Monday, April 30, 2007
It's not the premise of a neo-Classical education that I question but rather the implementation. Are we sacrificing quality for quantity? Depth for breadth?
The college I attended required a yearlong study of "Great Works" as a freshman. While a handful of these "Great Works" seemed to be included for mere political correctness' sake, most actually were classics. We read the Bible, Homer, Aristotle, Sophocles, Plato, St. Augustine, Beowulf, St. Thomas Aquinas, Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, Descartes, Machiavelli, Milton, Rousseau, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, among others. The problem was not what we read (generally worthy texts) but how we read and discussed them. Each week, there were two assigned texts covered in two 50 minute lectures and a single 90 minute small-group discussion section. This was only enough time to scratch the surface of these complex literary works and provided what I call the "cocktail party guide to the classics". Basically enough information about the text so that one could sound reasonably literate at a cocktail party if someone made a reference to it.
I actually read all the assigned texts with the exception of Beowulf (I really tried, but that literally put me to sleep!) Many of my classmates, however, relied on Cliff Notes since the class did not require any in-depth study of or thinking about the books and they had plenty of work to do for their other classes. Grading did not follow any objective learning criteria but simply how well the student knew how to B.S. whatever the discussion leader's personal agenda was. I got B+ the first 2 trimesters because I refused to play this game and got comments such as "very well-written, excellent use of sources, but your thesis is weak". The last trimester I gave in and started pulling stuff right out of my you-know-where. All of a sudden, I started getting A's even though the papers were nowhere near the quality of the ones I had written earlier in the year.
This is what I learned for my then $25,000 a year tuition: why spend the time reading a complex piece of literature and writing a thoughtful paper about it for a B+ when you can buy the Cliff Notes and write total B.S. for an A?
The real shame is that this experience turned me off of humanities completely for the rest of my college career in favor of science courses, which I found to be much more objective. I certainly learned a lot in those classes but what might have I gained from a more well-rounded course of study? 25 years from now, much of the science I studied will likely be outdated but the great literary classics will endure.
When I look at the 12 page list of literary classics for study in grades 10-12 in the Appendix of the Paideia Program, I am reminded of my college "Great Works" experience. Rather than blasting through a long list of Great Books in a very superficial manner, would it not be better to take an in-depth critical examination of a much smaller list of texts? As Andrew Campbell of the Latin-Centered Curriculum would say, "multum non multa"?
Simon's Rock offers one of the largest and well-respected early college programs in the U.S. begun in the 1960's by the then-headmistress of Concord Academy. She noted that for many bright students, the last 2 years of high school and the first 2 years of college are highly repetitious (I definitely agree with that assessment!) Students typically enter Simon's Rock after completing 10th or 11th grade. After the initial 2 years, they earn an Associate's degree and may transfer to another university. Others choose to stay at Simon's Rock for another 2 years to earn a Bachelor's degree.
In Jefferson's Children Dr. Botstein proposes a radical rethinking of primary & secondary education in America. He advocates compressing the normal 13 years into 11 years to complete at age 16. Students would then go on to university, community college, technical/vocational training, the military, or national service. It's a provocative proposal, but almost a decade after the publication of Jefferson's Children, the call to end secondary schooling at 10th grade has been echoed in the report of the "New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce".
The NCSAW report calls for students to take an exit exam at age 16 establishing basic competence in core subjects. Passing the exam would allow the student to enroll in community college. After completion of the 2 year Associate's degree program, the student would be eligible to sit for a second exam. A passing score would allow him/her to transfer in to a 4 year university program as a junior.
Students with the highest scores on the 10th grade exit exam would be eligible to stay in high school for 11th and 12th grades to prepare for an International Baccalaureate-type exam. After successful completion of this specialized high school program and passing the IB-type exam, the bright student would go on to a selective 4 year university.
Both the NCSAW proposal and Dr. Botstein's are intriguing, but I question the central belief that the typical student is ready to begin college at age 16. Academically, it is clear that a large percentage of students are ready for college-level work at 16. AP and IB courses are now routine for bright students and the top schools are now offering "post-AP" courses. Probably the top 1/3 or so of students could academically handle a compression from 13 to 11 years with no problem. However, being academically ready for college-level work and being socially and emotionally mature enough for the freedoms of college are very different things. An 18 year old is a lot more responsible and better able to appreciate the potential consequences of his/her actions than a 16 year old.
