Write These Laws on Your Children

write these laws on your children

Write These Laws on Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling, by Robert Kunzman. Published in 2010. 240 pages.

When I ran across this book on the education shelf of our local library, I checked it out with a hearty bit of skepticism. Anytime a researcher is purporting to give readers a glimpse “inside the world of….[insert here]”, I expect that I am going to read a hit piece. I was pleasantly surprised.

Kunzman, despite his clear bias as a former public high school teacher, took pains to try (emphasis on try) to give homeschooling a fair shake and acknowledge the upsides as well as the potential pitfalls.

After what turned out to be a more arduous search for willing participants than he anticipated, the author spends significant time visiting with and chronicling the techniques, atmosphere, learning, and family environments of five Christian homeschooling families who live in various regions of the country.

The fact that the families who were willing to participate were scattered around the country was useful in the presentation of how the different families, despite their firm adherence to Christian faith, processed the delicate balance of homeschooling and the regulations or lack thereof in their particular states.

Of the five families he visited, only two of them had very large broods. One family, a Vermont pastor and his wife, were the parents of one child, a 12-year-old daughter. I appreciated the variety of family sizes represented rather than focusing on families of six or more since our experience “inside the world of Christian homeschooling” has been more in line with what Kunzman observed. While we certainly have very large families in our community, the vast majority are families of 3-4 children with “big” families such as ours being represented mostly by families of 5-7 children, and a scant few with more than that.

The families which provided the most comprehensive and satisfactory education experience in the author’s assessment included one of the largest families, as well as the family with one child. The other three families ranged in his opinion from adequate to what he considered outright educational neglect. Most of the families were like ours in that they were willing to begin to a la carte school subjects as their children reached the middle school years and beyond. Some of the teenagers were transitioning to community college as dually enrolled students while others would begin using public or private schools for labs and music instruction their parents were not equipped to provide at home.

There were a couple of families for whom this was not an option due to ideological or logistical reasons and unsurprisingly, they were the families whose children Kunzman felt were getting shorter educational shrift. This wasn’t in my opinion based on the information he provided, always  fair assessment.

My biggest problem with Kunzman’s assessment of homeschooling was his dogged and repeated insistence that because the children in the families represented were being raised with a strictly Biblical worldview, that somehow their ability to “think for themselves” was being short-circuited in a way that it wouldn’t be if they attended public schools. He frequently intimated that the public school environment is one where the free flow of competing worldviews and ideologies are offered for children to make up their own minds.

Public schools are every bit as ideologically rigid as devout Christian schools or Christian homeschoolers, and there is mountains of evidence to support the notion that colleges and universities are even worse. Nevertheless a couple of these “rigid patriarchal ideologues” allowed their teenagers to attend community colleges.

That he actually believed that public school are bastions of free thought, despite the parent attempts to argue otherwise to him, was a bit irritating. No one in the education monopoly seems to have a problem with student indoctrination into progressive ideology, which is exactly what happens. Students are probably less free to learn to “think for themselves” than they are in a Christian homeschool family.

In between the chapters where he spent time with the families -on and off over two years- Kunzman visited homeschool conferences and did interviews with officials at HSLDA. One short chapter dedicated to the suggestion that conservative homeschoolers are motivated by race also filled one of those spots, although Kunzman refrained from commenting except to note that three of the families he visited couldn’t have possibly been referring to race when they talked about the “public school environment” since they lived in places that were lily white.

The atmosphere at the homeschool conferences he attended was understandably very pro homeschooling and adversarial to the suggestion of increased accountability to the state to ensure that homeschooled students are getting a proper education.

Aside from his private conversations with the fathers of the researched families, however, there was little in the day to day schooling or curriculums which indicated that a conflation of Christianity and political ideology was a major part of their homeschool motivation. Kunzman found the same when he visited the churches of the families, which was refreshing to me because I have met very few homeschool families where politics is a major part of why they do this, or how they do it.

The book was more fair than I expected, and Kunzman did concede that there are public school turning out kids far less literate than the ones he felt -rightly so- were losing out on a good education. Overall, the book did a good job of asking questions as well as making me think about some things as we continue on our homeschool journey.

Grade: B-

No content advisory necessary.

Note to self…

It is probably not a good idea to try and *do* school full tilt the last two days before you leave for vacation. At least, it’s not reasonable to expect your children to be fully attentive while visions of fun and games dance in their heads.

