On Driving Your Curriculum

posted in: pedagogical | 25

As a homeschool grad myself, my first “real” classroom experience was college. This was interesting, because it meant I was old enough to be aware of what was going on and it was strange enough (to me) that I was curious.

driving-curriculum

As a previously homeschooled college student, I overheard and took part in many conversations about how homeschooling and private schooling stack up, where each fell short of our high 20-something ideals, and why one might choose one or the other. These conversations plus the new experience of listening to lectures and taking tests led me to pay attention to how teachers teach a classroom. “What is classroom teaching and learning?” I wanted to know.

One thing I definitely noticed in every single class I took all four years was that no teacher ever taught the entire textbook. I definitely noticed it, because each textbook bit significantly into my funds, and I resented it. Some teachers, in fact, didn’t teach anything from the class text, but either went on their own personal rambles or simply knew the material so well they riffed on the topics they wanted to and we covered the material well enough that way. All teachers (especially literature professors – I was an English major), skipped around the Norton Anthology and mostly taught their favorites that fit in the course description.

From this, I concluded that to be a teacher is to choose what you want to teach from the available resources and make of it what you will. A teacher’s job, I noted, was to have some thesis statement of a course description, and meet that purpose in the way they saw fit. Every teacher had his own style, his own types of tests, his own way of working around a book. Every teacher had his own agenda. Every teacher did what pleased him within the bounds (mostly) of the course description (which I think they wrote) and not within the bounds of the textbook’s table of contents.

Maybe it’s not the same in elementary schools. I don’t know. However, a couple years ago, when I was looking into Veritas Press’ Omnibus program (an overwhelming curriculum if ever there was one!), I read this review by one of the contributing authors:

Good teachers will pick and choose lessons, chapters, texts throughout the Omnibus series. The textbooks are just big piles of suggestions and ideas, and they need to be applied with wisdom to every classroom, every family, and every student.

The material is given to you, the teacher, to pick and choose and apply as fits your situation. Don’t ever feel like you’re doing it wrong if you don’t finish a book in a year.

School teachers don’t, either. Meeting their objectives does not necessarily mean doing every page in the book.

Why can’t we homeschool mothers allow ourselves to the same freedom? Why can we also not use textbooks as a tool to meet the course description we set out to accomplish? Why do we so often feel that our job is to serve up a textbook’s agenda rather than to set our own agenda?

It’s because freedom is scary. It’s not safe. There are no guarantees. But, you know what? The textbook doesn’t come with any, either.

One of the dictionary definitions of freedom is “absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government.” This, I think, is the freedom we need to strive for. Instead, however, we choose to place ourselves in subjection and slavery under despotism. I’m not talking about the state or federal government, but about the rules and suggestions given by the materials we use in our home schools.

You are the mother. You are the teacher. You might not know the subject as well as the author of the material, but you do know your child much better. You are not teaching a generic classroom of averages, but your own house of individuals. Your job isn’t to pull them through the gauntlet laid out by the curriculum, but to determine your curriculum – the path you take – and use the materials as means to get there, always being the one in the driver’s seat.

As we drive our course, we can use cruise control. We can follow the suggestions laid out for us if they seem like they will serve. But if cruise control and autopilot take a turn for the worst and you start off-roading in a little Toyota, you don’t need to keep holding on for dear life hoping for the best. You can slam the breaks, you can choose a different vehicle, you can even start walking. Better to be on the right road going slowly than fly like a speeding bullet off your chosen path. Direction matters more than vehicle and more than speed.

Living and Learning at Home

Choosing a road and finding a car that will take you on it is best. But always remember that you are the driver, not the copilot or passenger or the hostage.

Find more posts like this at *Scholé Sisters.

25 Responses

  1. Dawn
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    This is a magnificent post, Mystie, with an important message that is communicated extremely well. Thank you!

  2. Lisa A
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    Great point, Mystie!

    We have such a wealth of tools at our disposal, but it’s up to us to use them in such a way as to pursue our own goals, and not (necessarily) to follow goals laid out for us by others.

  3. Mama Rachael
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    I chuckle at this. I was a classroom teacher for 5 years — 3 with adult ESL, 2 with middle school science. We NEVER finished one whole book. My hubby is a teacher of record for university philosophy subjects (logic, ethics, etc — working on Phd) and he doesn’t *finish* the book. I don’t think he goes through the book in order, either. I never did. the author of the book has a certain idea of how the subject should be taught, while I might not have that same idea. The author has specific goals in mind (maybe to cover everything possible, that the textbook might be used for multiple grade levels), which might not be my goals. Maybe I want a slightly different feel to my class than what the author would create. Restructure the book to get it.

    Also, I was always *behind* my set out schedule. this happens less often in a university class (though it happens) and is as much a reflection of situation and experience (I was less behind the second time I taught the course…), but is normal.

    • Mystie Winckler
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      Thanks for sharing, Rachael! I think those of us without any teaching experience tend to look at the book we have and assume it’s our job to finish it, page by page, when it’s really just a resource we are free to use however we need to get us where we want to go.

      • Karen @ Simply
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        Mystie, you mentioned the Omnibus….I decided to try the Omnibus VI this year for my 11th grader. When I first received the Omnibus VI text, I was trying to figure out how to accomplish a modern history course using it alone. But it just wasn’t working for what I was wanting to do for a number of different reasons. I found so much more freedom in putting together the course the way *I* thought the course needed to be and then let the Omnibus text be a tool/resource we could use as needed.

