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jld

Low expectations?

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My ideal public school would be staffed by teachers who were passionate about their fields of expertise, and were allowed to teach what they wanted, however they wanted.

 

You have to be a bit careful, there, though. They tried that in the early 70s. Here are some of the classes I took:

 

- Death and dying (went to watch a cremation, drew what we thought it was like to be dead)

- Spiritual world (wrote what we thought) (this was at a different school than the class above)

- Housing of the future (drew what we thought it would be like, such as round roofs, with no architectural reasoning required)

- Creative journal writing (wrote every day but could write at the top that the teacher couldn't read)

 

Lots of waste of taxpayer money in my 70s education!

Julie

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I'll go ahead and be the lone dissenter and say that this conversation kind of falls into the 'One Size Fits All' blanket of public or private schools, which is one reason a lot of us homeschool in the first place. ;) Not all students are capable of the highest standards, no matter how hard we push. Not all of us are interested in homeschooling simply to create a master race of little geniuses (although I wouldn't complain IF my kids fell into that category :tongue_smilie:). No---most parents are not as 'qualified' as a Certified Teacher to teach all subjects to the depth that a good school could, but hasn't it been proven that even those of us without a college degree CAN produce quality students in any subject? I know Classical is a more rigorous academic path than let's say workbook, but 'your' Classical homeschool might be more rigorous than 'my' Classical homeschool according to 'your' standards. But I am running 'my' school my way, so why should someone else's assessment that because I am planning on CC for my dd automatically equate to lowered expectations? Perhaps, as in my case, some of us do have very high expectations, but we don't have students that can accommodate our original lofty goals? Maybe just the simple joy of learning with my kids is trumping the push to achieve more, harder and faster? And lowered expectations compared to what? If 'our' expectations in general today are compared to those of the original homeschool pioneers, how would they compare? I have a feeling we are expecting a whole LOT more than those of the early days---simply because if you take a look at the literal explosion of how-to books, programs, curriculums etc. and add to that the competing marketplace of "This Curriculum leaves no gaps", "This programs teaches conceptually" etc. For example, Saxon was THE math program used by homeschoolers in the early days. The best----but reading here at WTM you would think it was the worst, least effective program to keep a mile wide berth of!

 

I guess I will just leave with my thoughts that I am noticing that in general, too MUCH is expected of students these days, and some of it too early. And that push, push attitude seems to be creeping into the homeschool world in such a massive way, that I am also noticing many parents leaving 'true' homeschooling for charters, umbrellas etc. because they now don't feel capable of doing the job. There will always be the highly advanced students that mom really does need to outsource for and find more rigorous materials, send to college early, etc. One Size really does not fit All.

 

Here, here! :iagree: I am all for expecting great things from our kids. I have one that I couldn't hold back if I tried. She's a sponge soaking up everything around her and more. The other, well, it's much more of a struggle for her. She will complete the same studies as her sister, but it will be a lot more work. Their father and I will continue to challenge them and set the bar high enough for them to stretch.

 

At any rate, I will be overjoyed if they both turn out to be the person they were created to be and happy with themselves. What more could a mother ask?

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I think so much of it has to do with HOW we are taught. My children learn more and retain more when we are conversing about something, rather than reading a textbook and checking off a list. Even reading a book and doing a narration or writing one. But when we apply that to life, what we're learning...then it sticks. I don't remember much of high school but the parts I DO remember were because we were engaged in lively discussion.

 

Look, I'm not going to force my kids to slog through Moby Dick, but, if something we were doing alluded to it, then I would pull out a literature guide and talk about why it's a classic, who Melville was and why I hate the book and can never make it past page 15. :001_smile: But, I wouldn't have known the allusion in the first place unless I had a general knowledge of what it was about. And, granted, I could be missing more I'm not aware of, but I got the broad stroke and that's what I want for them, too. But all of this would be covered in discussion, not a worksheet.

 

And because we're not slogging though it, we can take the other time to devote to ____ which they love.

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Teachers must now teach to the test, rather than either their area of expertise or in areas that they feel their students are lacking. The best of our teachers are complaining bitterly that they no longer are allowed to be good teachers. And yet, it seems that you are saying that Europeans manage this fairly happily? How?

 

I can only speak for Germany: there are curricula which outline the content that has to be taught, but there is no "teaching to the test" - because there are no standardized tests. None whatsoever.

So, the teacher will test her students over the content she felt important to teach (within the framework of the curriculum), the format and weight of the test and assignments will be determined by the teacher.

 

This allows the teacher a much greater flexibility - even though the curriculum tells her that in 2nd semester in 6th grade, she must cover medieval history. She does not have to waste time to drill her student for very specifically crafted multiple choice tests.

 

Even for the important exam, the 12th grade finals for the Abitur, the format is less rigid and you do not need to practice "test taking skills" - a content knowledge will be sufficient to be prepared.

 

Does that make sense?

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You have to be a bit careful, there, though. They tried that in the early 70s. Here are some of the classes I took:

 

- Death and dying (went to watch a cremation, drew what we thought it was like to be dead)

- Spiritual world (wrote what we thought) (this was at a different school than the class above)

- Housing of the future (drew what we thought it would be like, such as round roofs, with no architectural reasoning required)

- Creative journal writing (wrote every day but could write at the top that the teacher couldn't read)

 

Lots of waste of taxpayer money in my 70s education!

Julie

Oh I think there are plenty of teachers like that still in the school system — they certainly didn't disappear at the end of the 70s. I tend to think that if students have a choice, then they'll choose the interesting classes with the good teachers, and if certain teachers get a reputation for being idiots, kids won't take those courses and the teachers won't have a job. I think HS students should do instructor evaluations just like college students. Of course there will always be some lousy teachers, under any system, just like there are lousy mechanics and lousy lawyers and lousy doctors. But I do think that if teachers were allowed to teach how they want to, and were paid well, then you would get much better teaching over all.

 

Jackie

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Oh, I absolutely understand how life experience would have an impact on the understanding of literature.

OTOH, life experience contributes hardly anything to an understanding of calculus; so in math and physics, older students do not gain an advantage form their life experience, but are at a disadvantage because they find it harder to learn new abstract concepts.

 

 

It has been my experience that even with total immersion, there are vast differences between adults and children. Immigrant kids become fluent in the language of their new country within a few months - immigrant adults typically take much longer, some never manage, despite living and working with native speakers. And almost no adult immigrant learns to get rid of his accent, even after decades - something kids have absolutely no trouble with.

 

Most adult people, however, do not have the luxury to move to the country whose language they wish to learn - I have to sit and learn French with a book and CDs and with occasional meetings with a tutor. I can not surround myself with native speakers. Boy, do I wish I had at least taken the measly two years of a third foreign language our high school offered... back then, I had thought it not worth studying a language for only two years.

 

 

And they did have the freedom to move to another country to live there - something that would be much harder for an adult who also had a family and a spouse with a job.

Not all obstacles are in the brain chemistry; some come from being in a different place in life, with different responsibilities, which make it much harder to devote time and resources to self-education (I see how much harder college is for my students who have children).

