Monday, March 6, 2017

Boxed Curriculum vs. Charlotte Mason: A Comparison of Results in Grade 3

My mother recently handed me a box of curriculum from my childhood, third grade to be exact. This was especially interesting to me because my eldest son, SA(8), is in third grade right now. My natural reaction was, of course, to compare the work I was doing then with the work SA is doing now.

I was homeschooled using A Beka Book, a boxed curriculum designed for Christian schools. It has a reputation for its rigorousness, and I was a studious child. The work I had put out was beautiful and plenteous: workbook pages filled with gorgeous handwriting, impressive lists of spelling words, pages of mind-numbing math drill, history questions correctly answered in complete sentences.

Friends, I panicked for a minute! SA is not near being able to do what I did in third grade. His handwriting, while it is coming along well, is slow and laborious work. We don't do spelling aside from copywork. I don't require pages of math drill. His output in history and literature lessons, while often impressive, is oral and unrecorded. I began to question my decision to give him a Charlotte Mason style education. Have I been requiring enough of him? Has my focus on a broad and generous education taken away from time we could have been spending on proficiency in the Three R's? Is this a problem? (Am I ruining his life?)

We spend about equal amounts of time homeschooling as I did when I was young. Mostly, work is done in the mornings, leaving lots of time for free play.

Given equal time, what would I give up in our homeschool day in order to give SA more practice in sitting and writing?

Because that is the difference. I had much more practice in sitting down and writing in workbooks. My lesson times were mainly spent reading and writing out answers to comprehension questions, filling out grammar worksheets, copying spelling lists, and filling pages of math drill. Of course I was better at it than SA is...I had much more practice.

In contrast, SA's day is filled with a much larger variety. His main skills for learning have been listening (paying attention), reading, and narration (telling back what he has learned). In addition, careful observation, visualization, handicrafts and drawing have not been neglected. Indeed, given that his handwriting skills have lagged behind since the beginning, I have been grateful that this is no impediment to his learning in a Charlotte Mason education. He simply practices it for a short time every day, making slow and steady progress.

So what am I willing to give up in order to give writing more time?
Oral narration? Nature walks and journaling? Picture study? Composer study? Poetry tea time? Folk songs? French? I did none of these things in my homeschooling lessons, though a few of them were part of the atmosphere of my life (nature and classical music).

Seeing my work was a revelation of the amount and quality of writing that a person can expect of a third-grader. It is quite probable that I do need to expect more in the writing department than I have been.

And yet, I have made a choice. When I fell in love with Charlotte Mason, I chose not to focus exclusively on the Three R's. This choice has consequences...SA is not as proficient in writing as I was, and he has never been required to put out a page of math drill. However, though he is not as proficient now, he will continue to become more proficient until he is fluent in these skills, however many years this may take. Will it matter then how long it took him to get there? (Incidentally, I lost my beautiful handwriting over time ...bored, I expect... and relearned Italic handwriting when I was 20, which I still use.)

In the meantime, his days are full of richness. He knows what he has narrated --the Bible, living books on history and nature lore, and great literature-- knowledge and ideas that have so much more value than the textbooks I answered comprehension questions on. I don't know if he will remember all of this long-term, but he is making connections in his mind because of this that I could not have done at his age. He has a few great works of art stored in his mind, and he enjoys poetry in a way that (aside from a CM education) he would never have naturally been attracted to.

Last week I was reading in Charlotte Mason's A Philosophy of Education and was delighted to find this quote there:

"a knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic is no education and no training but merely the elementary condition of further knowledge. In many schools the boy is labouring on with these mere rudiments for two or more years after all reasonable requirements have been satisfied. The intelligent visitor looking at the note-books of an average class will be amazed at the high standard of the neatness and accuracy but he will find the excellence of a very visible order. The handwriting is admirable, sixteen boys out of thirty can write compositions without a flaw in grammar or spelling. Yet it will occur to him that the powers of voluntary thought and reason, of spontaneous enquiry and imagination, have not been stirred." (A Philosophy of Education, p. 120. Charlotte Mason is quoting A. Paterson's Across the Bridges.)
What do you choose to fill your lesson time with? Your choices will have consequences. Are the benefits of the choices you are making outweighing the drawbacks? Would you trade any element of a Charlotte Mason education for more time practicing writing and filling out workbooks?

All things considered, I like the choices I've made. I'm going to stick with them.