Sunday, August 19, 2012

Chapter 4: History

From the many, many history discussions I have read online in forums and email groups, I'm sure I'm not the only homeschooling mother who has been kept up at night debating within myself the merits of various history cycles and timeline formats!  History is central to a Charlotte Mason education in that, for many book lists, it also directs the literature, geography, music, poetry, and art choices for a given school year.  It holds a similar place for classical education, so it's quite a "hot topic" in the homeschooling world.  Which period to study when?  Which books?  What supplements are needed, if any?  How can we make history "come alive" for our children?

So I must say that I was underwhelmed by this chapter.  Beckman tries to point out the benefits of studying history in a CM-friendly way, but there is only a rather generic description of what that actually means and very few examples of how such a study might look in practice.  He uses his own school as his only example, but as he himself notes, this is only one way a history schedule might look following Charlotte Mason's model, and his scope and sequence actually doesn't match that of Miss Mason's schools very closely, which would have been helpful for a reader to know.  For example, Mason's schools studied two threads of history concurrently (world history and English history) and scheduled it all into a 12-year cycle.  These two elements are not essential for teaching history in a CM-way, certainly, but they are important in understanding what Charlotte Mason was aiming for in her approach.  The long cycle, for example, emphasizes that central idea of creating a relationship with the age and its people and events rather than just hitting the high points and moving forward, as a shorter cycle might require.  And as a homeschooler trying to implement a Charlotte Mason education in my home, I like to know when I am deviating from her suggestions and in what ways--that awareness helps me to adjust other elements of my schooling accordingly so that I can keep the heart of Charlotte Mason's principles while still accommodating my particular circumstances.  I also would have liked to see more here about the Book of Centuries, the keeping of which is central to the student's grasp of history and the connection across disciplines, places, and times.  The "copybooks" that he describes sound interesting and worthwhile, but sound more like a book of written and drawn narrations than the record Charlotte Mason describes.

All that aside, the history cycle that he describes takes a different tack than others I have seen and is useful for comparison.  He also makes it clear that Mason privileges living books and first-hand sources over textbooks, which is true for all subjects but particularly so for history.  If we want the "pageant of history" to live in the minds of our children, we must choose books wisely.  The ultimate goal of our study of history is "a child's grasp of its flow and his place in that flow." (163)  That doesn't mean, of course, that history is important only as it relates to the child; rather, history is important because it teaches us the human story--the rises and falls, the story of mankind and its relationship to God.  The student learns that his "place in that flow" is as a child of God and he should be inspired by the tales of heroes and learn from the mistakes of the past.  Human history should be studied not as a list of dates but as mind-food, and what we learn should shape our thoughts and actions for life.  As Beckman quotes Charlotte Mason here: "We may not be able to recall this or that circumstance, but 'the imagination is warmed'; we know that there is a great deal to be said on both sides of every question and are saved from crudities of opinion and rashness in action.  The present becomes enriched with the wealth of all that has gone before." (163)

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