fact, I am rather doubtful of its existence.

Barbara C. said...

History is a very complicated thing to teach, because sometimes it's hard to really know "the truth". We can look at what happened, but often we can't really know the real "why" because all we can see are the actions not necessarily the intentions or internal motivations. And sometimes things are much more complex than they seem.

I don't think there is really any such things as a perfect history book. (That's like looking for an unbiased news outlet.) The problem in schools is that they treat textbooks like Bibles rather than the first layer of an onion.

I use SOTW for grades 1-4 as a supplemental reading but I mainly use Usborne Encyclopedia of World History as my spine with an outline of keypoints that I want to discuss.

And I am one of those homeschoolers that have all my lesson plans all lined up for the year. But at a house constantly looks like a tornado came through it....that's why the curtains (not freshly ironed because ironing is against my religion) are blowing in the breeze. ;-)

Kelly said...

I remembered another book that we really enjoyed was The Landmark History of the United States which we purchased through Sonlight after Melissa Wiley recommended it on her blog. It isn't a conventional history book, but more little snapshots of culture. How they constructed houses, or made shot for guns using gravity. The sort of book you can pick up and read halfway through without realizing it.

bearing said...

You can't go wrong with a Landmark book. I am slowly building my collection.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

The Landmark History of the U.S. that SonLight sells isn't part of the Landmark history series.

Just to make it more confusing, some of the old "Step Up" beginning reader books (like Meet Abraham Lincoln) have been republished under the Landmark name. There are many negative reviews of them on Amazon from people who have (reasonably but incorrectly) assumed that these are genuine Landmark books that have been "dumbed down."

If you can get hold of the Horizon-Caravel (world history) or American Heritage Junior Library (U.S. history) books--both series published by American Heritage--they are worth their weight in gold. Superior, I think, even to the Landmark histories.

Maria Johnson said...

I've put up my list of early American History books we'll be using for 1st and 2nd grade. I don't think it's limited to this age, but may work for 4th and 3rd as well. The list is at Early American History

bearing said...

@OH: Thank you for correcting me. I'm glad to know this.

I also love the American Heritage Junior Library books. Some of them appear in my U. S. History book lists, but aren't identified as such (they all have titles). You could teach a whole U. S. history course (up to midcentury anyway) with these.

Donald R. McClarey said...

I don't mind reading historians I disagree with so long as they are either accurate or write with a style that I enjoy. Mr. Loewen, humorless ideologue, fails on both points.