Historically Speaking

What’s the point?

I know exactly my aims in terms of grammar stage history. I want to introduce my grammar stage child (currently, FB) to famous people and personalities, and to the stories, myths, and legends of various cultures and time periods. Keeping this purpose firmly in mind helps me when choosing our overall curriculum (Story of the World), as well as when choosing supplemental titles, whether fictional or otherwise. The purpose – the point – is clear.

Similarly, I have a purpose in mind when I contemplate rhetoric stage (high school) history. I want to see evaluation and synthesis. More prosaically, there’s preparation for college level history and historical analysis. Here, again, then, the purpose of history study in these years is made somewhat clear. Using college-level texts and complex writing assignments are two ways to meet those goals, and choosing other materials and resources is made somewhat easier when looking through the prism of the goals of evaluation and synthesis.

Honestly, however, I have trouble finding the same clarity with regards to logic stage (or middle school) history. The Well-Trained Mind talks about exploring cause and effect during the logic stage, and on the surface, this does indeed sound like a fine purpose. In practice, however, this gives little direction for choosing methods or materials. In fact, I think that Susan Wise Bauer realizes this, as the chapter of The Well-Trained Mind that tackles logic stage history provides some of the most elaborate description of the book. In the end, however, when I read that chapter, I too often feel like some of the work prescribed falls under the aegis of busy work; work for work’s sake.

Here, for an example, is a week of history for EG, using The Well-Trained Mind as a guide.

01. Read a double-page spread in History: The Definitive Visual Guide.
02. Re-read the same double-page spread, this time listing important facts found.
03. Mark all dates on time line.
04. Find the region under study on the globe, on the wall map, and in the atlas. Read any relevant commentary in the atlas. [Currently, we don’t have an atlas, but as soon as we do, this will be part of her assignment.]
05. Read any assigned reading and/or biographies.
06. Write a summary for the week on one topic from the double-page spread; use assigned reading or any additional resources for further information.
07. Evaluate a primary source from the time period and culture under study.
08. Create a one point outline.

Something I do not require, which is listed in The Well-Trained Mind, is to make a one to two paragraph biographical summary for any important people encountered in the reading.

That is quite a bit of work, especially if any additional reading is required. I can see where reading about geography may assist in terms of cause and effect, as well as perhaps evaluating a primary source. The summary could be a way to expound upon cause and effect. None of the components, however, seems to be an overall guide to how this should work. None of it seems to be the magic pill that helps explicate cause and effect, or teaches about it, or puts things in context. All of content is still jumbled together. I can perhaps see where each of these individually might lead to an understanding of cause and effect if they were done with me by her side, explaining every step. I feel that she needs independent work, however, and I’m not confident that I would always see the connection. And, well – frankly, I don’t really enjoy ancient history.

Where does that leave me? It leaves me pondering the entire scope of what I have planned for logic stage, actually. Further, I’m swinging again on the pendulum between ‘a Great Books-style integrated study of literature and history’ and ‘gearing our social sciences curricula to both play to EG’s strengths and to be imitative of the best prep schools.’ Generally, when I have a “crisis of faith,” I merely re-read The Well-Trained Mind and have my faith restored, but I’m not so confident that that method will work in this case. For starters, I just re-read the portion of WTM concerned with logic-stage history. I remain convinced that history provides excellent content for practicing the skills of writing and outlining; I similarly view the practice evaluating primary sources as valuable. I just can’t seem to muster up enthusiasm for the remainder of it.

On the other hand, all of this could be explained by the fact that we’ll hit the halfway point (in terms of required number of days) for our school year somewhere around Thanksgiving, and will have somewhere between 105 and 110 days logged when we break for Christmas & New Year’s. Maybe it’s the January Itch come early.


Gretchen said...

I'm right there with you. Well, I guess I'm a year behind you, technically. But since this is Ari's second time through history, I feel like it should be a transition year...only I'm not sure how to transition. Up until now my goal has been simple: "get Ari to stop hating history." Now that I've finally accomplished that (he actually WANTS to listen to SOTW in the car!) I'm very worried about throwing too much at him (like the WTM recs for logic stage, or History Odyssey, which seems to stick to them fairly closely) and undo all my hard work. Sigh.

farrarwilliams said...

I taught middle school history for years and that section didn't really resonate with me in the WTM fully either. In particular, the idea that history had to be done through the chronological race that the WTM seems to advise feels like a mistake to me because at this stage kids are learning how to go into more depth with topics, trying to figure out how to exercise those new thinking skills their brains are acquiring. Yet the chronological overview, which I think works well for the grammar stage when you're introducing kids to the big picture of mythology and history, could feel like a drag when you're trying to use history as a lens through which to do more higher thinking. This stage is still pretty far off for us as homeschoolers, but having taught this age group, I'm almost sure my approach will change by then and we'll do more integration with literature and more in depth looks at a variety of topics, possibly some of them influenced by what the kids want to explore.

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