In my discussions with many of you on the phone around the country, I have come to see that the struggle of the professional teacher and curriculum is common to a large portion of home schoolers as well. Let's look at the problem, decide why it exists, and develop some defenses against it. We should all be overcomers in life according to Scripture, so why not in the area of curriculum as well?
First, what is the problem? It is the relationship of the teacher to the curriculum. In too many cases the curriculum rules the teacher. This is highly unfortunate. The books and outlines and so forth that a teacher selects should be a tool, not a master. The goal of the educator should be to provide the best possible series of events and information so that maximum probable benefit to the student is achieved.
Of course, the student will somewhat determine what is actually learned, but the point is that we, as teachers, need to give the student the greatest opportunities for learning. We need to structure the education of our charges in such a way as to maximize their potential in the areas in which we think they should grow and learn. This is one of the prime reasons for home schooling or sending a child to some alternative to the state schools.
The problem is that we teachers too often surrender ourselves and our students to the curriculum. We simply accept the book and then try to teach our way through it. We look at the outline and attempt to implement it in its entirety. We are slavish to the point of having the student do all the exercises and all the questions and all the reading and everything else according to the schedule laid out in the book or the curriculum guide. The result is that we often become facilitators instead of teachers. We adopt the book and its methodology and give up some of our freedom and purpose for teaching.
Now let me say that following a book or an outline is not necessarily a bad thing to do. On the other hand, it is not a cardinal sin to deviate from the book or the suggested procedure if your situation warrants it. In the books WORDSMITHS produces, there is a freedom to use them however you see fit. We suggest a methodology or maybe two that have worked for us, but you are the ultimate determiner of how the material will be presented. The books should be able to fit into your system and fill your needs. For instance, even though I always used the five day plan for the vocabulary, others have done equally well with the ten day plan. I covered all three of the Jensen's Grammar series in a year doing it three days per week. Others have elected to cover the three books over a two year period. They take periodic breaks and do the lessons at two per week. Still others just jam through by doing a lesson a day until all books are completed. The point is, whatever works best in your situation is what should be done.
Second, why does the problem of curriculum tyranny exist? I believe there are two reasons: tradition and lack of confidence.
The first reason is simple. That's the way we've always done it. That's the way it was when I went to school. That's the way I remember my teachers doing it. In essence, we simply do what our past experience has shown us to be the acceptable methodology. But, for almost all of us, that way was geared to a traditional school classroom setting. As home schoolers, we have freedoms which are lacking in the traditional setting. Why not use them rather than forfeit them? Just because it has been our experience and the experience of many others doesn't mean that it is right or best or even proper at all times and places.
The second reason is quite natural, especially to newer home schoolers. We wonder at our ability. We are not professionals. Are we keeping up with what others are learning? We don't have the training or the expertise in a given area, or any area at all. The above are all natural thoughts or doubts that come to mind. They are part of the myth that only experts can teach. Even professional teachers trained in college have struggles. Some change as they seek to improve their methods. Some get frustrated and quit. Some just find a comfortable routine and stagnate.
Confidence should come with experience and being able to see accomplishments. Complacency, however, should be avoided. Teaching is both an art and a science. Desire and skill go hand in hand, and skillscan always be improved or honed to a sharper edge.
Third, having defined the problem and determined why it exists, we can come up with some defenses to defeat it. Allow me to suggest four.
1. Each teacher has to have well-defined goals for their students and their school. Once the goals have been established, curriculum can then be adapted to fit those goals. For instance, a history text may be chosen, but certain questions, activities, or exercises may be added, altered, or dropped as you see fit. Perhaps your student will build a replica of a frontier fort whereas another student might give a flip chart presentation or do a book report on Davy Crockett.
2. Each teacher needs to recognize that all commercial materials by definition are produced for a wide audience. Since each home school has its unique students, teachers, and circumstances, no off the shelf curriculum can do anything more than provide a resource or framework that can be adapted to fit the home school situation. As teachers we need to fit that curriculum to our needs and those of our students, not the other way around. Let us recognize the particulars of our individual situations and utilize the materials provided by others to our best advantage.
3. Each one of you who teaches your own children should realize that you know them better than any other teacher and certainly better than the author of a book who has never even met your children. You, therefore, are the best judge of what your children need, how the existing curriculum might best be adapted to their needs, and at what pace, duration, and extent the material will be covered.
4. Finally, each of you parents should realize that God gave you exactly the children He wanted you to have. He did not give your children to the state, the church, or some other entity; He gave them to you to be a part of your family. God knows best in all situations; He does not make mistakes. He knows that of all people in the world, you will be the most interested in what becomes of your children. Have confidence in what God has wrought and trust in Him to do the best job you can. Eph 2:10
Remember, use the curriculum; don't let it use you. It is the tool, and you are wielder of it. Be confident, do your best, and reap the rewards of a job well done.
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