Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ambleside Online...isn't that too much British history?

If you want to consider this a commercial for Ambleside Online, that's fine...maybe it is. Come check it out if you like. But it's more just an unfolding of what we are doing for our history studies this year.
"We, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum, taking care only that all knowledge offered to him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas."--Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education
A question that comes up a lot about the curriculum we use is that it seems--especially at first glance--to be first of all very British-centered, and second of all American (as in United States of America, white, European). What about world cultures? What about globalism? What about the Incas and the Songhai Empire and the Haida? What about Canadian Confederation? Why is the American history book written by an English author?

I have a couple of things to say in response. First of all, I have to be very honest: none of my Squirrelings (so far) just love history best and can't get enough of it; the family tendency is more towards science. I am saying that only so that I can't be accused of teaching the kids more history than what I consider the minimum; and they don't usually go searching for extra. Even The Apprentice did her one Ontario-required history credit in Grade Ten, and that was it--chemistry and mathematics and graphic design and English and hairstyling didn't leave much extra schedule room or homework time for more courses requiring a lot of reading. (Yes, you heard that right--Ontario secondary school students are only required to take ONE history course, and that's 20th-century Canadian history.)

BUT...even doing the minimum, and mostly using the suggested Ambleside Online books (with some substitutions for Canada and for what we can't find), our Squirrelings are still getting a very broad look at a lot of history. I would venture to say that it's as extensive as some of the other homeschooling programs out there--you just don't notice it right away. Now some of this is just going to be touched on during any school year--there is no way that we can go into everything in depth. But isn't that the same no matter what your method or curriculum? Nobody can teach or learn everything there is about everything.

Some examples...

Ponytails is doing what Ambleside calls Pre-Year-7. It's a combination of Year 6 books plus a few other books from previous years, plus a couple of others from higher years since she is really in Grade 8. One of the main books used in Year 6 and/or Pre-Year-7 is Genevieve Foster's Augustus Caesar's World. Roman history, right? More classical dead white guys?

Well, in addition to the life of Augustus Caesar, a summary of The Aeneid and a chapter on Roman gods, this book covers a fair amount of Old Testament history, Egyptian mythology, famous Greek and Roman philosophers, Mayan civilization, "Children of the Sun" (Incas), Lao-tzu, Confucius, Hindu beliefs, the story of Buddha, Zoroaster, and the life of Jesus. Not all in great detail, as I've said--but how much can you do in 325 pages?

Along with that book, Ponytails will be reading Susan Wise Bauer's Story of the World, Volume 4: The Modern Age, the chapters covering from 1865 to probably just past World War II (depending on time). Just grabbing some topics at random from those chapters, she'll be reading about Japan's Meiji Restoration, the Dutch East Indies, the War of the Pacific (in South America), Ned Kelly (Australia), the colonization of Africa, Brazil's republic, and Abdulhamid the Red (events involving Turkey and Armenia). And we'll be adding in chapters from a book of Canadian history, because our perspective on the late 19th, early 20th century is a bit different from what you get in the U.S. history books, and because that's what Ontario school kids study in grade 8.

To me, that sounds like we're going to have more trouble sticking down all the loose pieces than we are getting out of any Anglo/European history rut. And that doesn't include what might come up through studies in geography (Kon Tiki, Heidi's Alp the Book of Marvels), Christian Studies, and other subjects.

Crayons, in Grade 4, will be basing her history readings on Genevieve Foster's George Washington's World. Oh--a year all about the War of Independence, right? Maybe we can sneak the United Empire Loyalists in there somewhere...

Well, yes. But the book also includes chapters on Catherine the Great, Captain Cook, Quianlong/Ch'ien Lung, the French Revolution, the Kalmucks, Hokusai, Fray Junipero, and ballooning with the Montgolfiers...and the Loyalists are in there on page 174. Not bad for a fourth-grade history book. Besides that, she'll be doing some Bible Geography and Archaeology, learning about Pompeii (in Fabre's Story Book of Science, and supplemented with an illustrated book we have), reading about Christians who made an impact on several different countries (Hero Tales), and hearing about some important periods in British history (Noel Streatfeild's The Fearless Treasure). Oh, and reading stories from classical mythology (Bulfinch's Age of Fable) and from Native Canadian traditions (Canadian Children's Treasury). (Note: only Foster's book and Age of Fable are specifically included in AO's Year 4. The others are our own choices, but they are similar to books used in AO years.)