The current students in early college programs such as Simon's Rock are a self-selected group and likely more mature than is typical for their chronological age. This, along with Dr. Botstein's personal history, make me wonder whether he holds an overly rosy view of the average 16 year old.
Leaving aside the top students, we come to the question about whether the remaining 2/3 of students have the intellectual capabilities to handle the suggested compression of primary & secondary schooling. I agree that current expectations are too low for many students and they are capable of far more demanding curriculum than today's schools provide them. Too many wind up needing remedial classes upon enrollment in college for things they ought to have mastered in high school. That's shameful! Certainly we ought to have high expectations for all our students and not reserve a challenging curriculum for just the best & brightest.
However, it is a fact that there is a range of intellectual abilities among our young people. God gives each of us individual strengths and weaknesses and the best we can strive for is to maximize our own potential. We have no qualms acknowledging the differences in athletic, artistic, or musical talent. Motivation, training, and support will certainly improve an individual's performance, but it's not going to turn us all into a Tiger Woods, Yo-Yo Ma, or Picasso. No amount of training or personal discipline is going to enable me to run a 2:22 marathon like Joan Benoit Samuelson as I simply don't have the genetic potential. That's not to suggest that I shouldn't aim to become the best runner that I can personally be since that's a worthy goal. There is no shame in being realistic about my goals and setting one that is challenging but within my capabilities.
Current American high schools *do* need serious revamping to better take advantage of every child's potential. I'm just not convinced that universal early college is the solution.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Props go out to Manny, Big Papi, and Alex Cora for their homers, Coco Crisp for his triple, and Papelbon for his 8th save in 8 chances!
Let's hope the Sox can keep the momentum up as they head into the summer!
Friday, April 27, 2007
What is even more disturbing that entertainers (and I use the term loosely!) bashing Christianity is when respected academics do it. Let's leave aside such demagogues as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, whose writings have more in common with Ann Coulter & Michael Moore-style trash talk than serious scholarship.
This morning, I read about a speech given by Dr. Donald Kennedy, former president of Stanford and current editor in chief of the journal Science. In it, he goes beyond a reasonable scientific critique of literal Biblical Creationism (something many scientists who are Christian such as Dr. Francis Collins would agree with) to bashing Christians for "deadening curiosity" and "lacking the ability to critically think". Faith and Reason are complementary ways of understanding, not set in opposition to each other as too many anti-Christian intellectuals claim.
No human knows the origins of Life and Darwinian evolution is just a theory NOT a fact. Too often secular textbooks, science museum exhibits, and the like present Darwinian evolution as if it were a fact instead of a highly controversial theory held by some (but not all!) scientists. The Darwinian proponents have not yet adequately explained many of the criticisms of the theory put forth by scientists who believe in Intelligent Design. By insisting that schools ignore the controversy, who is "deadening curiosity?" Is it not conducive to "critically thinking" by teaching ALL of the various theories from Darwinism to theistic evolution to Intelligent Design to a literal reading of Genesis?
Natalie Angier, the Pulitzer-Prize winning science journalist for The New York Times wrote an arrogant and insulting diatribe against religion in general and Christianity in particular that included the lines: "I can't f****** believe that I have to write about [Intelligent Design]" and
"The higher one goes on the cerebral hierarchy, the greater the percentage of atheists and agnostics." Basically the entire premise of her article is to denigrate the intelligence of religious believers and to mock beliefs such as the Resurrection, the Virgin Birth, Heaven, angels, Transubstantiation, and so on.
A similar tone can be found in Critical Lessons: What Our Schools Should Teach by Dr. Nel Noddings, former dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Education. The premise of the book is that teachers ought to use controversial topics to encourage critical thinking among their students. Interesting idea, but what Dr. Noddings promotes in the book is teaching skepticism towards beliefs with which she disagrees and indoctrination of impressionable young minds in furtherance of her own agenda. Critical Lessons is full of hostility towards religion in general, Christianity in particular, and most especially traditionalist denominations such as Fundamentalism and Catholicism. The book contains much misleading information about Christian beliefs and Dr. Noddings distorts the historical record when it suits her purpose.