 

I am not disagreeing with you entirely, just pointing out that there are all sorts of factors and differences among people which makes an outright generalization (and therefore a single educational model) difficult to maintain. For instance, I dropped physics in college because I just couldn't wrap my mind around it. Now, working at it with dd on our own, I'm beginning to get it. So I'm now learning more easily than I did back in my twenties, in that particular regard.

 

My friend in Cambodia did move with her family. She simply felt that this was her work, and her family agreed to follow. Of course not everyone can do this. I'm simply saying that for her it was a priority, her top priority, and she therefore made it happen on a number of levels. Her partner, who works from a computer at their house, hasn't become anywhere near fluent and doesn't have the barest grasp of basic Khmer.

 

A similar passionate motivation was at work for the British sinologist, who quit his previous job to dedicate himself to this one. They're not having it all. I'm just pointing out that different learning trajectories than we are used to acknowledging can and do happen.

 

The illiterate poor who learn to read and write in middle age are, to my mind, even more striking examples because they lack the entire knowledge base Ester Maria and others talk about, they are struggling on so many levels, and yet they show us how much is possible.

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Poor jld -- I'm sorry we are getting so far from your original post, and yet I think it's all relevant. I think what I'm basing all my own comments on is the position that there can never be a single, ideal model of what high expectations can be, for all kids, in every subject, during every year. This doesn't mean that on the other hand there can be no standards whatsoever; but I think it does complicate what at first might seem like an either-or, quantifiable, pin-down-able definition of what exactly those standards are.

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I tend to think that if students have a choice, then they'll choose the interesting classes with the good teachers, and if certain teachers get a reputation for being idiots, kids won't take those courses and the teachers won't have a job.

 

But but but, how do you explain my choice of stupid, useless classes as a teen? Nobody made me. I mean once in a while I took a course that really was educational, but I knew nothing of things like literature, history, science, or grammar, until I got to college or many times until I homeschooled. Luckily I test well :)

 

Actually I think it is a disservice to a child to be given that kind of choice. I really have met very few teens who would choose the teacher with the highest standards or advanced material, unless there was some kind of threat or tangible benefit that outweighed the draw to easy/fun. And I tutor kids for a job, at a site where there are 1,000 students, so I talk to lots of different types of kids.

 

It's a very challenging problem, especially given the fact that every single child in the USA has a "right" to be in the classroom. There have been a few miracle-workers over the years, I've seen the movies :) But it seems to me that it's often one teacher, one group of kids, one year, that just meshed well. In general, I'm seeing homeschooling as the best solution, and I'm a latecomer into the game.

 

Julie

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This gets to the very heart of our disagreement: I would never make my kids study something that I (and they) found boring, pretentious, and of minimal artistic value, just because it's part of the "standard package" in a certain type of school.

 

I wouldn't make mine study a book I hated either, because it is part of the standard package of a certain type of school. I would make them at least familiarise themselves with books I hated if everyone at all schools had studied it. I think that's what Ester Maria is talking about. What "everyone" is familiar with, not what people from a certain school are familiar with.

 

Rosie

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I think that's what Ester Maria is talking about. What "everyone" is familiar with, not what people from a certain school are familiar with.

 

Rosie

 

I don't see this; she's quite specific that she's talking about the "creme de la creme" and/or some narrowly defined social circles, not everybody. This is even more complex in the US, where diversity is built into the educational structure on so many different levels: student populations, funding, philosophies, district vs. state vs. national policies and standards, teacher qualification requirements. There is not a lot that "virtually everyone at all schools" has studied!

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I wouldn't make mine study a book I hated either, because it is part of the standard package of a certain type of school. I would make them at least familiarise themselves with books I hated if everyone at all schools had studied it. I think that's what Ester Maria is talking about. What "everyone" is familiar with, not what people from a certain school are familiar with.

But, truly, in America there's almost nothing that "everyone is familiar with," unless you're talking about TV shows or some other aspect of popular culture. Even if "most" American HS students are forced to read The Scarlett Letter and The Old Man and the Sea, IMO that's not enough reason to make my kids read them. There are millions of books to choose from, and no reason I shouldn't substitute something that my kids and I might prefer reading and discussing — and I don't mean Marley & Me, I mean Hesse or Kazantzakis or some other author that most American kids don't happen to study for whatever reason. I very much doubt that my children will ever find themselves sitting at a dinner party where everyone is discussing the Scarlett Letter or The Old Man and the Sea (unless it's how much they hated it). ;)

 

Jackie

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I don't see this; she's quite specific that she's talking about the "creme de la creme" and/or some narrowly defined social circles, not everybody. This is even more complex in the US, where diversity is built into the educational structure on so many different levels: student populations, funding, philosophies, district vs. state vs. national policies and standards, teacher qualification requirements. There is not a lot that "virtually everyone at all schools" has studied!

 

 

"Everyone" could be "everyone in her social circle." Over here "everyone" as in those who do our state's standard year 11 and 12 certificate, which is most people, study Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. Neither of them tickle my fancy in any way, but the only way I could skip them without my kids looking like ignoramuses would be if we did Midsummer Nights Dream instead. And I don't like that one either. :tongue_smilie:

 

It's my understanding from Ester Maria's previous posts on other threads that there are set standards that virtually everyone, not just the "creme de la creme" cover. I'm sure she's made mention of class trips and whatnot that are covered before the minimum drop out age. I can't remember the details, but as an example: Say learning English and German are part of the standard package for everyone who isn't in a special school, and you can't drop out of school until you've finished year 10. That would mean that everyone, by the end of year ten, can speak English and German. Those that stay for years 11 and 12 are obliged to complete a course in the literature of each language, and obviously the year 10 drop outs don't do that. They won't be familiar with a variety of writers, but they can still speak, read and write those languages well enough to travel, read newspapers and write letters to the editor. Now suppose Ester Maria decided some other subjects were more important than English and German, so she pays lip service and her kids finished up with tourist level speech, but couldn't even read the BBC news online. No matter how well they've done in those other important subjects, they are still comparatively ignorant because everyone else around, even the high school drop outs, can read and discuss the world news in English and German. No one expects high school drop outs to have read mounds of English literature because that is covered in year 11 and 12. But on the other hand, no one expects high school graduates to be able to fix their own cars either, because they didn't do mechanics apprenticeships.

 

Our LOTE (language other than English) requirements are a joke. Kids must do LOTE from grade one to year 10, but there is rarely any structure that allows the kids to take the same language for all those years and nobody learns anything in 2 or 3 hours a week.

 

Now suppose it was required to do 10 years of a LOTE, but instead of single period and a double period each week, they did half an hour per day. Some progress could be made. Suppose required languages varied according to region instead of being randomly chosen dotted around the country. Up in Darwin, for example, the standard languages offered could be a local Aboriginal dialect and Indonesian. They both make sense. If someone desperately wanted to take some other language instead, their parents could choose for them to do it by correspondence. There's a meaningful standard with some flexibility and it should be possible to do similar things in other subject areas. Dh worked at a large school for years 11 and 12 and they had half a dozen English subjects to choose from. They had to do English, but had the choice of general English, literature and something more like linguistics.

