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

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

How to Homeschool Temporarily, Part 4 -- High School

It's the second day of the second week of school closures, here, and I'm only just getting around to writing the high school post. This is a testament to how upended the routine is. It's hard to feel settled about the day and the week. It feels like a long vacation, like off-time. Last week not much got done, by anyone, as we tracked news and read articles and updated our coronavirus map (more on this later). This week, we're trying to act like this is the new normal, and carrying on accordingly.

So: high school.

If you are a temporary homeschooler during this time, you want to do the best by your child while balancing the work that school might have sent home or assigned over this time. Video schooling, online worksheets, papers or essays -- what is important right now? What is just busy work? How can you help your teen learn what's important, while reducing stress on him and on your family in uncertain times? You already know how difficult it is for kids to learn in a stressful environment. You know how difficult it is for you yourself to get anything done right now, even stick to a regular routine.

What makes this more difficult is that your child's school can't necessarily require online classes because the work might not even count.
For all the talk of online learning during shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic, many U.S. public school students will find that the work they do while at home is actually optional. It won’t be graded and it won’t count. 
Some public schools are calling online work “enrichment,” not part of the curriculum, because they can’t guarantee that all students will have access to it. Students without the internet or home computers can’t do it, and special-needs students may require accommodations to complete it. 
As a result, millions of schoolchildren risk missing weeks of school. Most states have closed schools, leaving more than 43 million children, in grades K-12, out of school, and some schools won’t reopen this school year. 
“It’s an equity issue. If you can’t guarantee all your students have online access, nothing’s graded,” said Tim Robinson, a spokesman in Seattle Public Schools in Washington, which closed schools and plans to broadcast not-for-grade educational activities online and by TV. “Our goal is to keep the students from going into a summer slide.”  
...Schools are expected to advance students to the next grade, come fall, even with all the months of missed coursework, though many administrators say they haven’t addressed it yet. Teachers already dread what they call “the summer slide,” or information children lose over summer vacation, and schools haven’t yet said how curricula in the fall may need to be adjusted to make up missed work. 
This is good news if video schooling has been a bone of contention at your house, or a headache on top of everything else you're dealing. It's bad news for your teen's educational motivation. And now the question becomes: how can you help prevent the "summer slide" and help your teenager take responsibility for his or her own work? Can you help them learn without having them be online all day? Is that really the best way to learn?

Something that's becoming more and more clear, I think: requirements are not education. Meeting state standards for classes and graduation, ticking all the test boxes, is one thing; learning, mastering material, and being able to participate in your education is another. Right now the requirements are all over the place. This is a golden chance to focus on education.


Last Friday, when I intended to write this post, the gospel reading was Mark 12:28-34. The scribe asks Jesus which is the first of all commandments, a common parlor game among students of the law.
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, He is One and there is no other than he. And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Jesus saw that he answered with understanding.

My 16yo daughter was asked the other day to sum up homeschooling in one phrase, and she said, "Homeschooling is about understanding, not accomplishment." What does it merit a student, to do set after set of problems, to finish the textbook, to check the graduation boxes, if the student doesn't understand what he or she is learning? Schools have different ways of measuring this understanding: tests, papers, quizzes, projects, science fairs, etc.

You, at home, have a simpler expedient: can your child tell you what they've just read? Can they synthesize the facts and theories in their textbook and put them in their own words? Can they tell you the plot of the novel, or what happened in the chapter they were assigned? Can they write one paragraph about it?

High school is about preparing a child to go forth in the world, whether to college, to vocational school, or to the job market. It's about preparing her to confront new information and ideas, compare them with what she already knows, make comparisons, and make decisions. It's about teaching him how to learn as an adult learns. There are so many facts and tidbits of information out there. The internet is awash with them, pixels and pixels of attractive graphics and opinions laid out for the unfenced mind. Is your student prepared with the mental tools to sift through them and scrutinize them for accuracy, for probability, for truth?

And, as Pilate asked of Jesus, what is truth?

Here's a book recommendation: How to Read A Book, by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren.
Perhaps we know more about the world than we used to, and insofar as knowledge is prerequisite to understanding, that is all to the good. But knowledge is not as much a prerequisite to understanding as is commonly supposed. We do not have to know everything about something in order to understand it; too many facts are often as much of an obstacle to understand as too few. There is a sense in which we moderns are inundated with facts to the detriment of understanding. 
One of the reasons for this situation is that the very media we have mentioned are so designed as to make thinking seem unnecessary (though this is only an appearance). The packaging of intellectual positions and views is one of the most active enterprises of some of the best minds of our day. The viewer of television, the listener to radio, the reader of magazines, is presented with a whole complex of elements -- all the way from ingenious rhetoric to carefully selected data and statistics -- to make it easy for him to "make up his own mind" with the minimum of difficulty and effort. But the packaging is often done so effectively that the viewer, listener, or reader does not make up his own mind at all. Instead, he inserts a packaged opinion into his mind, somewhat like inserting a cassette into a cassette player. He then pushes a button and "plays back" the opinion whenever it seems appropriate to do so. He has performed acceptably without having had to think.
If your teenager does nothing else during this time but learn how to read well, and to intelligently narrate what's he's read, he will be better prepared for school in the fall than if he'd done hours of classwork.

