Of course it would be possible to use a textbook as a spine. Or by itself. Or not at all.
That's what makes this choosing process seem like such an enormous deal. Tons of choices. Tons.
Given an adequate background and the resources (time, talent, money, and enthusiasm) you can probably ferret out a path to any goal via nearly any resource - especially when you are willing to start adding resources to your resource.
Plenty of folks start with resources.
Our family has been better served when I start with goals.
Textbooks seem comprehensive. Very. They seem to paint the
picture in the most efficient way. However, as a classical educator, I don't want to focus on the who, what, when, and where at the high school level. I want to move toward the deeper questions of the human condition. And I want to explore more complex writing samples. Sometimes I WANT my kids to be bewildered and confused. It suits my purpose. They need to know that they aren't done LEARNING how to read and write. There's more.
The problem? High schoolers still need all of the data. They haven't mastered those four questions for every topic. They still have lots of gaps. (Psst. We all do.
) But I've found that I don't have the luxury of filling in all those gaps before we start addressing the "why" questions. I just don't have the time. And the number of topics keeps expanding. So there is no point in trying to navigate a tidy finish before launching into the next thing: I've found that it's not possible to complete the logic stage before we start the rhetoric stage. We just had to start. And do both. Without neglecting everything else we needed to be doing.
Unnerving. But it's been my reality.
Little to no closure. Ever.
Learning to love the billions of swinging gates has been challenging. Sometimes I just want to stop, run around and close every single swinging gate and stare peaceful at the enclosed pasture. Nice. Tidy. Safe.
But then there's no where to go.
I've been outside the fence, and I actually like it better. Believe it or not, for us it's actually easier to accomplish what I want to accomplish outside the fence.
So I start opening gates. We move in and out of them. We keep returning to the pasture when I need
to feel the safety of the enclosure.
Let me try to show you. I've found this excerpt from a Pulitzer that I have enjoyed. (I didn't get a chance to finish it. My kids moved past this time period and I had to drop it in order to read other titles. But this one is DEFINITELY on my to-do list. I was really enjoying it.
Under the picture of the book, click where it says "Read an Excerpt"
Under section #2, fifth paragraph it says, "Yet he was unabashedly provincial." What does that mean? Why say it here? What is the point? Where is the author going? Can you already guess?
"Dr. Holmes's views on political issues therefore tended to be reflexive: he took his cues from his own instincts and the prevailing tendencies, and where these conflicted, he went with the tendencies. In 1850, for example...."
If you decide to use the WTM recommendations for rhetoric, one of the first assignments is to write a slanted narrative. You tell a story in a WAY that moves your reader toward your stated conclusion. Read the story. (Really. Read it.
It's quite good.)
Do you agree with Menand?
Let's back up. Menand has made a statement about Dr. Holmes, "His views on political issues tend to be reflexive." Then he provides more information about what he means. He uses a colon structure to clarify his statement. Interesting choice - "Have you every thought about doing that, little man? OK so let's see - make a statement. Now clarify what you mean with a colon followed by an explanation. Tell me more about what you mean. Oh. Wait. Do you know what 'reflexive' means? Oh. Let's look it up. This will make more sense now. Let's try the colon structure."
"Now, little man, what does he do next? Yes. He provides an example that SUPPORTS what he is saying." One of the 9th grade writing project is a research paper. Kids seem mystified by these assignments, but they get it if they see it modeled. AND they are more interesting in mastering it if they understand that adults write research papers all the time: they are called Non-Fiction Pulitzer Prize Winners.
Menand's "story" is filled with footnotes. It's a mini research paper. An argument. And proof. He doesn't expect you to just "believe" him that "Dr. Holmes's views on political issues therefore tended to be reflexive." When you get to the end of the story, he has done a pretty good job of convincing you that this is true. Yes or no? WHY????? (The actual book has 50+ pages of footnotes at the end with over 20 pages of "Works Cited")
Let's get back to "How? How does he convince you regard the reflexive statement." Ninth grade writing assignment. Slanting a narrative. He properly footnotes the sources. He is telling you the who, what, when, and where. He leads you in the direction of believing that Dr. Holmes (Sr.) was reflexive in his political views. You believe him. Not because he said so, but because Holmes's LIFE said so.
But this is an entire book.
And this section of the book is unearthing the environment that Dr. Holmes Jr. grew up in. His dad. Pre-war Boston. The ideas of the time and his world's response to them. The boy (Holmes Jr.) lives at the center. His dad is a big part of any boy's life - think dinner time conversations etc. And the family lives in Pre-war Boston.
Look back to the last sentence in section #1 of the excerpt. "To understand the road Holmes [Jr.] had to travel in order to write those opinions, we have to go back to one of the worlds the Civil War made obsolete, the world of prewar Boston."
So section two is support for a statement made in section 1. Nested. Neat. Statement = argument. Story = support. You slant the narrative so it BREATHES your argument. Complete with footnotes = an adult-level research paper.
Each why is going to be a building block in a bigger argument. Each piece has it's place. Step by step a structure is built. The reader walks away either agreeing or disagreeing with the author's thesis.
Oh - and there are plenty of logic-level opportunities here. The poem? Google. Read it. Hawthorne, Emerson, and company? African Americans resettled to Liberia? Huh? Uncle Tom's Cabin. Calvinism. The women's rights movement? Great stuff! Vocabulary: provincial, capitulated, autocrat, genial.
I think you get it.
Tons of opportunities to educate.
As opposed to one conclusive paragraph or a sentence in a textbook. One statement. With no evidence of a slant. And no footnotes. Just a story, a life, and a ton of WHY's boiled down into a statement of inarguable fact. (Really? Inarguable? No. It's just that a textbook is forced to make it seem that way. And that can be misleading. In reality, all arguments try to make "it" seem "that" way. But at least the reader KNOWS he is engaging with an argument. Both he and the writer concede that they are engaging. And the writer knows his reader is intelligent enough that support is going to be required.)
I know what you're thinking. It would be impossible to cover high school this way. You can't read every single book about every single tiny little detail. No you can't. That would take a lifetime.
The forest. And the trees. And the ants on the tree. And zoom out: the universe.
A lot of work.
But yes, I want them to know that they have their whole lifetimes to grow and discover the world they live in. So I use materials that will help me achieve that goal. Sometimes it's a brief summary: content. Hop. Sometimes we stop and stare: GREAT MODELS! Skill building. Woo-Hoo.
Sometimes I'm on top of the world!
Sometimes my head feels like it's going to pop.
And no - I'm not always sure it's worth the pain.
But then sometimes it is. I live on those fumes when I feel like I want to quit.
Have fun locating your goals. And have peace when you find them. You can't do it all. Everything you choose means that you are saying NO to a thousand other good things. I bear the pain of that even when we are doing this
kind of thing well.
There is NO optimum plan.
Edited by Janice in NJ, 21 February 2011 - 11:27 AM.