 

But, truly, in America there's almost nothing that "everyone is familiar with." Even if "most" American HS students are forced to read The Scarlett Letter and The Old Man and the Sea, IMO that's not enough reason to make my kids read them. There are millions of books to choose from, and no reason I shouldn't substitute something that my kids and I might prefer reading and discussing — and I don't mean Marley & Me, I mean Hesse or Kazantzakis or some other author that most American kids don't happen to study for whatever reason. I very much doubt that my children will ever find themselves sitting at a dinner party where everyone is discussing the Scarlett Letter or The Old Man and the Sea (unless it's how much they hated it). ;)

 

 

Ha ha! Oh yeah, I've sat at dinner tables discussing how much we all hated The Great Gatsby :D Whether there should or shouldn't be an accepted group of novels to be studied is another argument, but if most people have read The Scarlett Letter, and make references to it, why shouldn't you take a few hours to go over a study guide or something? If most people read The Scarlett Letter and only ever talk about how much they hate it, then there is no shared cultural value in becoming familiar with it because "ha ha, I didn't have to read that one" is sufficient :D I would feel like an idiot if I didn't know where "where for art thou, Romeo" comments came from, even though I can think of far more enjoyable things to read.

 

Urgh. That got long...

Rosie

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Ha ha! Oh yeah, I've sat at dinner tables discussing how much we all hated The Great Gatsby :D Whether there should or shouldn't be an accepted group of novels to be studied is another argument, but if most people have read The Scarlett Letter, and make references to it, why shouldn't you take a few hours to go over a study guide or something? If most people read The Scarlett Letter and only ever talk about how much they hate it, then there is no shared cultural value in becoming familiar with it because "ha ha, I didn't have to read that one" is sufficient :D

Exactly. :001_smile:

 

I've honestly never heard anyone in real life make reference to The Old Man and the Sea either, but I can probably cover the "cultural literacy" aspect in about 3 seconds: "The Old Man and the Sea is about an old guy who catches a big fish and spends 87 pages trying to get it back to shore, but the sharks eat it. Most boring book ever written." On the off chance the topic ever comes up at a dinner party, they'll be prepared. :D

 

Jackie

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I grew up being told, by my engineer father and by his friends, that the wonderful thing about an engineering education was that it taught one to think, and that that could then be applied to anything one wanted. LOL Except spelling. Some of them had had a terrible time trying to learn a foreign language in a school setting also. The forgivingness of engineering prof's in the area of spelling, and the lack of a college foreign language requirement were gratefully mentioned, along with a rueful acknowledgement that they would not have been able to make it as a liberal arts student. As a teenager considering engineering school, I had pretty much same conversations with every adult engineer I came in contact with. The point I want to make is that now those engineers are old. I watched them fairly effortlessly switch to making computers (not just operating them). Yes, they marvelled over the hotshot kids who turned into wizards, but they seemed to be doing just fine themselves. I have watched them retire and start small businesses, sometimes in entirely different fields, or shore up their writing skills and write books, or shore up their public speaking skills and travel around giving lectures, or become artists or inventors or teachers. They are living examples of what they told me so long ago. I'm not sure how this fits into this discussion, but it seems like it belongs here. Studies of the plasticity of the middle-aged brain is what made me think of it.

 

Perhaps the studies are only coming out now because in the middle of the past century, people tended to stay with one job until retirement so real life examples of middle-aged learning were fewer.

 

-Nan

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That is how our school system used to work. There were general guidelines about what subjects to teach and what skills the students were supposed to aquire in which grades. They were much more general, though. I can see how it might be very efficient if one had a streamlined national curriculum worked out by experts but something about that scenario bothers me. I'm not sure whether our teachers were complaining about the test they had to teach to, or the curriculum standards. The one I spoke to said that the curriculum standards were reasonable and very good, but that is just a sample size of one. Part of the problem, I think, is that many of the best teachers had written their own curriculums over the years and the combination of standards and testing meant that they couldn't use them. (One of those curriculums is recommended in TWTM.) Again, I'm not sure where this all fits into the discussion, but it seems like it is applicable.

-Nan

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I grew up being told, by my engineer father and by his friends, that the wonderful thing about an engineering education was that it taught one to think, and that that could then be applied to anything one wanted.

I think that would be the best thing about any education — learning how to think, critically and analytically, in ways that could be applied to any subject. I think if schools focused more on this sort of thing, and less on memorization and regurgitation of facts, American education would be immeasurably improved. (But first you'd have to find a few hundred thousand teachers who could think critically... ;))

 

The forgivingness of engineering prof's in the area of spelling, and the lack of a college foreign language requirement were gratefully mentioned, along with a rueful acknowledgement that they would not have been able to make it as a liberal arts student.

And this is the reason why I'm totally opposed to the idea that a "rigorous" education must include classical languages and extensive literary analysis and reading literature in French, regardless of interests or aptitude, and that anyone who chooses to do otherwise is "giving up on themselves."

 

The point I want to make is that now those engineers are old. I watched them fairly effortlessly switch to making computers (not just operating them). Yes, they marvelled over the hotshot kids who turned into wizards, but they seemed to be doing just fine themselves. I have watched them retire and start small businesses, sometimes in entirely different fields, or shore up their writing skills and write books, or shore up their public speaking skills and travel around giving lectures, or become artists or inventors or teachers. They are living examples of what they told me so long ago. I'm not sure how this fits into this discussion, but it seems like it belongs here. Studies of the plasticity of the middle-aged brain is what made me think of it.

Which proves that failure to master 4th year Latin or read Die Blechtrommel in German does not sentence one to life as a Fachidiot. ;)

 

Jackie

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That is how our school system used to work. There were general guidelines about what subjects to teach and what skills the students were supposed to aquire in which grades. They were much more general, though. I can see how it might be very efficient if one had a streamlined national curriculum worked out by experts but something about that scenario bothers me. I'm not sure whether our teachers were complaining about the test they had to teach to, or the curriculum standards. The one I spoke to said that the curriculum standards were reasonable and very good, but that is just a sample size of one. Part of the problem, I think, is that many of the best teachers had written their own curriculums over the years and the combination of standards and testing meant that they couldn't use them. (One of those curriculums is recommended in TWTM.) Again, I'm not sure where this all fits into the discussion, but it seems like it is applicable.

-Nan

There is one public elementary school in our district where the principal totally supports the teachers in teaching the way they want — and because of that, it attracts the best teachers. If a teacher wants to use a text that isn't on the district's standard approval list, the principal will buy it out of her discretionary fund. Teachers actually buy and use a lot of their own materials as well (I showed LoF to a 3rd grade teacher there and he said he was going to order it for his class :)). They don't follow the state standards and they don't teach to the test, but they have some of the highest test scores in the district, even though they're in a low-income area and have a lot of kids whose parents are not native English speakers. You'd think the BofE here would be restructuring the whole district based on what this school does, but no. :glare: They still send administrators around every few months to remind the teachers what they're supposed to be teaching. And the teachers continue to ignore them, thank goodness.

