Educational Philosophy, Mother's Education

Beyond the Grind: 5 Ways to Revitalize Your Classical Homeschool

November 9, 2015 by Ravi Scott Jain
[dropcap]F[/dropcap]irst I would like to thank both Brandy Vencel and all of you in the Afterthoughts and Charlotte Mason community who have recently engaged with our book, The Liberal Arts Tradition. I have learned a great deal from your discussion and gleaned new ideas from you as I have listened in. I have also grown in respect for the philosophy of Miss Mason and am now eager to begin reading in her corpus of books. Thank you for letting me participate vicariously in your community through this blog.

5 Ways to Revitalize Your Classical Homeschool 2

A few weeks back Brandy asked me if I would like to offer five pieces of advice for Afterthoughts readers before she wound up the series. Of course, I am pleased and honored to do so. Here they are:

 

Cultivate Piety and Poetic Knowledge

Parents often feel an indiscernible pull to make education ‘objective’, neutral, or secular. Nothing could be further from what we ought to do. Education is fundamentally about shaping the students’ loves — first towards Christ, then towards family and church, and finally towards neighbor. How then can embodied knowledge and the cultivation of affections through stories and the arts all lead to the proper ordering of loves? Play and wonder are the fuel for education and none of these themes should be abandoned, even in the later years.

 

Puzzle, Proof, and Play in Mathematics

Math even in the early years does not need to be merely imitation and drill. Drawing the student through a series of puzzles that culminates in understanding is the key pedagogy. Allowing an interplay between the discrete number of arithmetic and the continuity of geometric shapes can motivate puzzles. That means parents should introduce their students to figurate numbers like triangular numbers and pyrimidal numbers. These can be compared and contrasted to geometric shapes. Algebra then becomes naming quantities and relationships with abstract variables that they have already met before through puzzle and play. Proofs in the early years are simple visual matters similar to the constructions of Euclid. If none of the math feels like play, then perhaps the teacher or parent ought to keep looking for the right way into the topic at hand.

 

Manners Matter

Besides his tireless efforts to abolish slavery, William Wilberforce was also interested in the “Reformation of Manners” in English society. While the word ‘manners’ meant more at that time than it does now, the phrase still captures the need of the day. As C.S. Lewis noted in The Abolition of Man, “I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite skeptical about ethics, but bred to believe that ‘a gentleman does not cheat’, than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers.” One cannot do any good moral philosophy if one is a dissolute person. All later education depends upon the early moral formation and habits of the child.

 

Study Natural Science along the Narrative of Discovery

It is very difficult to do modern science without using a textbook at some point. But a textbook is not enough to develop wisdom. Students should read Nancy Pearcey’s book The Soul of Science to appreciate the interaction between science and Christianity. Students should also find good histories of science to accompany their classes. Books like The Mystery of the Periodic Table, Creations of Fire, or The Birth of a New Physics ought to be read alongside of textbook presentations of the material. Nature study or Natural History should never be given up, but should be a companion path alongside natural science (or a handmaiden as Brandy so aptly phrased it). A great resource for recapitulating the most beautiful experiments of all time is the web site Following the Path of Discovery.  Other resources for teaching natural science can be found at Recovering Nature.

 

Contemplate the Big Picture

A pervasive malady of modern education is an overemphasis on analysis. Disciplines tend to break reality into smaller and smaller bits which then imply that real knowledge is always a parts-to-whole knowledge. Students also need to see reality holistically. They need to see the big picture — God, creation, and humanity. They need to instinctively distinguish between nature and what is made by human artifice and then treat these differently. They need time to contemplate what it means to be made in the image of God and whether or not God rules the universe through deterministic mathematical law or through covenantal regularities. They ought to interact with scholars like John Lennox and Alister McGrath who are thinking holistically about natural science and God. They ought to read the work of men like John D. Mueller, who explore questions of morality and economics.

The particular studies should be united into the bigger realms of moral and natural philosophy, metaphysics and theology. Without these recurring conversations about the big picture, the specialized knowledge expected in the high school and college years degenerates into a meaningless disconnected jumble. Students need to contemplate the big picture even in the natural and moral scientific discourses. And they need to do all this under the auspices of a robust, historically informed, orthodox Christian theology. While this is quite a task, it is more of a trajectory than a terminus. Consider these to be the starting points for life-long conversations and an introduction to the big questions that inform the big picture.

