31 January 2010

Faith, Arts, and Education: Classical Ed. part 3

In my last post, I mentioned that there are various ways of organizing the historical-time-period rotation in a school (or homeschool) that follows the Classical method of education.

One of the distinctive features of a Classical education, as I currently understand it—or maybe as I recommend it?—is the organization of all subjects and courses around an historical framework. Either each grade level or each academic year is assigned an Era: all classes and projects in that grade or year are more or less related to that time period. I’ll discuss how to do that soon; right now, I want to suggest some rotation patterns that I’ve come across in my reading or personal experience.

But first, a huge caveat. Actually, two caveats. Caveat the first: the time periods are organized according to movements or events in “Western” history; i.e., European and American (which sometimes includes Russia, the north-eastern part of Africa, the “Middle East,” and perhaps Australia) history. The argument for this, in an increasingly global world, multi-cultural awareness, and privileging of minority groups and their cultures of origin, is that a student needs a foundation, so we might as well give him the one we know best and from which most of his heritage (either via bloodlines or geographically) came. For schools in Europe and America, this still might be true; however, it is less and less so each year. Perhaps I’ll dedicate a post in future to the problem a Classical education faces during the decline of “Western” culture.

Caveat the second: the names and dates of the time periods are extremely debatable. With only a few exceptions, there was no one day, or even year, when everything changed suddenly and distinctly enough for the beginning and end of eras to be marked with certainty. Even when something did change in, say, painting, it may have taken a long time to carry over into music, or literature, or politics. So if you are the administrator of a Classical school or a homeschool Mom, feel free to debate with, modify, rename, and otherwise mess with these labels and dates.

All right: The Rotations.

1. In my first post on Classical education, I suggested a Twelve-Year, Eight-Era Rotation Containing Three Repetitions. This is, according to Susan Wise Bauer, the best method, because repetitions of the historical cycle allow for greater depth in each repetition as the student’s mind develops. Here it is again:
1st, 5th, and 9th grades: Ancient (creation-0 B.C.) & Apostolic (0-500 A.D.)
2nd, 6th, and 10th grades: Medieval (500-1300) & Renaissance (1300-1660)
3rd, 7th, and 11th grades: Neoclassical (1660-1789) & Romantic (1789-1900)
4th, 8th, and 12th grades: Modern (1900-1960) & Postmodern (1960-present)

2. Many teachers (myself included) feel that one semester is not nearly enough time for most of these time periods. So here’s a Twelve-Year , Six-Era Rotation Containing Two Repetitions; you present the first era mentioned during the fall term, and the second era during the spring term:
1st and 7th grade: Ancient (creation-0 B.C.) & Apostolic (0-500 A.D.)
2nd and 8th grade: Medieval (500-1100) & High Medieval (1100-1300)
3rd and 9th grade: Renaissance (1300-1517) & Reformation (1517-1660)
4th and 10th grade: Restoration (1660-1700) & Baroque (1700-1750)
5th and 11th grade: Romantic (1750-1830) & Victorian (1830-1900)
6th and 12th grade: Modern (1900-1960) & Postmodern (1960-present)
This is a nice one because it gives you lots of time to discuss historical events, first on a basic, then on a more detailed level, and to read lots of primary and secondary sources. Also, students only go through a time period twice, so they don’t feel “bored” the third time around. The problem is that it doesn’t fit the Trivium nicely; students would move from Grammar to Dialectic somewhere in the middle of the first one, and from Dialectic to Rhetoric in the last.

3. Suppose you don’t want to repeat time periods at all, and you feel that going through once fits with child development. The ancient (or classical) time period was a time of symmetry and balance that is reassuring to younger students, whereas the postmodern period is fraught with disaster, despair, and nihilism that should only be approached by students who have developed spiritual maturity. Here’s a way you can arrange your entire elementary & middle school around an All-School, Eight-Year, Eight-Era Rotation Without Repetitions:
Year 1: Ancient (creation-500 A.D.)
Year 2: Medieval (500-1300)
Year 3: Renaissance (1300-1660)
Year 4: Baroque (1660-1750)
Year 5: Romantic (1750-1830)
Year 6: Victorian (1830-1900)
Year 7: Modern (1900-1960)
Year 8: Postmodern (1960-present)
This is the best method for having the most time to really learn tons about the time period; it’s the only one that really allows English classes to read enough classics from the era. There are two ways to do it: either “Year 1” is first grade, “Year 2” is second grade, etc., OR you take your entire school, as a body, through the periods one academic year at a time. I haven’t worked through the latter in my mind yet, about how to staff it, etc.
The first way (Year 1 = first grade) doesn’t work too badly with the first two phases of the Trivium, I would imagine: little kids love mummies, pyramids, Greek gods and goddess. Students aren’t really ready for Freud and Derrida until they’re older (even 8th grade is pushing it for that stuff!). The biggest problem, academically, is that older students don’t get to study the old eras in depth unless they go on to a high school period that repeats.

That’s it for today. In later posts I’ll ponder the staffing/scheduling problem with the whole-school-in-one-time-period method, suggest ways of integrating math and science, give examples of interdisciplinary lessons, and relate some observations of the Classical school I visited. I'll also compare the homeschool program where I now teach, and maybe I’ll investigate some other schools. Perhaps I’ll dedicate a post in future to the problem a Classical education faces during the decline of “Western” culture. A lot of other material related to this series of posts is available in the shortened version of a workshop I taught at a “MACSA conference back in the fall”; I’ll also post a bibliography at the end of the series.

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