 

Jackie

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I'm beginning to suspect that what Ester Maria is talking about is something like what we call great books (except in their original language) and how if they are taught well, they provide a foundation for history and science as well, and tie everything together so that one doesn't have the AP test problem. When she used the words creme-de-la-creme, she was trying to say that there was, here in the US, there was a standard education (more or less classical) that was given to the creme-de-la-creme of our society for years, and that that education was not that different than the education that is still given to almost all students in Italy (and other places in Europe), and that she doesn't see why the same thing could not be done in the US. At least, I think that is what she meant. She is nice and clear but I am not at all educated about education in general and so am having to start from scratch to understand. I am using a middle school history textbook from France and if I combine that with her past posts and those from people like Eliana, I begin to see what she is talking about. Considering that she is living on the other side of the ocean from us, in a country that doesn't speak English, and has a new baby, I think she is doing pretty well at communicating with us. In fact, I think it is very kind of her to even take an interest. When I had new babies, I had trouble putting together a simple explaination of how my day went. I think we should all send her flowers. Most of us would have given up long ago if we had been so misunderstood. : )

-Nan

 

I'm editing this to add that it is scary to speak for Ester Maria and I hope she fixes whatever I have said that I think she said to say what she really said. How is that for a sentence? : )

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I think that would be the best thing about any education — learning how to think, critically and analytically, in ways that could be applied to any subject. I think if schools focused more on this sort of thing, and less on memorization and regurgitation of facts, American education would be immeasurably improved. (But first you'd have to find a few hundred thousand teachers who could think critically... ;))

 

Asking sincerely here: how does a person teach a child to think critically and analytically? What are the specifics to doing so? I hear this mentioned often but don't understand what it entails exactly. Wouldn't some familiarity with a body of knowledge be necessary? What would a school need to do to make it happen? Does age/development matter?

Anyway, it seems to me there is a discussion going on here about Classicism versus Romanticism. Which leads me to ask who here agrees with E.D. Hirsch and who doesn't? I hope I didn't just make someone spontaneously combust! That's what happens to the retired teachers on my travel board when I mention E.D. :D

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"Everyone" could be "everyone in her social circle." Over here "everyone" as in those who do our state's standard year 11 and 12 certificate, which is most people, study Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth.

 

It's my understanding from Ester Maria's previous posts on other threads that there are set standards that virtually everyone, not just the "creme de la creme" cover. I'm sure she's made mention of class trips and whatnot that are covered before the minimum drop out age. I can't remember the details, but as an example: Say learning English and German are part of the standard package for everyone who isn't in a special school, and you can't drop out of school until you've finished year 10. That would mean that everyone, by the end of year ten, can speak English and German. Those that stay for years 11 and 12 are obliged to complete a course in the literature of each language, and obviously the year 10 drop outs don't do that. They won't be familiar with a variety of writers, but they can still speak, read and write those languages well enough to travel, read newspapers and write letters to the editor. Now suppose Ester Maria decided some other subjects were more important than English and German, so she pays lip service and her kids finished up with tourist level speech, but couldn't even read the BBC news online. No matter how well they've done in those other important subjects, they are still comparatively ignorant because everyone else around, even the high school drop outs, can read and discuss the world news in English and German.

 

Im dosed up on Benedryl due to a poison oak episode, so I'm a bit groggy and maybe that explains why I just can't quite figure out what you're saying here, Rosie. If we each define "everyone" in our own terms, it's all relative. Either "everyone" means everyone, or it refers to a group which is by definition selective.

 

And I really differ with how you are defining "ignorance" here. I can't imagine defining ignorance -- or high expectations or low, or knowledge in any way -- according to what other people do or do not do, or what is on the traditional reading list in the schools around me. It's currently the fashion in the elite prep schools around me for kids to study Mandarin Chinese. If my child learns Arabic instead, is she therefore ignorant? If she studies Spanish for a number of years, or even if she does not, but instead pursues a knowledge of astrophysics, or learns how to build a house, becomes a nurse, or a children's book illustrator -- is she still ignorant because she neglected her Mandarin and can't paint Chinese characters with a brush?

 

And if she is somehow, in a way that I cannot imagine, limited because of her lack of Mandarin Chinese studies, are not the kids who learn Mandarin but do NOT learn to build a house, or do astrophysics, limited as well? Can we not flip this all around and say that they had a lack of rigor, or a low bar, in areas that are quite possibly just as vital to the workings of the larger community?

 

Believe it or not, I'm actually not arguing for an anything-goes model of education. I'm pointing out there is no single definition for what constitutes an educated person; that society needs many different kinds of knowledgeable people; and that if there aren't forces that hold us together that are a whole lot more powerful than whether we hated The Scarlet Letter together in 11th grade or all recognize an allusion to the Aeneid when we see it, we're in Big Big Trouble.

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Asking sincerely here: how does a person teach a child to think critically and analytically? What are the specifics to doing so? I hear this mentioned often but don't understand what it entails exactly. Wouldn't some familiarity with a body of knowledge be necessary? What would a school need to do to make it happen? Does age/development matter?

 

 

I believe it begins when you encourage questions and take time to answer them. Every child is naturally curious... until something happens, typically in school, that removes this curiosity. Thinking begins with questions, with making hypotheses, having ideas. To foster critical thinking, it needs to be OK to question.

What I find important is to get to the bottom: to the "how" and "why". I wrote in the science thread how these are the fundamental questions of science - but they are not limited to science. History, too, is about the reasons and the patterns of development - not about memorizing dates.

 

Of course critical thinking can not develop in a vacuum; a body of knowledge is necessary so you have something to think about.

A school would have to depart from memorization of unrelated fact and move towards discussing relationships, causalities, concepts. That does not mean the facts are not important - but they are not enough.

It also means that it will be harder to measure student success: it is very easy to give a multiple choice test that checks whether students have vocabulary words memorized - it is much more time consuming to evaluate an essay where they have to think in order to answer the question.

 

When I compared my children's public school assignment in the US with those I received as a child (and the ones the kids had to do during our short time in Germany), this was one of the things I found most noticeable: in no test here they were ever asked to THINK. They would get by with rote memorization of lists and study guides. They never had to give an opinion, draw a conclusion (unless that was discussed beforehand and on the study guide), explain a process. Everything was neatly packaged and spoon fed.

An education like this does not create critical thinkers, because children are not given an opportunity to exercise their thinking skills.

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Hmm... I think you are right about the Classicism versus Romanticism, to some extent. LOL.

 

And as for the thinking critically part. Personally, I think one can be taught to do that in many fields. Experimental science demands this. So does debate/logic. So do geometry proofs. So does historical analysis. So does translating classical languages (because it requires a culture/time leap as well as just translating). So does literary analysis. So does writing a persuasive paper. So does math problem-solving or analysis. What haven't I covered? At its best, I think an education requires that a student think critically in all areas. I think it is possible, though, to learn to think in just one area and then apply it to other areas, provided one doesn't wade in without enough background material and base the analysis on incorrect assumptions.

 

That probably isn't very helpful. Every year I try to pick one area, an area that I can manage to teach myself, and try to make sure that my son is required to do more than just read and memorize. I try to make sure he is having to analyze and judge and compare and sort and connect and problem solve and be creative in that subject. If I were a really good teacher, I would arrange things so that he had to do that in every subject, but I'm not. I don't even do a good job with the one subject I pick. At least I try, though. One thing I try to do is make sure my son is doing a certain amount of stuff from scratch - design an experiment, or write a paper about a book (without assigning a topic), or translate something, or invent something, or try to convince someone of something, or solve a math word problem that is more like a puzzle, or read a trade book on a subject, instead of answering textbook questions about a science chapter, context questions about a book, do the math excersize that all relates to a section we have just done, or write a paper on an assigned topic where most of the thinking appears in the assignment.