If she does nothing but a self-directed project, or spending hours working on building a new skill or trying a new hobby, starting, failing, picking herself up and trying again, she will be better prepared for life after high school than if she did hours of SAT prep.

The prep is important, and some time should be spent on it. But not all the time.


As in all these posts, this is a lot of theory when people are yearning for concrete resources. Here's what the 8th, 10th, and 12th grader are doing in these strange days, and their reading lists for the year.

8th grade

Darwin has a spreadsheet with booklists and general assignments, fine-tuned over several years of having 8th graders. Our 14yo is a type A extrovert, organized, very structured. She takes her spreadsheet and writes down her daily work in a planner.

In these locked-down days, she can't go to drama and dance, but she practices her piano, writes letters, crochets, tap dances in the attic, and sings with her sisters.

American History:
Land of Hope
Glory: One Gallant Rush
The Forgotten Man

One is One
Till We Have Faces
The Great Divorce
The Great Gatsby
The Man Who Was Thursday
End of Track
The Last Days of Night

Microbe Hunters
Born Free
The Selfish Gene

The Art of Problem Solving: Pre-Algebra

Warriner's English Composition

The How-To Book of the Mass
St. Francis of Assisi
The Story of a Soul

10th grade

The 16yo is missing her social whirl, and so is using this time to check in on school friends, video chat with all and sundry, and keep up with her bible study and prayer group. She's used Zoom for group calls, but we haven't tried it for online classes.

She's keeping a map of the spread of coronavirus in Ohio, and updates it everyday at 2pm with the governor's briefing. As a result, when the Amber Alert went off at 4am this morning, she knew just where Logan County was.

Instead of going to play rehearsal, she's sewing costumes in her room. She's also teaching her siblings archery in the back yard, and keeping up with her piano and voice and ballet stretches. She and the sisters are busy writing alternate lyrics to various songs for fun and profit. And, as always, there's letter writing.

Also, through incessant practice, the sisters are about ready to perform this note for note:

Starr, History of the Ancient World (selections)
Hadas, History of Rome (selections)
Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars
Virgil, The Aeneid
Roman Drama: Mostellaria
Cupid and Psyche (from The Golden Ass)
Acts of the Apostles
The Christians as the Romans Saw Them
Augustine, Confessions (selections)
selections from The Desert Fathers
Benedict, Rule of St. Benedict

online Astronomy course

The Art of Problem Solving: Geometry

The Transitive Vampire
Drawing Sentences

Pocket Catholic Catechism
How Far Can We Go?
What Catholics Really Believe

Plus, I just made her read The Great Gatsby so we could watch the movie.

12th grade:

The 17yo is an introvert who spends a lot of the day in retreat from the noise around here. She and the sisters are constantly wrestling over who gets the phone and the earbuds. Her attic bedroom is her retreat, and that's where she does most of her work. She plays piano, and is doing some nice jazzy work. Tap, singing, a giant cross-stitch project, and Pokemon take up her time.

Over her break, she's been sketching along with Withdraw2020, and has introduced the world to Corona Guy.


Medieval People
Martin Luther, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church
Thomas More, Utopia
Bradford, The Great Siege of Malta
Galileo: Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina
Bacon: Essays -- Of Truth, Great Place, Studies, Friendship
Norton Anthology: Sidney, Spenser, Donne
Milton: L'Allegro, On His Blindness, selections from Paradise Lost
Montaigne: Essays (selections)
Pascal: Pensees (selections)
Swift: Gulliver's Travels (selections), A Modest Proposal
Declaration of Independence
Federalist Papers (selections)
The Constitution of the United States
Washington's Farewell Address
Alien & Sedition Acts
Kentucky & Virginia Resolutions
Thomas Jefferson's First Inaugural Address
Austen: Pride and Prejudice
Gogol: The Overcoat
Chekov: Uncle Vanya
Trollope: The Warden
Dickens: Bleak House
Douglass: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Writing Research Papers

Ratzinger: Introduction to Christianity
Libresco: Arriving at Amen
Sheed: Theology and Sanity

Art History:
Community College class

Give her a break. She's already taken her SAT and been accepted to college. She is done with math.  (And she took Statistics at the community college back in the Fall Semester.)


Bernard Brandt said...


I remember, long ago, when the world was still young, dinosaurs still roamed the earth, and people still thought digital watches were pretty neat, a time in which a small group of people in a distant land called Formenor were looking into the possibility of a joint school for teaching their children. While they ultimately decided to each teach their own, Darwin's father and mother were among that group. They taught Darwin, and his brother and sister.

I'd like to tell you that what you and Darwin have been doing is worthy of those great deeds of yore.

Bernard Brandt said...

P.S.: when the kids are doing the skit from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, please vid it, and put it where people can see it. I loved their version of Star Wars.

Antoinette said...

I have been sending your blog to friends who are having to home school their kids. I have gotten several thank you.

Like Bernie, I would like to see the skit from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I enjoyed their version of Star Wars.