 

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9 Comments

  • Reply SS #02: What's Love Got to Do with It? | Scholé Sisters February 12, 2016 at 1:02 am

    […] 5 Ways to Revitalize Your Classical Homeschool by Ravi Jain […]

  • Reply Confluence: Recovering Nature November 16, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    Articles by Ravi Scott Jain

    SCL Journal Articles (full issues linked here http

  • Reply Carol November 10, 2015 at 7:32 pm

    Thanks for these five pieces of advice & the links. Much appreciated.

  • Reply Heather M November 10, 2015 at 6:33 am

    This is so rich and helpful. I’ve been pondering your words since yesterday.

  • Reply Kate November 9, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    Thank you for this, Ravi. Do you have any resources you recommend for this approach to math, especially in the elementary years? There are a couple homeschool curricula that offer playful, puzzle-y work (such as MEP and Beast Academy), but neither give much emphasis to figurate numbers. I’ve looked a bit at De Arithmetica (as you recommend in The Liberal Arts Tradition) but perhaps there’s something a bit more accessible out there? Or a particular resource that the elementary teachers love at the Geneva School? 🙂

    • Reply Ravi Scott Jain November 11, 2015 at 12:39 pm

      Kate,

      I have been continually impressed with the quality of thought and materials used in this Charlotte Mason community. A quick browse of these curricula which I did not know, MEP and The Art of Problem Solving (Beast Academy), has intrigued me, and I will look further into them. Unfortunately, I know of no silver bullet for implementing a pedagogy of puzzle, proof, and play. Part of the problem is that the curricular goals must also be modified. We are just now beginning an intramural math curriculum project with these ideas at the center because we have identified the need. Geneva currently uses Math in Focus (the U.S. Version of Singapore Math) and elementary teachers often employ manipulatives such as base-10 blocks. But these are starting points not final destinations. You may find the mathematical puzzles of Martin Gardner compiled from his old Scientific American columns helpful, and there are other math puzzles at http://www.puzzles.com to assist as you begin your journey. A google-image search for “figurate numbers”, “polygonal numbers”, or “visual proofs” uncovers lots of fun stuff. Geneva is exploring a book called Transitions to Algebra for 7th grade. But there is no perfect curriculum that I know of right now. As our math project progresses we will be updating a section of the RecoveringNature.org website named Quadrivium Novum with resources such as these. So stay tuned, and maybe I can be of more particular help in a few months.

      • Reply Hillary November 12, 2015 at 4:16 pm

        “That means parents should introduce their students to figurate numbers like triangular numbers and pyrimidal numbers. These can be compared and contrasted to geometric shapes.”

        I read this post, and noticed that line particularly, after just having read Mannis Charosh’s picture book Number Ideas Through Pictures. It gives a great introduction to triangular numbers through, yes, puzzles and pictures.

        I have used many of the math readers suggested on the Living Math website, and that’s where I found this one. It’s part of the Young Math series (we liked their Base Five book) & was published in 1974 by the Thomas Crowell Co. in New York.

        The series list of the Young Math books includes a variety of topics, and I found a little more about them here: http://www.valerieslivinglibrary.com/math.htm .

        • Reply Claire November 12, 2015 at 10:29 pm

          oh, dear, more wonderful out of print books to collect…

      • Reply Kate November 12, 2015 at 5:56 pm

        Ravi,

        Thanks for your reply. (And for the link to the puzzles site–it looks like a ton of fun!) As I’ve pondered this a bit more today, I remembered that Beast Academy actually includes quite a few geometric puzzles. In fact, there’s an entire chapter on square numbers in third-grade that might be an interesting jumping-off place for you. I’ve also written quite a bit about Beast at my website if you want to learn more.

        I look forward to following Geneva’s math curriculum project, too. There’s a definite need for a classical elementary program that not only provides a rigorous foundation but also fosters wonder and delight. I’m working on this for young kids–my preschool math book will be published by Peace Hill later this winter–but there’s a lot more to do! 🙂

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