 

I have no idea if this is a good approach or not.

 

-Nan

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The thing is, though, that a book that you hated your dc might love. I liked the Scarlet Letter, both back in high school and when I read it again last year. My son didn't like it, and was commiserating with my sister, who said that she hated in back in high school. I don't think we should limit our dc based on what we hated or liked.

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Asking sincerely here: how does a person teach a child to think critically and analytically? What are the specifics to doing so? I hear this mentioned often but don't understand what it entails exactly. Wouldn't some familiarity with a body of knowledge be necessary? What would a school need to do to make it happen? Does age/development matter?

 

Anyway, it seems to me there is a discussion going on here about Classicism versus Romanticism. Which leads me to ask who here agrees with E.D. Hirsch and who doesn't? I hope I didn't just make someone spontaneously combust! That's what happens to the retired teachers on my travel board when I mention E.D. :D

 

 

man, I've been reading so much these past few days that I can't remember WHAT I was reading about him-only that I just read about him. Did he work with Adler? Or, Adler was his teacher---cripes I hate it when I can't remember this stuff. And WHERE was I reading it...

 

I don't dislike what he's done--I own many of the books just so I can flip through on occasion and make sure we're somewhere around where we 'should' be.

 

can't we be classically romantic? And aren't they both classics at this point?:tongue_smilie:

 

how to teach critical thinking? I don't think you can in the schools now. There's not enough time to make those kinds of mistakes (meaning the kids making mistakes and then the teacher then saying,"Ok, now what went wrong and how can we fix it?"

 

I have teenagers. They don't want to learn how to figure it out, they want to be told so they can just do it.

 

When I moved, I had a friend gift me a huge plant that a florist drove over. He was a small business owner, college grad--from an engineering school if I remember correctly, and who worked in the family business. My kids were running around and he asked the obvious and I shared that we were homeschoolers. He went on to tell me how these kids he hires, all going to college, can't do the simplest things around the workplace. They have no 'common sense'. My husband sees this at our company all the time. No common sense. I call that common sense critical thinking. How much of that has to do with the immaturity of the teen brain and the inability to think far into the future--I don't know.

 

I know I am constantly telling my daughter (15.11), "figure it out." I know that is a long answer-meaning, there is no time in school for 'figure it out'. My oldest son is like me and can look at something and know how it goes together, how to take it apart and so forth. BUTBUTBUT--he'd taken apart every electronic thing in my house and I have a graveyard of electronics to prove it. That took time. Now in schools there is only time for, "Do it this way and get this answer." And parents, both who now work, who are running hither and yon, do not have time for, "figure it out."

 

I had endless hours for it when I was a kid. Yes, I took dance, and I was in marching band, and plays and took art classes, but I had TONS of free unstructured time, and no television on (7 channels back then cartoons only on Sat morning). Now, I won't agree that television is the root of all evil, but rather this lack of just BEING is. And that all comes back to this competitiveness, who is doing more, sports, classes, everything. Like sprawling on the couch on a Saturday morning reading the local paper is some sort of moral sin.

 

Now, of to figure out where I was reading about Hirsch...

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Considering that she is living on the other side of the ocean from us, in a country that doesn't speak English, and has a new baby, I think she is doing pretty well at communicating with us. In fact, I think it is very kind of her to even take an interest. When I had new babies, I had trouble putting together a simple explaination of how my day went. I think we should all send her flowers. Most of us would have given up long ago if we had been so misunderstood. : )

 

 

You know, Nan, I so admire your honesty, your humility and your attempts to really, truly understand what point of view someone is holding and what implications that has. But I have to say the tone of this disturbs me.

 

With all due respect, ALL parties who take part in the conversations on this forum are taking precious time from their work, their homeschooling, their families. ALL bring crucial elements to this conversation. People who ask others for clarification, or who try to find commonalities in what seem to be two polar opposite points of view, play an absolutely vital role. People who regret their own inadequacies (I among them) play a vital role. People with four, or six, or eight kids, who take time to share their ideas, play a vital role.

 

I can understand respecting Ester Maria's educational background and obvious academic ability; I share that respect. But it is hardly unique on the boards, and it does not make what she says any more or any less valuable than other qualities people bring to us. Please, please do not take what I'm saying as in any way meant to be derogatory or harsh towards anyone. It is, rather, an acknowledgement that we ALL have qualities without which the boards would be the poorer. To single one person out for her condescension devalues the gifts and contributions of others (even though this is not intentional).

 

I am hesitating about posting this because I am not sure, in my Benedryl fog, I have been clear here. But I still think I want to say it, in however flawed a fashion.

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Believe it or not, I'm actually not arguing for an anything-goes model of education. I'm pointing out there is no single definition for what constitutes an educated person; that society needs many different kinds of knowledgeable people; and that if there aren't forces that hold us together that are a whole lot more powerful than whether we hated The Scarlet Letter together in 11th grade or all recognize an allusion to the Aeneid when we see it, we're in Big Big Trouble.

 

 

That is very true and I agree, but what's the glue, then? Shared humanity? As Americans we don't have many cultural rites of passage. Schooling-and our shared misery in our experiences seems to be one! :D (I'm joking here.)

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. If we each define "everyone" in our own terms, it's all relative. Either "everyone" means everyone, or it refers to a group which is by definition selective.

 

Yes, but I think we can cope with that if we can make the kind of clarifying comments we've all been doing.

 

And I really differ with how you are defining "ignorance" here. I can't imagine defining ignorance -- or high expectations or low, or knowledge in any way -- according to what other people do or do not do, or what is on the traditional reading list in the schools around me. It's currently the fashion in the elite prep schools around me for kids to study Mandarin Chinese. If my child learns Arabic instead, is she therefore ignorant?

 

Ignorant about everything? Of course not. Ignorant of Mandarin? Well yes, she would be. The students of Mandarin would be ignorant of Arabic too.

 

And if she is somehow, in a way that I cannot imagine, limited because of her lack of Mandarin Chinese studies, are not the kids who learn Mandarin but do NOT learn to build a house, or do astrophysics, limited as well? Can we not flip this all around and say that they had a lack of rigor, or a low bar, in areas that are quite possibly just as vital to the workings of the larger community?

 

Yes, of course.

 

Believe it or not, I'm actually not arguing for an anything-goes model of education. I'm pointing out there is no single definition for what constitutes an educated person; that society needs many different kinds of knowledgeable people; and that if there aren't forces that hold us together that are a whole lot more powerful than whether we hated The Scarlet Letter together in 11th grade or all recognize an allusion to the Aeneid when we see it, we're in Big Big Trouble.

 

I don't think we are disagreeing on anything other than how taboo the word "ignorant" is.

 

Asking sincerely here: how does a person teach a child to think critically and analytically? What are the specifics to doing so? I hear this mentioned often but don't understand what it entails exactly. Wouldn't some familiarity with a body of knowledge be necessary? What would a school need to do to make it happen? Does age/development matter?