I’m currently reading Write These Laws on Your Children. The author has taken his kill shot yet, but I’m only 40 pages in. This should make for an interesting review.

Enjoy the rest of your week!

School’s Out For…Spring?

It’s April, and within the next two weeks every supplemental homeschool program we know of (including the two we participate in) will wrap up their activity for the 2016-2017 school year.

Because of that, it takes a lot of mental energy to stay engaged and maintain our educational zeal for another 6 weeks. After all, when you’re attending end-of-the-school-year parties, events, and promotion ceremonies, that means it’s summer. It’s time for summer vacation to begin!

However, in our house, a full summer off from school doesn’t bode well for the fall. It would be especially detrimental this summer because the upcoming fall will find our kids in a program slightly more rigorous than they have experienced to date. We cannot take the summer off.

What we will do this summer is spend time doing activities, experiments, and field trips that will serve as supplements to the subjects we gave less attention to during the regular school year.

Specifically, we spend a lot of time doing science experiments, building things, and doing the attendant research to explain the principles behind why and how these things work.

It is never a good idea to go without math reinforcement for weeks on end so there will be some lightweight math review and reinforcement once or twice a week.

We’ll have a book club, and once I decide which books we will read together, I will review them here.

We’ll be doing field trips, and the girls will be writing summaries of what they learned to give to their father. They always write markedly better when they are writing with him as their primary audience.

In other words, we’ll be doing school in a way that doesn’t feel as much like school.

Fellow homeschoolers: Do you take summers off?

*I am still reading The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt. It tweaks a lot of my mental rabbit trails and it is taking me longer than I anticipated. I hope to have it finished by the end of next week.

Curriculum Review: Student Writing Intensives

 

swiLast year I asked for reviews of the Institute for Excellence in Writing’s program because we were considering using it with our fifth-grader. Because we are friends with several families who are a part of Classical Conversations (we are not), I wasn’t unfamiliar with it. It is the writing program endorsed by CC. However, I couldn’t get a good read on whether or not it would be a good fit for us.

The veteran homeschoolers who read the post were really helpful in helping me to narrow down what would be helpful and what might be expensive and extemporaneous. Not long after, as if it were serendipity, a mother who found the program too overwhelming let me borrow the Teaching Writing Structure and Style dvds. Frankly,  I found those overwhelming as well.

Included in the very back, however, were three samples lessons of the Student Writing Intensives, which the student is supposed to watch, follow along with, and do the writing assignments. I turned on the first lesson for our daughter, and she enjoyed it a great deal.

We briefly considered if it was worth the investment to buy the discs since theoretically, I could teach her everything covered through the program. Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that this is one instance where it would be worth the $149 to buy the program and let Mr. Pudewa teach her the basics of how to write effectively.

It has turned out to be worth the investment. Firstly, she genuinely looks forward to writing and following along with the lessons in a way that she simply didn’t when I was teaching her the principles. Secondly, Andrew Pudewa is more entertaining and engaging than Mom, and his way of breaking down the principles of writing is simply better than what I could have come up with on my own. Lastly, her creative juices are flowing without as much interference from me. She’s a more creative and effective writer.

In a nutshell, I heartily endorse Student writing Intensives, and I agree with the original commenters here that if you’re already a decent writer, you can save yourself $100 and skip the discs on Teaching Writing, Structure and Style.

America’s Real First Thanksgiving

real-first-thanksgiving

America’s Real First Thanksgiving, by Robyn Gioia. Originally published in 2007. 48 pages.

I’m teaching a Florida history class to 4th and 5th graders this year and as Thanksgiving approaches, I thought it might be interesting to introduce the kids to what some historians consider the real first Thanksgiving, which took place on September 8, 1565. It was a feast celebrated between Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez and the Timucuan tribe in St. Augustine.

The significance of the nationally recognized Thanksgiving feast of 1621, led by William Bradford and Massasoit cannot and should not be downplayed, given that the British colonization of the New World laid the foundation for our country. However, no American history curriculum is complete without an exploration of Florida history, and for that reason, I found this book a valuable resource. I highly recommend it.

