August 26, 2008

Classical Curriculum

As we approach the start of our school year, once again, I am changing our courses at the last moment. I start planning our year in the spring time and then revise and revise over the summer. Usually, it all will come down to the week before school begins before I actually have everything in place and ready to go. Most of the time, the culprit is money, or lack thereof. High school level texts are downright expensive, and even purchasing them used, can hit our wallet rather hard. This year, we will again choose to follow the "penny pincher" path to home schooling. No matter how hard I try, I seem to end up looking at the cost of books and find myself saying "why?" Why spend $100 on a science text when a practically good text sits on the shelf? Why purchase a math book when we can study the same material online for free?

I am frugal to the core and simply hate to spend money needlessly. The Lord knows that I am this way and He graciously provides the books I need each year. Most end up coming right off my bookshelves. A few will be picked up used or through our local Half Price book store. I don't mind really, and neither does my son. We actually like having a personal library in our home.

So to the point of this post...

After prayerfully considering our options for Year 10 (including World History and US History), the Lord has suggested a more practical approach: reading through a Great Books list. I have mulled the idea over before, but never thought my son was up to the challenge. He just didn't seem to have the "stick-to-it-tive-ness" necessary to read through a list like that. However, in the last year, he has really matured and developed quite a solid mindset, a good worldview, and a stalwart attitude about history. I am very pleased with his development and think he has what it takes to read through a Great Books list.

We only have 3 years of schooling left so I am going to ask him to read three periods instead of four. At first, I considered using Veritas' Omnibus I and IV and just combining the books into a one year course. But after looking through them, I realized that we had already read some of the suggested books. I also was struggling with how to organize such a day and how to make this approach as simple as possible for me. I am rather organizationally challenged these days. The more I attempt to get my self together, the more I seem to fall apart.

Today, while I was struggling over the books and how to schedule them out, the Lord suggested I look over another Great Books list. I had printed the Great Books reading list off of the Well-Trained Mind website a number of years ago. I had tucked it away in my school binder, thinking we might use it some day. Well, today was the day and I pulled it out and read through it again. Presto! Click! It all made such sense to me.

My plan is relatively simple. My son will read through the list for the next three years. He will keep a history notebook, divided into 3 sections (Context, Book Notes, and Compositions). He will use the Mortimer Adler reading method (suggested the book, How to Read a Book,) for taking notes and will read through the list at his own pace. If he wants to read fast, he can. If he needs to read slow, he can do that as well. It will be his job to finish this list before he graduates. No pressure. No timetable. No schedule. Just him reading 2-3 hours each day and completing the requisite math and science courses we choose.

I am so relieved. It seems daunting, I know, but I happen to have an exceptionally gifted student on my hands. I have tried Classical education, traditional textbooks and Charlotte Mason's methods and none have really worked for him. He consumes books and texts and can read books, difficult books, in less time than I can take to schedule them out. He has worn me out and I have run out of ideas on how to keep his mind active and engaged.

I told him today about our plans. He was pretty non-challant about it. He is that way because he would much prefer to not do any school and just spend hours programming the computer or creating mods for his computer games. This summer he has spent 7-9 hours a day programming and I decided enough! I am giving him so much work to do that he will not have time to do much of anything else. I know, it sounds brutal. It probably is, but I know my child best, and he works best when he is under the gun and has a boat load of work to do.

Case in point - his piano teacher assigned him the following tasks for the month of August. He returns to lessons next week and all of this has to be completed:


  • Memorize the 1st movement of Chopin's Sonata
  • Learn two Czerny pieces, #5 and 6
  • Relearn the piano portion of Vivaldi's Concerto for 2 violins
  • Arrange for 2 more violins
  • Write original composition for Chamber (piano, guitar, and 4 violins)
The funny thing is that this didn't even phase him. I just asked him how he is doing and he said he is finished and ready for next week's lesson. UGH!

Here is our reading list and instructions on how to keep a History notebook. I have also simplified our graduation requirements and boiled them down to a list of things to be accomplished by the end of Year 12. I am going to ask my son to complete the list and when he is done, he can be graduated from high school. I know...weird, huh? I guess it is self-schooling at it's best. I have stressed and labored over how to school my son and how to meet state standards, college admission requirements, and make sure we cover everything -- to the point where I am sick and tired of the entire thing. I just don't care that much anymore. Sure I care about my son's education and sure I care about what he is learning -- but I don't care about all the details, the hoops, and the levels we "must" complete. I care more about what he thinks and feels, than how many credit hours he has completed.

Afterall, this is why we chose to home school him in the first place. We placed a far greater amount of interest in what he was learning, than in how he was to do it. Somewhere along the line, I lost sight of our reasons for home schooling and got myself all twisted up with the details and stages of learning. I lost my love for learning and I think drilled some of that right out of my son as well. So...no time like the present. Time to learn, time to enjoy, time to live life again.

Update: September 1, 2008 I just finished typing up our revised school schedule. I have posted our weekly reading assignments to my website here. Feel free to click through and check out how we hope to do school this year.

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