 

Well my mother contributed by chanting "you aren't the only one in the world, look at it from their perspective" for my entire youth and my father contributed by reprimanding me endlessly with "don't be so narrow minded, think laterally" even when I thought I was. I'm sure there are more edifying ways to do this, but it wasn't a bad foundation. I didn't hit trouble in that department until I got to uni to discover the critical reading skills I was probably supposed to have developed in high school. Age and development really do matter. There is some progress that can't be made until the brain is able to handle the world in shades of grey; that everything in life isn't completely right or completely wrong and that we can actually handle it when it isn't.

 

Rosie

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I'm beginning to suspect that what Ester Maria is talking about is something like what we call great books (except in their original language) and how if they are taught well, they provide a foundation for history and science as well, and tie everything together so that one doesn't have the AP test problem. When she used the words creme-de-la-creme, she was trying to say that there was, here in the US, there was a standard education (more or less classical) that was given to the creme-de-la-creme of our society for years, and that that education was not that different than the education that is still given to almost all students in Italy (and other places in Europe), and that she doesn't see why the same thing could not be done in the US. At least, I think that is what she meant.

Hmmm... Has there really ever been a period where the standard education in America looked like an upper class Italian education? Maybe with private tutors in the 18th century, but I wouldn't call that "standard." The comment about the "creme de la creme" was made with respect to her own (and her children's) education:

I'm just taking a rough framework of a system which has educated the creme de la creme of the past few generations which are geographically and culturally close or correspondent to my life experience, for whatever reasons the framework is that way, and then comes the individual tailoring, but while maintaining the basic framework.

 

She is nice and clear but I am not at all educated about education in general and so am having to start from scratch to understand. I am using a middle school history textbook from France and if I combine that with her past posts and those from people like Eliana, I begin to see what she is talking about. Considering that she is living on the other side of the ocean from us, in a country that doesn't speak English, and has a new baby, I think she is doing pretty well at communicating with us. In fact, I think it is very kind of her to even take an interest. When I had new babies, I had trouble putting together a simple explaination of how my day went. I think we should all send her flowers. Most of us would have given up long ago if we had been so misunderstood.

Doesn't Ester Maria live in the US?

 

Jackie

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I'd just like to say that everyone's input is appreciated, and that I think compelling arguments are being made by both sides on this subject. I'm learning a lot. Thanks so much to everyone for taking the time to share your thoughts. What an intelligent, respect-inspiring group of women!

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The thing is, though, that a book that you hated your dc might love. I liked the Scarlet Letter, both back in high school and when I read it again last year. My son didn't like it, and was commiserating with my sister, who said that she hated in back in high school. I don't think we should limit our dc based on what we hated or liked.

Well if my son was dying to read it, of course I would let him. But I have a pretty good idea of his likes and dislikes, and if I thought neither of us would enjoy a book, I would substitute another. Similarly, if there was a book that I loved and wanted him to read, but he hated it, I would look for another book that we could both enjoy. It's not as if there's a dearth of great books to choose from. ;)

 

Jackie

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Well if my son was dying to read it, of course I would let him. But I have a pretty good idea of his likes and dislikes, and if I thought neither of us would enjoy a book, I would substitute another. Similarly, if there was a book that I loved and wanted him to read, but he hated it, I would look for another book that we could both enjoy. It's not as if there's a dearth of great books to choose from. ;)

 

Jackie

 

Right. I just think that sometimes we think "I didn't like that" and generalize it to mean "How could anyone ever like that?!" and so we might not offer it to our children.

 

With my oldest he was allowed to choose from a literature list that I put together, according to his tastes and interests, although I think I did have a few that were mandatory. I can't remember.

 

And yes, whoever asked, Ester Maria just had a baby. AFAIK, though, she's in the US now, but I believe that her daughters are in Italy now, unless they've returned. No, EM, I'm not actually stalking you LOL! :D

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Poor jld -- I'm sorry we are getting so far from your original post, and yet I think it's all relevant.

 

Lol! It is all relevant, and worth thinking about! Thanks again for your posts!

 

When I started the thread, I really just had in mind people coming to the boards and asking for the quickest, easiest way to satisfy a credit requirement. I'm especially concerned about kids who may not get a lot of intellectual exposure outside the homeschooling their mothers do. This conversation has definitely gone 180 degrees from that, to the moms who are doing work off the charts with their kids, whether from a standard body of knowledge, or from working off their kids' interests.

 

As far as critical thinking, wasn't it Gatto who said that one way to develop it is to tackle an issue from both ends, and see who has the stronger arguments? I tried to bring up the issue of the tax cuts on the general board, but no one was interested, I guess. This is an issue that may really affect our economic future, but there is very little discussion on it. So many people just seem to hear tax cut!, respond I want it!, and any discussion of the costs of it just dies away. I think more critical thinking in the area of economics could really benefit Americans.

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Several states have textbook adoption for core classes. Unless a course is transcripted as some version of Special Ed, it must use a state adopted textbook. I am not aware of any adopted textbooks that are not on level. This may occur in states without textbook adoptions, but not in as sweeping a fashion as you seem to imply due to the adoptions in many large states. Only English classes are frequently non textbook in adoption states.

 

That only works if the school has money and buys textbooks for the class. I went to school at one hs that had no french textbooks, got a semester of credit, then moved to another state where there WERE texts. Needless to say I was very behind!

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Exactly. :001_smile:

 

I've honestly never heard anyone in real life make reference to The Old Man and the Sea either, but I can probably cover the "cultural literacy" aspect in about 3 seconds: "The Old Man and the Sea is about an old guy who catches a big fish and spends 87 pages trying to get it back to shore, but the sharks eat it. Most boring book ever written." On the off chance the topic ever comes up at a dinner party, they'll be prepared. :D

 

Jackie

 

:D Yes, I wonder who exactly is going to all these cocktail parties where ancient Greek literature and the lasting socio-political effects of the French Revolution are being discussed. I consider myself fairly intelligent and I'm college educated as are most of my acquaintances, but I can honestly say I've NEVER participated in such a discussion in my 51 years.

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Ignorant about everything? Of course not. Ignorant of Mandarin? Well yes, she would be. The students of Mandarin would be ignorant of Arabic too.

 

 

Okay -- but this is not how it was phrased in your first post. It was just flat-out ignorant.

 

(I do realize we all type with short bits of time on our hands and are often interrupted and distracted, so later qualifications are needed for lots of posts, mine first and foremost, I readily admit.)

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:D Yes, I wonder who exactly is going to all these cocktail parties where ancient Greek literature and the lasting socio-political effects of the French Revolution are being discussed. I consider myself fairly intelligent and I'm college educated as are most of my acquaintances, but I can honestly say I've NEVER participated in such a discussion in my 51 years.

 

Timidly raising my hand here: I have. Not cocktail parties - but we regularly have discussions about things like that over lunch or dinner with colleagues/friends. Just this Wednesday, over Chinese food, we were discussing Henry II and Thomas Becket vs Henry VIII and Thomas Moore. (At other times, we debate issues such as whether the Euro region should bail out Greece, the constitutional rights of journalists, or talk about Tennyson's poetry.) We have been known to sit at the Chinese buffet, reciting out loud together the St Crispin's day speech from Shakespeare's Henry V.

