Thursday, July 16, 2015

St Augustine on Homeschooling (and some links)

I didn't expect to find homeschooling wisdom while reading St Augustine's Confessions; but I shouldn't have been surprised either. Confessions is a brilliant autobiography right from his childhood days; and homeschooling is, really, basically anything about life with children/as a child.

I've always been an eclectic homeschooler: aspiring to a classical education, loving and admiring the Charlotte Mason method, in grateful awe of unschooling, making frequent use of unit studies and even spurts of "drill and kill." Not so much confused, I often simply don't know which approach resonates most with me. When I read the following (and more), it reminded me of my own recent struggles with my approach to homeschooling.

St. Augustine writes in Book I about his studies as a boy, when he disliked studying and was beaten for not making sufficient progress. In this he says:

In boyhood itself, however, (so much less dreaded for me than youth,) I loved not study, and hated to be forced to it. Yet I was forced; and this is well done towards me, but I did not well; for, unless forced, I had not learned. But no one doth well against his will, even though what he doth, be well. Yet neither did they will force me, but what was well came to me from Thee, my God... So by those who did not well, Thou didst well for me; and by my own sin Thou didst punish me. For Thou hast commanded, and so it is, that every inordinate affection should be its own punishment.

But why did I so much hate the Greek, which I studied is a boy? I do not yet fully know. The Latin I loved; not what my first Masters, but with the so-called grammarians taught me. For those first lessons, reading, writing, and arithmetic, I thought as great a burden and penalty as any Greek....

But now, my God, cry Thou aloud in my soul; and let Thy truth tell me, "Not so, not so. Far better was that first study." For low, I would readily forget the wanderings of Aeneas and all the rest, rather than how to read and write.... Let not either buyers or sellers of grammar-learning cry out against me. For if I question whether it be true, that Aeneas came on a time to Carthage, as the Poet tells, the less learned will reply that they know not, the more learned that he never did. But should I ask with what letters the name "Aeneas" is written, everyone who has learned this will answer me are right, as to the signs which men have conventionally settled. If, again, I should ask, which might be forgotten with least detriment to the concerns of life, reading and writing or these poetic fictions? Who does not for see, what all must answer who have not wholly forgotten themselves?

But then he also admits this:
Difficulty, in truth, the difficulty of a foreign language, dashed, as it were, with gall all the sweetness of Grecian fable. For not one word of it did I understand, and to make me understand I was urged for vehemently with cruel threats and punishment. Time was also, (as an infant,) I knew no Latin; but this I learned without fear of suffering, by mere observation, amid the caresses of my nursery and jests of friends, smiling and sportively encouraging me. This I learned without any pressure of punishment to urge me on, for my heart urged me to give birth to its conceptions, which I could only do by learning words not of those who taught, but of those who talked with me; in his ears also I gave birth to the thoughts, whatever I conceived. No doubt then, that a free curiosity has more force in our learning these things, and a frightful enforcement.

It's not some new revelation to me that a desire to learn actually helps learning. Or that a punishment-strong system is less than ideal. Or that no matter how much more fun the other stuff is, you have to get those basics down. But it was a balm to see such an ancient reflection of that. Reading it reaffirmed both the ideal and appeal of child-led learning and the logic of a rigorous skills-based curriculum. You may think this would not help to resolve any struggle between the two; but it reinforces in me an inclination to treat them as two separate legs on which to stand. 

In the spirit of the continued mission to nurture love of learning and a deeper engagement in education, here are some links I've recently found worth pondering.

I'm looking forward to working this Charlotte Mason approach to grammar instruction into our year. I think it will both help ground the principles of grammar for my kids and give me more excuses to read all together during school hours. 

This list of 25 Latin phrases every student should know looks like a fun addition to language studies.

I love this video about Shakespearean pronunciation every time it pops up somewhere; perhaps you and your older kids will like it too. 

This states research project with printables looks promising!

This has inspired me both to re-emphasize nature study and to encourage the kids to take the plunge into living science, to seek out what interests them during our science studies.

And this post by Melissa Wiley about (not) teaching reading encourages me to lay all my word-nerd glory on the kids at full power. (Blessedly simple follow-up post here.) 

What is inspiring you as the new school year approaches?

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