Thursday, April 30, 2015

Homeschool Planning Thoughts after the Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel, 2015 Edition

This is the third year I've prayed the Novena in honor of Our Lady of Good Counsel, asking specifically for wisdom and guidance as I consider our next school year.   Each year I've found this an excellent and clarifying experience, and a wonderful way to kick of the homeschool planning season.

Last year, my revelations centered around how much I had misunderstood what I had learned from my first Novena.  I didn't really discuss how I was going to move forward, largely because I didn't know at the time.  I wanted to write a post about my decisions, but it never happened.  The closest I came was this, written last November.  This year has been a tough one for me as a person, and it hasn't left much time for things like blogging.  The most relevant aspect of my reflections is that I decided to use Ambleside Online for our course of study, substituting or combining only when absolutely necessary. 

As much as I wanted to love Ambleside Online and to embrace it fully, I also had to come to terms with the fact that it is a very Protestant curriculum using some very Protestant materials.  Some books can be easily substituted wholesale.  Other books are trickier to deal with, as I consider issues of bias, the omission of factual material, and even outright erroneous statements.  I also have a BA in History, which can be frustrating when trying to work with historical materials written for children.  I know there's more to the story, and that events and motivations are being vastly simplified.  And sometimes I think the way the events are being described serves the author's agenda far more than promoting a greater understanding of the issues at hand.  

There's a fallacy that says that the closer the author is to the time period he writes about, the more true what he's writing is going to be.  So for example, Bede writing in the early 7th Century about the 5th Century will be more accurate that someone writing about that time period later.  Or Scott, writing in the early 1800's, is going to have a better idea of the 12th Century than someone writing about that time period today.  Or even that Chaucer, writing stories for people of his own day, is going to be able to accurately describe what an entire nation or class of people thought and felt at that time period.  Any piece of writing is going to have a bias - it is impossible to write as a human being and not bring some piece of yourself to what you are writing - and it is vitally important in the study of history in particular to be aware of the author's bias.  Is the author writing what he is writing because it fits his narrative of events?  Is he highlighting something about a group of people because it is a nascent component of something he holds true about those people in the author's time period?

Perhaps the best thing to say at this point is that the study of history is complicated.  We can never know what really happened, or exactly why certain people and groups of people decided to do the things they did.  And even if we read what they wrote, we don't know that they are being entirely truthful in their reflections, or that they even really understand their own motivations.  How often do I completely understand my own motivations for my actions?  

And in all this, I have to consider my children.  As children.  But also as people who are growing into adults, adults who hopefully can weigh and consider and contemplate.  I also have to consider my highest goal in our home, namely to grow our family in Wisdom and Virtue by exposing ourselves abundantly to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.  

Does this mean I wouldn't read Ivanhoe with my children again, or Robin Hood?  Books that supposedly take place in the 12th Century, but in some ways have just as much to say about attitudes and perceptions in the 19th Century as they do about the 12th?  No, absolutely not.  But to read book after book after book with a similar bias and worldview - a worldview I find flawed and incomplete - risks my highest goal for my family.  What are we internalizing when we read work after work in that same worldview?  How can we not help but to at least partially internalize that worldview, even if it is at least somewhat at odds with Truth, Goodness, and Beauty?

And this, finally, leads me to my greatest revelation in this recent time of prayer.  Ambleside Online is not THE Charlotte Mason course of study.  It may be the 800 pound gorilla of Charlotte Mason booklists, but it is not the only way to implement Charlotte Mason's Philosophy of Education.  And while I have no intention of abandoning Ambleside Online, I do intend to abandon the perspective that to follow Ambleside Online to the letter is the only way to implement a Charlotte Mason curriculum.  That if I don't follow Ambleside Online to the T it means there is something lacking in me, or that I can't cut it as a Charlotte Mason educator.  That if I use more recent materials I am somehow diminishing my children's education.  And I know none of these perspectives are officially part of Ambleside Online, but I know they are ones that I have internalized, and ones that I feel are present in the Ambleside Online community to varying degrees.

And with this revelation, I am considering our next year in a new light.  I'm going to use the framework of Ambleside, and many of the books, but I'm going to be substituting more.  In particular, Year 8 is going to get some substantial changes.  I am also going to read through Charlotte Mason's Volume 6 again, and perhaps the Living Page again as well.  There's much to consider and contemplate, but I no longer feel anxious.  I feel like I am seeing a way forward, one that will help my family to grow in Wisdom and Virtue as we consider the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.


  1. Amber, I am so glad that you have found a new direction you are at peace with! I am sorry if I unwittingly contributed to that feeling that AO is the best-and-only. I tend to be enthusiastic just because *I* love the book selections so much, but I know it's not for everyone and there are lots of other ways of homeschooling "the CM way," of course.