Grade: B+

It’s our family’s first holiday season without my father. As a result,  I’m reading very lightweight stuff right now, to temper the innate heaviness we all feel. We’re increasing extended family time, prayer, cultivating thanksgiving, and keeping the atmosphere devoid of heaviness. A few funny, fluffy, and even romantic books are in the review queue for the next couple of weeks. Consider yourselves warned.

Charlotte Mason Study Guide

charlotte-mason-study-guide

Charlotte Mason Study Guide: A Simplified Approach to a Living Education, by Penny Gardner. Originally published in 1997.167 pages.

This one will be short and sweet. I picked up this book looking for practical tips for integrating Charlotte Mason’s methods into our homeschool curriculum. Instead, what I got was chapter after chapter of repetitive and poorly organized quotes on different areas of education and child rearing from Charlotte Mason’s writings.

The first 30 or so pages were helpful and inspiring, but after that it seems as if I was going in circles and there was little in the way of practical information, which was my entire purpose in reading the book.

Charlotte Mason’s original works are voluminous and expensive, but I suppose if I want a well rounded and complete outline of how her method looks in practice, I may have to spend the treasure and time required to get my hands on her stuff.

Grade: C-

Honey For a Child’s Heart

honey-child-heart

Honey for a Child’s Heart (3rd edition), by Gladys Hunt.1989. 224 pages.

I am always trying to decide which books we should check out from the library, which books are worth spending the money to add to our personal library, and which books are a good fit for our children’s personalities, reading tastes, and abilities. A random trip to the local library overwhelms with staggering numbers of books on the shelves, purportedly to enrich children’s reading, and more are added every year.

One of the things I discuss quite often with other home school mothers is this very subject, and one of them asked me recently, “Have you ever read Honey for a Child’s Heart?” As it turns out, I had never even heard of the book, but I wasted no time getting my hands on a copy and read it in a much quicker space of time than is typical for me.

However, despite the wonderful thoughts inspired by the book, and there were quite a few, there were also portions I felt were unnecessarily pretentious. I couldn’t stop myself, at the end, from thinking that Anthony Esolen’s  10 Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child was much better executed and matter of fact while equally well written and eloquent.

Honey for a Child’s Heart is different in that it is an explicitly Christian book, with a strong emphasis on bolstering the Christians values that the parents are already imparting to the child.It also focuses primarily on reading while 10 Ways touches on various aspects of developing a child’s natural imaginative bent.

Thankfully, unlike so many Christians today, Mrs. Hunt recognizes the danger and deficit we inflict on children when we take the position that only those things explicitly marked “Christian” are of any value or worth. More than that, this mindset has in recent years resulted in a severe dearth of imaginative, creative writing from Christian writers:

Since words are the way we communicate experiences, truth, and situations, who should know how to use them more creatively than people who are aware of their Creator? The world cries out for imaginative people who can spell out truth in words that communicate meaningfully to people in their human situation. And of all people, committed Christians ought to be the most creative for they are indwelt by the Creator.

Yet tragically, Christians often seem the most inhibited and poverty-stricken in human expression and creativity. Part of this predicament comes from a false concept of what is true and good. The fear of contamination has led people to believe that only what someone else has clearly labeled Christian in safe. Truth is falsely made as narrow as any given sub-culture, not as large as God’s lavish gifts to men. Truth and excellence have a way of springing up all over the world, and our role as parents is to teach our children how to find and enjoy the riches of God and to reject what is mediocre and unworthy of Him.

The thing that I found most valuable in the book was, I assume, the reason my friend recommended it. The entire final 100 pages of the 224 page book is a bibliography of good books for parents to consider reading to their children or adding to their library. Broken out by age groups and topics of interest, Mrs. Hunt concisely listed hundreds of books which she believes meets the standard of both true and good, and most of them are not explicitly labeled Christian, though a  few are.

I also appreciated her emphasis on making time to read for oneself as well as to your children, even at the expense of a perfect house. It was a bit of comfort last night since I spent the better part of all my weekend downtime reading rather than catching up on the laundry. Reading is a lost art of sorts, and it is worth it to make time for reading.

Overall, it was a good book, and I’m sure that I am way behind the curve of the typical Classical homeschoolers in that I just learned of its existence a couple of weeks ago. If for no other reason than the book list  and the embracing of great literature of various genres, it’s worth a look.

Grade: B+

No content advisory required.

Another good place to find s list of “living books” is here on the Living Books List.