I actually find this quite normal. And no, we are all just physicists - not historians or literary critics.

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(So - imagine this in teeny tiny print)... Me too. And I usually can only take part if someone is kind enough to explain all the background part to me. Fortunately, they don't usually mind doing that, although I always get the feeling they wonder how I came to be so badly educated.

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A while ago in this thread I had commented on low level students in our public high school in regards to our new state testing that will officially start with this year's 8th graders, but is being tested now.

 

At this point, ALL students, in order to graduate with a PA diploma, will need to take these year end tests. These year end tests are mandated to be a significant portion of their grade - meaning if they don't pass the test, it's very difficult to pass the course without some grade inflation.

 

This means the low level "separated" kids who study at an elementary school text level need to pass high school bio and alg as well as English (+ other courses, but those are the ones I'm familiar with now).

 

This means the "Level One" (below regular - Level 2 - and honors - Level 3) kids who now work at a middle school level text wise also need to pass.

 

And "regularly talented" and "exceptionally talented" kids also need to pass.

 

It's the same test for all - the college bound and non.

 

There are petitions before the state to modify the current regs based on reality or very few of those low level kids will get a high school diploma and will be denied the benefits that come with that - such as, say, jobs/military, etc. However, nothing has changed at this point. All kids whether square or round need to fit in the "state" hole.

 

Without creating systems similar to Europe where lower academic kids can "escape" and head to trade schools or apprenticeships this is not a good new trend IMO. It appears to be the future though. I doubt it can last long without something changing.

 

I apologize for not being able to catch up on multiple pages of this thread, but thought some might want that question answered.

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Sorry. I was reacting to an ongoing conversation, not just what is in the thread. She's been trying to explain this for months, and we keep not getting it. At least, she's been trying to explain it to me for months. I think some of that was on the bilingual board, though, not here, so you might not have been involved? I can't remember. I just know I would have given up months ago. I probably shouldn't have made it general.

-Nan

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Hmm... Maybe she does? I thought she was in Italy?

 

And I think the education my mother received in a Latin public school, the education several friends' children in Boston Latin, the education a cousin is getting in a private school in Texas, and the one given by 18th century tutors all sounded similar and close to the education Ester Maria describes. I could be wrong, though.

 

We chose not to try to go that route, in a large part because I have heard my mother say for years that although her education was excellent, it was dry as dust and not something to aspire to. I also find the tracking in education in Europe worrisome. I like our flexibility and have taken full advantage of it GRIN. I don't mind trying to understand what Ester Maria is saying, though. I find it useful to understand. Even if there is nothing I wish to borrow, it helps me to know why I am doing what I am doing instead of just doing things a certain way by default, and that helps me to do a better job at them.

 

-Nan

 

Oh - and I keep mixing up past conversations with Ester Maria with this one. I'll go back to Christmas shopping now that I've strewn confusion all over the place. : )

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Hmm... Maybe she does? I thought she was in Italy?

Always, with her heart and soul, no matter whe she's physically.

 

(I suggest everyone from this discussion to read the text of the first stanza of the Italian hymn. As you will see, it cannot be understood, let alone related to, without classical education... If you don't know who was Scipio, why Victory and what kind of role it played in Roman society, what is meant by "schiava di Roma", the text speaks nothing to you. And the ENTIRE Italian culture is like that, transformed antiquity thematizing its sources. In Italy, one cannot understand one's present reality nor relate to the points of its genesis without the kind of education I'm talking about.)

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:D Yes, I wonder who exactly is going to all these cocktail parties where ancient Greek literature and the lasting socio-political effects of the French Revolution are being discussed. I consider myself fairly intelligent and I'm college educated as are most of my acquaintances, but I can honestly say I've NEVER participated in such a discussion in my 51 years.

 

...where's the sheepish emo?...I do. All the time. But we're all writers and historians and a gaggle of lawyers who read a lot. My international friends do, too.

 

Timidly raising my hand here: I have. Not cocktail parties - but we regularly have discussions about things like that over lunch or dinner with colleagues/friends. Just this Wednesday, over Chinese food, we were discussing Henry II and Thomas Becket vs Henry VIII and Thomas Moore. (At other times, we debate issues such as whether the Euro region should bail out Greece, the constitutional rights of journalists, or talk about Tennyson's poetry.) We have been known to sit at the Chinese buffet, reciting out loud together the St Crispin's day speech from Shakespeare's Henry V.

I actually find this quite normal. And no, we are all just physicists - not historians or literary critics.

 

yup

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OK, low expectations is different to everyone. LOL

 

Regularly, dd is trying to make the connections you talk about. But it takes time. You have to stop what you are doing, think about it, talk about it, and research it. Then a subject or two doesn't get done. She refuses to just plow through a subject just to get it finished. Some would say she is slow and should be pushed to go faster. Why, so she can just cram the facts into her head and not do anything with them? But, the stopping and thinking and talking about and connecting translates into less actual coverage of the material (meaning we don't finish the book).

 

So which would be low expectation: getting tons of work done with little understanding of what was done, or doing some of it and really understanding it and making connections between it and other things that have been learned. I think the stress many feel on this board is that we try to do more material with more understanding.....there usually isn't time for both.

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Timidly raising my hand here: I have.

 

...where's the sheepish emo?...I do. All the time.

 

I guess I'm just hanging with the wrong crowd. :D

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Timidly raising my hand here: I have. Not cocktail parties - but we regularly have discussions about things like that over lunch or dinner with colleagues/friends. Just this Wednesday, over Chinese food, we were discussing Henry II and Thomas Becket vs Henry VIII and Thomas Moore. (At other times, we debate issues such as whether the Euro region should bail out Greece, the constitutional rights of journalists, or talk about Tennyson's poetry.) We have been known to sit at the Chinese buffet, reciting out loud together the St Crispin's day speech from Shakespeare's Henry V.

I actually find this quite normal. And no, we are all just physicists - not historians or literary critics.

 

Literary academics discuss science and politics, too. I'm trying to figure out exactly what it is about this that misses the point for me.

 

Here is I think what might be at the root: if everyone knows the same things (assuming we're still talking about a high school education here, and that not everyone is going to go to college, so the high school education constitutes the base we're talking about), everyone's knowledge will come from inside a particular cultural box or point of view. Who is going to give a wider perspective on that view? Who is going, for instance, to compare Henry II and Becket to what was going on in China or India at that time? Who is going to contrast the marvelous, stirring St. Crispin's Day speech (which I assume most people remember from the movie rather than the original text...) with The Art of War, to which the Pentagon is so inexplicably devoted, or to Middle Eastern theories, past and present, of warfare, or to similarly blood-stirring speeches or incidents in other cultures? Who's going to talk about what the cultural privileging of that Crispin speech has to do with our culture's glorification of war and our image of ourselves as a nation when we go to war?

 

I think what I'm getting at is that I'd rather have people bring a variety of heritages, backgrounds, and bodies of knowledge to the table, even if that means I can't recite a particular speech along with everybody else and feel that particular type of bonhomie for the moment.