For example, Dr. Noddings notes that there has been much debate among theologians over when exactly the soul enters the growing fetus and it wasn't until the 19th century that Catholic doctrine held that it happened at conception. However, there is NO mention of the Catholic Church's clear and consistent record of opposing abortion dating all the way back to the Didache written in 90 A.D.! The question of ensoulment "was always extrinsic to the Church's fundamental teaching that abortion is a grave evil. The ensoulment (or animation) question never deflected the Church from her contention that abortion is always a grave evil. " Why does Dr. Noddings leave out that very important point from her discussion? I suspect because it undermines her political agenda...
There has been a lot of discussion about whether Christians should remove their children from government schools. I think it's clear that there is a disturbing hostility towards Christianity from what Bill O'Reilly calls the "Secular-Progressives" in this country.
Many atheists will try to defend their intolerance by noting that they are a minority in America and often have to face prejudice. Well, so do Mormons, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha'i, etc. and there is not a serious problem with them engaging in mean-spirited mocking of those who hold different beliefs. Why is it that those groups are able to support those who share in their beliefs without tearing down those with whom they disagree?
In America, we have freedom of religion and freedom of speech enshrined in our Constitution. Atheists are certainly entitled to their own personal beliefs about Christianity, just as I am entitled to mine. However, the Golden Rule is not just a Christian ethic but a universal human one. Atheists should treat those with differing worldviews with the tolerance that they seek for themselves.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Of course, what article on college admissions would be complete without a "scare tactic" quote from an admissions consultant trying to frighten more parents into ponying up $3000+ for his services: "The schools that traditionally have been a little less selective- Claremont, Pitzer, Colgate, Hamilton, Skidmore, Trinity, Middlebury -just went bananas. Colgate is now where Dartmouth was. Dartmouth is now where Amherst was. Amherst is where Brown was. Brown is where Stanford was. Stanford is where Harvard was, and Harvard is taking 9%. Things like that are crazy."
The article did include some shocking statistics to show how much more selective admissions have gotten in the past decade:
Northeastern: 85% in 1995 vs. 39% in 2007
Pitzer: 65% in 1997 vs. 26% in 2007
B.C.: 39% in 1997 vs. 27% in 2007
Bowdoin: 34% in 1997 vs. 18.5% in 2007
Pomona: 31.6% in 1997 vs. 15.7% in 2007
Middlebury: 29% in 1997 vs. 23% in 2007
UC Berkeley: 27% in 1997 vs. 24% in 2007
Stanford: 15.5% in 1997 vs. 10.3% in 2007
Can I just say that I'm glad to be part of the "baby bust"? I'm not sure that I would've gotten into my alma mater had I applied this year rather than back in the mid-90's!
On the other hand, so what? The main thing I got out of college was the chance to interact with some amazing people, most importantly DH. The actual quality of the education was not all that great. Most of my classes were huge lectures and several of the professors didn't even speak fluent English. It was all very impersonal and the policy of grading on a curve fostered a cut-throat atmosphere and a high prevalence of cheating. I probably would've received a much better education at a small liberal arts college even though the name on the diploma is considered "less prestigious" than my alma mater's.
I'm not sure what the solution is to ending the admissions hysteria, but the first step is for parents and students to refuse to get caught up in it. I hear parents of babies worrying about college admissions, for Pete's sake! This is the type of parental obsession that creates "teacup" children, who wind up having nervous breakdowns in adolescence or early adulthood. Is it any wonder that there is such a high prevalence in affluent suburbs these days of substance abuse, eating disorders, self-mutilation ("cutting"), anxiety disorders, depression, and even attempted suicide?
Hopefully, homeschooling will help protect our kids from getting caught up in the whole unhealthy Type A "overachiever" culture in our area. Of course, we want them to make the most of their God-given talents. However, that doesn't necessarily mean attending an "elite" college about which obnoxious parents boast about at cocktail parties and prominently display a sticker of on their Audi, Lexus, or Beemer. Perhaps they will, but I want it to be for the right reasons and not just because they've bought into the mindset.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Friday, April 20, 2007
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Yes, it's possible that Cho Seung-Hui might still have been able to get his hands on a gun illegally had he been prevented from purchasing one legally. Gun owners have a responsibility to safeguard their weapons from being stolen. Law enforcement ought to act more aggressively against the black market for guns. All these things absolutely should be done. However, they doesn't reduce the need for common sense reform of gun laws to reduce the likelihood of a mentally ill individual will acquire a potentially deadly weapon.
Monday, April 16, 2007
I cannot begin to imagine how terrifying the ordeal must have been for those caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. One minute you're sitting in an engineering lecture and the next thing you know your classmates are being massacred.
