Context has really been the running theme of our foray into college, for my husband and me. Last semester we started back to school and I wanted all of our classes to have some common thread to hold it all together. I never liked having a random mix of classes that had absolutely nothing to do with one another in any given semester. I thought it would be very cool to have substantial overlap and it turned out just the way I had planned.
In our history class, we studied American history from Appomattox to present day. Simultaneously, we studied art history and the first artist we covered was Van Gogh. The time period was perfect. Learning about Van Gogh and about what was happening in Europe during the late 1800’s was a great accompaniment to post Civil War America. Suddenly, I had context for several historic events and figures floating around in my head with nothing to anchor them. I had studied this period before, but only in separate, unconnected incidents.
In our History of American Music class, the emphasis was on recognizing American music, written and performed by American born musicians, compared to European music. Separating out music as being distinctly American was interesting to me. I hadn’t ever thought about it from that angle. The rise of nationalism became a ‘thing’ worldwide in the late 19th and early 20th century, but American nationalism had been chugging along in America since the revolutionary war. Music galvanized Americans around an issue that would stick it to the Europeans. European reactions to music coming out of America was to declare it unskilled, unpolished and brash. American reactions to European criticism was ‘whatever’, ‘get over yourself’ and ‘skiddle-de-deidy-do’. And this musical context gave me a much fuller picture of how the US got to where it is today, and the reasons for the rate at which it grew.
Context as the basis for the reasons why we teach anything to our children will guide the teacher into what to teach next. I have always called it ‘teaching whatever is at-hand’ and that is the way I have homeschooled our 3 children. The need to learn something starts the process and then connections are made immediately to fit that new ‘something’ into the life of the learner.
We hit a milestone here with one of our students. He is our youngest and is in middle school. I would like him to finish early and start filling out his high school transcript next fall, but he wasn’t planning to finish early. In fact he was kind of dragging his feet. But I made a bit of a change in his afternoon study time. Rather than just setting an hour aside for the vague ‘study’ which applies to any assignments due for that day, I told him to just read a book. We had started a book on London during Shakespeare’s time, but never got very far in it together. I made it assigned reading and he finished it quickly. Here’s a quote from his report on the reading:
“…There was also the London Bridge, where there were houses, stores and chapels, Oh, My! And peoples heads were cut off and put on poles on either end of the London Bridge for high treason. If they thought someone was doing Witchcraft, they would drown them. If they lived, then they WERE doing Witchcraft. If they died, then they were NOT. So, I guess when they die the people say “oh…we killed another innocent person…I say!”
This is excellent and he talked about all that he learned several days this week. In one conversation, he asked if London resembled now any of their past and why they were so violent back then. He said, “Didn’t they know about God and Jesus and know about what the bible says?” I said, that there were definitely churches and Christians, but that it was unlikely many people had their own bible in English in the 1500’s. People were still being strangled and burned at the stake for such things! From here, a great study of how the English bible and printed bibles in general came into existence would be where I would go. We do this kind of thing every day.
Someone might say, “Well, what if you miss something? Aren’t there a lot of gaps?” Someone has said this to me. In fact, a lot of people have said this to me. My answer is that I just fill in the gaps. It takes a few minutes, like spackling. “What?!? He doesn’t know what a numerator and a denominator is? How can you be so irresponsible and NOT teach that?!?” So, the number on top of a fraction is called the numerator and the number on the bottom of a fraction is called the denominator. That about sums it up. I don’t think we’ve gone off the rails too far. 🙂 And now we have context. The need to learn will make the learning of the concept far more likely to be remembered.
So, wrapping it up, it’s time to start the day.