Again, that's almost too much, too wide--not too little, too narrow. If we can fit even two-thirds of that in and have each girl remember maybe half of that two-thirds--that may still be better than what some public-schooled children will take away from social studies this year. There's a reason we've stuck with AO all these years, even when we've had to adapt it a little...well, there's more than one reason, but the one I'm thinking of is this: we have a big long paper timeline, the Timechart History of the World. When it's sitting on my desk (it's too tall for the bookshelf), it kind of blends into the wall and you don't notice it much. But when you really want to look at it, you have to fold it out--and it goes all the way across the room--and that's just the last six thousand years or so that it covers. And then you start looking at the timelines, seeing the connections, seeing the empires come and go, seeing the little thumbnail drawings of people; and you not only start to get a sense of how big history is, but how interconnected we all are. It's a bit tricky too to get it all folded back up again.

Ambleside Online is a bit like that--you have to unfold it to see what's in there, but once you do, you get kind of immersed and start to make connections. Even if you're not a born history student.
"The days have gone by when the education befitting either a gentleman or an artisan was our aim. Now we must deal with a child of man, who has a natural desire to know the history of his race and of his nation, what men thought in the past and are thinking now; the best thoughts of the best minds taking form as literature, and at its highest as poetry, or, as poetry rendered in the plastic forms of art: as a child of God, whose supreme desire and glory it is to know about and to know his almighty Father: as a person of many parts and passions who must know how to use, care for, and discipline himself, body, mind and soul: as a person of many relationships,––to family, city, church, state, neighbouring states, the world at large: as the inhabitant of a world full of beauty and interest, the features of which he must recognise and know how to name, and a world too, and a universe, whose every function of every part is ordered by laws which he must begin to know.

"It is a wide programme founded on the educational rights of man; wide, but we may not say it is impossible nor may we pick and choose and educate him in this direction but not in that. We may not even make choice between science and the 'humanities.' Our part it seems to me is to give a child a vital hold upon as many as possible of those wide relationships proper to him. Shelley offers us the key to education when he speaks of "understanding that grows bright gazing on many truths.""--Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education
This post is linked from the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival.


Jeanne said...

Fantastic post. Of course as Aussies we alway hear the complaint that AO is too American, not British enough, but I have always found adapting it for Australian content pretty far.

Thanks for writing this,

MmeLabonte said...

I appreciate your blog. Thank you for this excellent post. We're Canadian, and though I don't use AO exclusively, I do rely heavily on AO recommendations. I love watching my children make connections as they learn from year to year!

Unknown said...

"Nobody can teach or learn everything there is about everything." Absolutely. Some people are so afraid of gaps as if gaps are the worst thing possible. Not so. Gaps are inevitable.

Thanks for submitting to the carnival!

Barb said...

Unless I am mistaken, American history begins with British history. :)

I have not found AO to be too "British" at all. I think most Americans overdo the American history...or what my boys lovingly call "war history"....American Revolution, Civil War, WW1 and WW2.

Thanks for the great read this morning.

Anonymous said...

Good things to think about - thanks. I did start using Our Island Story last year and I was really hesitant to do it. We are Americans, though we live Germany right now. Reading OIS has been fabulous for us! So much I am learning (and hopefully the kids are too). I love how, eventually, world history and American are weaved together with the British.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. I still can't believe I spent my whole (American) childhood never hearing about Alfred the Great or William the Conquerer. What a shame and what a privelege we have to introduce our children to interesting historical characters from all around the world :).


Nancy Kelly said...

I agree with your comments about AO and the history balance issue. Thanks for weighing in on the "controversial" issue.