What a horrific tragedy :-(
Sunday, April 15, 2007
All the members of Red Sox Nation are glad to see Curt back to top form!
Big Papi and Eric Hinske both were solid on the hitting front and 'Tek had a lucky shot with the bases loaded.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
First and foremost, I love the fact that the Catholic Church can trace itself back directly to Christ and His apostles! All the other Christian denominations were founded by men, but Catholicism was founded by God Himself.
I love the fact that Catholics receive the gift of Christ's actual body and blood in the Holy Eucharist every Mass. None of this "symbolic" or wishy-washy "consubstantiated" communion- it's the Real Presence of Him!
I love how Catholics have holy people who can intercede upon our behalf with God such as Mary, the Saints, and the clergy. There's a lot of misinterpretation of this by non-Catholics, with ignorant people claiming that Catholics "worship Mary/the saints/the Pope/etc." but actually all we are doing is asking them to pray for us to God. It's the same idea as asking a friend to pray to God for us, but a friend who has a special relationship with God!
I love how the Catholic Church is not afraid to stick to its beliefs about what is right and what is wrong even when the tide of popular opinion is against them. No abandoning Biblical morality in the name of "political correctness" like so many of the mainline Protestant denominations have! It's not easy to live according to Catholic doctrine when it goes against so much of modern society, but as Christ says: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many/How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few." (Matthew 7:13-14).
Finally, I love all the tradition and rituals of Catholicism. They are truly "comfort food" for my soul! With the hectic pace of modern life, it's nice to have the unchanging anchor of the Mass, praying the rosary, and so on.
I feel so blessed to have the Catholic Church as a part of my life!
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Catarina Gonzales stated today that they have several promising leads on a facility willing to accept Emilio as a transfer patient. Let's all pray that one can be located!
May God continue to watch over little Emilio and protect him from those who would put aside their oaths to "first, do no harm".
Monday, April 9, 2007
A nationwide search for a hospital willing to accept him as a transfer patient has resulted in refusals by more than 30 hospitals.
Lawyers for the Gonzales family are making a last-ditch appeal to Travis County judge Guy Herman for a restraining order blocking the hospital from removing Emilio from the respirator while they continue working to locate a facility for Emilio.
According to lawyer Joshua Carden, Emilio's death by asphyxiation would be painful: "It's not like he'll just drift quietly off." Texas law prohibits doctors from giving Emilio the type of medications that death row inmates receive to make their executions more humane. Only in Texas would an innocent little boy be forced to endure more suffering than a convicted murderer!
Not that I support capital punishment or feel that Emilio's life matters more than someone else's. The death penalty and euthanasia are both part of the "culture of death" in our society, along with abortion, unjust war, and so on. All human life is sacred from conception through natural death and we should not "play God" in deliberately cutting it short prematurely.
My heart goes out to little Emilio and his mom Catarina. I can't imagine the anguish she must be feeling right now. May God watch over them both!
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Jonathan Papelbon struck out 2 of 3 batters he faced to notch his first save of the year.
Jon Lester allowed only two hits in four shutout innings in his first start with the single A Greenville Drive since undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma. I'm sure all the members of Red Sox Nation are with me in wishing him good luck for his next checkup at the end of the month. We'll be praying that he remains cancer-free!
Just to make the night complete, the Devil Rays beat the Yankees :-)
A new study just released by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (the research branch of the Department of Education) found no improvement in achievement test scores in classrooms using reading and math software products than in classrooms without the new products.
Dr. Jane Healy wrote an eye-opening book called Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds and What to Do About It back in 1999. It is a powerful critique of how computer use is developmentally inappropriate in young children (under the age of 6 or 7) and possibly even harmful to them. Dr. Healy also discusses how computers can be either beneficial or harmful for older children depending on how the computers are used. When used in a creative manner, technology can be a helpful tool to aid learning. When misused, it can dampen creativity, decrease intrinsic motivation and love of learning, and replace valuable "low-tech" learning experiences such as hands-on art or nature exploration.
It seems clear to me that rather than wasting resources on "one size fits all" technology, schools ought to invest money in individualizing instruction for each student so that he/she learns in the way that's best for him/her!
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
And now, back to our regularly scheduled homeschooling blog...