    I'd love to hear what substitutions you are making once you work it all out. I know that Year 8 is going to be more challenging to Catholicize than Year 3 was, so I'm glad I have a while to go before I get to that point! :)

    As always, I really enjoy reading your thought process as you consider your children's education.

    1. Celeste, you definitely have not contributed to that feeling that AO is the best and only! I really appreciate what you've shared, and you've been such a big help to me in choosing books and thinking about what to substitute.

      And all in all, I have been very happy with the book selections for the younger grades. Y1 has been fantastic, and I'm very glad we've used it. In Y3, I wish there was a better choice to use instead of Our Island Story, but I certainly can't argue with its literary merit. And I'm happy with TCOO too, I just wish it wasn't exclusively focused on the East coast and the movement westward. One thing I'm planning on using in Y4 is the Landmark book about Father Serra to help give a little more CA and Catholic history. There's another one about Catholic missionary activity in the Southwest too which I might use part of as well.

      Y7 has been trickier, though, and looking forward to Y8 I see it is trickier still. But even with that, there's been some great books, and many of them I don't think we would have encountered without seeing them on the AO list.

      I by no means plan to jettison AO - there's so much that is worthwhile there, and so much thought and consideration - but especially for the higher grades I think there's a lot greater need for discernment and substitution.

    2. You are right about TCOO--not only because we're looking for the Catholic side of expansion but also because we're in California! We have even more reason to be wanting to cover the missing history of the West, which AO doesn't hit until Gold Rush era. I'm planning to hit a Serra biography too (I'm choosing among a couple right now that I saw listed on 4Real) as well as some other saint biographies based on Suzanne Gallus' suggestions on the AO forums as well as the MA list. And I'm going to sprinkle in the chapters from The Catholic Faith Comes to the Americas that MA recommends. I don't consider that a well-written book, but I think the perspective is important. Anyway, I'd love to hear the title of the southwest book.

      And I think it is great that you are talking about the ways in which AO really *does* need to be adjusted for Catholic families (and well, Truth in general ;)). AO can't be used as written in the upper years by Catholics of good conscience, and I think it's important to make that known so that people aren't led astray. I feel the same way about Trial and Triumph in the early years--I really wish it werent scheduled because not only is it an affont to Catholics but it should really be an affront to all Christians who care about being fair about history. And I say that as an unabashed lover of AO, generally speaking. :)

    3. I am finally back with the three books I'm thinking about using. They are:

      The Royal Road by Ann Roos - A OOP Vision book about Serra (although I hope with his upcoming canonization they might reprint it)

      California Stepping Stones, by Robert Kingery Buell - An old OOP CA history text - I found it at our local friends of the library sale and I rather like it - it is perhaps a little simple, but it has a nice conversational style and is well written. The copy I have is even signed by the author

      The Cross in the West, by Mark Boesch about Spanish exploration and settlement in the Southwest

      I can't stand Catholic Faith Comes to the Americas, personally, and will avoid at just about any cost :-D

      And I totally agree about Trial and Triumph - it seems a shame that it is even there at all. Surely there could be something better and more honest out there...

  2. An eye-opening post, Amber. And a very good one. :)
    You are right - the AO way isn't the ONLY CM way. And in the AO community, I have sensed a bit of condescension toward newbies and towards other methods of homeschooling. That is very sad in my opinion, and has caused me to back off from the forum somewhat...just to avoid having to see that elitist attitude.
    However, we will continue to use AO, and I will feel free to supplement or change something (gasp!) if need be.
    And I'm with Celeste - I do love the AO book selections! :)

    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who has sensed that sort of attitude in the AO community and forums! I can certainly see where they are coming from - I do think CM's Philosophy of Education is a wonderful way to educate children, and I think AO is the most well considered implementation of her methods out there. And the booklist on the whole is wonderful too - we've read some great books this year, and some of them we never would have found without AO. But for the higher grades in particular, I think I need to practice a little more discernment and be willing to make more substitutions. Thanks for your comment, Lisa!

  3. Do you have a completed works of substitutions? I'm trying to find subs for Y6 and upwards. I've looked on forums and websites and I'm kind of overwhelmed as I am just in the beginning stages of converting to Catholicism while still attending a Southern Baptist church with my husband and children who aren't interested in converting -yet ;)(dd going into y6 and dd going into y8).
    I didn't take very good notes but looks like I wrote down Y6: to sub Athanasius(which book,idk? I just wrote down his name)for Finding our Roots. Y7: sub The Rule of St. Benedict for Tozer. Y8: St. Frances de Sales The Devout life for Desiring God by Piper. How does that sound? Any other suggestions?

  4. I'm also looking to change the bible reading schedule somewhat to add in the deuterocanonical books over the next few years.

    1. Hi Lis,

      It seems I am not getting the emails letting me know when I have comments waiting in moderation - I just noticed your comments. I do not have a full list of substitutions. I do have lists of what I've done in the last few years - you can look at those here: