Thursday, February 2, 2012

For Our Fellow Homeschoolers -- posted by Mom

One thing we homeschool teachers have learned over the years is that even if we’re no great scholars ourselves, that doesn’t necessarily prevent us from being great teachers. I like to call myself a facilitator rather than a teacher, because it’s more honest, and yet it gets the job done. Since the Lord charges us with educating our own children, I’ve always been secure in knowing he would help, supernaturally, if need be.

As a veteran homeschool mom, I can handle anything in the lower grades (yay me!) but I still need help when my students reach high school. Now that I’ve completed high school several times, I’ve gained more confidence, although I still shrink back at the prospect of teaching higher math or writing. Bill is in charge of higher math, which left me searching for a writing curriculum that would hit the spot. If your homeschool is like ours, you may try different things year to year to find what suits your fancy, or student, at the mo. We’ve especially enjoyed a video series by Andrew Pudewa over the years, and lately we’ve been watching lectures from The Great Courses. Our instructor, Dr. Dorsey Armstrong, is an Associate Professor of English and Medieval Literature at Purdue University. The name of the course is Analysis and Critique: How to Engage and Write about Anything.

The Teaching Company, later known as The Great Courses, was founded in 1990 and uses professional recruiters to identify the top 1% of professors in the country based on teaching awards, published evaluations, newspaper write-ups, etc. They have an audition process and a jolly big to-do in choosing their professors. These professors are chosen from the Ivy League, Stanford, Georgetown, and other leading colleges and universities.

I often use The Great Courses; we own dozens of them, but I’m reluctant to promote them to homeschoolers since it’s obviously a secular company, and you have to be very careful with the dastardly worldview of those dastardly Ivy League Collectivist Factories. Although, by the time my children reach high school, they are sufficiently brainwashed—squeaky clean—and they can usually spot the telltale signs themselves. When it was mentioned that Dr. Armstrong had credentials in some kind of medieval women writer thus-and-such, and then when she had us examine the short story The Yellow Wallpaper, which is a piece of feminist literature, some of the kids looked over and gave me the all-knowing nod and raised eyebrow. And although we probably part ways on certain issues (and I wouldn’t want them to watch this course without me present) we love Dr. Armstrong, and we’ve learned a lot.

Except for a handful, most of the courses are college level, but since we don’t have testing (sans the pressure), and we watch them at our leisure, it works for us. My goal has always been for them to be lifelong learners, and the fact that they will pop in a lecture for fun suggests I’m having some success.

The children’s preferred professor far and away is Dr. J. Rufus Fears. In fact, meeting him is on their bucket list! I think we own all of his courses. He is a fantastic storyteller and we can’t get enough of him. We are currently watching his course on Winston Churchill, and Will comes in from work thoroughly annoyed if we’ve watched it without him. I’ve tried to explain that we can’t do school around his work schedule, especially since he is currently working three jobs.

Dr. Fears is a perfect example of how important parenting is during the formative years. Dr. Fears admires Abraham Lincoln as a statesman and a man of integrity, as most of us have, but based on our study and values, we hold a very different view. (See The Real Lincoln) Nevertheless, Dr. Fears, affectionately known as “Rufie” around here (but we’re sworn to never slip up and call him that to his face), is a favorite lecturer, like a beloved uncle of academia.

Fortunately for Will, we have saved watching The Everyday Guide to Spirits and Cocktails: Tastes and Traditions with him since he is one of only four in the house of legal drinking age. Nice of us, huh? Our professor is Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, and she has really packed in the information in this short eight-lecture course. It’s not a mixology course, although in each lecture we are shown by a bartender how to make a few classic cocktails for each individual spirit. I wish I had found this earlier, it would have made a great Christmas present, along with her course The Everyday Guide to Wine. If you click the links to each of those courses, you can see a preview of each one.

I should mention that apart from The Everyday Guide to Spirits and Cocktails: Tastes and Traditions, I never pay full price for the courses, as everything goes on sale at least once a year. I normally buy the courses for at least 70% off! I only bought the spirits teaching at full price because it was about 30 bucks. I usually watch their sales and pick up courses when I can. Again, beware of subject matter that usually has an all-out assault on matters of faith. I don’t buy any science courses, or anything that typically has a post-Christian worldview.

When it comes to certain subject matter, I am extremely controlling like a good parent should be. But it’s not like they are sheltered from knowing what the world teaches. For example, I encourage them to read Darwin, and we simply let the scriptures make a fool of him along the way. I could never delegate the education of my impressionable children to anyone else, even a trusted friend, much less a stranger.

Although Sarah Grace is finished with her formal schooling, she’s making her way through The Great Books of the Western World. The other night I walked past her room and she was in bed reading aloud to Richard (9). They were all clean and cuddled up in crisp bedclothes with the warm lighting of her bedside lamp-- a rather inviting scene. It was a toasty picture of an older sister taking time to read, perhaps, one of our favorite classics to her youngest brother. “Maybe Winnie-the-Pooh or Wind in the Willows,” I thought snugly. Imagine my surprise when they reported they were reading The Communist Manifesto! And they were enjoying it! Sarah would stop to explain words like “proletariat,” and Richard would say, “I know, the working class.” (This, coming from a boy who still calls his splinters blisters!) So, with all grades going on at the same time, in this one-room schoolhouse of ours, they pick up certain things because they are present for discussions or lectures, and consequently I rarely know what grade my kids are really in… except for math, we don’t get ahead of ourselves there obviously.

Speaking of math, we are watching an awesome course from The Great Courses called, Secrets of Mental Math. Oh please check out the preview! I can’t believe how easy it is to do certain calculations that I could only do on paper before-- like multiplying three digit numbers by three digit numbers. Oh how I wish I had seen this course when I was still in school! It would have saved me YEARS of frustration and embarrassment. The younger children could only handle it for the first three lectures because he then started teaching how to do multi-digit division in your head, and it was beyond them, since they aren’t able to do it on paper yet. We’ll pick it back up for them later. The older kids are still going at it, though. It is just fascinating to have your eyes opened, and what seemed so hard, is now so easy!

Honestly, I’m hopeful I might gain from this writing course we’re taking. I’ve wanted to be able to write since I got the new birth, now that I finally have something worthwhile to say! Sometimes I wonder if I’m too old to learn, though. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not fishing for sympathy or feigning inanity for encouragement. I just know I make the same errors repeatedly. When you carry the titles of Little Miss Run-on Sentence, or Queen Non Sequitur, it doesn’t take long to realize it just isn’t sinking in. Truth is, I love run-on sentences. Unfortunately, so do some of my children. Some of us speak in beautifully exuberant run-on sentences! Who knows, the Lord may just want to continue to use me as a fab-a-lous speaker. We’ll see.

For somebody who can’t write, I just spent ages pecking this out for what reason I can't even remember. And now I have to cook supper. Ha.

P.S. I meant to praise The Great Courses customer service, specifically, Evelyn Mayfield, in customer relations. In this age of non-customer service, Ms. Mayfield was incredibly accommodating when I placed my most recent order. After I had clicked "place order," I continued to browse around the site and noticed the Churchill teaching by Rufus Fears was on sale. Since I had a coupon code, I decided to also order it. For some reason, the coupon worked on the order page, but didn't show up on the final transaction page. Although the coupon was only for 5 bucks, I was annoyed, because I wasn't even planning on ordering it except for the coupon. Normally I don't do such a thing (having a husband unemployed for seven months will make you do strange things!), but I emailed customer service asking if they could apply the coupon after all. Ms. Mayfield was incredibly gracious during the subsequent emails and applied the coupon for me after getting the necessary information. It blessed my heart that this busy woman took so much time to accommodate me and my 5 dollars! And if she ripped her hair out, I never knew it!

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