One of the books I read early on when I first began researching homeschooling was The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and her daughter Susan Wise Bauer. TWTM expands upon the ideas of Dorothy Sayers' early 20th century essay "The Lost Tools of Learning". Sayers called for an updated version of the medieval study of the "trivium" (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and the "quadrivium" (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy). Altogether, these form the classical liberal arts curriculum.
While many public schools use dumbed-down "politically correct" textbooks, neo-Classical education introduces children to the Great Books of Western Civilization. "Fuzzy math" and "whole language" are out and teaching algorithms, spelling and grammar rules, and phonics are in. Latin is introduced in the primary grades rather than left for high school (if it's taught at all). World History is taught in chronological order beginning in 1st grade rather than the fluffy "social studies" that's little more than learning about holidays, occupations, and biographies picked more for multiculturalism than actual historical significance.
When talking to certain people about neo-Classical education, I've heard the criticisms that it lacks relevance to today's society, is too ambitious, and is designed for "snob appeal". St. Augustine called Christians to seek out the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. The classics of literature, art, and music have stood the test of time because they meet these criteria. Recall the poetry of Scripture, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, and so on. Look at the works of da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, etc. Listen to Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Wagner, Copeland, and so on. Are these not examples of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful? Should they be shelved in favor of pop culture that will mostly be forgotten a few decades from now?
Neo-Classical education is ambitious because it's designed to challenge children and broaden their minds. It's not easy to read complex literature, learn Latin grammar, or detect a logical fallacy. The benefits to doing so are that they discipline the mind. Cheryl Lowe of Memoria Press has a wonderful quote: "The true purpose of education and all of the subjects we study in school is to develop, shape, and transform the mind and character of the student." You can read the full article here.
As for "snob appeal", I personally find it very sad that what once was considered basic cultural literacy has now been marginalized as a luxury for the elite. All children deserve a rigorous education that includes the Great Books, Latin, Logic, and the other elements of a traditional liberal arts curriculum!
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
The silver lining is that the Sox also lost their opener in 2004 so it's not necessarily a harbinger of things to come :-)
Schilling will always have my gratitude for the legendary "bloody sock" performance that played such a key role in "reversing the Curse".
I think I'm going to read the kids the book 86 Years: The Legend of the Boston Red Sox by Melinda Boroson tonight to help psych me up for tomorrow's game. Go Beckett & the Sox!
Sunday, April 1, 2007
I ended up deciding to put together my own curriculum tailored for DD's abilities and learning style and my own preferred teaching style. Some of my favorite resources for helping to design my own curriculum include:
- Designing Your Own Classical Catholic Curriculum by Laura Berquist.
- Top 100 Picks for Homeschool Curriculum by Cathy Duffy.
- The Mater Amabilis website.
- The Ambleside Online website (nondenominational Christian)
- The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer (secular)
- How to Create Your Own Low-Cost/No-Cost Curriculum for Your Homeschool Child by Borg Hendrickson (secular).
- Home Learning Year by Year by Rebecca Rupp (secular).
- The Baltimore Curriculum Project website (secular).
I also looked at the California State Board of Education Content Standards to get a sense of what learning objectives the public schools set for each grade. However, I do not believe in following a cookie-cutter "one size fits all" scope & sequence decided by some committee of bureaucrats in Sacramento with potentially questionable ideas. One of the great benefits to homeschooling is the freedom from government control over what children learn. Certain parts of the CA standards are a useful reference but it's definitely not something to be constrained by.
Now that I've acquired a bunch of materials, I'm working on putting together lesson plans. Currently, I'm focusing on Language Arts. Today I matched up the worksheets in Language of God Level A from Catholic Heritage Curricula with the corresponding lessons in First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise. The next step is to locate some "living books" from the library to supplement. Things like the Words are Categorical series by Brian Cleary and Ruth Heller's language series.
Language Arts, Math, and Religion should be pretty quick since I've got a "spine" program for each (FLL, Right Start Math, and Faith and Life). Science and History will be harder since I don't have a spine. I looked at several but none had the perfect combination of price, appropriate content, and ideal challenge level. I did find some activity books I liked- The Story of the World Activity Book by Susan Wise Bauer and Janice Van Cleave's Science for Every Kid series. I also picked up The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia and the Usborne Encyclopedia of the Ancient World for reference. I'm going to supplement with "living books" from the library but first I have to figure out exactly which topics within Ancient History and Biology to teach.