 

The older I grow, the more I realize I don't know, can never possibly know. Even the most magnificent, high-powered education is inevitably limited. If I value dialogue, diversity, flexibility, creativity, being made to think outside my point of view -- which I do, and which I think are some of the fundamentals of our culture -- then I need people to bring vastly different experiences, bodies of knowledge, and points of view to the table.

 

And please -- this does not automatically or necessarily means we have no commonalities or overlap in the things we read about or learn, either. There is a huge middle ground here.

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OK, low expectations is different to everyone. LOL

 

Regularly, dd is trying to make the connections you talk about. But it takes time. You have to stop what you are doing, think about it, talk about it, and research it. Then a subject or two doesn't get done. She refuses to just plow through a subject just to get it finished. Some would say she is slow and should be pushed to go faster. Why, so she can just cram the facts into her head and not do anything with them? But, the stopping and thinking and talking about and connecting translates into less actual coverage of the material (meaning we don't finish the book).

 

So which would be low expectation: getting tons of work done with little understanding of what was done, or doing some of it and really understanding it and making connections between it and other things that have been learned. I think the stress many feel on this board is that we try to do more material with more understanding.....there usually isn't time for both.

 

This is a really good question. I tend to come down on the side of "less is more," if doing "less" in terms of coverage means greater understanding and connections (and for many people, it does).

 

But I also feel that there are some people who are best at learning broadly.

 

And I also think we sometimes work ourselves into a case of thinking something is necessarily either/or, when perhaps, for some people, a little of both approaches would work really well. Perhaps they can read more, but still not all, of a course of study, taking time to go more deeply into certain aspects of it.

 

Isn't that as helpful as a pile of mud? I just think that sweeping statements about what is necessarily the best way for everyone to go about the business of education are one of the problems here.

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I think what I'm getting at is that I'd rather have people bring a variety of heritages, backgrounds, and bodies of knowledge to the table, even if that means I can't recite a particular speech along with everybody else and feel that particular type of bonhomie for the moment.

 

The older I grow, the more I realize I don't know, can never possibly know. Even the most magnificent, high-powered education is inevitably limited. If I value dialogue, diversity, flexibility, creativity, being made to think outside my point of view -- which I do, and which I think are some of the fundamentals of our culture -- then I need people to bring vastly different experiences, bodies of knowledge, and points of view to the table.

 

Agreed, agreed, agreed.

Before I can compare and contrast my culture of origin with somebody else's cultural heritage, however, I need to have a firm understanding of the history that shaped my home country, my part of the world, my value system. I, for instance, find it important to understand German history and literature before Chinese history, because the latter had rather little impact on the thoughts and theories and happenings that shaped my home country.

In order to understand the country I live in now, I have gone back and learned a lot about English history - if you can't trace US history back to the puritans, many things and views are completely impossible to understand for somebody who did not grow up here (it may be different for you natives - I don't know)

This said, I always find it fascinating discussing with educated Indians, for example, who come from an entirely different cultural background and I enjoy learning about their views and their culture. But I feel the need to start "at home", so to speak.

In that sense, I understand what EsterMaria writes about her education as an Italian, before the background of Italian culture. I wish for my children to have an understanding of their German heritage, and to develop this, they need to receive a German classical education- not a Chinese one.

Maybe the very different takes are routed in the fact that the US is an immigrant country, and that there has not been time to develop a deep cultural American identity (and educational canon) as in a nation that has been unified by a common culture for many more centuries? Just thinking out loud here, I have never really though about this before.

But come to think of: I notice something similar when I compare how the different kinds of germans feel with each other. I don't know whether i mentioned it before - I grew up in communist East Germany, and the barely 40 years that country existed created a body of literature and art that everybody was familiar with; the West Germans can not relate to it at all (as I wrote in another thread: for example they don't get why "Goodbye Lenin" is funny. ) So a common education makes people feel they belong together somehow.

 

I hope any of this makes sense.

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I understand -- or at least, I think I do as much as I can, coming from a country that is so wackily different -- the importance of transmitting a coherent cultural heritage. The US educational system has gone to great lengths to attempt to insure that kids here get a similar understanding; in fact, awareness of and knowledge of the wider world is almost completely neglected in favor of rah-rah patriotism and year after year of classes about Our Nation's Founders and our wonderful open-armed society. Yet real understanding is sorely lacking, and I think this is because of our tendency as a nation to put ourselves at the center of the world and to think so highly of our (selective) heritage. This is why I feel such a need and a desire to widen perspective. To me, Ester Maria's model puts Italy at the center of the world in a similar way. And I think any culture that does this is doing something potentially dangerous, in that it gives itself an overinflated sense of position and worth at the expense of knowledge about others.

 

The US is an egregious offender in this regard; but in both this and Ester Maria's model, there's the further issue that the heritage being lauded and propounded is exclusionary. It's perhaps easier to see clearly in the US, where an inner city immigrant from Somalia or the Philippines is asked to consider that the story of the white, male, wealthy ruling class (political, commercial, military) is somehow supposed to become THEIR story, that its productions are an educational gift to them; the history of what their nation has brought to the US doesn't even merit a footnote. But to some extent or other, this is equally true of Italy or any other European nation.

 

So, for instance, why is it that well-educated British people are expected to be able to quote Shakespeare but not John Clare, the first widely published working class British poet? Why do British kids learn about Shelley, but not about what his radical philosophy forced his wife and children to endure? Why do they learn about the works of great men without being asked to consider why the works of women were dismissed, scorned, lost -- or at times not given the circumstances to even be completed? You know, it's not simply that women were not that good as writers.

 

This is what bothers me when a particular canon is constructed by and for elites (be it in history, literature, science, etc.) and then propounded as the best and most vital, and everything outside it is perceived of as a lowering of the bar, compromised, second rate, or even just "supplementary." I'm not dismissing the elite model, either; that's the kind of black-and-white, my way or you're second class, thinking I'm trying to avoid.

 

When I enter into this kind of discussion I often think of my younger sister -- neither she nor my brother went beyond high school. I look at her life, her particular struggles, her sources of pleasure, and I wonder: what would have served her best in high school? I think she would agree that she'd far rather have learned about issues she'd be confronting as a voter in adult life, issues that affect the health, safety, security of her family, issues that place the US in a very complicated global situation; how to research and think critically about the information she finds on these topics; how to evaluate competing claims.

 

That's why I find it intriguing that discussions about expectations, types of education, "the best" education, etc. tend to revolve around specific titles or texts rather than larger issues or questions like the ones above. In particular I find it fascinating that so many times literature comes up as the point of reference, rather than other disciplines. Although I am a literary historian by training and profession, I am the first to question the prominence and importance of Great Literature in the curriculum -- particularly a specific and rigidly codified list of texts. To my mind the greatest thing literary studies bring to the larger discussion of education, the world, politics, etc. is rhetorical analysis, a way of thinking about texts and language -- not the contents of any list of books. I would find it a lesser life to live without reading certain texts, but I can certainly imagine that others do not share this, and I don't necessarily think they should.

 

Going in circles now; time to get off the computer. Anyway, just some thoughts.

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