        • Mystie Winckler
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          That’s great, Karen! I was happy to see it acknowledged by one of the contributors that that is exactly how it’s *intended* to be used in the first place.

  4. Christy Ellwanger
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    We really should talk more about this issue of following textbooks and more importantly how not to. Charlotte Mason was not a fan of textbooks. Her pursuit was of living books and so the beauty reigns. Thank you for “freeing” us to look beyond the text content and order. I know autopilot can feel freeing but driving to fast on the wrong road is not good for anybody. Peace.

    • Jamie
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      I really struggle with this particular area. It always bothered me that we didn’t finish our books in school and so I have always made my children finish EVERYTHING in every book. Part of it is a slight issue with OCD, but I also think, “I have to get my money’s worth!” I am not familiar with Charlotte Mason (a travesty in classical education I’m sure) so what do you advise would be a good book with which to begin?

      • Mystie Winckler
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        Soon Karen Glass will be coming out with THE book (thorough, researched, *and* not heady or overwhelming) on this topic: Consider This. http://www.karenglass.net.

        If you want some hand-holding for recovering from Type-A or OCD homeschooling, I actually think Sarah’s Teaching from Rest is just the ticket. There’s a discount code on the “By the Sisters” link at the top of this page.

        • Jamie
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          I do have it, Mystie, and am working through it :) I’m glad to hear that it can help me, though.

        • Gidget
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          I really can’t say enough good things about Teaching from a State of Rest! That e-book blessed me so much and is worth every penny.

  5. Tresta
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    Such a good reminder, Mystie. My motto with our homeschooling (and life in general I suppose) is to “start rigid and flex from there”. We have great books and beautiful plans, schedules all neatly laid out, and high ideals to shoot for….and then, we have real life. Thank you for reminding us of our freedom to navigate as the Lord leads. (But oh how I kick myself for all the ‘great curriculum’ I’ve purchased and not even used, because it was just not the right fit for us!)

  6. Heidi
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    I really like this analogy. And it’s definitely a good reminder (as I remember my kids bringing home their workbooks with a lot of the pages not done!) to give ourselves and our children some leeway and not be slaves to the text.

  7. Cathy
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    I really needed this today as I have been licking my wounds after being told off on a homeschooling forum for “doing it wrong”. Your post also applies to “homeschooling experts” and their advice I think. One person’s words wounded, another’s healed. Thank you.

  8. Anastasia
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    “You are the driver, not the copilot or passenger or the hostage”. I love this! I think this is something I forget as a parent in general, not just as a homeschooling teacher. I am always preaching the Act, Don’t React mantra, but when I’m in the trenches, I feel like the hostage a lot. :-) Thanks for making me laugh about it.

  9. Lena
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    I guess where I think some moms struggle is with goals. What if I don’t know what I ought to expect from a first grader? It would be pretty useful to be able to pick up a curriculum and have it set the parameters for me. Where do you go to set the goals for a specific year if you don’t use the curriculum for that? I mean I love the classical ideas and such, but it doesn’t really lay out how much I can consider enough math for a second grader or whether some stuff is appropriate now or later. So we study nature…by time outside? items identified? Where do you go to set the goals of what is best for this season, this age, etc to be able to say enough is enough when the amount to learn seems endless? After all, I am still building!

    • Mystie
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      Yes, we do need to educate ourselves about child development, learning processes, and reasonable goals. The thing is, curriculum does not stand in for us in that regard. There are differing opinions on all the questions you ask, and often you can’t tell from the cover what philosophy the curriculum you have it built on. You have to talk to moms who have gone before you, read basic education books, and always be aware of the child in front of you (who will always be individual and not a statistical average).

      It’s a responsibility to teach, and it’s one we need to bear and grow into ourselves, not one that can be passed off on a curriculum provider.

      Ruth Beechick, Charlotte Mason, Laura Berquist, and Doug Wilson’s Lost Tools of Learning are all good places to start. They don’t all agree, but they are all striving for a similar end. You can jump into the conversation easily with any of them.

  10. […] I’ll be posting next week about some of the changes to our plan I made after a few weeks’ trial run. After all, we, the mothers implementing the plan, are the ones in the driver seat, as I wrote about this week at Scholé Sisters: On Driving Your Curriculum. […]

  11. Gidget
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    Oh, how much I needed this reminder today! Thank you!

  12. Anna Blanchard
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    These suggestions are valid – BUT there are necessary constrictions. What is the end goal? To have well-rounded adults who can think for themselves and make decisions on their own. Along the way they will be faced with tests – in and out of the classroom. Unfortunately, they will also be faced with entrance/exit exams, both in their work lives and in their personal lives. They must have a foundation upon which to base their answers – and it is our job as teachers (by example and otherwise) to cover all of the information they will need. In our “skipping around” we must be careful not to eliminate the necessary!

    • Mystie Winckler
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      Yes, that’s true, Anna. There’s no substitute for mom knowing what she’s doing and why. That is vital, and why our own reading and thinking matters so much.

  13. 5th Grade Weekly Wrap-Up #6
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    […] On Driving Your Curriculum […]

  14. Annie Kate
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    Excellent points. Sometimes, as you say, autopilot works, but other times we need to change everything around. It takes a lot of reading and learning on our part…but we shouldn’t let that overwhelm us either.

  15. ah0302
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    Thanks for the encouragement today! Sometimes I have a hard time swaying from the plan that I set, but I am slowly learning that I can steer the ship and it’s ok if I choose to turn off course a bit =)