2-Our Journey Through the Philosophies of Education

God has changed my desires regarding homeschooling. I went from cold and unexcited to happy and passionate about the plethora of curriculum choices available to homeschoolers. He used a several-month research journey (which still continues) to mold my personal philosophy of education. At this point in my journey, I am in danger of becoming a “curriculum junkie.” There are so many good choices! How’s a girl to commit to just one?

I did not realize until I began this journey how many different philosophies of education there are, as well as the many differing approaches to applying those specific philosophies. So before naively attending a large homeschool convention with your attractive credit card, it might be best to arm yourself with a basic knowledge of the major philosophies of education, and beyond that, to decide what your personal “pick” is of the different philosophies of education.

Here are some of the major philosophies that I came across.

1.    Traditional
If you grew up learning in a classroom in a graded school, you are familiar with this approach, otherwise called the “Scope and Sequence Method.” You will use textbooks and consumable workbooks for instruction in each subject area, books which are written for graded schools to use, although certain companies also cater to homeschoolers. Using these, your homeschool will work and look generally like a regular school. Companies take a general encyclopedia of information that every child must learn and break it down into efficient increments of 12 grade levels and 180 or so lessons each year. There are usually teacher’s manuals and answer keys, with some instruction only appearing in the teacher’s manuals, whereas the student book will have practice exercises for the information taught.

This educational method is comforting, first of all, because most of us grew up learning under this method, and so we are familiar with it. Secondly, the traditional method is comforting because you know as a parent that if you just buy the complete grade level package for your child that everything that needs to be taught will be covered; and in some cases, they will give you an exact script for how to teach it—what to say, what and how much to review every day, even sometimes what schedule to follow. It can be easier for a child to learn independently with traditional curricula, however traditional choices also can take more time for the parent to present because of the presentations and reviews they use to teach an entire classroom. Many homeschoolers start with this method but then experiment with other approaches as they gain experience.

A critique of this method is that they “recreate school at home,” “squeezing every child into the same mold,” meaning they don’t take advantage of the opportunities presented in one-on-one tutoring; instead they try to make their homeschool look like a real school.

Examples: A Beka Book, BJU Press, Modern Curriculum Press, Alpha Omega Publications, Rod and Staff, Christian Liberty, Seaton, Calvert.

2.    Charlotte Mason
An educator around the turn of the century, Charlotte Mason’s philosophy is difficult to describe or understand at first, except for what seems to be some random phrases. The more you read about her refreshing philosophy though, the more it makes sense. She advocated…
a.    Disciplining children in habits of good character, like concentration, truthfulness, self-control, attentiveness, and unselfishness.
b.    No “twaddle,” or wasting a child’s time and energy on traditional textbooks that are boringly written in a dry, “reading-made-easy little history book.” She wanted children to develop a love for learning, and one way to stimulate that and help them retain knowledge was through “living books,” or books that were written about a specific subject by an author passionate about presenting the material in such a way as to present a vivid picture of the information in the child’s mind.
c.    Nature walks and journaling and outdoor learning. These were very important as a basis for natural scientific understanding, and a child should have many hours daily for “exercise and investigation.”
d.    Instead of tests and workbooks, children should orally narrate the material learned back to the teacher, in order to assess their understanding.
e.    Developing the imagination and connecting topics studied to retain knowledge. She used a lot of hands-on learning in the younger grades.
f.    A study of the fine arts.

I am still reading to understand her philosophy. I hope to write more about Charlotte Mason resources in the future to cement my own understanding of this philosophy of education. For now though, I can direct you to Simply Charlotte Mason and Ambleside Online for more information.

3.    Classical
This one will take a separate article of itself! Very succinctly, this is a resurgence of a model of learning that was used in the Middle Ages and even in the Greek and Roman civilizations. Here are key terms in classical education: Trivium (subjects and stages of learning—grammar, dialectic or logic, and rhetoric), Great Books, logic, Socratic discussions, and ancient languages—Greek and Latin.

I highly recommend The Well-Trained Mind for anyone, classical or not, and Teaching the Trivium for understanding how to implement this philosophy of education.

4.    Unschooling
This sounds like what it is. A not-so-bad-sounding version is the “relaxed” home school, which allows the children a lot of say in curriculum choices, topics to study, and schedule. Parents provide an example of interest in learning, include their children in their own experiences, provide them with lots of handy educational resources and take them on field trips, and are available to help answer questions and help the children learn about their interests.

Harvey Bluedorn, author of Teaching the Trivium, critiques this philosophy, “The primary tenet of the advocates of unschooling is that the child be left to determine his own direction. The whole tenor of the Scriptures disagrees with such a notion.”

5.    Unit Studies
This also was hard for me to get my head around exactly what it is, but basically one studies all subjects through a unifying theme. It is fairly easy to find curricula that organize most subjects around history. Other examples are KONOS curriculum, which organizes learning around character traits. The Bible lesson will be a Bible story that teaches about a specific character trait, science will be somehow related, plus music, crafts, music history, creative writing, and rarely math. Five in a Row is a sweet preschool to elementary program that creates unit studies around children’s literature. For example, you will read Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel to your child for five days in a row, each day using the story as a jumping board from which to study a different subject—art, science, social studies, math, and language arts.

6.    Eclectic
Many homeschoolers are a mix of one to four of the above. That’s where I am. Charlotte Mason and classical education philosophies have won me in a lot of areas, but I also use some traditional curricula. I like unit studies centered around history and also am attracted to Five in a Row or unit studies around letters for preschool and kindergarten.

This is what I am in homeschooling--the Eclectus Parrot!

This is what I am in homeschooling–the Eclectus Parrot!

Other philosophies are “independent” study, the principle approach, Waldorf, Montessori, and the formal vs. non-formal early academics. There are probably more I don’t know of!

Homeschoolers used to be unified simply by the fact that they were homeschooling. They were marching to the beat of a different drummer, with the help of a few traditional curriculum companies who would sell to them, and were lone rangers in a world of go-to-schoolers. But the landscape has changed incredibly. There are so many companies out there now trying to get in on the booming homeschool market. It’s overwhelming.

I’d like to help separate the “over” from the “whelm” for some homeschooling newbies, if I could offer some humble suggestions based on my own journey. I highly recommend Cathy Duffy’s book 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. (Here’s an e-version 50% off at the Homeschool Buyers Co-op–free to join. Check under “Resources.”) She walks you through the differing philosophies in a short, digestible manner (much better than I!) with a chart to help you place yourself with the philosophy that best fits you. She discusses learning styles of children. Then she makes her top recommendations of homeschooling curriculum for all the different subjects—101 of them. You can read numerous reviews on her website as well to get a feel for what a certain curriculum is like, outside of just her top 101 favorites.

If you’re still hungry, please find a copy of The Well-Trained Mind. You could start there rather than Cathy Duffy if you think you might lean towards classical education. Research the recommendations the author lists for each subject to see which curricula you like.

For actual users’ reviews, two websites have been extremely helpful: The Well-Trained Mind forums and Homeschool Reviews.

After my own research, I made charts to compare and contrast what I perceived to be the strengths and weaknesses of my top choices for each subject. I prayed about them and talked to Seth about them. And then we chose!

Happy hunting, homeschoolers!

3 Responses to 2-Our Journey Through the Philosophies of Education

  1. Carol says:

    Thank you or this great summary, it is very helpful!

  2. Pingback: Charlotte Mason-Style Curriculum on Sale! | Ita Vita

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